Election season is generally not a time of clarity. Debate results, polling stats and even the impact of local rallies usually remains ambiguous. But for the third round of presidential debates a consensus has been reached among the major news sources: Last night, John McCain did not fare well.
At a moment when McCain needed to rally independent voters, he did little more than alienate a huge voting population -- namely women. Though he had bumbled through much of the debate, it was when McCain snickered, threw up air quotes and called concern for the mother's "health" an extreme pro-abortion position, that he entered hopeless territory.
It's unclear where McCain is getting his information, but concern for the mother's health is hardly a "pro-abortion" argument. McCain's lack of concern for mothers is unsettling, but his divisive talk about "extreme" positions also sheds light on a certain rhetoric that has come to surround the abortion conversation. Slate points out that, unlike most issues that concern us during election time, the abortion debate is always argued in the vocabulary of "us versus them," particularly by Republican Party members. Comparing passages in which McCain and Obama discussed abortion, Slate notes the attack words McCain chose to use -- bad, extreme, clear-cut -- versus Obama's more nuanced word choice -- prevent, common ground, options.
No matter what side of the abortion debate you fall on, and no matter what moniker you give the other side, very few people have a Sarah Palin black-and-white stance on the issue, and even fewer people (if any) are actively pro-abortion. As Obama pointed out: "We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred ... nobody's pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation."
While Obama tried to assuage both sides on the abortion issue, McCain couldn't refrain from getting agitated, and leveled strike after strike against women. As one Broadsheet reader pointed out, "lost in the shuffle was his off-the-cuff remark -- and typical GOP talking point -- that the equal pay case Obama mentioned would have been a victory for trial lawyers. Absolutely no empathy or sympathy showed for women and their plight for equal pay in the work place -- something McCain has shown disdain for before."
And it didn't end there. When asked to explain why Sarah Palin would make a better V.P. than Joe Biden, he invoked ... Todd Palin? "I can't tell how proud I am of her and her family. Her husband's a pretty tough guy, by the way, too," McCain smiled. As Feministing points out, McCain's pride for Sarah Palin sounds condescending, and Todd Palin shouldn't have been mentioned at all. Eyebrows certainly would have been raised if Obama had said, well, anything, about Jill Biden.
To McCain's credit, he has received a lot of flak for either confusing Trig Palin's diagnosis or conflating autism and Down syndrome. As it turns out, McCain was not confused; he just wasn't very precise. Sarah Palin's nephew has autism and two of her cousins have diagnoses that fall on the autism/asperger's spectrum as well. She probably does, in fact, have a pretty good sense of what it would be like to raise a child with autism.
If nothing else, McCain was wrong on at least one point, his good friend Joe the Plumber. The New York Times has reported that the now infamous character isn't even a licensed plumber. But what's new? This campaign has had a long and complicated relationship with the truth.