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Thursday, October 2, 2008

One would have hoped that, in the buildup to only the second vice-presidential debate in our country's history that featured a woman at one of the lecterns, we'd be celebrating a momentous feat. But in a way, this event serves as yet another catalyst for exposing one of America's most fundamental contradictions.

The original deeming of America as a "melting pot" must have been done by a very naive individual. While people largely coexist peacefully today, and progress has been made, American identity is about our differences, not our similarities. Everyone is in a category, a box made largely by others that they're told to fit into: soccer mom, NASCAR dad, buppie, starving artist. Perhaps that's been my perspective as an African-American, but even that term - African-American - speaks to my thesis. For a country that loves to boast about how "united" it is, we are never more different than when politics comes into play.

Surely there are aphorisms galore which would imbue Americans a sense of pride in our goal of unity that has been left unaccomplished, like a book read only in part being suddenly returned to the shelf. Sure, one might feel that there's something in that, I suppose - the phrase that comes most immediately to mind that someone might say is, "I tried". When one considers our history with identity in this country, people love to say that they "tried" or that it will happen "in time".

The funny thing is, for women in politics, the time was now. Hillary Clinton for all of her many, many, many faults, made one indisputable point. However many cracks in the glass ceiling that she wanted to count, the fact is that the cracks were there. That isn't to say that her campaign represented true feminist progress. Far from it. Her campaign thrived on political nepotism, the former First Lady moving up and into a real individual role in government of her own - all as a stepping stone to her husband's old job. Hardly the stuff of Shirley Chisholm.

That said, Clinton looks like Susan B. Anthony next to Sarah Palin. I could get deep about it, but you've been reading the news. And you've likely seen this:

That pretty much sums up the inherent difference between the historical nature of Palin and Clinton's campaigns. While Clinton basically did the work, Palin stands even closer to the spoils.

Let's set that sick irony aside for a moment.

I remember a piece of wisdom that I had learned in abstract growing up, but was cemented by something Pro Football Hall of Famer and almost-GM Bobby Mitchell said in an old NFL Films piece I saw long ago. Those fighting the battle often don't get the rewards. Those are left to the next generation.

Palin may be that next generation, both literally and figuratively. The gaffes and malaprops are upsetting, but it's not that surprising - considering she's not qualified for the position she's running for. No, despite my many, many differences with her policies, my greatest disdain is saved for the very notion of her candidacy. In other words, it's not her, it's the reasons she was chosen.

It's plainly obvious that she wasn't selected for her merits as an executive, extensive expertise (in anything) or strong character. Us Black folks who have been through private school all of our lives and find ourselves one of few, very few (or simply, the one) in our professional situations know the perfect word to describe her: token.

Now that Palin has become something of a national joke, it's plain that she stands to reverse many of the gains women have made in national politics. Let's not forget the many women on Capitol Hill whose names and faces are considerably more anonymous than Palin's. With our country (and media)'s habit of pigeonholing everyone, the McCain campaign knew damned well that Palin was there for reasons I've detailed before.

But when Palin's star finally becomes a black hole, will she take with her the dreams of those to come? Think about it - will any woman be able to run for vice president again without being compared to Palin? We'll have to relive the hole thing.

It's true that the true measure of progress is that all parties accept what's part of being on the same playing field. While Palin's presence might represent progress at the most basic level, the damage she stands to inflict will run far deeper. So as we stand ready to see her take the podium in St. Louis before what is sure to be a record national audience, we're not celebrating Palin breaking any glass ceiling. We're waiting for the floor to open up beneath her, finally ending this farce.


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