Weighing in on Sarah Palin

September 5, 2008

                I was as stunned as anyone when news broke of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin being selected as Senator McCain's choice for both his running mate and to be "one heartbeat away" from the presidency of the United States -- the world's only super power.  

When it happened, I was on my way to West Virginia for a family whitewater rafting adventure.  Luckily, my 16-year old son, Kevin, was driving.  So I was free to respond to the calls and text messages that suddenly lit up my phone, including from several reporters.  Luckily, the mountains of West Virginia kept disrupting cell phone connections and saved me from embarrassing myself with any on-the record, off-the-cuff reactions.

I’ve been quiet ever since because I’ve really had to think this one through.  My emotions have been conflicted.  Now, I’ve had a little more time to think. To read more about her career and policy positions.  Here are the thoughts I'm wrestling with: 

·         Did Sarah Palin give one heck of a political speech during her debut on the national stage as she accepted the Republican’s nomination for vice president?   Absolutely.  As a communications specialist who has worked with hundreds of leaders on their presentation skills, I know a pro when I see one.   She mastered the teleprompter early in her career the same way I did:  as a TV sports broadcaster.  


·         Do I believe John McCain’s gambler’s decision to put her on the ticket could turn out to be a stroke of political genius?  Yes.  She oozes confidence and her sass and communications skills will make her a formidable opponent on the campaign trail.  I’m reminded of the words of Air Force Brigadier General Maggie Woodward, who told me recently, "I find the most important thing in a leader is the ability to communicate.  You can have all the vision in the world and dreams, but if you're not able to inspire people to follow you, all you are is a dreamer.  The only way I think you can inspire people is if you communicate well with them."' 


·          Are communications skills enough?  To get elected, perhaps.  To govern, absolutely not.  And that brings me to my conflicts. 


·         Am I an advocate of the benefits to our whole society of more women ascending to senior leadership positions?  Yes.


·         Do I believe that having a woman named to a major party’s presidential ticket for only the second time in U.S. history will further expand our nation’s cultural template of women as leaders?  Yes.


·         Do I feel mixed reactions to the idea of a working mother with five children, including a special needs infant and a “special needs” adolescent daughter, taking on one of the most challenging jobs in the world?  Yes.


·         Do I smile at how far our culture has come when I see a father holding his infant son and applauding as his wife takes the spotlight?  Absolutely.


·         Am I amazed at the irony of listening to the family values party, which has a long history of criticizing “working mothers” for "putting their careers before their children", cry “Foul” and “Sexism” at any questioning that Palin may be biting off a bit much at this point in her family life cycle?  You bet.


·         Do I wonder what Senator Hillary Clinton must be thinking as she watches 44-year-old Palin handed a piece of history on a silver platter as she strolls through the 18 million cracks Senator Clinton personally hammered in our nation's ultimate glass ceiling?  Oh yes. 


·         Do I wonder if Senator Obama is thinking he may have miscalculated in believing that he could win the women’s vote (54% in the 2004 presidential election) without Hillary Clinton’s help on the ticket?  Most definitely. 


·         For all of my working life, I have repeatedly witnessed how much harder women have to work and how much more qualified they have to be in order to be considered equally with men for professional opportunities.  In one fell swoop, Senator McCain demonstrated those old rules may be changing, too.


I don't agree with Palin's politics, nor most of her positions.  And, I believe that Gloria Steinem called it right when she wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week that the only thing the vice presidential nominee shares with Hillary Clinton is a chromosome. 

 For all of her communications skills, confidence and reported executive experience, I am concerned that one historic step up for Sarah Palin would be one gigantic step backwards for American women -- and their families. 

But I’m glad she’s on the ticket.  I can't wait for the debate with Senator Biden. And I continue to be amazed at how the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign keeps giving us one compelling example after another of how dramatically our country has changed.  I’m holding my breath on what will happen next. 

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