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Danforth compares attacks on Palin to attacks on Clarence Thomas

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 4, 2008 - ST. PAUL - Former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth said Thursday that critics of Gov. Sarah Palin's nomination for vice president on the GOP ticket were using a double standard, and he predicted that a looming political fight over her selection could be as bitter as the battle over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also said Palin, like Thomas, was strong enough to weather the storm.

"Last Friday when she was announced, there was a concerted effort to smash her as a credible person, to belittle her and to treat her as somebody who is unworthy," he said, adding that the subtext of the criticism was Palin's views on abortion.

Asked if this could be called a form of sexism, Danforth said, "In a weird way, yes. I say in a weird way because people who are (doing) this will say they're advocates for women's rights.

"I do believe that the same people who were crowing for the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling are busily replacing that ceiling, I mean frantically replacing it because they can't tolerate Palin."

The 18 million cracks were a reference to the number of votes that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton received during her bitter primary fight against the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.

"For a lot of people, there are two things that are absolutely unthinkable to them. One is a woman and the other is an African American who do not absolutely hold their philosophical line, especially on the issue of abortion.

"If they don't, it's attack and destroy. That's their basic method. That was the case with Clarence Thomas. This is very reminiscent of what was done to Clarence. It's just an off-the-wall attack, and it's dirty." Before Thomas' nomination, Danforth had known and worked with Thomas for many years. Danforth was a chief backer of Thomas' nomination and led the Senate fight for confirmation.

After Palin became the nominee, things "became very ugly, very fast. It was anything goes. There were outrageous things said. She has five children, including a special needs child; therefore, she can't be vice president. I mean, how patronizing can you get?"

But he said these critics believe that a woman like Palin must be "destroyed politically if she doesn't hold the right views on abortion. I think that's a different standard."

The choice of Palin also has been criticized because she is from a small state. Danforth said this double standard, pointing to male candidates, such as former President Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who also hailed from small states but were not subjected to the same criticism.

The good news, Danforth said, is that Palin is strong enough to survive whatever criticism is fired at her.

"My goodness, she is so strong; she's extremely strong, and she's not going to be smashed."

He added: "People found out last night that this target shoots back."

In other comments, Mike DuHaime, the political director for the McCain campaign, said Palin's speech Wednesday night had energized Republicans, and that the party's presidential ticket would do well in Missouri.

That same sentiment came from Missouri House Speaker-elect Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

"I'm really not amazed that women are beginning to look at the presidency," Richard said. "I mean we elected a woman speaker of the Missouri House, Catherine Hanaway, and she led us, kept us in the majority.

"I don't know Gov. Palin, but I'm impressed and my wife, she's so excited that she can hardly stand it. She's my barometer."

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.