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A Dem Palin? Not Needed

The Sunday NYT carried an unusually useless op-ed yesterday, asking for a "Palin of Our Own" for the Democrats. Anna Holmes and Rebecca Traister note that Sarah Palin generates a lot of publicity, and conclude:

The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics. (emphasis theirs). 

Let's start with the second point, that Democrats "have done nothing to stop" Palin from becoming the "symbol of American women in politics." This is our old familiar bugaboo, the idea that one party lets the other "get away with" things. Liberals have exactly zero ability to affect which Republicans are featured on Fox News or what those Republicans say, and have almost zero ability to affect how Republican pols are perceived by the people who watch Fox News and otherwise get their news from inside the conservative bubble. Beyond that, it's hardly surprising that the GOP nominee for VP, who has since had a bestselling book, maintained a high public profile, and is considered a leading candidate for her party's presidential nomination, would be, well, very visible. There is nothing that "progressive leaders" could do about that.

Now, as far as the other part: have Democrats somehow failed to support and promote women pols? Well, here, one can make a case that Democrats could do better -- but absolutely not a case that Democrats are doing a worse job than Republicans of supporting and promoting women. Holmes and Traister complain that Hillary Clinton has been mistreated by Democrats, that "Democratic leaders never really celebrated Mrs. Clinton’s nation-altering place in history as the first female candidate to get so close to a major party’s presidential nomination," and that "she is most appreciated when she plays well with others in the Senate or the State Department." This is preposterous nonsense. While I would agree that occasional portrayals of Clinton before, during, and after the campaign play to misguided stereotypes, I'm not sure what exactly Holmes and Traister want here. Clinton was certainly celebrated at the Democratic Convention in 2008; that she was then selected by Barack Obama for Secretary of State, which is generally considered the most prestigious and visible job in the cabinet, is exactly the opposite of ignoring her. (Plays well with others? What's that supposed to mean? Other than Clinton, like all pols, is a lot more likely to receive intraparty attacks during contested primaries, which is hardly news). 

Beyond Clinton, we're told of "the left’s failure to nurture and celebrate female politicians." Assuming they're talking about liberal Democrats (and not the actual left, where Cynthia McKinney is probably as nurtured and celebrated as anyone, I suppose)...well, what about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Doesn't she count? Or Barbara Boxer? Claire McCaskill? Amy Klobuchar? Patty Murray? Barbara Mikulski? Jeanne Shaheen? Maria Cantwell? Should I keep going? I haven't finished listing the thirteen Democratic Senators who are women (compared to four Republicans -- one of whom just probably lost her primary for renomination, one of whom lost a gubernatorial primary earlier this year, and the other two of which (Collins and Snowe) are hardly "nurtured and celebrated" by conservatives). I haven't listed the 56 Democratic Members of the House who are women (compared to 17 for the GOP). It's true that there are as many (3) female Republican governors as Democrats, but below that there are far more statewide elected Democratic women. And don't forget that 70% of state legislators who are women are Democrats. So, I don't know about nurturing and celebrating, but as far as nominating and electing, the Democrats certainly shouldn't be looking to the GOP for examples.

Oh, and as far as Palin's supposed crop of new women, it's basically a handful of high-profile candidates and little else. As the Boston Phoenix's David S. Bernstein has been documenting, it's possible that the GOP could actually wind up taking the House without electing any new female Members of Congress, which is really an astonishing situation (they'll probably elect a handful of new women to the House, but a GOP takeover would almost certainly decrease the number of women in Congress). Looking at the Senate...Republicans have (probably) lost one Senator to a primary defeat. They've nominatedFiorina, McMahon, Angle, for competitive seats, and may nominate Ayotte -- but the Democrats have Lincoln, Boxer, Carnahan, Marshall, and Murray in competitive seats, plus another two incumbents who will easily win reelection. So a Democratic landslide will increase the number of women in the Senate; a GOP landslide will almost certainly reduce it. 

Holmes and Traister say that "Democrats often prefer their women fulfilling...diminutive models of behavior. Well, I suppose that Barbara Mikulski is, in fact, short, and Barbara Boxer isn't very tell, either. If that's what they mean...well, beyond that, does anyone think of Mikulski or Boxer, or Pelosi and Clinton, or Napolitano and Granholm, as, and I'm sorry to say it, shrinking violets? I don't think so. 

Frankly, the New York Times should be ashamed of itself for running this piece, which is an insult not only to all the Democratic women in office, but actually to the few Republican women who do still hold elective office, none of which Holmes and Traister bother to mention (yes, there are some who haven't quit their jobs). I suppose it's possible that Holmes and Traister just don't realize that there were hundred of first-rate and important women pols before Sarah Palin, and there are hundreds now, even though none of them are president or vice-president. And, again, I'd like to see more women nominated, by both parties. But what they're's really just nonsense, and the Times should have known better. 

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist. He blogs at A plain blog about politics.