Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'll never persuade anyone with this post, but as one of those horrible men who abandoned Hillary Clinton to throw in his lot with Barack Obama, I have to say I simply don't agree with the gloomiest things said in this New York Times article about possible female presidents other than Hillary.

This, for instance:

...for many women, whether or not they support Mrs. Clinton, the long primary campaign has left them with a question: why would any woman run?

Many feel dispirited by what they see as bias against Mrs. Clinton in the media -- the "Fatal Attraction" comparisons and locker-room chortling on television panels.

"Who would dare to run?" said Karen O'Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. "The media is set up against you, and if you have the money problem to begin with, why would anyone put their families through this, why would anyone put themselves through this?"

For this reason, she said, she doesn't expect a serious contender anytime soon. "I think it's going to be generations." ...

The argument becomes nonsensical at a certain point: We're this close to electing Hillary Clinton president (she nearly beat Obama, and she leads McCain in the polls), yet we're too sexist to elect any other woman president for forty, sixty, eighty years? How can both of these things be possible?

And where are, say, Condoleezza's Rice's "Fatal Attraction comparisons"? Where is the "locker-room chortling on television panels" about her? Rice is a national figure, an architect of the worst foreign-policy disaster in living memory, a top aide to possibly the most hated president ever -- where's her nutcracker?

A lot of us keep saying this and it falls on deaf ears, but here I go again: Quite a bit of the nastiness that's uttered about Hillary Clinton is uttered specifically because she's Hillary Clinton (even if it relies on readymade sexist tropes) -- or because she's Bill Clinton's wife. (Remember, the people who helped paint the negative portrait of Hillary in the 1990s were painting one of Bill at the same time.) There'll be a woman in the relatively near future who hasn't been portrayed as a monster for fifteen-plus years -- it simply won't be the same for her.

She'll face sexism, yes -- but the Times article has an interesting set of statistics:

In December, a Gallup poll found that 86 percent of Americans said they would vote for a well-qualified candidate who was a woman (of course, that percentage has been in the 80s for much of the last three decades). Ninety-three percent said the same of a well-qualified candidate who was black; 93 percent of a Catholic candidate; and 91 percent of a Jewish one.

Why do I single out the Catholic number? Because we already elected a Catholic president -- nearly half a century ago -- and still 7 percent of the country won't vote for one. So you don't need to be in a group that's at 100% acceptance to win. You can face hate and still prevail.

I don't buy this, either:

..."No woman with Obama's resume could run," said Dee Dee Myers, the first woman to be White House press secretary, under Bill Clinton, and the author of "Why Women Should Rule the World." "No woman could have gotten out of the gate."

Women are still held to a double-standard, and they tend to buy into it themselves.

They do not have what Debbie Walsh, the director of the Rutgers center, says she used to call the John Edwards phenomenon and now calls the Barack Obama phenomenon: having never held elective office, they run for Senate, then before finishing a first term decide they should be president....

I just don't believe that will be true for much longer. Even now, I could easily imagine a Carly Fiorina, or someone like her, running for Senate or the presidency, based on achievements outside politics.

And if this seems unimaginable to you now, I don't think it will for long. I think we're seeing more and more young women amassing records of achievement all through high school and college, then heading into the work world full of energy and confidence (along with, if the kids in my office are any indication, quite a bit of "girliness," which stupid men need to see so they won't fear for the safety of their testicles).

What's going to happen is that these young women are going to help us form an image of what a very accomplished post-post-feminist young woman looks like, and we're going to get increasingly comfortable with that image. The peers and near-peers of these young women aren't going to know what it was like not to have such women around.

A female Obama would probably have to have an interesting, unusual backstory, plus charisma, plus political savvy. I can't believe that combination won't emerge. And I can't believe, once most of the electorate is born after, say, 1964 or 1970, it will seem in any way bizarre.

Whether it's an Obama-style phenom or just a political pro, there'll be another woman -- probably a lot more than one -- ready for the big job soon. Trust me.

(A female George W. Bush? A lazy, ignorant trust-fund incompetent with no qualifications apart from swagger? That will probably take generations.)

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