The Pink Mafia Strikes Down Palin

By the time women had finished dissecting Palin in a way men would have never been allowed to, her approval ratings were tanking.
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As Sarah Palin's sterling image as a champion of average hockey moms unravels like the cheap pant suit she wishes she had been wearing for the past two months, her elevation seems like a roll of the dice everyone knew would go awry. But while serious analysts on both sides of the aisle had their doubts from day one, when John McCain tapped Sarah Palin to carry his vice presidential torch thinking that she would entice and even enthuse disaffected female voters across the country, what he most certainly didn't count on was, well, women.

Sure, they account for a higher percentage of the voters among every racial and ethnic group in the country. Yes, it is projected that over the next decade they will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and become the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in our country's history, according to Claire Behar, senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard New York. But politics has been a man's domain for so long, it may have never occurred to the political elite that even if men deemed Gov. Palin fit for the vice presidency, women would ultimately decide when one of their own was ready to rise to occasion of the White House.

While a million and one differences separate candidate Sarah Palin from candidate Hillary Clinton, the one that seems to have escaped everyone is that Hillary competed in a man's world and was defeated in a man's world. Ms. Palin has been demolished by women. True, just like with Hillary, a certain element of sexism crept into the dialogue as people questioned Gov. Palin about her ability to juggle motherhood with the demands of the White House and her personal decisions regarding her family. But Hillary banished that type of banter with sheer competency. Anyone who tortured themselves by watching every darn, single, Democratic debate, knew Hillary Clinton was the best one of the bunch. Sure, she was the establishment candidate -- the known quantity -- from the very outset of the race; but it wasn't until the first debate in April of 2007 that Hillary Clinton became the bona fide frontrunner. Twenty-three podium faceoffs later, Ms. Clinton had made only one discernible gaffe -- something about licenses -- while all but one of the other candidates, riddled with holes, had fallen by the wayside. Hillary rolled her sleeves up, went head to head with the fellas, and eventually lost to the one man who outsmarted her with a superior ground game.

Palin on the other hand, hand plucked by men to the national stage, was also off limits to their jabs and inquiries. Initial questions of Gov. Palin's experience leveled by politicians, strategists, and even journalists -- essentially the male political establishment -- were inevitably met with a rally-around-the-besieged mentality. After Charlie Gibson landed Palin's first post hibernation interview, he was criticized for being too professorial and condescending. Legitimately or not, he kicked off the interview by questioning whether Palin, when invited to join the ticket, had paused for a self-reflective moment to ask, "Am I experienced enough, am I ready?" He pounded away at her on foreign and domestic policy but illuminated very little about Gov. Palin other than McCain's people had drilled her until she was scared stiff. The only thing that stuck from the interview was that she wasn't familiar with the Bush doctrine -- which, while telling to some, wasn't pernicious enough to initiate her fall from America's grace.

As people swarmed to her rallies in the first few weeks of September and McCain stood grinning at her side, women may have even had a certain sense of pride at seeing a floundering male candidate bolstered by a shining, glittery female force -- and a force she was. No matter what people threw at her, she appeared to have that certain Teflon quality that's simultaneously so envied and despised in certain politicians. A former Republican strategist who had worked for a number of female candidates told me any questions about the governor's experience would be immediately be dismissed as unfair. The only way for Democrats to bring her down was to expose her positions on issues like outlawing abortions even in the cases of rape and incest. Her social agenda, he said, would be far too conservative for mainstream Americans and, in particular, independent women -- the subgroup of voters she was intended to lure into the Republican fold.

That conversation, of course, took place just before the much maligned CBS anchor Katie Couric dismantled Palin one sound bite at a time over the course of a seemingly endless two-week stretch in late September. Couric wanted to know "specifically" which newspapers Palin read, how Alaska's proximity to Russia qualified as giving her foreign policy experience, and not to belabor the point, but what exactly her running mate John McCain had done to help regulate Wall Street during his 26 years in Congress.

At the end of each week, Couric would pass the baton to Tina Fey, who repeated Palin's stuttering, halting responses -- sometimes word-for-word -- with an incisive glee that gave people license to laugh out loud at Palin's faltering intellect. And when Palin visited with world leaders in New York and the campaign barred reporters from asking her any questions, CNN's Campbell Brown turned the misogyny argument full circle on McCain aides by calling on them to end their "sexist treatment" of VP nominee. "Stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment," said Brown. "This woman is from Alaska for crying out loud, she is strong, she is tough, she is confident. And you claim she is ready to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. If that is the case, then end this chauvinistic treatment of her now."

By the time women had finished dissecting Palin in a way men would have never been allowed to, her approval ratings were tanking. Today, a solid 59% of both male and female voters say she isn't qualified for the job, according to a New York Times/CBS poll released last week.

For years, female politicians have forged their political personality based on the assumption that men would decide if and when they were qualified to hold office. People termed 1992 "The Year of the Woman" when a mere four women, the highest number ever, swept into the Senate together. But 2008 has been the year women announced a changing of the guard: first fielding a candidate for the White House, then taking another one down.

If Republicans lose on Tuesday, Sarah Palin may well be back in 2012 and she will surely bring Evangelicals and perhaps the Republican Party with her. But if she becomes the leader of the GOP, I would be willing to wager that's not the Party independent women will flock to and that's not a party that can win. As Gov. Palin said during her very first appearance with John McCain as the VP pick, "It turns out the women of America aren't finished yet."

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