All around the blogosphere, I see people wondering if John McCain really thinks women are stupid enough to be fooled by his rather transparent and cynical choice of VP and vote with their vaginas despite Palin's antichoice, antifeminist, antievolutionary views.
Pshaw, I say.
This is vintage Rovian turning-your-opponent's-greatest-strength-into-a-weakness politics. Here's how I see it: McCain has been making a pitch for disaffected Hillary voters for a while now -- you may recall, for instance, that after Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, called Clinton a bunny boiler during his speech announcing that he was throwing his support behind Obama, McCain called him out. And because McCain called him out, Cohen issued an apology (of sorts) -- about the only apology out of anyone associated with the Obama camp for misogyny directed at Clinton. And after that, McCain started making a show of respect for Clinton -- a far cry from his earlier giggling when asked, "How do we beat the bitch?"
Well, what's one of the Democratic Party's greatest strengths? Its appeal to women -- who make up more than half the electorate -- as the party that cares about their rights. The party's problem, of course, is that Clinton's candidacy exposed that for the expedient lie it is, since the party establishment allowed the blatant misogyny directed against Clinton by the media, Democratic lawmakers, the Obama campaign and the rank-and-file to go unchallenged. Then, when Obama was ushered into the nomination by a fishy decision by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee that was contrary to the DNC's own rules, the party establishment finally spoke up, albeit weakly. But only for so long, because there was no time to pay attention to silly things like rooting out misogyny in the party that claims to care about women. Get in line and vote for the Chosen One, and keep your mouth shut and don't spoil the optics.
This did appear to be a fairly serious problem for the Dems; Obama was losing support among women and other groups with his lurch to the right. And instead of trying to bring those voters back into the fold with persuasion and carrots and addressing their concerns, the campaign, the party, the media and especially the fan base turned to threats, mockery, infantilization, accusations of racism, doomsaying and RoeRoeRoeRoeRoe when those voters started saying that gosh, love to vote for you, but you haven't given me any reason to and how dare you assume that I have nowhere else to go?
Now, there was never a real risk that progressives would vote for McCain en masse; those Hillary supporters who show up in polls as planning to vote for McCain may very well be Republican and Independent women who were voting for Clinton, not for the Democrats.
There has been, however, a real risk that progressives who are sick of the misogyny and sick about the direction the party was taking would sit this one out. And the Republicans were counting on that continuing.
And then a funny thing happened -- after a lot of tension about whether Clinton and her 18 million supporters would be shut out of the Convention, the Obama people agreed to give Hillary and Bill Clinton prime-time speaking slots. And they both spoke of unity, and urged Hillary's supporters to vote for Obama. And a lot of the Hillary diehards here watched those speeches and said they were convinced, they'd now vote for Obama. Others, too -- as Jack Goff said, it was what he'd been waiting for, though he hadn't known he'd been waiting for anything.
Obama's speech, too, convinced more people that Obama was not necessarily all style and no substance, that he understood the need to talk issues and the need to fight.
Then McCain -- who, it should be noted, was telling the press he had not selected a running mate as late as the final day of the Democratic National Convention -- dropped the Palin bombshell.*
Right on cue, the sexist attacks against Palin began on the left -- which the McCain people were undoubtedly counting on.
Let's look at how McCain's selection of Palin fits in to the Rovian playbook. Already, feminists on the left are asking whether McCain thinks that women vote with their vaginas -- but that only allows the GOP to turn that back on the Dems and ask why feminists think that Palin was chosen only because she's a woman. Same with all the "what kind of mother" talk -- aren't Democrats the ones who are supposed to be all for working mothers?
Then there's all the "Governor Barbie," bimbo, golddigger, VPILF, CUNTRY, etc. crap. Oh, the Republicans will undoubtedly say, look how much the Democrats value women. All that unity business was a steaming pile of bullshit; they don't value you when the chips are down.
And what the Republicans will do that the Democrats will not is call out the misogyny against their candidate. I've said it before -- the Republicans would never, in a million years, stand by and let the media and the party rank-and-file treat one of their female candidates the way that Clinton got treated during the primary.
Thus, they turn a Democratic strength into a weakness. Or, rather, expose it as a weakness.
Now, as to why I don't think that McCain actually thinks that disaffected Democratic women will flock to him just because he picked a wingnut gun-nut creationist woman with some ethical problems as a running mate: because he doesn't have to get them to vote for him. He has to get them to stay home in swing states.
And what better way to get them to stay home than pick a running mate who not only helps him with his own base, but whose very physical presence he knows will bring out the misogynist bully boys who made Hillary's life (and those of her supporters) such hell? The ones who never tire of making it perfectly clear that women who want attention paid to their issues in this election are not welcome in the Democratic Party?
Making it all the more perfect is the fact that Obama is boxed in -- if he fails to rein in the football hooligans who comprise his rabid fan base, he will be (rightly) accused of supporting the misogynistic attacks against Palin, but if he publicly reins them in, he will be (rightly) accused of failing to do the same when those attacks were directed against Clinton, which will allow the Republicans to question the legitimacy of the process that put him over the top on the delegate count.
That genie isn't going back into the bottle, not now.
And all those football hooligan fanboys who've turned their unleashed ids onto Palin now that Hillary's out of the race and in the fold? They're doing Karl Rove's work for him. And so are the astroturfers and concern trolls.
Congratulations! How does it feel to help get McCain elected?
H/T to Eva in comments at Feministe, whose comment helped me crystallize some of these thoughts. Nadai also had similar thoughts. UPDATE: See also Hecate.
UPDATE II: Violet Socks has a couple of posts on the same theme; also see Anglachel on how much this pick had to do with McCain's reconciliation with his own base, which is borne out by how excited they are by Palin.
UPDATE III: See also Avedon (who points out a comment by BDBlue, Chicago Dyke and Digby.
* Just to be clear: I don't think Palin was chosen just because she's a woman. I do think it was a factor, based on what McCain's perceived needs were. But she helps him in other areas as well, including with the base and with being a fresh face in Washington. And people sure are talking about her, aren't they?