Thursday, 4 September 2008

One small step for Palin, One giant step backwards for Womankind

Interest seemed to have waned of late in the impending American election. After the initial hysteria that surrounded the Clinton/Obama battle, there was a brief intermission – but it seems the issue is at the forefront of the news again and in my opinion quite rightly. Who gets put in charge of the most powerful nation on earth is a bit of a big deal, isn’t it? At times I’m not quite sure that the citizens of America (most of them having never set foot outside of the ‘Land of the Free’) understand this as well as the rest of the world, particularly those most unlucky recipients of one of their ill-advised missions of liberation/protection. I still find it difficult to fathom that an intelligent western country could appoint George W as their figurehead even once, let alone twice. This is the same incredulousness I reserve for several political topics; the lack of interest America has taken in the Zimbabwe situation considering their “humanitarian” actions in removing other tyrannical dictators; the recent Beijing Olympics effectively smoke-screening the status-quo in Tibet; Russia and Georgia…the list could go on.
As much as I’d like to believe that it couldn’t happen, there is a very real possibility that the votes could go John McCain’s way. Which is a chilling thought, even for those of us who try to wriggle out of being tarred with the Guardian-reading, left-winger, women-libber brush. A right wing, anti-fundamental human rights septuagenarian – is this the free world or the Catholic church? Fnar. Forgive me for that, but the parallels that modern day America and its disjointed population are drawing with religious tyranny in order to control the masses can’t be ignored…can they? Apparently not. Worryingly though, the American public seem to identify with this kind of mentality and furthermore, favour it. The rigid religious views of the Bible Belt (where Bush could always rely on support) are unfortunately an incorrigible influence on the tally of votes that end up swaying towards the Christian right in the US. We’re told frequently by those Americans that are desperately aware of the political landscape that “not all” Americans feel this way, that there are Bush dissenters across the pond in equal number to those over here. The media circus engulfing their supposedly democratic political system of late must have them gawping disbelievingly at their Fox News bearing TV screens then. Because let’s face it, to the outsider, these American elections are structured mainly around the frenzied propaganda facilitated by the non-objective media institutions and the dialogue of false promises. Of course, we’re talking politics and the borderline between truth and lies will always be heavily marred, but America takes this to another level. While us “civilised” Europeans like to think that we’re aware of the corruption that goes on in modern politics, the average American (or so many of us are led to believe, due to a distinct lack of evidence to the contrary) believes these exaggerations of character and intent and their voting decision is influenced by the farcical nature of the preceding chaos. So, it’s into this confusing fray that Sarah Palin – running mate to the decrepit John McCain – is thrust.

The first question I have (and there are many) is why her? There is a theory that she’s been leveraged as a paradoxical anti-Hillary, in that her gender is being used as a tactic to ensnare those voters who were voting for Clinton based only (or mainly) on her gender. There are worrying reports that a number of angered Clinton supporters have allegedly vowed not to vote for Barack Obama on principal, and indeed 1 in 5 Clinton supporters are now backing McCain. That these formerly Democratic citizens are now either intending to vote for the opposition or not vote at all (which will effectively help the opposition) is a disturbing revelation, but indeed the demographic that John McCain has his sights set on converting is suburban white women, or “soccer moms” as they are being colloquially referred to. These women were an easy pull for Clinton, but McCain has now secured a 44% (to Obama’s 38%) majority stronghold among them. Worrying stuff. Palin certainly appears your typical middle American woman – mother to five ridiculously named children; former beauty queen turned self-confessed “hockey mom” - at first glance Palin seems positively wholesome and really rather harmless. Which makes it unfortunate that this is the closest many American’s will actually look. Look a little bit further though, and some of her interests and actions are verging on reprehensible. Of course there is no doubt a Spitting Image style assassination of Sarah Palin’s past and private life going on in UK and international press (and her interesting range of hobbies and eating habits help construct an excellent charicature) so it all must be taken with a pinch of salt. However, the emerging picture of Sarah “The Barracuda” Palin is inescapable when imagining what sort of an influence she may have on the political future of America.

The integrity of McCain’s vetting procedure has been thrown into question at her appointment and has already lost him a decent number of followers, although not as many as he stands to gain. For all her popularity her post as Governor of Alaska was relatively small-time in terms of political kudos and she had only met McCain once before he appointed her as running mate. Add to that the fact that she allegedly orchestrated the dismissal of Walter Monegan, Public Safety Commissoner, who had refused to sack her sister’s soon to be ex-husband and the cookie-baking housewife image is shot to…well, suffice it to say the average mother doesn’t normally find shooting Moose in the head a relaxing hobby. Then there’s the unsavoury revelations that have emerged since Palin became a very public contender to be Vice President of the United States, and the first woman to have a hope of doing so. That her daughter Bristol, seventeen and unmarried, is five months pregnant; and that her husband is a convicted drink driver are stories that have been newsreel fodder in the past week and some would say unfairly used as evidence that she’s unfit for her position. Personally I feel that politicians are as entitled to a personal life as the rest of us (no one really begrudged Bill Clinton’s did they?)but when there’s a clear discrepancy between what a potentially very powerful human being advocates in private and the image being sold to the public, things start to get a bit murky. The old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” springs uncomfortably to mind.

As a feminist, it’s difficult to stomach Palin. We should be rejoicing at the fact that for the first time in American history, a woman is in with a chance of being a Vice President. Palin’s gung-ho career woman persona should also stand in her favour, but in my opinion its already damaging to women that this particular one is in the running. Should she end up as VP of the most powerful country in the world, the implications for women are nothing less than catastrophic. Yes, she is a woman – but as Gloria Steinhem has publically stated, she is the “wrong woman” with the “wrong message”. For a start, her political agenda is absurdly outdated. Seemingly not interested in progression of any kind, Palin – in her eagerly anticipated speech at the Republican party convention – mocked Obama for his “elitism” while positioning herself as the champion of small town USA (only 20% of which have ever travelled outside the US and have any idea about what goes on there). A news item on the BBC yesterday interviewed a few of her supporters, one of whom cited her “normality” as her most appealing quality. This “normality” has to be looked at in context – if “normal” means evangelical, pro-life, pro-hunting, rifle-toting, politically inexperienced and inept – then that’s certainly what Palin appears to be – clearly the ideal choice for the American public. Of course Palin is also a member of the National Rifle Association, and her biggest political achievement thus far has been to do with that all important American currency unit…oil. Fair enough, she was only the chair of the Alaskan Oil and Gas Conservation Commission – but still, I wonder how long this interest in gas will remain a domestic concern should she become more influential? Palin has already voiced her belief that the deployment of troops to Iraq was a “task set by God.” Rather paradoxically, she also said quite recently: "individual freedom and independence is extremely important to me and that's why I'm a Republican.”

I wonder how free and independent her teenage daughter, Bristol is feeling at the moment, having been dragged into her mother’s quest for votes and paraded around as proof of her doting parent’s pro-life leanings? According to Palin, Bristol and her hockey player boyfriend had always intended to marry regardless of the pregnancy and they still intend to do so, but I can’t help wondering if Bristol’s decision would have been the same were her mother’s beliefs not being touted by the Republicans as the best thing to hit America since fried chicken. I don’t know the circumstances any further than the news reports, but if Sarah Palin – or her political manifesto – is forcing her daughter into a marriage of convenience, we have a situation that is basically defecating all over years of feminist progress – progress that has rather ironically afforded Palin the professional position she is now able and allowed to be in. Interestingly enough, Palin’s opposition to increased spend on sex education back in 2006 seems to have shifted – although technically she conveniently refuses to talk about it these days. Ultimately we’re not just talking about Pro-Choice in terms of abortion laws when the running of a country is at stake – we’re talking about the basic human right of the American people to choose what goes on in their country, in personal circumstance and public sphere. What concerns me most about the whole thing is the enduring inability of American governments to trust their citizens in making the right choice. Like Bush before her, Palin appeals to the most basic ideals of the small town citizens she claims to be one of, mollycoddling them into believing that intrinsic faults in the last administration were actually OK, or worse - some sort of religious destiny. John McCain’s election to President and the consequent appointment of Palin as his deputy – if it happens – can’t be looked at as anything other than at best misguided and at worst abhorrent.

This is a topic that I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of and as the unfortunate occupier of a day-job, not much research has been done. What I have read has all been fascinating, so I would advise you to learn more – from far more learned folk – here:

Guardian Online

Menstrual Poetry

The Boston Herald

Associated Press

Times Online

The F Word