Thursday, September 11, 2008
Ever since John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, I’ve been imagining the conversation I would have with my paternal grandmother about McCain’s choice. Since she died of Alzheimer’s back in 2006, this is a very hypothetical conversation. But my grandmother was a Republican – a die-hard, elephant-tchochke-collecting Republican – so I know she would have been interested in this development.
As a young mother, Grandma was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives and served on the committee that rewrote the North Dakota state constitution. She served as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. and as a parliamentarian for many civic organizations throughout her life. In many ways, Sarah Palin is reaping the rewards of the work done by Republican women like my grandmother. Fifty years ago, my grandmother was asked questions by the local media about her husband “allowing” her to run for office. She sent her own children to campaign for her door-to-door. I’ve seen hilarious campaign propaganda with my dad and his siblings in mid-1960s clothing and hairstyles, sitting around the dining room table with my grandparents, looking like the ultimate ‘Goldwater Family’.
And so my grandma would support Sarah Palin, right? I think she would. I think she would be proud to see a woman running for this important office. I think she would support her working while raising young children. I think grandma would resonate with that western, frontier mentality that she knew from growing up in Colorado and from living in California, North Dakota and Arizona. They shared taste in hairdos – thick, dark hair piled into precarious-looking beehives.
My grandmother only met my daughter once; and by then her Alzheimer’s was quite advanced. But grandma sat with me every day for a week, as I spooned baby food into Lily’s infant mouth. Grandma mentioned over and over that Lily was such a pretty baby. They shared their dark hair, their chocolaty-brown eyes, and their pretty olive skin. I am sad that grandma is not here to teach Lily to play cutthroat gin rummy or to make pancakes just the right size for dolls.
However, I am happy to not have the Sarah Palin discussion with grandma. The media is reporting that white women are rapidly switching their allegiance from Obama/Biden to McCain/Palin because, as a Caucasian mothers, they feel that Palin ‘gets’ them. Yet, as a Caucasian mother with non-Caucasian children, I find myself puzzled by the appeal of Palin. But I am glad that my daughter is heir to a wonderful tradition of intelligent, courageous women who work hard for their causes and their beliefs.