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04.04.10

Time for Palin to Embrace Her Gender

Women voters are fed up with the state of America's leadership, and are ready to elect a female president. Amy Siskind on why Sarah Palin—or someone else—needs to step up and capitalize on women's outrage.

Women voters, who have decided almost every modern-day election, are up for grabs. Women are a force behind the Tea Party movement, and are marching away from the Democrats in dismay. Could the country’s disenfranchisement with our political leaders, experienced disproportionately by women, propel Sarah Palin on a path to the White House?

Sarah Palin has gradually become the de facto leader of the burgeoning Tea Party movement. While the Obama White House has tried to portray the Tea Party as radical, racist, and even violent, it turns out that the Tea Party, predominantly composed of women, is more akin to "Soccer Moms" with very mainstream concerns. The Tea Party movement enjoys a 37 percent favorable rating, not far off from the Democrats at 41 percent or the GOP at 42 percent.

It is unclear whether Sarah Palin will rise and capitalize on women’s sentiments.

Passage of the increasingly unpopular health-care bill has not only galvanized the Tea Party but also fractured women’s support for the Democratic Party. Liberal bloggers question whether the Democrats are losing their hold on women. Many women view health-care reform as anti-mom, and are despondent over Obama’s executive order that enshrined the Hyde Amendment. Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said: “We concluded that on balance… the bill actually is bad for women.” Bloggers hold a special disdain for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laughable attempt to make health-care reform a victory for women, noting that Pelosi’s sudden concern for women’s issues is about as genuine as Madame Mao’s interest in the proletariat.

The question is where these women voters will go in 2012. Health-care reform has been an awakening for women of all political stripes, a realization that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party is the party for women. Will concern for our bodies and our children’s future be the agitator for women finally demanding a leader who understands these issues firsthand: a woman president?

But neither party is going to bestow their 2012 nomination on a woman simply because it is time to do this for our country. The Democratic National Committee had this opportunity in 2008 when Hillary Clinton was Tea Party go Perot. If they hope to pull off a victory in 2012, they need Palin. And if Palin wants the White House, she needs to earn the votes of the disenfranchised women.

Yet it is unclear whether Sarah Palin will rise and capitalize on women’s sentiments. Since her re-emergence on the public scene, she has done little to show herself as a woman who will stand up for women, as a self-described feminist in Going Rogue.

Palin has failed to endorse important women of the Republican Party, and is actively supporting numerous challengers to Democratic women incumbents. She has become outspoken in her antiabortion views, turning away from what was a key factor in making her one of the country’s most popular governors and the de facto leader of the Tea Party: letting the people decide.

Perhaps there will be another woman politician who will rise from the embers of a country fuming over its political leadership—a woman who will very purposefully embrace her gender early in the campaign season and seek out the disenfranchised women voters, knowing that as we write the herstory of 2008, it was a miscalculation for Hillary not to have done so early on in her campaign.

For those doubtful about the effectiveness of embracing one’s gender, take a lesson from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Local press cannot fathom why the “weak” incumbent Gillibrand remains without a serious challenger and is so scary to rivals. The local press continues to miss the story. Senator Gillibrand is surrounded by an army of thousands of women reconstituted from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This time around, having weathered 2008, the army is fully prepared and savvy in guerrilla warfare. (See here, here, and here.) A women’s revolution is a well-kept secret in New York.

Let’s hope that Sarah Palin, or another savvy woman politician, will use the New York model and embrace her gender on the national scene. The time is now. The country is crying for empathetic leadership. It’s time for women voters, the bloc that has decided almost every election since 1960, to swing for a woman in 2012!

Amy Siskind is the president and co-founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. Siskind has appeared on CNN, Fox, and PBS and also writes for HuffPo and MORE.