Now if Heather can be intellectually consistent against party interests — she’s opposed to any sort of “affirmative action” in general, and therefore opposed to it in this case — then I suppose I can be the same. Barack Obama’s race is one reason I support his candidacy. I think his election will help race relations, and that, at the margin, an administration headed by a black man will do more to deal with the problems of black people, and do so more intelligently, than an administration headed by a comparably intelligent and skilled white man. (Not least because it’s easier for a black President to say “no” to an underqualified black potential nominee for some job.) Beyond that, symbolism matters, and I think that an Obama Presidency can help change both black and white Americans’ views about race and the views about American race relations held by people in other lands, all for the better.
And by the same token, I share the desire of all feminists, male and female, to shatter the highest and hardest glass ceiling. I had other reasons for not wanting Hillary Clinton to be on the Democratic ticket this year, but I would have rejoiced had Obama picked Kathleen Sebelius, or had John McCain picked one of the qualified women available. (Not to say that those would have been wise choices, all things considered, merely that I would have regarded putting a qualified woman on the ticket as a plus, other things equal.)
So am I rejoicing in the selection of Sarah Palin on “diversity” grounds? No.
Why not? Because she is in fact what Barack Obama has foolishly been accused of being: a mere token, unqualified for the job except by her identity. Heather is right: Gov. Stanley Palin of Alaska would have had no chance at all of being chosen. That’s the difference between “diversity” and “tokenism.”
A token pick is in many ways more insulting to the group being pandered to (in this case women) than no pick at all. By choosing this woman, McCain falsely implied that there was no better qualified woman available.
Unlike Heather, I regard sex and ethnicity as perfectly considerations in selecting a veep, right alongside geography or ideology or social-class background. (Despite his unprivileged upbringing, Barack Obama is a “wine-track” candidate, and had to choose a “beer-track” running-mate. He also wanted an ethnic Catholic. He found a beer-track Irish Catholic who didn’t look silly running for President. Fine.)
But McCain, by going for a pure token (and even ignoring the fact that Palin is hostile to both reproductive choice and equal pay rules) did less than nothing to advance the cause of equality between the sexes. So although, unlike Heather, I’m not opposed to “choosing a woman” in principle, I agree with her about this particular choice.
Footnote The opposition of so many thoughtful conservatives to McCain’s reckless choice is deeply gratifying. I’m now fairly convinced that this will turn out to be bad politics as well as bad civics.