John McCain's decision to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate is the perfect end to several weeks in which we saw Republicans make weak claims that theirs is the party of women's rights.
Last month, Bill Kristol was predicting that McCain would choose Palin because "Republicans are much more open to strong women." (He also decried the "horrible sexism and misogyny" Hillary Clinton faced in the Democratic primary, but somehow failed to mention his own comment during the primary that, "white women are a problem, that's, you know -- we all live with that.") As recently as last week he was railing against the "Democrats' glass ceiling." And today, FOX News was already crowing, "Looks like the glass ceiling hasn't been broken by Hillary Clinton, but by Senator McCain."
Palin's addition to the ticket takes Republican faux-feminism to a whole new level. As Adam Serwer pointed out on TAPPED, this is in fact a condescending move by the GOP. It plays to the assumption that disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters did not care about her politics -- only her gender. In picking Palin, Republicans are lending credence to the sexist assumption that women voters are too stupid to investigate or care about the issues, and merely want to vote for someone who looks like them. As Serwer noted, it's akin to choosing Alan Keyes in an attempt to compete with Obama for votes from black Americans.
I can't help but be, oh, a little bit skeptical of Republicans' sudden interest in the glass ceiling. After all, this is the party that threw women like Lilly Ledbetter under the bus, in favor of businesses that practice wage discrimination. The party that stymied the Equal Rights Amendment. The party that not only wants to force women here and abroad to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, but also wants to deny them access to a range of contraception options.
Not to mention hypocrisy at play. Republicans directed an inexcusable amount of sexist vitriol at Hillary during the primary. As Michelle Malkin said on Fox News about Hillary, "If that's the face of experience, I think it's going to scare away a lot of those independent voters that are on the fence." At National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez blamed polling that said America isn't ready for a woman president on the failure of Geena Davis' TV show (in which she played a vice president who was elevated to commander in chief after the president's death). And Kristol credited Hillary's brief, misty-eyed moment for propelling her to victory in the New Hampshire primary: "It's the tears. She pretended to cry, the women felt sorry for her, and she won."
It's clear that Republicans believe that what made Hillary Clinton such a good candidate was her gender, not her political experience or positions on the issues. And McCain's decision to pick Palin shows he took this message to heart and chose to add her to the ticket primarily because of her gender. In so doing, McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander.
Why is this a pander? Because Palin is not a woman who has a record of representing women's interests. She is beloved by extremely right-wing conservatives for her anti-choice record (fittingly, she's a member of the faux-feminist anti-choice group Feminists for Life). Palin supports federal anti-gay marriage legislation. She believes schools should teach creationism. Alaska is currently considering spending more on abstinence-only sex education. And when it comes to a slew of other issues of importance to women, such as equal pay, she's not on the record.
Of course, I'm of the belief that more women in politics -- across the ideological spectrum -- is always a good thing. On a superficial level, nominating a woman to the Republican presidential ticket is indeed a milestone. But the real reason many women were excited about Hillary Clinton's candidacy is that she was the whole package -- a politician with a solid record on issues like choice and fair pay, and with a lot of experience, who was also a woman. Even feminists I disagreed with during the primary made the compelling point that it wasn't just about Hillary's gender. It was about her record, too.
Clearly, the GOP is banking on the votes of the subset of Hillary supporters who supported her on the basis of gender alone. Much ink and airtime have been devoted to analyzing these particular Hillary supporters and their motivations, but the bulk of voters will not cast their ballots on gender alone. The GOP's strategy may very well backfire. After all, most of us understand that a woman candidate is not the same thing as a woman's candidate.