Just a week ago, a friend asked over lunch "Who will be elected President in 2016?" This blogger shrugged and after running through the list of likely nominees (including The Jebster, The Dubster's little brother) this blogger weakly replied: "None of the above?" The Jillster takes up the issue today, but damns The Hillster with faint praise. Yes, the United States is prepared for its first woman POTUS, but.... The Hillster is packing approximately 200 lbs. of unnecessary weight: The Slickster. In addition, she will be elderly (69 in 2016). If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of gender in the body politic, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
The X Factor
By Jill Lepore
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
If the Presidential election were held today, Hillary Clinton would deliver her acceptance speech sometime before midnight tonight. Last week, a Times/CBS News poll found that a whopping eighty-two per cent of Democrats picked Clinton over both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Last month, a Quinnipiac poll reported that registered voters in Ohio chose Clinton over six possible Republican candidates: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. “If the election were tomorrow,” John McCain said, “Hillary Clinton would most likely be the President.”
But the election isn’t being held today or tomorrow or even next year, and Clinton isn’t even officially a candidate. Nor are any of the people she’s been squared off against, which is why mock elections are mostly meaningless. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in February of 2006—as far in advance of Election Day 2008 as the current polls are of Election Day 2016—reported Clinton’s defeating six possible Democratic primary contenders, including John Kerry, Al Gore, John Edwards, and Biden. Barack Obama wasn’t even in the field.
The apotheosis of Hillary Clinton is not inevitable. She is an accomplished diplomat, a seasoned campaigner, and a formidable fund-raiser. But she strikes many voters as disingenuous and perhaps unethical, concerns that will probably be aired again as some thirty thousand pages of documents from the Clinton presidential library are beginning to be made public—more than a year after legal restrictions on the release of Presidential records expired. (“Hillary should own the women’s media,” a 1995 memo reads.)
Still, for the moment, Clinton’s chances of winning the White House are better than any female candidate’s have ever been, including her own. No office-seeker wants to run as a “female candidate.” But, just as Obama could hardly avoid running as a black man, Clinton doesn’t have much choice, except to steer clear of the topic, which, while tempting, would be a mistake. Obama’s March, 2008, speech on race, placing his campaign within the “long march” of civil rights, helped him gain the nomination. Three months afterward, in her concession speech, Clinton said that, from that moment on, it would be “unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President.” That wasn’t quite true, nor was it an especially good speech. For all her advocacy of women’s rights around the world, Clinton doesn’t seem any likelier, lately, to speak stirringly about the long march from Seneca Falls.
American women have fought for political equality against damnable objections. “It is difficult, of course, in contemplating the possibility of a female President of the United States, to disregard the physiological difficulties which stand in the way of such an Executive,” a New York newspaper remarked in 1872, when Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for the office. These difficulties included a “periodical functional incapacity for public business” (menstruation) and, should the President be married, “the pleasures and responsibilities incident” to women (pregnancy and nursing), unless she were to “have criminal recourse” to certain “expedients now too fashionable” (contraception and abortion).
Woodhull spent Election Day in prison, on trumped-up charges, and after Susan B. Anthony went to the polls to cast a ballot—on the theory that women had been enfranchised by the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Amendments—she was arrested. Only after seven decades of suffrage marches, petitions, speeches, prison terms, and hunger strikes did women finally gain the right to vote. In the years following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, in 1920, women began to enter elected office, but, long shut out of schools and jobs, most lacked the experience that was understood to qualify candidates.
In 1935, the year George Gallup founded his company, a lawyer named Lillian D. Rock founded the League for a Woman President, with the goal of getting a woman elected by 1940. “During the next decade,” F.D.R.’s secretary Louis Howe predicted, “not only the possibility but the advisability of electing a woman as President of the United States will become a very seriously argued question.” It was seriously argued, but the only women to run in the nineteen-thirties and forties were Betty Boop, against Mr. Nobody; Gracie Allen, for the Surprise Party; Wonder Woman, “1000 years in the future”; and Olive Oyl, who promised, if elected, to “get a man for every gal.”
In 1937, Gallup’s pollsters began asking a question they have asked, in one form or another, ever since: “Would you vote for a woman for president?” The numbers have risen steadily: thirty-three per cent said yes in 1937, ninety-five per cent in 2012. But the question requires respondents to self-report on the kind of thing, like church attendance, that they tend to overstate. In 2005, Gallup asked a different question: Do you think most of your neighbors would vote for a woman for President? Thirty-four per cent said no.
Women don’t make better politicians than men, or worse. They don’t constitute a party or even an interest group. They ought to serve in equal numbers for the simple reason that one-half of the people ought not to be ruled by the other half. But in politics, as in much else, there exists what the political scientists Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox call an ambition gap: men are far more willing to run for office. Across all levels of government, women have never held more than a quarter of elected offices, despite the efforts of organizations like Emily’s List and the Susan B. Anthony List—the latter founded in 1992, the year that Bill Clinton said, of himself and his wife, “Buy one, get one free!” Between 2001 and 2011, the percentage of women interested in running for office actually dropped. One reason is that, in those Sarah-and-Hillary years, it became impossible to deny that female politicians face outrageously personal attacks little different from the sort of thing that was said in, oh, 1872. Recently, Democrats have raised a great deal of money in the wake of Republican attacks—for instance, after a conservative commentator called the Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie.” This climate makes it all the more remarkable that a record-breaking hundred and eighty-four women ran for Congress in 2012. A record number, eighty-nine, won.
Premature polls strengthen some of the most anti-democratic forces in American politics. In a year in which there happens to be a sizable cohort of women who could either run for President or test the waters, it would be too bad if the legacy of George Gallup held them back when, instead, the legacy of Lillian Rock might urge them on. In 2006, Gallup pollsters asked, “Do you think Hillary Clinton has already decided whether or not she will run for President in 2008?” More than two-thirds said yes. Most people think that she has already decided to run this time around, too. A better question is: who else will? Ω
[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University as well as the chair of the History and Literature Program. She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her latest books are The Story of America: Essays on Origins (2012) and http://www.amazon.com/Book-Ages-Life-Opinions-Franklin/dp/0307958345 (2013). Lepore earned her B.A. in English from Tufts University, an M.A. in American Culture from University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.]
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