Often times, when Democrats run a candidate for office who is not a White male, Republicans unleash with a familiar refrain. "He's an affirmative action candidate", to Barack Obama. "She only got there because of her husband", to Hillary Clinton. And when these candidates do well, it's not evidence of any merit on their part, or that voters critically evaluated them and decided they were best for the job. It's because of "identity politics": Blacks mindlessly voting for Blacks, women mindlessly voting for women.
I always kind of assumed that this was an argument made in bad faith. But the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin to be McCain's VP candidate made me realize that conservatives really do seem to believe it. They really do seem to think that the only thing one has to do to appeal to women is to put a female candidate on the ticket. The idea that women might be critically evaluating the positions of their choices and voting for the person who best matches up to their interests seemed utterly foreign to them. We saw the same thing with Michael Steele and Alan Keyes -- Republicans ran them both for Senate, and were really perplexed when Black voters didn't show the slightest inclination to bite. The idea that Black people are, just like everybody else, analyzing their preferences and selecting the best candidate for their interests regardless of color seemed to escape them, then and now.
And so we get Gov. Palin, whose putative appeal to women seems to lie solely in the fact that she's a woman. Policy-wise, her rabidly pro-life outlook is a poor match for most women. The fact that she laughed when a female political opponent was called a bitch, appointed a sexual harasser to succeed the civil servant she fired in trooper gate, and that her supporters booed her latest reach out attempt to Hillary Clinton isn't going to help. I've yet to hear a single policy position she's taken that is supposed to give her a comparative advantage with the female vote compared to Obama/Biden. In terms of appealing to women, there is absolutely nothing there beyond biology, which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that Republicans think that's a sufficient credential.
My mother, who was a Clinton supporter, called her selection an insult to her intelligence, and other former Clinton fans seem to agree. Indeed, Palin polls significantly worse with women compared to men -- with a statistical dead heat between those who say it makes them more and less likely to vote for McCain (actually, 1% more say they'd be less likely to vote for him, but that's in the margin of error). As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, part of that has to be chalked up to the "insult" factor, more than anything else. Women aren't going to respond well to a selection that screams "we think you're morons who will vote for anyone with breasts."
At the end of the day, the choice comes off as patronizing more than anything else. Republicans bungled this choice badly, and they did because they believed their own identity politics rhetoric. Running women isn't enough to get women to vote for you. For women, like men; for Blacks, like Whites; it's fundamentally the policies, the record, the experiences, the background, the intellect -- all the things we expect voters to look at -- that count.