Palin Hits The Motherload

By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I was driving to school to pick up the kids, listening to conservative talk radio. The subject was, of course, Sarah Palin, and the villains were, of course, liberals. Not just any liberals, but feminist journalist turncoats who preach gender equality until Republicans practice it.

I was, it turns out, among them.

I'm not telling this story to brag of my notoriety -- I was far down the list -- or to boast about being the Good Mommy. As my kids would be delighted to tell you, I've been anything but recently, as the national conventions collided with the start of school.

But the moment captured the topsy-turvy nature of the Palin debate: The loudest voices in the usual stay-at-home chorus cheer Palin's careerism, while many working moms wince at the thought of a vice presidential mother of five.

Like a Picasso portrait with body parts askew, nothing in this political set piece is in its accustomed place.

My colleague Sally Quinn put it most provocatively. "Is she prepared for the all-consuming nature of the job?" Quinn wondered. "When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick, what choice will she make?"

Quinn was skewered, but she's hardly alone in her conflicted response. I watched a focus group of undecided married women convened in Las Vegas by a Democratic-leaning organization (Women's Voices Women Vote) react to Palin's speech. It took just a few minutes for the mommy debate to erupt, unbidden but fierce.

"She felt like she was one of us," said one woman, an office manager mother of four. "She has family, she works, she has earned what she's gotten instead of marrying into it. . . . I know there's some controversy . . . but a lot of us work and have babies and all that."

"But can you be president with a tiny baby and a big family and give both what they deserve?" interjected an accountant who works from home.

"Well, what if it was a man? . . . That's where it's a double standard," the office manager said.

"I've heard there are plenty of high executive women -- the job is first, the children have the nanny, the dad helps out, and they survive," offered another woman, a grandmother. "I think she can do it."

"Not if she's really committed to her family," said a recent retiree. "I think she's bitten off more than she can chew."

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