Other Voices: Sarah Palin belongs at home, not in Washington
Some of us remember when letter writers and conservative media commentators argued that female civil rights activists ought to stay home and take care of their families. When Viola Luizzo was murdered by Klansmen in Alabama in 1965 defenders of segregation and whites-only voting didn't condemn the violence. They blamed the victim, arguing that she should have been home caring for her children instead of working with Southern blacks to guarantee their right to vote.
When Democratic women sought elective office in the 1950s and '60s anti-feminists wondered why they weren't satisfied with the traditional role of women as homemakers and mothers. That argument only gradually died as a significant number of Republican women entered politics.
All of this comes to mind with the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's Republican running mate. Those arguments that a woman's place is in the home instead of city hall, or the White House, may no longer fit most women but they certainly fit Palin.
Had the Democrats nominated an almost unknown woman for the vice presidency and she had the family problems associated with Palin, what do you think right-wing talk show hosts would be spewing out today? They'd be almost hysterical in their denunciation of both the Democratic Party and Palin for placing her political ambitions above the needs of her family.
A woman has a right to hold any elective office in this land, be it the vice presidency or the presidency itself. But having the right doesn't mean that nothing should stand in her way.
Had McCain chosen any one of several other prominent Republican women governors, senators or even the current secretary of state, the questions that have arisen about Palin would never have surfaced. But Palin knew full well when she succumbed to the lure of high office that she had personal, family matters that should disqualify her in the minds of family-value voters, the very people her party counts on for its base.
What is Palin's disqualifying burden?
If ever there was a valid argument that a mother should be home with her kids instead of playing politics, this is it. For starters, she has an infant with Down syndrome. What family-oriented mother would willingly choose the demanding and extremely busy life of vice president when faced with the needs of her own child?
No one is asking Palin to give up her career. She may very well be able to carry on as governor of Alaska. But the duties associated with that office in one of the least populated states hardly compares with the enormous responsibility of being vice president and only a heart beat away from the presidency. She doesn't need a job to support her family. She's not a single mother, and her husband earns good pay.
Were she the only woman in the country qualified for the job of vice president their might be justification for abandoning her duties at home, but that is not the case. McCain had several better qualified women who could have accepted the post without jeopardizing their children.
In addition, Bristol Palin's pregnancy is fair game in light of the platform on which Palin will campaign for the office. McCain/Palin supporters have conveniently forgotten how they excoriated the Spears family when Britney's unmarried teenage sister became pregnant.
Don't family value advocates still look down on birth out of wedlock as a shameful condition? But McCain's advisers brought the errant father-to-be to the national convention and treated him as a celebrity. Depending upon his age, in some states he might have been required to register as a sex offender. Yet family values gurus continue to preach abstinence only and to denounce sex education in the public schools.
These factors alone should have disqualified her.
Our criticism is not insensitive. Her decision to run is.
Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs are professors emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona.