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Are You Experienced?

A new Wall Street Journal / NBC poll (opens as Acrobat .pdf document) out today shows that a majority of voters questioned is comfortable with the idea of having Sarah Palin in the White House as vice-president, despite a “national debate” on whether she’s experienced enough for the job.

That’s very interesting. Because polls have for months been showing that voters are somewhat concerned over Barack Obama’s lack of experience. It is the very reason why Team McCain has from the start been highlighting Obama’s perceived “lack of experience”.  Obama selected Joe Biden, a Senator with 33 years of experience in foreign affairs, to be his running mate. That’s a lot of experience, but it hardly made a difference in the polls.

So what can we conclude from this? That experience is something that only troubles Obama? Or is experience simply not that important to voters?

To paraphrase Lord Acton: “ideology blinds, and absolute ideology blinds absolutely.”

That is at the core of the question, when trying to analyze why voters deem Obama’s lack of experience a problem, but are less concerned about Palin’s lack of experience. I think the explanation for that is that people are more inclined to forgive candidates for a lack of experience, if those candidates candidly and forcefully prove that their are vehemently defending the ideas of those voters.

Months ago, I had a conversation with a hard-right American woman on some political discussion forum. When I asked her why she would never vote for Hillary Clinton, she literally said that “politics is not the place for women”. She said that women should be taking care of the family, making sure that the kids are healthy and the house is clean, etcetera.

However, shortly after John McCain selected Sarah Palin to be his veep, I saw a post of the woman on the discussion forum again – and she was thrilled by Palin, and she would go out to register, and vote for her. All the talk about how women should not be in politics was out the window, because Palin is backing the same hard-right, Christian ideology. (Minus the “women should stay at home” stuff, obviously.)

That threw me back to the 2000 election. I had many discussions with American voters then about their presumed choice for the presidency. I was aghast; quite a few of the people who said they’d be voting for Bush, didn’t really like his socio-economic agenda, but said they “had to” vote for Bush as he was the only candidate promoting a conservative Christian agenda. Some of these people had voted for Clinton in ’92 and ’96, but were finally turned off by the Lewinsky scandal.

They all acknowledged that Clinton’s economic policies had worked, and worked fabulously, and they acknowledged that Al Gore would probably continue those succesful policies. But it didn’t matter.

During the 2000 election campaign, experience was also an important factor. Al Gore had been vice-president for 8 years, and had served in the Senate for many years before that. Bush, despite having been governor of Texas, was completely inexperienced in foreign affairs. He proved it by a number of gaffes during interviews and debates. But it didn’t matter.

Bill Clinton, while on the stump for Gore, famously pressed the voters to “choose wisely”. Nonetheless, for those Americans, ideology trumped wisdom. They all voted Bush in the end.

At the end of 2003, I talked to some of the same people again. The disaster that was Bush’s economic and fiscal “policy” was clear, and these guys weren’t stupid. But I wasn’t surprised at all when they said that they would still be voting for Bush. They all believed that Kerry would be just as tough as Bush as commander in chief, so that wasn’t the problem. No, their problem with Kerry was that he wasn’t promoting a Christian-conservative agenda. And perhaps Bush could finally install a new conservative Supreme Justice in the Supreme Court during his second term. They were finally turned off when Bush botched that with his Harriet Miers nomination.

To Christian fundamentalist wingnuts like them, people like Sarah Palin can do no wrong. If today documents showed up which clearly show that Palin illegally deducted millions in tax expenes, if today someone reports that Palin once drowned a kitten, or if Palin today says that as president, she’d sell Alaska to Canada, they would still support her.

As for independent, not necessarily very religious women who are flocking to Palin: as some polls have shown, many are voting for her because she’s a woman. A fairly large number of women now view Palin as the torch bearer of the feminist struggle for equality. Some have, without blinking, switched from the quite liberal Hillary Clinton to the ultra-conservative Sarah Palin. I’m charging here, but that’s a bit like a cow preferring a butcher over a PETA volunteer to have as her new friend.

That aside, it’s quite ironic for them to vote for someone because of her gender. These women seem to be making the same mistake as the misogynists they’re fighting. Misogynists will not vote for a woman because she’s a woman. Feminists, who joined the struggle to fight for acceptance of equality between men and women, now say that they are voting for Palin because she’s a woman. Misogyny in reverse.

I wonder how these women sleep at night. Oh wait, I know – “ideology blinds, but absolute ideology blinds absolutely.” And that while darkness helps people get to sleep! Of course, how could I forget…

Time for Team Obama to turn the lights on McCain, while also asking Palin what exactly she thinks of the economic policies of George W. Bush. Does she support his policies, like McCain does? And how does she feel about the fact that McCain doesn’t agree with her view on abortion, which holds that abortion should never be allowed – even not in the case of incest or rape? Isn’t that a problem?

If the game of Team McCain is to paint Obama as “just another tax-and-spend liberal”, i.e. your average Democratic candidate and nothing special, then it is time for Team Obama to paint Palin for what she is: an ultra-conservative, right-wing Republican. And you do that not by accusing or pointing fingers, but by continuously asking questions via the media.

The answer is to question her.