SEPTEMBER 1, 2008
In the past few days, the press has politely gone through the non-gender-related reasons McCain could have chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate: She's young; she's a reformer; she's country; she's pro-life; she fires up the base; she is--we've even been asked to believe--McCain's "soulmate." But Palin herself doesn't pull any punches on the substance of her selection. The last real point in her stump speech as rolled out in Ohio last Friday--the final idea she leaves you with--is this one:
It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!
I wonder how Hillary feels about Palin's theft of her "highest, hardest glass ceiling" phrase. This isn't just any piece of rhetoric lifted out of a long Hillary quotebook. It's one of the quintessential, signature Hillary ideas, debuted at an Emily's List lunch honoring Nancy Pelosi in March 2007, reiterated constantly throughout her campaign, and cemented as an iconic Hillary line in her June concession speech. Seeing Palin appropriate this phrase is like watching McCain suddenly start to parade around calling for "change you can believe in."
But what's worse is that Palin made the already-bad line even more awful. I always thought this particular line of Hillary's was below her: It was an attempt to trump her opponent's claim to history, a politically dubious approach in a Democratic field full of historic hopefuls, to say nothing of its morality. Yes, I know "glass ceiling" has typically been used to refer, specifically, to the professional obstacles women face. But when Hillary invoked it, I always heard in it a broader suggestion. The superlative, no-comparisons-allowed construction "highest, hardest" in place of "high" and "hard" aimed to pit grievances against grievances, to outdo Obama on the special-historic-quest front.
But Palin's appropriation of it last Friday really elevated it to the ridiculous. The night before, as he accepted the first nomination offer made to a black American by a major party, Obama didn't preen that he was making history. He merely briefly acknowledged the historic nature of the party's "slate" of candidates as a whole.
To then try to overshadow Obama's moment by bragging the next day that, as McCain's (potential) female #2, you're on the verge of breaking the "highest, hardest" obstacle in American political life? Give me a break. A hundred and fifty years ago blacks were enslaved in this country. Today, we have a number of female governors, but only one elected black governor. We have a number of female senators, but only one black senator. A woman has run before on a major ticket, but an African-American has never done so. As a woman who hates the unfair difficulties women face in climbing up the political ladder, I'm perfectly ready to say that the ceiling for blacks in politics is just as hard as ours. And the selection of Palin wasn't itself a first (hello, Ferraro?). Suggesting that Palin makes an equal match for Obama in terms of the impossibles she renders possible ("one day after Barack Obama made history, John McCain made some of his own," Fox wrote breathlessly on Friday) is idiotic.
Anyway, talking up the historic nature of your candidacy is silly, period--the redoubt of people without many other claims to electoral mojo. That "highest, hardest" line stank.