Take the Gloves Off, Boys

(New York Times photo of Governor Sarah Palin sitting on a bear skin)

Last night I had dinner with an old friend who is a very active Democrat. He has worked in politics, both on the Hill and as a volunteer for a number of campaigns, including Obama. He is very enthusiastic about the ticket he will vote for in November. We are friends, and there is an awful lot we can agree on, but I was surprised by two things:

First, I was surprised by how quickly my saying I was excited about Palin’s nomination turned the conversation ugly. His first response was, condescendingly, “would you seriously feel comfortable with her becoming president?” Now, this is a question that we should always ask about the Vice President, but I think there is also going to be an implication coming that McCain is old, and therefore more likely to die in office than other candidates. I think Palin is young and that inexperience may be the main tack that the Democrats have to take against her, especially compared with Biden’s long career in the Senate, but it is a tough line of reasoning when Obama is offering a ticket with no executive experience. Senator McCain has been forthright about his health, which is basically, good, and he is tough as nails, so it strikes me that while no one knows for whom the bell tolls, it is reasonable to expect that the man will be competently able to serve for four years. More surprisingly, this first response is the sort of knee jerk negative reaction that is not based at all on policy items and is much more representative of the Washington “politics as usual” then it is of the Obama message of Hope and Change.

Many people may choose not to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket because they will disagree on the issues, or even because they feel personally moved by Mr. Obamas way of speaking, background, intelligence and vigor. I hope that all of these people will still acknowledge that Palin’s nomination is also a sign of hope and change for our country. In her acceptance speech, Palin said the following:

And it’s fitting that this trust has been given to me 88 years almost to the day after the women of America first gained the right to vote.
I think — I think as well today of two other women who came before me in national elections.
I can’t begin this great effort without honoring the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984…
… and of course Senator Hillary Clinton, who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign.

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America…… but it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

That statement moved me to tears.

My own mother, a woman of Mrs. Clinton’s generation, was excited and moved by Clinton’s candidacy. It happened that she liked a lot of Clinton’s politics, but I think it was also important to her to know that someone who was like her, a woman of her generation, a woman who had been loyal to her family and worked hard to raise her child, a woman who had balanced a career and family life and made many sacrifices, could acheive so much in a national election. Regardless of our politics, her candidacy is symbol of hope for our country.

Many people may feel the same way about Barack Obama. In some way, because of his race, his upbringing, his struggles, he is “like them” more than any candidate has been before, and that means something about their own place in this great country. My grandmother, who is 85 years old, is so excited when she talks about Obama. Having lived through almost all of the 20th century, to her it is wonderful that a man who is nothing like her can make a real run for President of the United States. Regardless of our politics, his candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Palin was so right to acknowledge this moment in history. Someone had to be first, and Ms. Ferraro went as far as she could at a time when women were just beginning to put themselves out there. What Mrs. Clinton has accomplished through hard work and perseverance is significant. So, here comes Sarah Palin and she is not the first woman to be nominated for the office of vice president. Palin’s nomination represents a next step, that women are and will continue to be in the mix here, and her candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Back to dinner among friends: there was a moment when I almost threw my water in this old boy’s face. When he said, and my husband quite agreed, that it would be hard to be Biden in the debate because Biden is fairly aggressive and that to take that sort of tone with a woman might create some ugly sound bites or bad spin, I was outraged.

To that I say, bring it on. Senator Biden should debate the issues at stake for our country to the best of our ability. If he believes that Senator McCain will not move our country forward, if he believes that Governor Palin does not have what it takes to fill the position of Vice President, if he differs with them on how we can best help the working class, how to accomplish social justice, how to keep our country safe from Islamic extremists, how to reduce our foreign energy dependence, cut wasteful government, reach across the aisle to get things done, ensure that our children will be educated for the future, provide for our elderly, handle the mortgage crisis, Senator Biden should articulate all of his candidates ideas and he should fight hard for what he believes. There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin can take it. Her record as a politician shows this, her experience as a mother shows it. In particular, as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, she is fighting everyday on behalf of her child.

This is what mothers do. To our kids, when they need it, we are mom with a cookie and a glass of milk after school, tell us your troubles with the teacher or the playground bully and we will dry your tears. To our husbands, when they need it, we are just the same, we are warm, safe, love to come home to, we make the place that is your shelter from the cold hard world. This is an important part of our job, but at the same time we are fighting. Women were not given the rights that men have had in this country, women fought for them. When the men went off to war, women rolled up their sleeves and worked in the factories while still keeping the home fires burning. All around this country, on PTA’s, town councils and school boards the women of America are fighting for the future.

The next Vice President of the United States is going to be a heartbeat away from being President. I would imagine that for a woman or a man the White House situation room is a fairly scary place when our security is being threatened. In the primary, there were ads that asked us who we would want answering the phone in the middle of the night if something happened. So, I say, you had better debate this woman, because someday she just might be answering that phone, and in order to get there, she must be able to stand up to whatever Joe Biden has to throw at her.

I think that “I am not going to be a physically threatening or a total jerk” would be a good campaign strategy for man or woman, that “getting in some one’s face” is not well received on the national stage whomever you are debating, so I do hope that all candidates will conduct themselves with dignity, self respect and respect for their opponent. I think that we have seen this from both Senators McCain and Obama so far, and I hope that they will set a tone of civility for the remainder of the election. We all want to move this country forward, we all care about what will be left for our grandchildren, and we all want to be safe and secure today. We differ on how to accomplish this, so the candidates need to mobilize those who agree with them and convince those who are on the fence. Good debates can clarify a lot of these issues.

Softening your debate strategy because you are speaking to a woman? That scares me, that sort of attitude can seal up those cracks in the glass ceiling. A real debate centered around issues? That would be a sign of great hope and change for this country!


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