For the sexual and reproductive health community, the most interesting veepstakes is not the choice now facing Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States but the choice that Sen. John McCain might make to motivate the social conservative base of the Republican Party.
Last night McCain attempted to revive his image as a maverick in a speech critical of President Bush, staged near New Orleans to highlight the tragic failure of the Bush Administration to respond to Hurricane Katrina. In an effort to moderate his image after being forced to run to the right in the primaries, McCain wants to sound like a centrist and paint his opponent as liberal and out of touch. In his speech last night McCain said,
My opponent believes government has all the answers to every problem, and government should take our resources and make our decisions for us. That type of government doesn’t trust Americans to know what is right and what is best in their own interests — its the attitude of politicians who are sure of themselves but have little faith in the wisdom, decency, and common sense of free people.
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But McCain’s faith in free people doesn’t apply to women’s reproductive freedom. While he may attempt to pivot to the center rhetorically, it is increasingly clear he must find a way to placate social conservatives who’ve never really trusted him in spite of his consistent anti-choice voting record, and pledge to appoint "strict-constructionists" (a.k.a. anti-choice activist judges) to the U.S. Supreme Court.
One potential veep mentioned with increasing frequency is Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK). In the warped and insular world that is "pro-life" politics, her selection is also seen as an effort to make a play for disgruntled female supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Anti-choice McCain, with an anti-choice Palin, no matter how young and attractive she may be, would stand for policies so far removed from the reality of the women who loyally supported Sen. Clinton, as to reduce the Palin nomination to the status of political novelty. Palin’s policies would be offensive to the vast majority of Clinton supporters, as well as moderates and independents. Her selection would be a telling move that McCain failed to solidify his base, and like the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, would be historic for the GOP, but ultimately signal a lack of confidence in their general election strategy.
Palin is a young, attractive, mother of five including a recently born baby with Downs Syndrome. A heroine of the "pro-life" movement, she could give disaffected social conservative voters reason to rally.
The American Spectator describes Palin:
She’s young being only
44 (two years behind Senator Obama), she is widely known to despise
government corruption. She defeated a horribly entrenched and corrupt
Republican political machine in Alaska. She has a son in the U.S.
military. She’s strongly pro-life, belonging, in fact, to Feminists for
Life. Gov. Palin could become the Republican Party’s Segolene
Royal, the French Socialist Party’s glamorous leader known for her
heels and political bite. She is the perfect antidote to Sen. Obama’s
cheap thrills, and would help rejuvenate conservatism.
The Washington Times said of Palin,
And her presence could highlight Mr. Obama’s extremist abortion views on whether certain lives are worth living.
Indeed, a McCain-Palin ticket would make this election a clear referendum on nearly a generation of divisive politics on reproductive health issues. Palin could also help put a kinder-gentler face on anti-choicers, as well as breathe new life into a GOP race that has seemed stale from the start.
But no matter how attractive the packaging, it will only serve to move the GOP further to the extremes of their ideological base. In an election of seismic proportions, a McCain-Palin ticket would add one more important dimension to the change that is taking place, once and for all allowing us to demonstrate at the polls that Americans embrace pro-choice values, and reject the divisiveness of the anti-choice community that has defined the rise, and perhaps fall, of the conservative era now passing.