Heather MacDonald: Thanks for destroying the GOP with identity politics, McCain

posted at 2:47 pm on August 30, 2008 by Allahpundit

This is not the Republican Party she thought she knew.

Of course, Democrats have been playing the identity-politics game to the hilt this election cycle; it’s what they do. And it will be amusing to watch them twist themselves into knots to avoid criticizing the Palin pick for what it is: a diversity ploy…

I thought that conservatives scoffed at the idea that American society systematically blocks accomplished women from advancement. But within less than an hour of the vice-presidential announcement yesterday morning, the diversity epidemic had spread rapidly in the Republican political machinery, including among analysts for whom I have only the highest respect. Talk-show host Laura Ingraham enthused about Palin’s identity profile: “A lot of women are calling in excited,” Ingraham said. “The women of America will see that she might be the first woman vice president.”…

Race and gender are almost never a valid job qualification. Yet they have taken over in field after field—whether in the hiring of lawyers and selection of judges, in the choice of books and art to which students will be exposed from the moment that they step into a classroom, in the composition of police and fire departments, or in the selection of corporate boards. This tendency must be fought, not capitulated to.

True, Palin brings traditional political strengths—such as gun enthusiasm and a pro-life record—to the ticket. Her fight against self-dealing in Alaskan politics counters the inside-the-Beltway corruption that damaged the Republicans in the 2006 elections. And her stance on drilling for Alaskan oil admirably bolsters the Republican Party platform on energy issues. But admit it, fellow conservatives: none of these attributes pushed her over the top. Your enthusiasm for her is driven in large measure by the fact that the McCain camp has beaten the Democrats at their own game, and in so doing, driven Obama’s moment of glory off the wires.

A righteous point and one that shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of Palinmania or the glee of watching liberals walk into rhetorical doorknobs about the dangers of on-the-job training in the White House during wartime. Just as the left is suddenly finding itself “insulted” that McCain would make the sort of tribalist play that they’ve been perfecting for decades, the right has breezed past the fact that, as MacDonald says, Gov. “Stanley” Palin wouldn’t have stood a chance for the nomination. (And no, needless to say, neither would a first-term senator from the midwest who lacked The One’s narrative, but we’re talking about conservatives here.) It’s hard to argue, in other words, that her gender wasn’t a necessary condition for the appointment — but it’s easy to argue that it wasn’t a sufficient condition, which to me is the more salient point. I want someone to look me in the eye and tell me that Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina or Kay Bailey Hutchison, or even Bobby Jindal for that matter, could have delivered like this:

I’ve been covering the GOP presidential race since November of 2006. In those many months — across many states — I have never seen a crowd with the energy that I witnessed yesterday at the Erwin Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio…

[E]ven after the choice was proclaimed, the crowd seemed to become more jacked. And when Sarah Palin delivered, they seemed to instantly fall in love…

And outside the arena, far from Dayton, the response I’ve gotten from Republican activists coast-to-coast has been one of almost joy. My email in-box is bursting with enthusiasm from loyal GOPers who’ve been either glum, skeptical or downright unhappy for the past two years.

Nothing new there. Check out the quotes from her opponents in the Alaska gubernatorial race near the top of today’s NYT profile, half-sneering and half-marveling at how helpless they were to challenge her likeability with policy. Money quote: “You know, that’s kind of like Obama.” McCain, a guy known for topping out in his monthly fundraising in the high twenties, pulled $4.5 million yesterday in about 14 hours after the pick was announced. Just five days ago, when she wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen, I noted again how “continually amazed” I was at how much support there was for her among our readers. Go back to this VP straw poll three months ago, when she blew out blogosphere fave Mitt Romney, for even earlier evidence.

Bottom line: The more they learn about her, the more conservatives love this woman. She’s deep red on energy and social policy, she’s not a party toady, she has a common touch that precious few Republican pols have, and yeah, she’s not a “boring white guy.” Nothing wrong with boring white guys — I’m one myself — but I can’t begrudge the vast, vast majority of conservatives who aren’t racist or sexist but are forever being told that they are by our leftist superiors a little joy at having a chance to disprove it by electing a woman they’re excited about. Which brings me back to an irony I mentioned yesterday: I think Palin will end up appealing much less to Hillary’s outspoken women supporters, with whom she’s at odds on virtually every issue, than to the GOP base and to Hillary’s working-class supporters generally, who’ll find it easier to identify with a “hockey mom” with socially conservative impulses. Maverick may be trying to play identity politics, but I’m skeptical it’ll work out that way in practice.

FYI, the front-page photo comes from Meghan McCain’s candids of yesterday’s rally. Exit question: Why does MacDonald think “there’s no going back” from this identity politics gambit?

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