Politics & Policy

Babe Magnet or Class Act?

Understanding the Sarah strategy.

The New York Times reports that the Obama campaign has asked Hillary Clinton to speak to her disgruntled loyalist female voters who may be inclined to support Sarah Palin’s ticket. Hillary will be campaigning for Obama in Florida soon, as she had agreed to do before Palin was put on the GOP ticket. But her aides have informed the Obama campaign that they shouldn’t count on her, because she has “a busy fall.” The O campaign will also be turning to a bunch of Midwestern female governors, like the riveting Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and the charismatic Janet Napolitano of Arizona, to woo back offended Hillary voters. Good luck with that.

Let’s just stipulate that those hard-core female liberal ideologues, as well as the abortion voters, will stay with the Democratic ticket, come what may. As they tell us, they vote issues, not gender.

To Hillary I say: Don’t go there. You owe Obama nothing. He elbowed you out of the way. You could have won the election and he probably cannot. He needs you, and you don’t need him. Those boots were made for walkin’. . .  

Also, Hill: as a woman who may later want the votes of women, it isn’t smart to use your sex to attack another woman. Those non-ideological, “I just vote for the candidate I like better” female swing voters won’t like it. And there are more of them than there are ideologically consistent feminists. Just let Sarah Palin stand as a rebuke to Obama for beating you — but not being tough enough to put you on the ticket

And what a rebuke Mrs. Palin is. PUMA websites indicate that many Democratic women are taking a new look at the GOP ticket: first, because Republicans nominated a talented, likeable woman. Second, because one after another luminary of the Right is out there defending her, her qualifications, and her skills — unstintingly. John McCain beams with pride when introducing her. That is a sight that even devoted conservative women, (me!) never expected to see. The undecided women voters are impressed by real party unity in support of a woman. Democratic men seem to feel women with children can’t handle a tough job.

But — was Palin really put on the ticket as a babe magnet? That’s only the cover. The real mission is class, not sex. The Obama campaign may have missed the true nature of the threat. Sarah Palin — like Joe Biden — was chosen in large part because she could appeal to working-class voters, who by rights should be voting for the Democrats’ politics of the trough in this economic downturn. Did you hear how much applause Palin got the other night when she mentioned that her husband was a member of the Steelworkers Union? The GOP wants its Reagan Democrats back!

Even the subtle difference between the newly hot “hockey moms,” and the “soccer moms” of yore has to do with class. Soccer is played in the leafier suburbs, and the moms drive Lexus SUVs. Hockey is grittier (and field hockey doesn’t count).

Those blue-collar guys and gals in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (three states mentioned by Palin in her acceptance speech), were put off Obama during the primaries because of his caricature of their God-and-guns culture, his penchant for arugula (and all that that implies), and his general elitism. And maybe race.

But maybe race per se wasn’t the primary reason. Maybe the problem is the somewhat alien background — the Kenyan father, the Indonesian youth, the runaway mom. Maybe it is a little puzzling how this man went from total outsider to the Harvard Law School national elite, collecting his $200 without passing Go . . . as they have not been able to do. That’s hard to relate to if you have lived in a town where your dad worked at the plant his whole life, and you were going to do that too. But now the plant has closed, and you need a plan so you can support the family and work for the next 20 years.

If you were that autoworker or miner — even if you think that Democrats will give you more money, even if you hope that they can solve your pressing health-care issues — it’s hard to see how you’d accept that this Harvard Law grad, who “organized” in the slums of Chicago, has a clue about your three-dimensional life. For instance, you support the military and want to see the U.S. win in Iraq — not just turn tail and leave. And while it’s not your issue, you’ve never been happy with abortion on demand. But you aren’t rich, and you mistrust the party of Wall Street.

Maybe George Bush and his dad never really got you either. Does John McCain? Maybe. Partly. But this Palin babe — she is right on your wavelength. She lives where you live.

So who are the Democrats going to send to fight the Palin dragon? Women? Senator Joe Biden, son of Scranton? Can a vice-presidential candidate really double as the ticket’s foreign-policy expert and it’s emissary to the nation’s blue-collar neighborhoods? That will be quite a trick. Given the electoral votes at stake — Obama’s strategy for victory depends on it.

– Lisa Schiffren writes from New York.


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