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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

Choice of Palin will offend serious voters

THE SISTERHOOD of the traveling pantsuits, as Hillary Clinton put it, has been played for fools by John McCain. But the Republican presidential nominee will pay for his folly in November.

His outrageous pick will backfire big time because his choice of running mate affronts more than affirms what so many women struggled to achieve in this election. Frankly, any woman who has worked too hard and too long to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world had to cringe - a lot - when Senator McCain decided to go with a trophy VP.

He could have selected plenty of Republican women - or men - with far more national standing, foreign policy experience, and overall accomplishments than an indistinct female governor from one of the least populated states in the country. Instead he went with a photogenic former beauty queen and hockey mom who's tickled pink to shatter the glass ceiling Senator Clinton cracked with 18 million votes.

Come again? Nothing personal, Sarah Palin, novice governor and aspiring conservative Christian star, but you're no Hillary Clinton or Olympia Snowe or Elizabeth Dole or even Condoleezza Rice. The fact that the GOP (read Karl Rove) gambled that any unknown, untested, unqualified woman would do on the Republican presidential ticket, simply reinforces how clueless the party remains with a majority of registered voters in America - who happen to be women.

The message the McCain campaign sent to American women by choosing Alaska's Ms. Palin, wrote one female commentator, "is that after all these years of so-called equality, tokenism still trumps ability and experience." And how galling is the assumption that a new, right-wing governor from the tundra can capitalize on the powerful movement among women voters that Senator Clinton ignited in her tenacious primary challenge?

Women and men became diehard Hillary supporters because they believed she was the most capable presidential candidate with an indisputable grasp of the issues and a driving ambition to solve them. Certainly her gender was a factor on the campaign trail both in media coverage and public acceptance but Hillary Clinton broke the impressive barriers she did because her candidacy inspired trust in her leadership, not because she's a woman.

In other words, Sarah Palin, for all her exalted virtues as a "pistol-packin', diaper-changin'•" family values gal, can't just replace Hillary by showing up in a pantsuit or an up do. She has to earn the respect that years of public service, and the scars to prove it, typically bring a candidate - male or female - running for national office.

To even suggest that Ms. Palin's nomination is another breakthrough for women is flat out insulting to those who backed the first woman to be genuinely considered for the highest office in the land based on background not gender. Hillary Clinton wasn't a fluke plucked from relative obscurity to gain electoral advantage.

John McCain's outrageous attempt to woo women voters with a woman almost no one outside of Alaska had heard of, says more about the man who would be president than the woman he picked. It says the senator, who forfeited his so-called maverick reputation when he capitulated on tax cuts, offshore drilling, immigration, torture, and "agents of intolerance" - to name a few flip-flops - really isn't willing to put country first after all.

He didn't select the best vice president candidate around to lead the country if he couldn't. His chose a wild card for second in command as an impulsive gesture to get elected. The Sarah Palin decision was about him, not us.

He calculated his off-the-radar preference would blow the opposition away and it did. But it also jolted Republican loyalists and independents who fear such a reckless ploy for the party's evangelical base and indiscriminate women voters will attract few and offend many who attach great seriousness to the election of a president and vice president.

Thoughtful voters know the country is facing too many grave problems that require urgent attention to waste time on a cheesy GOP soap opera over a veep hardly vetted.

Yet that is what John "I-was-a-POW" McCain reduced his campaign and national convention to with a pathetic strategy to outmaneuver Democrats on historical significance and divide and conquer former Clinton supporters who carry a grudge.

But the reality is he made a mockery of the women who allowed themselves to believe qualifications made the gender of a candidate irrelevant and not the other way around.

Once, it would have been abundantly clear to the Arizona straight-talker that women and conservatives would see through his clumsy pandering and recoil at his questionable judgment.

But because he allowed himself to be played for a fool by a party that will stoop to whatever it takes to win, John McCain will lose when his phony image as a "rebel" and hers as a "reformer" are soundly rejected.

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