Related: Politics, Women, Women's Leadership

The Tactics of History


conway.jpegTrinity Alumna Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway ’89 (left photo), founder of thepollingcompany,was ahead of most political strategists on Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who became John McCain’s vice presidential choice yesterday.  Quoted in a June article in, Kellyanne had this to say about Palin (photo on right, below):

“She’s young, vibrant, fresh and now, and a new mother of five. She should be in the top tier,” Conway continued. “If the Republican Party wants to wrestle itself free from the perception that it is royalist and not open to putting new talent on the bench, this would be the real opportunity.”palin-gov.jpeg

Yesterday, Kellyanne was all over the media offering analysis on the Palin candidacy, including quotes on foxnews.comthe Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post as well as appearances on Larry King, CNBC and other broadcast outlets.

What does the Palin candidacy mean for this presidential race, and for women?  Only time will tell whether this choice will have a decisive impact on voters, or whether Sarah Palin will join Geraldine Ferraro as an interesting historical footnote.  Vice presidential candidates never carry a ticket to victory, but good ones can certainly add ballast while bad ones can be dead weight.

Some instant commentators criticized the Palin selection as a cynical attempt to attract women voters disaffected with the Democrats’ failure to nominate Hillary Clinton.    But as Kellyanne Conway commented in the Wall Street Journal, ”

“Women voters in particular are not linear voters, thank God. Give us some credit. We don’t just say, ‘Oh, there’s a woman on the ticket, I’ll vote for her,’ ” Ms. Conway said.

Perhaps the most notable effect of this nomination and this presidential contest on our society will be a giant step forward in the broad-based normalization of gender and race as notable factors in political decision-making.  No one should ever cast a vote on personal characteristics alone, but we know that some voters do, and many take such characteristics into account on the theory of personal connection — many voters are attracted to candidates with life stories similar to their own.   It’s not a completely irrational choice; a person who has walked in my shoes may be far more likely to embrace public policies that are sensitive to my needs.  Such influences are more notable when a candidate is “the first” or “the only” or rare.   When more women and candidates of color are in the mix, personal characteristics become more broadly accepted and less influential in the ultimate voter choice.

We keep hearing about the anger of Hillary’s supporters; McCain ads have pandered to that segment — “18 million people voted for her and still she was not chosen.”  That’s a real cynical reading of history.  Millions voted for Mitt Romney, and he’s not on the ticket now.  A majority of the American millions voted for Al Gore in 2000 — and the rest was history.

The issue is not Hillary’s loss, but rather, the growing national acceptance, the “normalization” of women’s political power and leadership ability regardless of party affiliation or ideology.  Women across the political spectrum have now held some of the highest offices in this nation — from Condoleeza Rice to Madeleine Albright, from Nancy Pelosi to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, from Kathleen Sebelius to Sarah Palin.  So many women governors, senators and corporate leaders have been considered as possible candidates and truly influential forces in this political season.palin.jpeg

In the end, while John McCain’s choice for a running mate may be just a political tactic to win over some women voters, the more lasting impact of the Palin candidacy will be felt in the ongoing march of history toward women’s full political equality.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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