On Election Day 1872, Susan Brownwell Anthony, a life-long Republican and community organizer, boasted to a friend that she had "positively voted the Republican ticket — Strait." Two weeks later, she was arrested and eventually tried and convicted for illegally voting in a presidential election — a right women were denied for another half century. She never paid the fine.
This year's historic candidacy of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama wouldn't even be possible without the work of organizers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might not even be allowed to vote, let alone run for office had it not been for women's suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony.
But that thought probably didn't cross her mind last week at the Republican National Convention when she compared her experience to Obama's: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
It's a farcical insult, especially when almost within the same breath, Palin told us that her own political career began with a community organization. "I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better," she said without a hint of irony.
She didn't compare her experience to Obama's eight years representing residents of the nation's third-largest city or his four years as a U.S. senator. Palin specifically chose to mock his three years as director of the Developing Communities Project, the type of faith-based organization heavily promoted by the Bush administration and strongly supported by both her running mate and opponent.
So which is it? Do those organizations do meaningful work or not?
Some suggest the remarks were a dog whistle to the base — a plausible and perhaps likely explanation for a campaign that says the election is "not about issues" — but that would imply very ugly things about Palin and McCain. I'd prefer to give the benefit of the doubt and take her vacuous and insulting remarks at face value.
Remember, this is the campaign based on the idea that women will vote for it simply because they share the same chromosomes. Yet apparently it was too much to even expect them to pay lip service to those women. They could have tried to draw parallels between Palin's dedication to her community and organizers like Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Jane Addams, Frances Perkins or Rosa Parks. At the very least, they could have acknowledged her humble place among such a proud lineage of leaders whose sacrifices left each successive generation a ceiling with a few more cracks than that of their predecessors. Instead we were told that those kinds of people don't have any "actual responsibilities."
These are the words of someone void of ideas and vision, so blinded by hyper-partisanship that any opponent's qualities are by definition deemed negative. Indeed, only through extreme compartmentalization could service to one's country simultaneously serve as the punch line to a joke and the entire theme of a convention.
Juan Melli is Politicker.com's associate editor.