Why is it ‘sexist’ to take a close look at Palin?

I utterly reject the notion that it’s “sexist” to vigorously question Sarah Palin’s qualifications. It’s my job as a journalist — and your job, dear reader, as an American — to question the qualifications of anyone who seeks any public office, regardless of race, age and gender. Nobody should get a free pass; to imply otherwise might be… well, sexist.

As governor, Palin has served more than 20 months at the helm of the nation’s fourth-least-populous state, with fewer residents than San Francisco; Alaska in 2007 ranked 45th among the 50 states by gross state product, a measure of economic activity (and for context, Alaska’s GSP was about 2.5 percent of California’s). She has racked up several accomplishments as governor, including an overhaul of state ethics laws; blindsiding lawmakers from both sides of the aisle by using her line-item veto power to make deep cuts in their state construction budget; and pushing to build a natural gas pipeline despite some big oil companies’ opposition.

She is, however, now the subject of an ethics investigation herself; the Alaska Legislature wants to know whether she abused her power in firing a cabinet member who claims she wanted him to fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper involved in a messy divorce with her sister. An independent investigator’s report is due by Oct. 31, but while Palin initially had said she and her staff would cooperate fully, her lawyer is now questioning the Legislature’s jurisdiction and wants the probe delayed.

The notion that her status as head of Alaksa’s National Guard qualifies as military experience seems like an insult to people with actual military experience. I asked a spokesperson to send me a list of Alaska Army National Guard and Alaska Air National Guard activations and deployments since Palin took office, and here it is, verbatim:

1. The AKNG was trained up and on standby to provide military assistance for civil disturbance during the International Whaling Commission meeting in May 2007.
2. The AKNG provided aviation support (personnel and helicopters) to help fight the Mat-Su wildfires in June 2007.
3. The AKNG provided security forces for the Adjutants’ General Association of the United States conference in June 2007.
4. The AKNG provides on a daily basis search and rescue assets for civilian search and rescue missions across the state.
*since Dec. 2006:

    MISSIONS: 521
    SAVES: 200 (Lives saved)
    ASSISTS: 77 (Lives assisted to safety)
    HOURS FLOWN: 2012.6

Outside of Alaska … providing state-to-state assistance through EMAC
***5. The AKNG sent a C-17 with two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and Guard members to Mississippi to support search and rescue efforts expected in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in September 2008.

All other deployments have been for federalized, overseas service — instances in which the Pentagon is in charge, and the governor really has nothing to do with it. And while I respect her son’s decision to enlist (he ships out to Iraq next week), this qualifies Palin no more than any of the other hundreds of thousands of U.S. parents who’ve seen their children go off to war in Iraq in the past five and a half years.

I’ll also venture to say that — contrary to statements made by Cindy McCain and John Bolton (who as the former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations really should know better) — being a governor whose state is close to Russia and Canada doesn’t constitute “foreign-policy experience.”

As for her earlier experience, she was a city councilwoman and mayor in a town that at the time was about two-thirds the size of Emeryville. It’s a town that at the time (according to the 2000’s U.S. Census) was 85.46 percent white, 0.59 percent black, 5.25 percent Native American, 1.32 percent Asian, 0.13 percent Pacific Islander, 1.32 percent from other races and 5.94 percent from two or more races; 3.68 percent of the population was Latino. That’s no bastion of diversity, even by Alaskan standards – the same census found the state in its entirety was 69.3 percent white, 15.6 percent Native American, 3.7 percent black. She reportedly won the mayor’s office — in 1996, with 651 votes — by running an aggressively partisan, socially conservative race for a nonpartisan office. The biggest municipal budget she ever handled there was $14.4 million. And though she would later make waves as a reformer tough on lobbyists and earmarks, she was responsible for hiring lobbyists who brought that tiny town almost $27 million in federal earmarks, earning her town a place three years running on John McCain’s own annual lists of objectionable pork.

Education-wise, Palin holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a political science minor from the University of Idaho. Incidentally, I also have a Bachelor’s degree in journalism with a poli-sci minor; I’m proud of it — I think it fits my career — but I don’t think it’s all that impressive (or, at least, academically rigorous) for someone who’s supposed to be of the very best and brightest, seeking our nation’s second-highest office.

So, based on what we know of Sarah Palin from her background and from what we’ve seen and heard of her this week, everyone — Democrat, Republican or other — owes it to this country to ask himself or herself:

    Do you think where she has been and what she has done gives her insight into the day-to-day lives of most Americans?
    Are you OK with her making decisions that affect the lives of U.S. troops and the security of U.S. interests at home and abroad?
    Can you comfortably envision her representing the United States before the United Nations General Assembly, or at a meeting of the G-8, or at some other international gathering or summit?
    And, as a friend of mine put it, do you believe a person with these very same qualifications would’ve been picked as a vice-presidential nominee if that person was a man?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Lynn May

    Many of us think it is “sexist” to suggest that political opponents and/or media should “be careful” how they tread with Sarah….. which has been a very popular warning following on to the RNC.

    I continue to ask, is this Sarah the best candidate for VP that the Republicans could come up with ? For me the answer is a resounding “No” – and as one considers the rationalization for her selection, the motives become quite concerning on multiple fronts.

  • Ted

    Tell a journalist he is not being “fair,” and the usual and sometimes unfortunate response has been for the reporter to bend over backwards to prove the critic wrong. The Republicans know this hypersensitivity of the media regarding alleged bias. Witness what happened when the GOP accused the press of having a liberal bias. Even if bending over backwards means going too far in the other direction and a discussion is so obvious that it doesn’t deserve tit-for-tat responses to demonstrate “fairness.” I hope the media continues to ask tough questions of someone who is a heartbeat away from being the president of the U.S.

  • kennis

    “…do you believe a person with these very same qualifications would’ve been picked as a vice-presidential nominee if that person was a man?”

    While not sharing exactly the same qualities, but roughly the same experience, the Democrates (and I am one) have indeed selected a man but in their case to be President. So please stop with the ridiculous comparisons because when I ask myself the other questions you posit above about Obama I’m still coming up with NO. No to him and no to her, both are bad choices given to us by their parties because most American’s care more for someone who looks and sounds good.

    We as a nation have ourselves to blame for being so “star struck”. We care more about what Brittany or Lindsay or Brangelina are doing that what is happening to our economy, our troops, and our taxes. Preferring a show over substance has increasingly caused our nation to choose ill suited leaders (Bush is an idiot but nobody cared and selected him rather than a Nobel prize winner for goodness sakes!).

    Additionally let me point out that the sexist comments stem more from the questions you’d never consider asking about a male candidate. You’d never dream of asking if they would or should run with 5 children, or if they can “control” their spouse, or whether they were “pimping out” their children on the campaign trail. I have no issue with fully vetting all candidates, what I object to is when you reporters can’t control your own biases.

  • Paul Bledsoe

    What a bunch of crap! Of course it’s ok to look into a politician record, but to question if they should stay home and take care of the kids…IS….sexist. Why don’t we ever ask that question of men? No it doesn’t happen. Do we talk about what the men wear or how they look? No we don’t. No one questioned for all those years that Joe Biden went off to work as a single dad, did they?

  • eD

    The majority of people see the 2 main problems with out current political process as being with extremists from both parties who do not don’t engage each other and a yellow media that only cares about fanning flames in the pusuit of finnacial gain for their corporate owners. I think people forget that the real job of the VP is more ceremonial and the primary activity is to be a living in breathing in the event the President dies or is otherwise incapable of performing their job duties. As far as making decisions go it is no different than the Presidentwhereby the advice and guidance of counselors is reviewed and then a decision is made. It’s not as if she would be off and doing things without skilled advisors in place.

  • RR

    Yeah, Josh. Make up your mind.
    Do you want candidate’s names picked at random from voter rolls or would you like Plato to select some philosopher kings?

  • Greek

    I don’t care about their gender or race, as long as they have the right qualifications.

  • trish

    well lets look at this from a different perspective. would you be considered racist questioning barak obama’s qualifications to become president of the united states? race, religion, sex, sexual orientation should have no baring on a person’s eligibility. everyone’s qualifications should be questioned and challenged.
    in addition if ms. clinton got bashed for using the “girl vote” is it not equally fair to use that same mallet for ms. palin.

  • tp

    I think something really needs to be cleared up. John McCain is not physically fit to be president. If he manages to get elected, Sarah Palin will become the next president of this country. People realize this and thats why they keep comparing her to Obama.

    Seems everytime McCain is questioned by the reporters about issues and his stances, he doesn’t remember what the issues are about, let alone what his stance is. I think McCain is developing dementia or alheimer’s or whatever the doctors have determined. I’m not the only one who’s noticed. I think McCain should have opted to spend his last few years with his kids while he still remembers who they are.

    As for Sarah Palin, while I think she’s an extremist and I don’t agree with her views, she’s a very smart administrator. However, all her accomplishments occured before Troopergate, before she had a baby with Down’s Syndrome, before her 17 year old daughter became pregnant and before her son enlisted in the Army where he is to be shipped off shortly to Iraq, all at the same time.

    Our Country is facing a crisis on all fronts. I want a President and a vice president who will be on it 24 hours /7 days a week. This requires someone who has a somewhat stable family life. Not someone who should be hosting a real life drama show…

  • Maybe not sexist but certainly media bais. Suggesting that her husband had sex with their daughter resulting in the birth of their most recent child (Daily KOS). Suggesting she had an affiar with no proof (CNN). Suggesting she has no experience while giving Obama a complete pass for the last year (all the mainstream media)….oh yeah he did run a campaign! And he was a community organizer! What a joke. This lady must really have liberals, including much of the media, shaking in their boots for them to be so nasty and negative. Her record and experience are fair game….but it’s a two way street. Stop giving Obama a free ride and start asking questions about his shady past relationships with extremists (Aires, Wright etc…)

  • Donna

    When you compare the two, Palin and Obama, neither are what I would consider qualified to run our country. Palin’s only redeeming quality is that she doesn’t bow to any group. I don’t see racism or sexism with her, only fairness to all people, whether republican or democrat black or white. With Obama, he has maintained a racist attitude throughout his candidacy, as well as throughout his life. I personally think he’s a loose cannon. He says that he wants to help the working class people, but all I’ve heard from him is that he wants to keep them dependent upon our government, rather than to lift themselves out of their poor lifestyle. For me, the choice is not whether there is a republican or a democrat running. The choice is who will better serve all people.

  • dpeete

    You can and should question experience. And she is a big kid and should deal with the questions if she wants to be that close to the President of the USA.

    My complaint is seeing wrinkled old men like Orrin Hatch who whenever someone questions Palin’s experience says “that is sexist”. There is nothing sexist about questioning experience and the old white male republican stereotypical club (Orrin is a 74 year old, white, male mormon) should stand down and let Mrs. Palin do her thing.

  • Alex

    ED: “It’s not as if she would be off and doing things without skilled advisors in place.”
    George Bush has skilled advisors in place. ‘Skilled’ doesn’t mean that the advice is in the best interest of the country. The long and grinding primary process was a great way for us to see who the candidates listened to as far as advisors went. The VP picks haven’t been part of that process and so we only have their history to judge them by. Time is short. Palin’s unknown. The press would be traitors if they didn’t dig deep.

  • sleepneat

    So enlighten us on exactly what foreign policy Obama or Biden have? How many trips to negotiate contracts or deals have either of them made? Managing a budget for an entire state isn’t experience? Or maybe the managing of what 25,000 State employess don’t count either?

    If she were a man, would the press be asking HIM who is gonna tend to the children when HE is doing the VP stuff? If she was a man, would the press be asking and insinuating HIS baby was actually the baby of HIS 17 y.o. daughter? Or maybe who is gonna clean the house when HE is VPing overseas?

    Yeah, the Media is liberal, biased, sexist, and very in the tank for Obama. You can’t point one journalist who isn’t biased or who won’t admit to it.

    Get real.

  • This is a lie. The President controls the Alaska National Guard. So before you start spreading these falsehoods, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

  • FACT CHECK: Sarah Palin’s Speech
    PALIN: “Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America’s energy problems – as if we all didn’t know that already. But the fact that drilling won’t solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all.”


    Palin Said She Would Beg to Disagree With Candidate Who Said We Can’t Drill Our Way Out of Our Problem. Asked by Invester’s Business Daily “Some politicians and presidential candidates say we can’t drill our way out of our energy problem and that drilling in ANWR will have no effect. What’s your best guess of the impact on prices?” Palin responded, “I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can’t drill our way out of our problem or that more supply won’t ultimately affect prices. Of course it will affect prices. Energy being a global market, it’s impossible to venture a guess on (specific) prices.” [Investor’s Business Daily, 7/11/08]


  • Sarah WHO ?

    Is Sarah Palin the best VP candidate the RNC could come up with ?

  • Hugh Hefner

    Sarah, if for some reason your plans in November dont turn out as planned, we have 3-4 pages in the June 2009 issue that I’d love to speak to you about.