ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sarah Palin found some unlikely allies Wednesday as leading academics and even former top aides to Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed the Republican charge that John McCain’s running mate has been subject to a sexist double standard by the news media and Democrats.
Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen, who has written best-selling books on gender differences, said she agrees with complaints that Palin skeptics — including prominent voices in the news media — have crossed a line by speculating about whether the Alaska governor is neglecting her family in pursuit of national office.
“What we’re dealing with now, there’s nothing subtle about it,” said Tannen. “We’re dealing with the assumption that child-rearing is the job of women and not men. Is it sexist? Yes.”
“There’s no way those questions would be asked of a male candidate,” said Howard Wolfson a former top strategist for Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The sexism charge was hurled with new intensity Wednesday afternoon by McCain surrogates, all women, at a news conference just hours before made her acceptance speech here - a speech in which she said this about the media and Washington elite: "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
The tense encounter with reporters showed how McCain’s team has abandoned all pretense that this convention is about anything but Palin, her résumé and her wildly unexpected ascension to the GOP ticket.
A choice that was intended to shake up the race did so with more ferocity than McCain ever intended. The mother of five — with one pregnant teenage daughter and an infant son with Down syndrome — has joined a parade of personalities from Anita Hill to O.J. Simpson to Monica Lewinsky to become a cultural flash point.
As the controversy over her qualifications and McCain’s vetting process overwhelmed events here, hypocritical rhetoric was flowing at full tide on all sides of the debate.
Many conservatives, who spent a generation ridiculing the politics of victimhood and group identity, are now zealously invoking both in the Twin Cities. A common GOP talking point here is that Palin’s gender and experiences as a mother should be counted as an asset among her qualifications. At the news conference, former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift condemned “an outrageous smear campaign” against Palin, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said, “The Republican Party will not stand by while Gov. Palin is subjected to sexist attacks.”
Just last spring, Palin herself scoffed when Hillary Clinton’s campaign complained about a double standard in coverage.
“When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country,' ” Palin said.
Now, McCain’s team is urgently recruiting female surrogates and loudly crying sexism to deflect legitimate inquiries into Palin’s experience, her record, and the last-minute, improvisational process by which McCain chose a small-state governor who was elected in 2006 after serving of mayor of small-town Wasilla, a far suburb of Anchorage.
It was a process dominated by a small handful of male aides to McCain, consulting no woman other than the candidate’s wife, Cindy McCain.
Even so, many media and liberal voices have made the job easy for McCain’s spin squadrons. Among the eyebrow-raising comments in recent days:
• Democrat Joe Biden, in what he intended as self-deprecating remark, observed, “There's a gigantic difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and between me and I suspect my vice presidential opponent. ... She's good looking."
• A spokeswoman for the National Organization for Women, noting Palin’s opposition to abortion rights and support of other parts of the social conservative agenda, told Politico, “She's more a conservative man than she is a woman on women's issues. Very disappointing."
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