The official theme of the day for the Republican convention may have been ‘Prosperity’, but for me a different motif emerged quickly, getting stronger during the day.
At our Mass. delegation breakfast this morning, we listened to Frank Donatelli, the Deputy Chair of the Republican National Committee, who reminded me of something that I knew but had forgotten. The Republican Party was the party of women’s suffrage as well as abolition, as Susan B. Anthony was a strong Republican and worked to get state laws passed that allowed women to vote long before suffrage passed in 1920.
All day long, even though we had some powerful speakers on the convention floor in Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, that buzz and the anxiety all centered on Sarah Palin. Was she the real deal? Most of us wanted to see her, to be able to check our own guts instead of being told what we think by sundry pundits.
Sarah Palin delivered. She was smart, sassy, comfortable and bright as a new penny. Personally, I was delighted with her matter-of-fact ideas on energy independence based on her experience in administering the largest fuel reserves in the nation. A collective sigh of relief and delight resonated through the Xcel Center and the cheering and applause were sincere.
I’m an older feminist who has always been annoyed that the movement for women’s rights and responsibilities has always been for one sort of woman – and not any conservative ones. Hillary Clinton, not Elizabeth Dole, was the ‘ground breaking’ candidacy. But one line resonated with all us fighters for women’s equality in her speech at the Democratic Convention – “My mother was born before women could vote. My daughter was able to vote for me for President.”
I thought of that line as I watched Palin’s small daughter, delighted with the attention but a little overwhelmed and tentative in front of over 5,000 people. As charming as Obama’s small daughters were, it somehow meant more to see Palin’s daughter look up at her mom with wonderment as the center of all this attention. Palin herself stood there with her baby on her hip, evoking a frontier wife who had casually shot a deer for dinner while plowing the field and running the ranch while her husband was away on a cattle drive – that same sort of matter-of-fact competence and femininity.
Meanwhile, in the audience was Margaret Heckler, the last Congresswoman from Mass. before Nikki Tsongas was recently elected. Congresswoman Heckler was a tough and experienced politician, and she was delighted with Sarah Palin and with McCain’s choice. It was a treat to hear her talk about winning this election, when her own election was one of the first cracks of that glass ceiling in Mass.
From the Grande Dame of Mass. GOP politics, to the first GOP woman nominated for Vice President, to the little girl seeing how far a woman can go, it was a great night to be a Republican woman and a feminist.