Can't a Woman Run for President?
by John Chuckman, YellowTimes.ORG
With the tone and substance of national policy in the United
States in a seemingly bottomless downward spiral, threatening
both the peace of the world and the freedom of Americans,
it may be fair to ask, why talk about a woman running for
The simple answer is that the best promise for improvement
may well be in calling on the talents of humanity's other
half, so largely ignored in American politics (actually, humanity's
more-than-other half since males on average die much younger).
I sincerely believe America has scraped the bottom of the
barrel for male leadership talent with George Bush. Indeed,
in some ways this is true of both parties since Al Gore, while
a far more intellectually-capable man, threw away the election
with a fatuous, me-too campaign and insisted on blaming Mr.
Clinton's past activities for his loss. Hardly the stuff of
When will a woman run for president? When this question is
posed in op-ed opinion pieces, the answer frequently offered
is something along the lines of "when one decides to run."
A very reassuring bromide that injects "choice," that most
pliable word of American corporate-speak, into the discussion.
Of course, the reality is that an apron-strings, cookies-and-milk
mind-set still dominates much of American society's attitudes
about women. People abroad likely find it hard to appreciate
the truth of this when they think of America as a place of
rapid change and advanced technology.
But not everything is technologically advanced in America.
You have only to recall the incompetent mess of Florida ballots
in the last election for an example of how a technologically
advanced nation can be backward even in areas of technology.
And rapid change certainly does not occur uniformly through
American society. This is a nation where millions of people
look for signs of Satan in children's books and attend religious
revivals where folks are slapped on the forehead to cure cancer.
One of the largest fundamentalist Christian denominations
in the United States proudly declares that the little woman's
place is to support her husband as patriarch of the family.
The role for women amongst American fundamentalist Jews is
pretty much what one would expect to find in the mid-17th
America's South, with its cloying ideals of belles, cheerleaders,
baton-twirlers and cotillions, represents patriarchal values
in the raw. After all, it is the place that spontaneously
generates people who speak in tongues and handle poisonous
snakes as part of divine worship. Almost the nation's entire
supply of fundamentalist preacher-entrepreneurs, people who
make a fine living out of refusing to recognize what century
they live in, are incubated and developed in the South. And
the South, due to changing trends in population, is the part
of the country that has risen to great new influence in American
The treatment of Hillary Clinton set a standard of viciousness
no other society on earth, claiming to be civilized, could
match. An intelligent and independent-minded woman was harassed
and insulted for eight long years simply because she was intelligent
and independent-minded. Undoubtedly, it all served as an effective
warning that the Barbara Bush image, the smiling granny serving
cookies and milk while overseeing ghost-written books about
her dog Fluffy is the preferred one for the White House.
In a very real sense, Elizabeth Dole, who did make a weak
attempt at the Republican nomination, despite the benefit
of a syrupy Southern accent, was never a serious candidate.
Comments on Ms. Dole's abilities, reported in the mainstream
press, included her skill at descending from a podium and
the fact that her shoes coordinated with décor.
She was always a weak candidate, having held appointed offices,
with no genuine experience in politics, and someone who long
played public cheerleader to her morose and plodding husband's
political fortunes (some would say that alone disqualified
her), a gracious man who returned the favor by publicly disparaging
her campaign early on (What else does one expect from someone
who actually bawled at Richard Nixon's burial?).
The strong, lingering smell of anti-feminism in America,
kept alive by people who believe we should be guided by principles
that predate the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, certainly
helps explain why the most capable women don't run. Christine
Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, is an outstanding
example, now safely tucked into a lesser cabinet post (lesser
as far as the Bush Boys are concerned - after all, what's
the environment but a name for a photo-op?) where she is free
to say virtually nothing - a very dynamic governor, whether
you agree with all her policies or not, reduced to a cipher.
Perhaps, "can't run" is the more appropriate expression,
since money, steam-shovels full of it, from private sources
drives the entire American political engine. George Bush provided
the definitive proof that a candidate most people never heard
of and who had never taken any interest in national policy
can win, provided only he started his journey through the
primary campaigns with $70 million stuffed in his pockets
and received frequent top-ups as he glutted the airwaves with
numbing pictures of vacuous benignity. The sources of this
money still do not see fit to trust women with command over
resources in business, so it is not surprising they do not
trust them with command over resources in politics.
Something is very wrong with national politics when a country
of America's stature can't come up with a better choice than
George Bush or Al Gore (incidentally, has anybody noticed
the increased role of inheritance in the great republic?).
America's rotten system for financing elections is at the
heart of the matter. What other nation holds to a mindless
equivalency between money and free speech? Presumably, if
you pushed this legalistic, anti-democratic notion to its
limit, big-money contributors would be entitled to do all
the speaking in elections. Everyone would still have a vote,
but only those with money could talk to them. George Bush's
campaign hinted strongly at the future possibility.
The party system is also at fault here. Despite the countless
chamber-of-commerce testimonials we hear about free enterprise
in America, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone to
institute it into politics. We have a virtual monopoly situation
(actually, what economists call a duopoly) with two parties
using countless dodges, gimmicks, and unfair rules to keep
out competitors. Just a little room is left around the edges
of all the high barriers to entry so that some suggestion
of a free market is maintained, much the way small independent
bottlers of soda receive a few square feet out of an entire
aisle dedicated to Coke and Pepsi products in a supermarket.
The restrictions against a third-party candidate's even getting
on the ballots of all fifty states would fill a book.
New parties bring new ideas and new blood. Why does anyone
believe that two parties are any more capable of this than
if there were only two banks doing all financial transactions?
Republicans in particular love to blather about "creative
destruction" in the economy. Did it ever occur to them that
the same Schumpeterian principle applies to institutions like
political parties? The national parties have crotchety old
establishments that do not contain many women or other fresh-thinking
people in influential positions.
Methods of national debate also are part of the problem.
So long as argumentative nonsense is regarded as debate, an
immature and intellectually-dull national politics will continue.
Negative advertising is only a small part of this phenomenon.
Many talented people are repulsed at entering a contest where
lung-power and attitudes play a far greater role than ideas
or wisdom. This was certainly the case for General Powell,
and I suspect former Governor Whitman. One could make a joke
about this form of debate appealing more to hormone-driven
males than thoughtful women, but in fact it does not appeal
to the thoughtful of either sex. Yet it dominates American
politics, just as dominates the airwaves with public affairs
programs that don't inform.
Change in the way America does the business of politics offers
the best chance for escape from the intellectual and moral
sinkhole represented by the Bush administration. Such change
would bring more excellent people forward, and I have no doubt
that at least half of them would be women. And America would
take a big step forward in its promise to be a democratic
society, rather than one run by money with a semblance of
democratic institutions. But in saying these things, I fear
I may be pointing towards solutions whose very impossibility
now leaves a sense of a settled and depressing fate.
John Chuckman encourages your comments: jchuckman@YellowTimes.ORG