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A Great Line

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I'm happy to give my friend Madeleine Albright credit for the line, as Starbucks apparently has. But the truth is I've been using it for years in speeches to women about how we need to help each other get ahead in business, politics and academia. Katie Couric quoted it a year or so ago in a commencement speech, giving me the credit for it. And yes, in my version, it's not just about women "helping" women but actually "supporting" each other, as in: "There's a special place in hell (not just a place, but a special place) for women who don't support each other."

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Gov. Sarah Palin told a crowd in California last weekend that she saw the Albright version of the quote at Starbucks. Albright promptly made it clear that she was talking about women helping each other, not supporting Palin.

Actually, it doesn't matter what verb you use, whether it's a place in hell or a special place, whether Madeleine said it first or I did, or whether we both borrowed it from someone else, which is what I would guess. I'd put my record, or Madeleine's, of helping other women up against anyone's, Palin included. But we won't be voting for the Alaska governor. And neither, I hope and trust, will most other women, including those of us who have spent our lives fighting for women's equality.

And it has nothing to do with her being a woman.

I'm a Democrat. I'm one of those people who votes for the Democrat every four years, sometimes more enthusiastically, sometimes less. I don't decide elections. About 80 percent of us are people like me, the type who may kvetch and moan if our favored candidate doesn't win the nomination, but who come around to vote for whomever from our party does.

But I still wanted Palin to succeed. I took issue with those who attacked her unfairly, questioned her ambition and her ability to balance motherhood and career, mocked her because her teenage daughter was pregnant, even challenged her determination to keep working and traveling during her last pregnancy. I did not call her Gov. Gidget or the Caribou Barbie. I took almost as much offense to the sexist mocking of her as did some of her male Republican fans. And I never pointed out, even though I was sorely tempted, that they were not nearly so offended when Hillary or Couric were the targets of sexist attacks instead of one of their own.

I was never going to support Palin in the sense of voting for her, but I did my best to support her right to be judged on her merits, not her motherhood; to be evaluated based on her knowledge of the issues and whether she was prepared to be president. I knew that she'd been picked for her gender, but I firmly believed she deserved to be judged based on the same standards we would apply to a man in her position.

Applying those standards, the verdict is clear. Mitt Romney would have been a better choice. Romney would have had an opinion on the bailout, been able to name at least one newspaper he read, been familiar with at least one or two Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade. He would have been able to answer the questions actually asked in the debate, rather than pivoting to canned attack points.

The last time I checked, Joe Biden had done 89 press conferences since being selected as Obama's running mate. Palin had done exactly none. She has been protected, some (myself included) would say overprotected, from media scrutiny. The people asking the tough questions of Palin were not churlish liberal male attack dogs. With the exception of Charlie Gibson, who is not an attack dog, the questions have been from two women who have paid their dues and helped and supported other women along the way: Katie Couric and Gwen Ifill.

The best Tina Fey numbers on "Saturday Night Live" have been based on verbatim transcripts of Palin's actual answers. If it's literally a joke when Fey reads the lines, it's not just because Fey is funny. It's because the lines are -- funny in the sense of pitiful. If you can't face Katie and Gwen, how are you going to face Putin?

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich

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