At the end of the Democratic primary season, I wanted so hard to believe that, even with the ascendancy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the headway that Clinton made would change the way we think of a woman on the verge of political, social and corporate leadership and greatness.
Four months later, we have Republican vice-presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In these past few weeks, it appears that her running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has increasingly taken a back seat, both in the media and in the minds of American voters. As this so-called maverick entered the fray, bringing renewed energy to the conservative base, she has also exhibited a severe lack of knowledge of everything from foreign policy to any Supreme Court decision other than Roe v. Wade.
While I understood how people who were less informed on these same issues could support her, I was taken aback by the reactions of the College Republicans to her performance in the vice-presidential debate last Thursday night. The organization's president, Andrew Malcolm '09, told The Daily Princetonian that he was "absolutely blown away" by how she did, calling it an "awesome job."
Then I recalled my first reaction to McCain's announcement: commenting on how young and attractive Palin was. Several of my friends had the same initial reaction, and her introduction coincided with remarks from the McCain campaign on how the race would come down to image over issues.
With a candidacy like Palin's, which means a woman has come closer than any other since Geraldine Ferraro to the highest reaches of our government, one could point out how far we have progressed as a nation. But the nature of Palin's performance showed me that if she were to ever become president, it would be the worst setback for women in at least my lifetime.
If Palin, by some stroke of fate, were to step into the presidency after McCain's election, she would be forced to surround herself with policy experts to help inform the decisions she makes. Sound familiar?
The presidency of our current leader, George W. Bush, has come to be defined as an office where a poorly informed figure allows those around him to dictate the direction of his administration. As we come to the end of the eighth year of this, we as a nation find ourselves in the midst of two wars, an unfavorable image in the international sphere, an economy that worsens by the day and the reemergence of powers like China and Russia.
Now, Palin has made no secret of the kinds of vice presidents she admires most: George H.W. Bush and Harry Truman, both of whom later ascended to the highest office in the land. What pains me, however, is what a Palin presidency in the Bush mold will do for the image of a woman in power. Many people within the conservative base don't mind having a figure like the Alaskan governor who appeals broadly to their interests and is fairly easy to manipulate. Yet how does that in any way break any kind of glass ceiling for women if the figure they rally behind is just the means to achieve conservative ends?
Palin's candidacy has come to embody the traditionalism of the Republican Party and how unwilling it is to move forward. Clinton's candidacy showed us a female candidate in control of her vision for the presidency with her own approach to 21st-century issues. But placing dependent, malleable "hockey-mom" Palin under the guise of progress for women sets a dangerous precedent for the kind of female leader to which young people should aspire. She represents a setback for women of our generation, who will eventually become the leaders of tomorrow. How a group of young voters as educated and informed as Princeton's College Republicans can support Palin exhibits a severe lack of faith in what a female leader can do in her own right. And to borrow a line from Malcolm, that absolutely blows me away.
Walter Keith Griffin is a religion major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at email@example.com.