Sarah Palin: Our First Woman President?

I've long harbored a suspicion I dared not speak until now: that the first woman president will be a Republican. Tonight's performance by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin brings that possibility a step closer to reality.

Forget rebuttal on the substance of her acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention for her nomination to the number-two spot on the national ticket: The fact that Palin was for the "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it, the misstatements on Barack Obama's tax plan, the demeaning of his work as a community organizer. None of that will matter.

Palin's speech was not meant to inform or inspire her audience. It was meant to rile, to stir, the vaunted base of the Republican Party: the religious right-wingers who have filled the ranks of Republican party delegates since 1980. It was meant to call down the force that will re-ignite the culture wars of the late 20th century. And so it did.

All week, my friends have licked their chops at the spectacle of Palin's nomination: the revelation of her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy and the rampant speculation about her own recent pregnancy and delivery of Trig, Palin's 5-month old baby with Down Syndrome. Then came the news -- since disproved -- that she belonged to the Alaska affiliate of the hard-right Constitution Party, which calls for a vote on whether Alaska should secede from the union. Then came word that her husband actually did belong to that party. Next up: Palin's attempt to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the Alaska State Troopers force. Now there are rumors of some blockbuster National Enquirer story about to come out. Don't bother. It won't matter. The fact is that, in the culture wars, the righteously religious will stick by their people, claiming to hate the sin and love the sinner. It's fair to say, I think, that they're willing to lose the battle for purity in order to win the election.

The forces behind Palin's sudden ascension to the national stage doubtless see in Barack Obama a very real potential for a new, majority movement rooted in liberal and progressive values -- one that holds appeal even to young people from evangelical homes. There is only one way to stop the momentum built by Obama: make him the "them" that "us" is called by God to fight. And that's a job for a culture warrior.

Palin, it's said, was not John McCain's first choice for the number two spot on his ticket -- but she sure was the pick of the pooh-bahs of the Council for National Policy, the super-secret organization that controls the Republican Party platform. Without the cooperation of the CNP, McCain gets no help on getting out the vote. The ground organization for voter turnout in the GOP lies not in the party proper, but in a network of right-wing churches -- much as the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation depends on the databases and canvassers of the nation's labor unions. Those churches generally take direction from one or another of the high-profile preachers in the CNP.

John McCain is certainly no favorite of the CNP types, especially since he called, in 2000, CNP members Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance", and wrote of Paul Weyrich, Heritage Foundation founder and CNP elder, that the latter was a "a pompous, self-serving son of a bitch." The Palin pick signals a rapprochement between McCain and various sons of bitches and agents of intolerance, who fell all over themselves this week in praise of McCain's running mate, and Mr. Maverick himself. (Canvassers, get cracking!)

In Sarah Palin, the right has found a foil for Obama who seems tailor-made -- someone who can stir the waters of resentment without sacrificing the right's ideals on the nature of womanhood. Unlike the Obamas, she and her husband do not have diplomas from prestigious institutions. The Palins are not urban. They hunt, fish, snow-mobile and have five children -- one of whom is about to deploy to Iraq, on Sept. 11, no less. The Alaska governor is so anti-choice that she does not even believe in exceptions for rape or incest. Sarah Palin -- the same generation as Barack Obama -- earned her spot on the ticket simply by being so different from him while yet representing change by virtue of her gender. And that's no small thing.

Just as it took a woman -- CNP member Phyllis Schlafly -- to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, so, too, will it take a woman to stop Obama. (Which is why I thought McCain would choose a woman all along.) Because her gender is a first for the Republican party on a national ticket, Palin provides cover for the party's retrograde agenda: one in which women's fate is determined by men, and fair treatment for women and people of color enjoys no protection from the state. She is unlikely to be stopped by scandal. The only way to oppose her is on the merits of her greater agenda -- opposition to equal rights and reproductive rights -- and the company she keeps on the far right.

For a woman to be elected president from the outside, as Hillary Clinton tried to do, is an extremely difficult endeavor. To ascend from the vice presidency is a far more likely scenario, I believe. Given the enthusiastic support Palin enjoys from her admirers and the closeness of this presidential contest so far, Sarah Palin could well be our first woman president. Now there's a thought to give one pause.