The Palin problem

After weeks of declaring that she's their girl, conservatives are expressing doubts about McCain's V.P. pick.

Published September 30, 2008 4:45PM (EDT)

In this past weekend's "Saturday Night Live" parody of the Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview, "Couric" asks "Palin" -- after she delivers a particularly incomprehensible response -- whether it's fair to say that "when cornered, you become increasingly adorable." Until recently, that seemed to be a surprisingly common reaction to Palin. After all, who needs foreign policy experience when you've got a quirky life story and you know how to gut a moose?

But unfortunately, being adorable can get you only so far. Today's War Room comments on the right's rising doubts about Palin, as does today's Washington Post, which links to a column by conservative writer Kathleen Parker that I think is worthy of Broadsheet attention.

In it, Parker -- who confesses to at first having been "delighted" with John McCain's choice -- now says that "it's increasingly clear that Palin is a problem."

"If Palin were a man, we'd all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes," writes Parker. "But because she's a woman -- and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket -- we are reluctant to say what is painfully true."

Parker then asks Palin to drop out of the race.

What I find interesting about Parker's column -- besides the fact that Palin's recent performances have been so bad that steadfast conservative voices are asking her to drop out -- is that it highlights a dilemma that many Americans have been facing this election season, historic for its inclusion of an African-American man and not just one but two women.

When someone of your gender or race (or however else you choose to identify yourself) has a historic chance to be in a position of power, but for whatever reason, you don't support him or her, you find yourself with a lot of explaining to do. Self-proclaimed feminists had to rationalize why they supported Barack Obama during the primaries; African-Americans had to justify why Hillary Clinton was their woman. And now Parker -- like other conservatives -- is being forced to admit that while Palin embodies the type of woman she finds appealing ("the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood -- a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother," as Parker puts it), she may still be unqualified to lead. It can be tough to admit: As Parker writes, "No one hates saying that more than I do."

I guess you could take this two ways: It's depressing that McCain made such a pandering choice (to the religious right, to women) to begin with and unfortunate that Palin's weaknesses have become so painfully clear. (Am I the only person who feels bad for the woman?) But at the same time, perhaps this entire election will help all Americans -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- move past basing decisions on identity politics and learn to evaluate people on their leadership abilities rather than their gender or the color of their skin. If Kathleen Parker is asking Palin to step out of the race, perhaps she -- and all of us -- will be able to look at future candidates with more objective eyes.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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