Michele Walk, Associate Editor
Ideology: Moderate | Writing From: George Washington University
Fresh off the nomination of their first female Vice Presidential candidate, it is not surprising that that the strongest voices in the GOP today are women. Last week, when her endorsement of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman led to other prominent Republicans abandoning the GOP candidate in the NY-23 special election, Sarah Palin showed her doubters that she’s as powerful a force as ever. Mrs. Palin is the strongest voice in the Republican Party right now, and her influence is only growing. On the other side of the Republican Party sits Meghan McCain, who showed her characteristic disdain for party lines this week when she voiced her strong support for independent former Democrat Joe Lieberman.
Much like Mrs. Palin has become the spokesperson for the Tea Party movement, Meghan McCain is the strongest voice in the younger generation of Republicans. Like Mrs. Palin, the daughter of the former 2008 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain is controversial – but for the opposite reason. While the left is terrified of Palin’s conservative views, the far right tends to find Ms. McCain unpalatable. In May, Ms. McCain put herself at odds with the Republican establishment by publicly saying that she is “pro-sex, pro-life and pro-gay.” But Meghan is right in step with her generation: not only are they more pro-life than previous generations, they are also in favor of comprehensive sex education (abstinence and contraceptives) and are strong supporters of equal rights for gays. When not even Barack Obama, the most liberal President since FDR, will openly support gay rights, McCain is unafraid to stand up for what she believes in.
Though the possibility of a debilitating schism within the Republican Party has been overblown by wishful-thinking liberals, Sarah Palin and Meghan McCain do represent the two prevailing directions in the GOP: either towards the far-right Tea Party style conservatism, or the fiscally conservative yet socially moderate direction. The special election in New York’s 23rd district, as has been noted by many pundits, has made tangible these ideological differences. However, in many ways, this is not just an ideological struggle but a generational one; the older generation of Republicans tends to be both socially and fiscally conservative, whereas many in the new crop of the Grand Old Party is still strongly fiscally conservative but is more moderate on social issues.
But while the potential for a split in the Republican Party has received wide attention, what hasn’t is the fact that the strongest voices in the two camps are female. In an age where Republicans are still portrayed as the “anti-women” party, it cannot be ignored that the loudest voices, for better or worse (depending on one’s ideology), are Sarah Palin and Meghan McCain. Though they have considerable differences on policy, both are strong, fearless women who will speak their minds regardless of the repercussions from the GOP or the Democrats. Ms. McCain recently wrote in her regular column for the Daily Beast that “God forbid any politician from either side dares reach across party lines and refuses to placate the partisan faithful” – but one can easily imagine this very statement also coming from Mrs. Palin.
Ms. McCain also wrote in her column, “Where can we hear voices that dare to cross party lines, think outside the box, and say what they truly believe?” The answer is from you, Meghan, and from Sarah. If the politics of the last few months have shown anything, from the Blue Dogs battling the public option to the GOP fleeing their candidate in NY-23, it’s that the party line is dying out. Divisions are abounding on both sides of the aisle; the Democrats lost a major force for party unity with the departure of George W. Bush, and the traditional base of the Republican Party felt abandoned by the nomination of Ms. McCain’s father for President in 2008. It would seem lately that everyone – Democrat, Republican, or independent – has something to be upset about. This is the real “change” that has happened since the 2008 election – not the “bipartisanship” that Obama promised and never delivered, but a rather a new form of nonpartisanship that disregards party line entirely. Instead of being silenced, the independent voices are only growing stronger. And in the Republican Party, the voices leading that choir are from two women.
As they say, “well behaved women seldom make history.” Mrs. Palin and Ms. McCain are controversial, and they occasionally say things that make both the right and left shutter; but no matter what they say, they cannot be ignored. The days of the sit-quietly-and-smile Republican woman are over, and it is truly a testament to the women’s movement that women can now proudly identify as something other than liberal. Modern Republican women – whether conservative like Palin or moderate like McCain – are not going to just stand by silently while the men run politics. They’re strong, courageous, and, dare I say it, sexy – and are the strongest voices in today’s GOP.