Another reason to consult some women's historians

Via TalkLeft, we learn that some presidential historians are popping off about Sarah Palin, calling her “the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era.”  Notice who wasn’t consulted in the reporting for this article:  maybe some women’s historians could have pointed out how women’s paths to political power–what few examples in this country we have–are very different from men’s paths?  And maybe they could have said something about how there isn’t exactly a deep bench of women senators or governors to choose from in either party?  (I think it’s only 16 Senators and nine governors of either major party.)  And they might have asked people to consider how exactly do they think women will ever achieve anything close to parity in national political leadership unless some elder male statesmen take some chances on grooming and promoting women candidates?  In other words, consider this a follow-up post to my post last week about the total absence of women’s historians on the PBS panel of historians commenting on the Democratic National Convention. 

Since as the McCain campaign points out, all of these guys (plus Doris Kearns Goodwin!) are major donors to the Obama campaign and other Democrats, and one is even a former Dem speechwriter, you’d think that they would want to help their presidential candidate instead of highlight an argument that the Democrats will lose.  (And what about all of those comparisons to failed one-term Congressman Abraham Lincoln, which was such a useful rejoinder to people who questioned Barack Obama’s lack of experience?)  Silly me:  I forgot that when girls presume to rule, there will be different rules for girls!

It’s times like this that I wish Alice Roosevelt Longworth were still around.

0 thoughts on “Another reason to consult some women's historians

  1. I have a Women’s Studies graduate certificate, but I agree that Palin has no experience. She was the mayor of Podunk until being elected governor two years ago, and she’s governor of ALASKA, for goodness sake. Nothing against Alaska, but it’s pretty damn small. She’s got less experience than Dan Quayle.


  2. I don’t think Historiann is arguing that Palin is more credentialed or experienced than what she is: I think (and correct me if I’m wrong, H.) the issue is that when we evaluate women candidates we have to evaluate their paths to political power keeping in mind the historical and cultural context in which they live, which in the case of the US means that most women do not have “traditional” paths to such power and that if we’re going to talk about lack of experience we should talk about why women’s paths to political power differ from men’s.

    I’d also say that however little experience Palin has, she is the only one of the four on the tickets to have any executive experience. That little fact makes it a mistake to attack her on experience, I think. She may have only recent experience and it may be brief, but she’s had to work with legislators to get a budget for her state approved. In this campaign, I think that kind of experience will be meaningful to a lot of voters, even if she hasn’t been doing it for 10 years.

    Note: I’m no fan of Palin, but I think that treating her like a stupid, unqualified beauty pageant is not going to get the Dems anywhere.


  3. Right on, Dr. Crazy. Dems will lose the experience argument.

    Lynn K., thanks for stopping by to comment. Please also see my post below (Sarah Palin), which links to an article that argues that other VP contenders for both Obama and McCain (Jindal, Kaine, Crist) have no more experience, and yet their possible appointments were never treated derisively.

    Furthermore, although everyone seems to see only her sex, I think Palin was also chosen because she’s a Western state governor. (And, speaking as someone whose home is now in a big square state, I think it’s a mistake for Dems to treat Alaska like it’s totally irrelevant. Westerners won’t like it, and won’t reward it.)


  4. Historiann, what’s the deal? Why don’t the producers at major media outlets consult historians of women? Is it because the producers are mostly men, and consulting historians of women is outside of their limited conceptual frameworks and assumptions?


  5. Yes, I think that’s right, Ortho. “Women’s history” is seen as a special interest field, and producers naturally gravitate to American political historians to fill out their panels. Part of the blame must rest with the historical profession, which has enforced boundaries between women’s history and other “traditional” (men’s) history fields like political, economic, or religious history.

    But, come on: Blanche Wiesen Cook? Linda Kerber? Kathryn Kish Sklar? Linda Gordon? All big names, and all people you can just google and e-mail…


  6. Neither the Black nor the Woman in this race has any appreciable experience. How is that bad when those that have been running the country have been running it aground? One would think the media could start paying attention to some issues, such as how few places will be left to hunt moose if Palin’s notion of good policies ever get implemented.


  7. Well, it seems like the Reds have been pretty successful at framing again if we’re talking about all this in terms of which role-player in the opera has the most experience *other than John McCain.* Who spent 5 1/2 years nearly being executed as a pow Pow POW.

    And *if* we must talk about experience then a corollary of the experience frame will pit Governor Palin against Senator Obama or Biden (but not, as I mentioned, Sen. McCain) or against all previous Vice-Presidential candidates, but never, no never against all the larger pool of potential picks. And *certainly* not against the subset of potential picks who met the evident gender criteria. And never about how any of those other potential picks, regardless of gender, compare to previous V.P. candidates.

    Or for that matter the paths to power, traditional or otherwise followed by the rest of that pool, or even just the women in that pool… compared to the person they actually chose.

    Funny how successful the Red’s framing even informs our assessment of critiques of the Red decision-making!

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but *if* I was out to play the gender card instead of the experience “gotcha” the Blue historians seemed to have been doing, and *if* I was trying to escape the Red’s framing instead of institutionalizing it, I *think* maybe I’d spend more time highlighting the often-amazing qualifications of those Senator McCain passed over and asking whether two wrongs really make a right.



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