Oprah, Hillary, and Sarah do not plow new ground. Each makes a choice based on standards and principles NOT based on how their choices will affect women as gender.
In the last 30 years, the visibility of women in U.S. popular and political culture has risen dramatically. As a grammar school student, I distinctly remember the importance of newly sworn in Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole and Astronaut Sally Ride. These three women held a place in my world because they were women on a stage where men dominated. These ladies provided hope for those who saw more men than women in politics, even for a 7 year old. Perhaps I could not articulate that at 7 but I do recall the roles they played in the world.
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro cracked another glass ceiling. Amazing even to a 10 year old that Ferraro’s name appeared on all those signs with that guy who was running for president. Incredible.
Today, the media highlights a controversy between one of the richest people in the country-she happens to be a woman- and the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate-also happens to be a woman. Efforts to enlist a former presidential candidate-yep, a woman- to fight claims by the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate met luke warm success. How’s that for amazing.
Oprah Winfrey made a calculated choice to support Senator Barack Obama, after his several appearances on her show. Winfrey openly raised money for and introduced Obama to the world before he was a household name. Winfrey’s power to effect the choice of her viewers and devotees has been established by sales of any product, book or thing Oprah mentions favorably. I seriously doubt that Oprah will change her position related an interview for an active female Vice Presidential candidate.
Why would Oprah refuse such a lucrative, high profile interview? Oprah is a savvy public relations agent for Obama. An Oprah interview for Palin increases Palin’s exposure exponentially. Palin is personable and engaging. In Oprah’s format, Palin will be a rockstar. Oprah chose to endorse and monetarily support Obama. Oprah will not provide that platform for the McCain-Palin ticket.
The conundrum for Oprah will be what to do if Obama’s poll statistics are negatively impacted over the long haul. Oprah’s response to an overwhelming outcry to see Palin on the Harpo sofa: my show will not be used for politics. Does that position change when Obama needs a boost? How will viewers respond if she changes this position to help Obama? Based on news reports, some viewers have already tuned out. Others may follow suit and choose to tune Oprah out when there is no Palin interview.
Sarah Palin’s appeal and personality translated well during her initial introduction to the nation the day following the Democrat Convention. Should Palin accept an invitation to Oprah world? I’d say no. If Oprah would change position and invite Palin on her show, Palin would not receive the regular Oprah embracing interview. That is not to say Oprah would be rude or impolite, but this interview would not be the same style interview to which we are all accustomed. An Oprah interview with an uncomfortable Oprah would be a much larger crap shoot for Palin than regular Oprah. Palin, even if invited, would be well advised to decline that interview.
The assistance of Senator Hillary Clinton, now a reluctant partisan of Senator Obama, has been recruited to dig out of the sexist hole into which Obama and his campaign fell. Unfortunately for Obama, Senator Clinton sees the larger picture. In her speeches, Clinton fails to condemn Palin’s perceived flaws and rumored misdoings. Why? Clinton understands that the gender- and family-based mud she slings against Palin will be returned to Clinton like a boomerang the next time she runs for office. Clinton’s family life has never been perfect. The life and times of the Clinton union, memorialized in “Bloodsport,” showcases a life with human flaws. Clinton will not sink to the level Obama wishes, if only avoid equal treatment later.
Palin will need to answer tough questions. Oprah’s couch won’t be available until after the November election. Perhaps that’s how it should be. Tough questions posed by an unbiased, impartial interviewer might better serve the public and Palin herself.
The issues raised this week highlight another remarkable change in American society. Women speaking their minds either by feedback to Oprah or interviews with the media. Senator Clinton chooses what to say and how to present it without the necessity of following orders from Obama. Oprah makes all her own choices and articulated her reasoning behind those choices. Palin’s choices to challenge Alaskan establishment show her capacity for making her own decisions. Women dominate the media coverage of politics and it’s not just because they are women. Ain’t life grand!