Does Palin Trump Biden?

I had intended to blog throughout the Democratic Convention. But there came a moment when I just wanted to be a spectator. Partly this was motivated by the fact that my husband Alex and I were simultaneously shopping for (and finally picking) a new apartment, an endeavor that diverts one’s attention considerably.

So I took a couple of days off from writing just to soak up the historic events. I especially enjoy lavishing myself with the rich sounds and sights of major speakers’ rhetoric, turning every nuance of what was said or not said around in my mind and analyzing their delivery.   

Last night, Alex and I went to watch Obama’s speech with a group of friends who were all charged up and ready to go out and work for him. Dawn, a young woman who’d attended the first few days of the convention, had brought hats and placards, and the flags we frequently waved to signal our approval of some speaker’s point, were provided by the host, Loretta, along with all-American Chinese food and ice cream sandwiches for sustenance.

That afternoon, a wave of sadness had washed over me unexpectedly. Yep, I thought I’d gotten over the fact that the Democratic nominee wouldn’t be a woman, and that not even the vice presidential candidate would be a woman. For so long, I thought sure….

I wanted to be in total celebratory mode that America would have its first African American major party nominee. And I do celebrate this incredible advance, but not without a dash of bittersweetness.

After all, the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 70’s awakened my social justice instincts and drew me into the front line activism that led me to work for women’s civil rights and reproductive justice for over three decades. But it was also the way civil rights organization leaders, virtually all men, tended to treat gender-based injustice as having lesser importance, that made me realize we needed a women’s rights movement too.

Obama’s speech was excellent, but not quite great, comforting if not moving. Strong on substance as it needed to be, yet not as strong on the rhetoric as he can be. I don’t remember any of his specific lines, which is a  clue.  And though the warm-up speeches by Al Gore and Dick Durbin touched on reproductive rights, Obama’s spoke only in a downplayed, appeasing way about reproductive justice, even though he stood on the podium in a state with a pending ballot initiative that intends not just to outlaw abortion but to take down many kinds of birth control with it, granting fertilized eggs full personhood status while demoting women to second class citizenship:

What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

The — the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

(I left in the gun control part to illustrate that women’s rights to reproductive self-determination and gay rights get equated to just another policy issue that it’s ok for people to disagree on. Would he say the same about civil rights based on ethnicity or religion? I think not. And pray tell, why didn’t he mention his co-sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act?)

I’d thought all along that a ticket with both Clinton and Obama on it, in whichever order, would be the American dream ticket that would affirm for me the reason my grandparents came to this country from Eastern Europe almost 100 years ago.And if he didn’t go with Clinton, that he should choose another women such as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Arizona’s Gov. Janet Napolitano, women who clearly have stellar executive experience, if he wanted to attract those 18 million voters–especially the majority of them who are women–who cast their lot with Hillary during the primaries.

Now that John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, the already immense rock Obama was pushing up a steep hill to garner those women’s votes just became infinitely heavier. Though Palin is staunchly anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-gay rights,  she

is a young, attractive woman whose presence on the ticket coupled with the absence of strong pro-choice rhetoric from Obama will lure many voters into the complacency about reproductive rights that contributed mightily to George Bush having two terms. The Rush Limbaugh and evangelical hard right are gleeful about this pick.

It’s probably a good thing I took a few days off. Looks like there will be no rest for the foreseeable future.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

“Omaba Caint” Post Sure Could Get Blog Buzz Going

Seems like my last post, “Obama Caint Choose Kaine”, riled some folks up.

Erin Kotecki Vest, who blogs at BlogHer and Queen of Spain, got on my case with several arguments worthy of response. I have great respect for Erin, and am pleased for this excuse to congratulate her in public on becoming BlogHer’s Producer of Special Projects (high five here!).

However, I learned from hard knocks on the political frontlines that her argument on behalf of Gov. Kaine is self-defeating. Sadly, it also demonstrates how we can make it so incredibly hard to hold politicians’ feet to the fire about reproductive rights, health, and justice, and how women are often entirely too well behaved to make history turn out the way we want it.

True, the issues of birth control, sex education, reproductive rights, and abortion have been so polarized by the media’s false balance (someone else used that phrase on HuffPo last week, but I made it up when I wrote The War on Choice) that both the facts and the framing get skewed in public discourse. That’s frustrating to be sure. But, the deal is, whoever defines the terms of the debate is probably going to win it. And you can’t ever win at all if you don’t stay in the game.

If you haven’t already, please read “Obama Caint Chose Kaine” for my key points about Obama’s veep pick, which I won’t reiterate here. Here’s an excerpt of Erin’s reaction:

We could go through and talk about Kaine’s repeated his position supporting Roe and what he’s done as Governor…however, let’s just put all that aside too.

Let’s deal with the realities of this country. The reality of government. The reality of America in 2008.

The abortion issue is never going to be resolved. The abortion issue is never going to go away. The abortion issue is one of the many, many issues that splits this country right down the middle.

I think we can all agree extreme viewpoints in politics, religion, and American life have led to stalemates, ugly campaigning, inaction of government, special interest, and even death, destruction, and wars.

So why is it bad to have a VP who WILL NOT vote to overturn Roe v Wade, yet does express concern with abortion?

That makes him like many of my neighbors. Like many in my family. Like many of my friends and like half of this country. I certainly will not be agreeing with them anytime soon, but I would like Thanksgiving to be more civil.

Senator Obama keeps talking about change. The biggest, single change our country could see is unity. Ending the divisive, nasty way of life we currently lead.

Are you really willing to hear all sides of an argument and bring everyone to the table? Are you really willing to respect all voices in this country? Even the ones you TOTALLY disagree with? Will you at least listen?

Or will you stay set in your extreme ways, and sit and wait for your knight to rescue you?

Bear with me please as I address three points that I believe are most egregiously misguided: 1) The relevance of Roe today, 2) The negotiability of reproductive justice, and 3) The political strategy most likely to succeed.

1. Roe v Wade was an important decision in its time, but it has been chipped away so dramatically by subsequent legislation and court decisions that it is today a fragile shell of what it represented in 1973. Protecting it/not opposing it has become increasingly irrelevant as a consequence. If you haven’t read Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the Supreme Court, The Nine, I commend it to you. I spoke with Toobin; he explained that in 1965 when Griswold v Connecticut gave married couples the right to birth control based on the constitutional “penumbra” (meaning an assumed right not written explicitly in the Constitution) of a right to privacy, there were no gender-based civil rights precedents. Privacy was the best precedent the Court had. And when the question of abortion came before Court, the whole idea of gender equality as women’s civil right was still unformed, so the Court again used the privacy precedent. Asserting privacy rights, however, does not carry the moral or legal heft of acknowledging women’s equality as citizens whose civil rights extend to making their own childbearing decisions.

This might seem like TMI, but it’s necessary in order to understand the insecure backdrop against which the debate about reproductive justice has been carried out, and why today we must proactively create a new legal and ethical basis if we want policies that protect the right to choose about birth control and childbearing–to have or not to have. Merely having a candidate who says he “won’t vote to overturn Roe v Wade but does express concern with abortion” is totally insufficient in 2008.

2. Women’s human and civil right to make their own childbearing decisions is not a negotiable matter, any more than right to attend school without discrimination, or the right to be a Christian to a Jew or a Muslim or no religion at all is negotiable. That doesn’t mean that I or anyone else is unwilling to hear all sides of an argument or that we don’t respect worldviews other than our own. In fact, I’m pretty sure pro-choice folks are a lot more willing, and even interested, to listen to opposing views than those who are anti-choice. It is a fascinating conversation, and we progressives love to play with ideas.

But in the end, just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant; you either have reproductive rights or you don’t. You simply cannot have your right to decide whether and when to be pregnant determined by a shouting match, a committee, or a legislature and still be a full and equal citizen. To live in that kind of environment means your body is metaphorically and sometimes literally being torn apart for the sake of someone else’s ideological comfort.

Erin is 100% right that the debate isn’t going to go way; but that’s all the more reason to create a space for the woman to exercise her personal moral beliefs and the legal right to her own body. If she opposes abortion, she shouldn’t have one. But she has no right to judge her sister is whose shoes she hasn’t walked, or to saddle her with a vice president whose personal beliefs do not respect her moral capacity.

3) Now we come to political strategy. The first principle is never start from a position of compromise. Because in the course of the political process–the art of the possible, as it has been called–there will inevitably be some give and take. And there will be many areas ripe for crafting compromises where eveybody can come away feeling like they have won something. Far from waiting for “your knight to rescue you”, staking out the principled position at the beginning will bring the conversation and the resolution closer to where you want it to be in the end. It’s the position of strength, the position of integrity, and the position of an empowered citizen who actually can make history.

And the time to tell Barack Obama what we want from him is now, before he is nominated and before, goddess willing, he is elected, while he still feels the heat of our passion for reproductive justice on his feet.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.