Palin, Hillary & Sexism

John McCain recently selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. This move, as many have suggested, seems to be calculated to win over the Hillary Clinton supporters who are not pleased with Obama being the Democrats’ candidate.This situation is both politcally and philosophically interesting.

This morning CNN featured a segment on woman voters, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. In the course of the segment there was an interesting discussion about the reasons why some former Hillary Clinton supporters are now supporting Palin (and hence McCain).

One of the main reasons given was the assertion that the Democrats are sexist and acted in a sexist manner. Presumably, the claim is that Obama  (as Geraldine Ferraro asserted) won simply because he is a man and Hillary lost simply because she is a woman.

If this claim is true, then the Democrats would have acted in a sexist manner. After all, to accept or reject someone as a political candidate solely on the basis of sex would be a sexist act. In this case, turning against the Democrats in response to their sexism would be the right thing to do-assuming, of course, that sexism is wrong and that misdeeds should be punished. Thus, the former Hillary Clinton supporters who are opposed to sexism would presumably be right to turn their support to McCain.

This, naturally enough, assumes that McCain chose Palin not just because she is a woman, but because of her qualifications. Picking her just because she is a woman would, of course, be a sexist act. While it would be an act of positive sexism (benefiting rather than harming the target) it would still be sexism.

If it can be shown that the Democrats acted in a sexist manner and McCain acted in a non-sexist manner, then it would be reasonable for those opposed to sexism to back McCain-at least on this point.  There is, if course, also the matter of whether Obama should be held accounatable for the alleged sexism of the Democrats who voted for him, but this raises a matter beyond the scope of this essay.

However, if the Democrats did not act in a sexist manner or McCain acted in a sexist manner, then it would not be reasonable for those opposed to sexism to select McCain over Obama on this point.

I do not think that the majority of Democrats made their choice on the basis of sexism. While it is true that the man was chosen over the woman, to assume that this must be sexism would itself be a prejudiced judgment. What would be needed would be clear evidence that the main factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat and Obama’s victory was sex. This evidence simply seems to be lacking for this claim. However, should such evidence be made available, I would change my view.

A second reason for former Hillary Clinton supporters to now back Palin is that she is a woman. It certainly cannot be that the former Hillary Clinton supporters are drawn to Palin because of her political views. This is because Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin hold opposing political views. Hillary Clinton is well known for being a pro-choice and anti-gun liberal. Sarah Palin is know well known for being a pro-life and pro-gun conservative. Oversimplifying things, Hillary Clinton exemplifies the American left and Sarah Palin exemplifies the American right (at least in mainstream politics). Hence, it would be wildly implausible to claim that Palin is attracting former Hillary Clinton supporters because she has similar views.

Those who decide to support Palin simply because she is a woman would, obviously enough, be acting in a sexist manner (more or less by definition). It would be rather ironic if those who claim the Democrats are sexist supported Palin because she is woman. They would be replying to sexism with more sexism, which hardly seems to be the right thing to do.

Of course, those who have switched to Palin could argue that they are serving a greater social good. By supporting McCain because he selected a woman as his running mate they could claim that they are helping women in some manner. They might argue that if a woman became Vice President, then the social conditions would improve for American women and this would be a good thing. Thus, they must vote in (seemingly) sexist manner in order to destroy sexism.

Of course, people who support Obama can make a similar sort of argument about race, thus creating a bit of a moral quandry for those who oppose both sexism and racism. No doubt some Democrats are now wishing it was an Obama-Clinton ticket rather that an Obama-Biden ticket.

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