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The first Madam President will be sworn in sooner than most people think. But the gender gap in politics is still shockingly broad, say two of America's most readable political commentators in this "timely look at the nation's sputtering efforts to envision a woman in America's top job."(The Boston Globe). Charting the transformation of women's power in American politics from the first female presidential candidate (Victoria Woodhull in 1872) to the shattered presidential hopes of Shirley Chisholm and Elizabeth Dole, Madam President presents tales of passion, determination, set-backs, and triumph from nearly all national women politicians and most leading state politicians "in the pipeline." With insight garnered from years on the Washington political scene and candid interviews with leading politicians like Christine Todd Whitman and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Clift and Brazaitis explain why the barriers to women are still formidable: There are only 3 female governors (one of the best routes to the White House) and at the current rate it will take 250 years before there are as many women Senators and Representatives as men. A forward-looking, savvy analysis of women in politics, Madam President gives the first inside look at how America's female politicians got there, stayed there, and what it will take for them to make it to the presidency.
Why Not a Woman?
Marie Wilson is a card-carrying feminist. She's the kind of woman who would never buy her daughter a Barbie doll for fear of forever stunting her career ambitions and imbuing her with the vision of an unattainable body type. So, it is with a mixture of embarrassment and pride that Wilson claims parentage of President 2000 Barbie, the Mattel Corporation's "inspirational doll of the year" in 2000. "I never thought I'd be in bed with Barbie," says Wilson, who organized the popular "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," and whose offhand suggestion to a Mattel executive spurred the doll's creation. "But you know what? My grandchildren play with those dolls, and I'd rather have them playing with this one."
Whether it's President Barbie or the actress Glenn Close as a vice president standing up to terrorists in the movie Air Force One, or Lisa Simpson growing up to become president on "The Simpsons," cultural symbols prepare the way for real-life women to pursue the highest office in the land. In 1936, when George Gallup first asked people whether they would "vote for a woman for president if she qualified in every other respect," 65 percent said they would not. Women were only slightly more open to the idea than men. A recent poll by the National Opinion Research Center found that 90 percent of American voters could support a woman for president, with men and women equally eager to witness history being made in their lifetime.
The wave of celebrity candidates that ushered in the 2000 campaign season reflected the hunger for difference that many voters feel and that a star-crazed media expressed in its ample coverage of colorful nonpoliticians. A pervasive cynicism seems to have grabbed hold of the electorate. A March 1999 poll found that only 17 percent of adolescents said they would want to be president, a goal that was once the epitome of the American Dream. Dissatisfaction with the mainstream, cookie-cutter candidates invited unconventional candidacies from the left and the right as though a new kind of politics was struggling to be born, free from the shackles of pollsters and handlers and operatives.
So-called soft issues like education, health, and gun control dominate the national agenda. Politicians clamor for the women's vote by emphasizing their credentials in policy areas once relegated to women and goo-goos (Washington slang for good government types). The climate for women has undergone such a transformation that the wives of the two presidential candidates in the 1996 election looked forward to political futures of their own.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton drew more criticism for being a carpetbagger in her proposed bid for one of New York's U.S. Senate seats — a gender-neutral issue — than for the wholly unprecedented act of running as a sitting First Lady, a balancing act worthy of the Wallendas performing without a net. Elizabeth Hanford Dole, after getting rave reviews for her role as warm-up act for her husband in 1996, stepped out on her own to become the first woman taken seriously as a real contender for the presidency. Until she withdrew from the race in October 1999, citing an inability to raise the millions necessary to effectively compete, she consistently beat the Democratic candidates, Vice President Al Gore and former senator Bill Bradley, in national polls.
A woman taking on the same career challenges as men has become commonplace, yet the election of a woman as president still seems remote. Dole faded into the shadow of Texas governor George W. Bush's overwhelming lead, where she was pegged more as a potential running mate for him than an eventual victor. Jokes about her cautious campaign and her lacquered look took their toll, and the rival campaigns could scarcely contain their snickers when Dole's strongest support in an early test in Iowa came from her sorority sisters. "In a way, we have a country that is more ready than we are," says Wilson, a co-founder of the White House Project, an effort to promote the idea of a woman president. The Project's goal is to create a more welcoming climate for women seeking the presidency so that by 2008, not one, but several women will be competing for the presidency. When a woman candidate is no longer a novelty, the thinking goes, success becomes more likely.
What we set out to do in this book is chart the efforts to get a woman on the ticket, beginning with the 1984 presidential campaign when Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D., N.Y.) became the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket. The Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, was far behind President Reagan in the polls, and needed to do something dramatic to shake up the electorate. In hindsight, Mondale probably would have lost to Reagan no matter who was his running mate. Women did not rally behind Mondale even though he had picked one of their own. Male candidates since then have shied away from using gender as a ticket-balancer, and sixteen years have passed without another woman as a vice presidential candidate. The experience made women realize that there are no Cinderellas in politics, and that getting women elected to high office requires hard work. We document that work, starting with the creation of Emily's List, which stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast — that is, it makes the dough rise.
The impact of Ferraro's candidacy is still debated. Did it advance or set back women's aspirations? The scrutiny of her husband's tangled finances was such an emotionally searing experience for Ferraro and her family that she recounts in her memoir how she called home several times a day to check on her husband, fearing he might be suicidal. The promise of her candidacy was not fulfilled, yet two years later, in 1986, inspired by Ferraro, the number of women candidates for state office and for Congress mushroomed. That year, a record fifty-four women ran for the House, nine for governor, eleven for lieutenant governor, and six for the Senate. The Democrats elected their first woman to the Senate, Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, who is the longest-serving woman in the Senate today.
Women continued to make incremental gains in numbers until 1998, when, for the first time, fewer women ran for public office than in the previous election. The falloff was puzzling because running for office had gotten easier for women. Many of the barriers had fallen. A study done by the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) showed that women, when they ran, won as often as men did. Raising money was still a challenge, but women running for Congress had reached parity with men in the money race. There was simply no way to sugarcoat the fact that fewer women chose to run. Personal issues like privacy, how to keep your family intact, and the scrutiny that politicians must endure loomed as deterrents to women who could have rewarding careers without the hassle of public life. "Women say, is it really worth it?" says Anita Perez Ferguson, former head of the NWPC.
In evaluating women who could be taken seriously as a potential president, we looked to the traditional feeder systems: statehouses, the Senate, and the House. Three of the last four presidents are former governors, which suggests that voters value executive experience more highly than a legislative record. Yet there are only three elected women governors out of fifty, a dearth that women must address before they can move up to national office. The numbers elsewhere are not much better. At the start of the new millennium, there were 9 women among the 100 senators, and 65 women among 435 members of the House. At the current rate, it will be 250 years before the number of women reaches parity with the number of men in the Congress.
Why worry about the percentage of women? What can a woman bring to the process of governing that men cannot? We don't know for sure because we've never tried it. The closest we've come is in Arizona, where women occupy the top five positions in the executive branch, and in the state of Washington, where women hold the balance of power in the legislative branch. We assess how they're doing in the chapter titled "Go West, Young Woman."
Women don't need to apologize for wanting a fair share of the seats at the table of political power; after all, they are more than half the population. There is evidence at every level where women have played a role in governing that their politics overall tend toward the progressive side. Research by the Rutgers Center for the American Woman and Politics shows that a conservative woman is more likely to favor somewhat more progressive social policies than her conservative male counterpart. If only women's votes counted in Congress, the Family Leave Act and other family-friendly legislation would have passed years earlier. Senator Ted Stevens (R., Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, complained in July 1999 that women don't support military spending because "there's all these touchy-feely things that they want to spend money on." He said women constantly ask him, "Why do you want to spend more money on the military? Don't they have enough?"
Political analysts believe the first woman president will be a "Sister Mister," having the body of a woman with the character traits of a man. More than likely she will come from the moderate-to-conservative segment of the ideological spectrum. Women are presumed to be compassionate. To succeed in politics, they must prove their toughness. When we appeared on a radio show to discuss this book, a male caller said he worried that an "estrogen-driven social policy" would carry compassion too far. He needn't worry. Democratic women typically go to great lengths to avoid being pegged as liberal, a label that began losing favor two decades ago when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Women frequently go too far in proving their toughness. Seeking credibility, they cater to men's issues — military defense and the economy — sometimes at the expense of losing touch with their natural constituency of women.
The most hopeful trend for women in politics is taking place outside the Washington Beltway, in state government. Women hold more than a fourth of administrative positions in state government and more than a fifth of the seats in state legislatures. The number of women serving in state legislatures has increased more than fivefold since 1969, when only 4 percent of all state legislators were women.
Recognizing the need to showcase women in high office, eighteen governors have chosen women as their lieutenant governors. Eleven of the female lieutenant governors are Republicans, testimony to the GOP's concern about the gender gap — the split between how men and women vote — that has tended to work to the advantage of Democrats. Gail Manning, executive director of the Lieutenant Governors Association, describes the states as laboratories for women in politics. The model of a male-female tandem at the top of the ticket is becoming the norm in the states, she says. The same configuration on a national level cannot be far off.
When it comes to winning the presidency, however, few women get taken seriously as potential candidates. Even among the top tier of women in office — the three governors and nine senators — it is easy to disqualify this one or that because she comes from too small a state, or is too young or too old or divorced. Men often get away with being one or more of these things, but the admission standards for women into the highest echelon of politics are higher. If Oprah decided to change careers and become a politician, would she be credible? Reagan was. Try to imagine the female political equivalent of, say, Steve Forbes. If Hillary Clinton had been governor of Arkansas instead of her husband, would she have made it to the White House, or would party leaders have dismissed her as coming from an inconsequential state? If Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's lieutenant governor, were a male, with her praiseworthy record in politics and unblemished character, would she inherit the Kennedy legacy and vault to the top of everybody's list of presidential prospects?
On the afternoon in late February 2000 when we interviewed Hillary Clinton, she had just returned from a fund-raising lunch hosted by the six women Democratic senators. The event was closed to the press, so the women felt freer to vent their frustration about the campaign trail. They shared war stories and got each other laughing about the particular burdens women bear in the American political scene. Hillary recalled Arkansas senator Blanche Lincoln's remark that "it doesn't matter what I say about an issue. If I have a run in my panty hose, that's all anybody will talk about." Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, who has proven herself many times over, cautioned the assemblage of women politicos, "It doesn't matter how good you are on the issues, you're still judged differently. And you can be absolutely a person of incredible integrity and credibility, but it is still a harder sell."
A mid-January poll by Hillary's pollster, Mark Penn, confirmed the attitudinal hurdle that confronts women seeking elective office. "Across the board, including women, the public is more likely to vote for a male candidate," says Penn. "There is a net ten-point edge that a woman candidate has to overcome." Women have an edge on honesty and caring, but on the qualities that matter most, leadership and the ability to be decisive, men rule. Among those polled, including women, 9 percent declared they were "against women in political offices," and 7 percent thought women are "not capable of doing the job." Penn believes the real numbers are several times higher. "You've got to figure a lot of people are hiding what they think. Women have the opportunity to run but we shouldn't kid ourselves. There's an electoral hurdle to overcome."
Candidates in the end are judged by the picture they paint of themselves, and overcoming gender bias is like dealing with any other disadvantage going into a competitive race. The difference is that women do not have as broad a canvas to work with as male candidates. "The stylistic range seems to be more limited as to what is or is not appropriate for a woman to do, or say, or appear," says Hillary Clinton. Imagine any woman, she adds, even an accomplished officeholder like Feinstein, saying some of the things the four leading presidential candidates — Vice President Gore, Senator Bradley, Governor Bush, and Senator McCain — have said in the course of their campaigns. "She couldn't be as tough, or as whiney, or sanctimonious, or self-righteous," Hillary said. "It wouldn't work coming out of a woman's mouth."
The First Lady says being a candidate is like being in a courtroom, an environment she knows something about, having practiced law for twenty years before coming to Washington. "You can be who you are but you just have to be very conscious that you're given no benefit of the doubt as a woman."
Women have not yet reached the point where they can get away with being mediocre. Conventional wisdom says voters want the American version of Margaret Thatcher, a woman who won't go wobbly in a crisis. Women are still new enough on the political scene that their mere presence signals change. Yet too much change scares voters. So the perfect female candidate is a political moderate who projects traditional values, and who can reassure voters that when they wake up the day after voting for her, the world won't be all that different. "Margaret Thatcher did a great thing for women because of the Falklands war," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "When people say women can't be tough, you say, 'Oh, yeah, what about Margaret Thatcher?' She's the example that confronts the stereotype head-on."
Party professionals are talking about putting a woman on the ticket in 2000. The Republicans hold their convention in July; if they choose a woman vice president, it's possible that the Democrats will do the same when they convene in August. In May 1998, more than two years before the political conventions, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin predicted in Campaigns & Elections magazine, an industry bible, that "one or both of the major political parties will have a woman on their national tickets in 2000."
The prospect of a woman on the ticket doesn't have the shock value it once did. Women have risen to the top in business, medicine, and the law. Why not politics?
Our book examines the changing political landscape and the women who will be leaders in the next century: who they are, what drew them to politics, what sacrifices they have had to make, and how politics will be different because of them.
The Clinton sex scandal piqued public interest in electing women on the theory that women can better control their sexual impulses. In itself this is quite a shift, since the female hormone and the unpredictability it causes has been cited as a reason not to put women in high leadership positions. ABC commentator Cokie Roberts suggested women run on the slogan "I won't embarrass you in front of your children." Women may be better able to control their hormones, but placing women on a pedestal only makes their fall more precipitous when their flaws are exposed. Women get tripped up by some of the same things as men — financial improprieties, ethical lapses — but for women, one mistake can be fatal. Could any woman in politics survive a sex scandal with an intern the way Clinton did? When have you ever heard anyone say girls will be girls?
Sex aside, Clinton deserves credit for making the presence of women in government seem routine. Seeing Janet Reno as the first woman attorney general and Madeleine Albright as secretary of state made it easier for voters to imagine a woman as president. Neither woman lacks toughness. Reno stood up to critics on the right and the left to become the longest-serving attorney general of the century, despite a worsening case of Parkinson's disease. Albright successfully prosecuted a bombing campaign of the Serbian province of Kosovo despite widespread jitters in the administration and in the media about U.S. intervention in the Balkans. At the same time, she openly displays her femininity by wearing colorful scarves, pins, and hats. Negotiating with Serbian leaders, she hummed a Serbian lullaby she remembered from her childhood in Europe. She described her role in Middle East peace talks as that of a "handmaiden."
By making so-called women's issues presidential, Clinton elevated an agenda where voters believe women have greater credibility than men. By avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War, Clinton opened the door to future generations of men and women who did not serve in the military. In peacetime, military operations like Provide Comfort in Bosnia have a nurturing sound to them, lending themselves to supervision by a female commander in chief as easily as a male.
Signals of societal change hint that acceptance of a woman president is not far off. One such signal appeared in December 1998 when USA Today reported that a female navy carrier pilot participated in the opening wave of air strikes ordered against Iraq. Proof that a female combat pilot is no longer a novelty was the fact that the story ran on page eighteen. This kind of shift in thinking is another milestone in women's march to the White House.
Women's success in sports offers another clue. A male spectator at the Women's World Cup Soccer games, asked by National Public Radio why he was there, replied, "Their passes are sharper, they play with more finesse, they aren't greedy with the ball, and they're more of a team." The image of these gutsy women winning the world championship captured the country's imagination. Elizabeth Dole hired a plane to fly over the Rose Bowl, where the championship game was played, with the message "Go Team USA! Make History!" Health and Human Services secretary Donna Shalala exulted, "They've broken every glass ceiling."
Celebrating after the game, a fan held up a sign that read "Thank You Title IX." The 1972 federal civil rights law requires colleges and universities to provide equal opportunity for men and women to participate in intercollegiate sports. Former labor secretary Lynn Martin says the importance of this law should not be underestimated. "The girls are now playing competitive sports, and that has had a whole different effect. I'm not talking about sports as a career. I'm talking about learning to win and lose, to work together as a team. If you ask my kids to name a half dozen of their best friends, each of them would name at least one of the opposite sex. That didn't occur before, and it's an enormous change in terms of working together and getting rid of some of the sludge that's still out there."
New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, whose tomboy childhood conditioned her for the rough and tumble of politics, echoes the praise for Title IX. Her daughter Kate played varsity ice hockey and lacrosse at Wesleyan. "You can see the difference in her," says Whitman. "You see a lot of women coming out as leaders in sport, and sport teaches you a lot. It's good to see."
The idea of a female president has been talked about, more or less seriously, for half a century. In 1956, John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator, ruminated about the attributes the first woman elected president would have to possess. The ideal woman, he wrote in Everywoman's Magazine, would have the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, the leadership of Joan of Arc, the compassion of Queen Victoria, the cleverness of Clare Booth Luce, the determination of polio nurse Sister Kenny, and the courage of Helen Keller. He might have added that it wouldn't hurt if she could walk on water.
These days, most voters know they'll never find perfection in a political candidate, male or female. In 1986, two years after Ferraro's unsuccessful bid for the vice presidency, a U.S. News & World Report poll found that more than a third of voters would not vote for a female president. In 1988, Ronald Reagan, whose conservative candidacy produced the first clear manifestation of the gender gap, told a group of students that the idea of a woman president would take "a little getting used to on the part of some people. But I think it's inevitable that in this country there will be a woman president because they've come up in so many different fields." By 1997, a survey conducted by the Sara Lee Corp. found that nearly two-thirds of the public believes that a woman will be elected president by the year 2016.
A poll conducted by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche and released in January 2000 deflated the rosy prospects. It found that three-quarters of Americans don't expect a female president in the next decade, and a third of the public believe that "there are general characteristics about women that make them less qualified to serve as president." The poll documented greater gains for women in the business world than in politics. "The climate for women in the boardroom is somewhat warmer than for women in the White House," said pollster Holly Heline. Women are seen as less capable on foreign policy, law-and-order issues, and the economy. And they score significantly lower on the ability to lead during a crisis and the ability to make difficult decisions. Lynn Martin, who served in Congress and is a consultant with the firm, introduced the findings at a press conference in Washington. "In 1980, when I was first running on the national level, I said there would be a woman president by 2000, and so did everybody else who was trying to be cool," Martin said. "These are not the results I would have wished for or predicted. There are doubts about every single woman."
One in ten Americans thinks the United States will never elect a female president, and more women hold that view than men. Some of the most ardent feminists are the most pessimistic. They joke darkly that when the first woman president stands on the stage to be sworn in, her hand on a Bible held by her husband, her mother will nudge the person seated beside her in the audience and declare, "You see that woman up there? Her brother is a doctor."
Laura Liswood knows what to do when she hears women say they don't expect to see a female president in their lifetime. Liswood, founder and vice chair of the Council of Women World Leaders at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, shows them a videotape she has compiled with highlights of interviews she conducted with female presidents and prime ministers of countries around the world. Liswood says the reaction she gets from American women is surprise, quickly followed by anger. Why should the United States lag behind foreign nations in recognizing women's ability to wield power?
Liswood's answer starts with the structural barrier of the U.S. winner-take-all system of politics. In countries with parliamentary systems, like England, the head of a political party takes office if the party wins a plurality of the vote in a national election. That's how Thatcher became prime minister. It is harder for an outsider to break into the fifty-plus-one American system that puts the emphasis on candidates, not parties. When Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky, head of the Women's Campaign Fund and a former member of Congress, complained that the year of the woman lasted only 365 days, she was more than literally right. The record gains that women made in 1992 were less the result of a sea change in voter attitudes than the availability of open seats — congressional districts where there is no incumbent. Every ten years, the census creates open seats because districts are redrawn to accommodate the new demographics. Following this logic, the next "year of the woman" will be 2002, the first national election after the 2000 census.
Another factor is the relatively small number of women in the pool from which presidential candidates are drawn. "How many three-star generals and above do we have that are women?" Liswood asks. "If we have even five of them and you need a thousand people to get one willing to run, five are not nearly enough." For most offices, women who challenge an incumbent or run to fill a vacancy are successful as often as men are. The problem is that fewer women choose to run at all, which increases the odds against a woman rising to the highest level.
Then there is the problem of raising enough money to run for president. In foreign countries, it doesn't take anywhere near the $25 million required to be a credible presidential candidate in the United States. Female candidates, more than men, depend on female contributors. A study by the National Women's Political Caucus shows that women typically write checks for $100 or less, whereas men contribute $500 or more. When Elizabeth Dole announced her interest in the presidency, she was taken seriously because it was assumed that she could raise the necessary money. Unfortunately for her, the Republican establishment had already coalesced behind Texas governor George W. Bush, who seemed more electable. Shut out from the party's biggest donors, Dole sought contributions from female executives who had not previously participated in politics. She had only modest success. Women normally comprise a quarter of the contributors to Republican campaigns. Slightly more than half of Dole's donors were women, and they were responsible for almost half the money she raised. But the dollar disparity with Bush was too wide. In the scramble for cash, Dole aides sold the table centerpieces at fund-raising events for $5 apiece to the party faithful. Dole's effort fell short, but her mailing list could prove invaluable to any GOP nominee seeking to reach out to women.
Conflicts between professional and personal responsibilities weigh heavier on women. Building a political career takes time. Many women, at least those who marry and have children, postpone the start of their career and are never able to catch up. It is easier for an American man to fit an all-consuming focus into his life than it is for a woman. "By freeing up men's time, women subsidize men," says Liswood. Shortly before she was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1998, Republican Jane Swift observed that a male candidate who rose to that office at a young age would spark speculation about his bright political future. But Swift, thirty-four and pregnant with her first child, was the subject of different speculation. Who would take care of the baby? Could she maintain her passion for public service? Why groom this young woman, however talented she might be, when there is no guarantee that she will still be in politics ten years from now? When we caught up with Swift again in the spring of 1999, she said that leaving her infant daughter was hard, and that when she was out of town she sometimes awoke in the middle of the night in a hotel room gripped by irrational worry about the child. These fears are familiar to any mother, and they breed ambivalence in women pursuing a career in politics.
Perhaps the most perverse obstacle to a woman becoming president is that no woman has ever been president. There is no one for girls growing up to emulate. Elizabeth Dole's exploration of a run, which ended before she officially entered the race, was praised as an example to future generations of women. Even an abortive run was lifted to the level of role model, showing how desperate the need. Boys grow up with the image of the warrior going out into the world, conquering and returning to claim the princess in the castle. The basic myth for girls, on the other hand, is Cinderella, whose most significant conversations are with mice, says Liswood. Until recently, women have been portrayed in books and in the mass media primarily as caretakers and nurturers, not leaders. There is no mirror for American women to gaze into and imagine someone who looks like them becoming president. Images can be powerful. Iceland's Vigdis Finnbogadottir said that after she had been president for eight years, she realized that there were children in her country who thought that only a woman could hold that office. But when American voters picture a president, he's not wearing a skirt.
Stereotypes are hard to shake. The American media fret about whether to call a female president's spouse the First Man, whether he should keep his day job, and what he knows about planning a menu. Bob Dole, always quick with a quip, entertained as a guest on the late-night talk shows by wisecracking about how he would adjust if his wife were elected president. All he would need, he said, was a car, a driver, and a cell phone, just in case he got left behind. That wouldn't get a laugh in many foreign countries where the class system allows women born into a political dynasty to rise to the top despite their gender. India's Indira Gandhi, Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, and the Philippines' Corazon Aquino all are examples of dynastic rule. Each of them achieved their office after the assassination of a father or a husband. Had their male relative not been murdered they might never have run for office. In countries where they have a sitting queen, people are accustomed to seeing men in the consort role.
Many women do not long for one of their own in high office. Liswood chose the British actress Glenda Jackson to narrate her film about female world leaders, but Jackson turned out not to have her heart in it. Asked to say something into a microphone about women and leadership, the actress intoned in her melodious voice, "Well, I'm bitterly, bitterly disappointed that the first woman prime minister of England was Margaret Thatcher, who has single-handedly destroyed the fabric of British society." CNN's Judy Woodruff did the sound track instead.
Women will not throw over a male candidate whose policies they support for a woman who shares their chromosomes but does not represent their views. "I'd rather vote for a white guy from the South who is pro-choice than somebody wearing a skirt," says Farai Chideya, a young African-American woman who recently started her own media company on the Internet after serving as a political analyst for CNN and ABC. "There are a lot of different ways to care about women other than electing someone with boobs."
Women are often hard on other women running for office. They don't want to be embarrassed, and if one woman fails, all women feel the anguish. There could also be a touch of envy. The full range of human emotions comes into play when women judge each other. For whatever reasons, and some are better than others, women want more than gender to decide their vote.
Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, lost the support of women because her views on sex and marriage were too radical. She advocated free love and, because she despised sexual hypocrisy, published the details of preacher Henry Ward Beecher's affair with a parishioner's wife. The account hit the newsstands a week before the election in 1872 and cost her votes among men (women would not be able to vote for another half century). Though clearly accomplished — Woodhull opened the first female-run Wall Street brokerage firm, and in 1871 became the first woman to address Congress — her outspoken opinions on the sexual liberation of women unnerved the middle-class ladies in the suffrage movement.
Lawyer and feminist Belva Lockwood was nominated for president in 1884 by the National Equal Rights party. Lockwood had gained prominence in the suffrage movement, and when she was denied the opportunity as a lawyer to speak before the U.S. Supreme Court, she lobbied Congress for a bill that would permit women to practice in federal courts. She became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. Lockwood ran on a platform that called for uniform marriage and divorce laws, property rights for women, and equal pay for equal work in government jobs. She received over four thousand votes, not enough to make a dent in the electoral process but enough to win a place in history.
Eighty years passed before another woman sought the presidency. Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate, entered the Republican race in 1964, and dropped out after coming in fifth in New Hampshire, the first primary. Prim-looking with crisply coiffed ice-blond hair, Smith was a formidable presence on Capitol Hill. She focused on defense issues and had a reputation for being one of the most hawkish members of Congress during the cold war. Former defense secretary Melvin Laird says President Nixon would have lost the vote on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if Smith had not switched at the last minute to support the ban on missile defenses that was put in place to slow the arms race with the Soviet Union. Smith reluctantly agreed to back the treaty, but nobody ever mistook her for a dove even when she handed out her recipe for blueberry muffins.
Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican who served in the House and voted against entering both World War I and World War II, branded the stereotype of women as pacifists into the nation's consciousness. Her sister suffragists tried to convince her to join the majority and support World War I because they feared that women would otherwise be marginalized. Rankin rejected their pleas. But she could not ignore the public's wrath when, on the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the lone vote in the House against entering the war. Rankin did not seek reelection after that.
Shirley Chisholm stunned friends and colleagues in 1972 when she announced she was running for president. "I suffered from two obstacles — I was a black person and I was a woman," Chisholm recalled in an interview from her Florida home. "I met far more discrimination as a woman in the field of politics. That was a revelation to me. Black men got together to talk about stopping me. But I was not any weeping Annie. I confronted them. They said I was an intellectual person, that I had the ability, but that this was no place for a woman. If a black person were to run, it should be a man."
Chisholm was on the ballot in twelve primaries, and although she never got more than 7 percent of the vote, she made effective use of the soapbox her candidacy provided. A dynamic speaker, she wanted more federal spending for education and other social programs coupled with cutbacks in the defense budget. When the other Democratic candidates tried to exclude her from debates, arguing she wasn't "a real candidate," Chisholm took her case to the Federal Elections Commission, where she prevailed. She won only 150 of the party's 1,600 delegates, but is remembered fondly among Democrats as a passionate voice for the causes she championed. She still chuckles about how she surprised her male rivals, especially the hawkish Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the candidate of Democratic moderates. "Scoop Jackson, may he rest in peace," she says. "He was taken aback by my ability to articulate the issues."
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm spent most of her growing-up years living with her grandmother in Barbados, West Indies. Her grandmother was a powerfully built woman, well over six feet tall, with a will to match, and Chisholm credits her with everything she became. "She always told me, 'Stand up and be counted,'" Chisholm says. "I would come home from school and she would say, 'Stand up, girl. Keep your head up. Approach me like you know where you're going.' She instilled in me my personality."
Chisholm's family was against her running for president, and her husband went along only halfheartedly. "He didn't try to block me, but he didn't like it," she says. She wouldn't have done it except for the response she got when she was quoted in an interview saying, "I can't run on the basis of moral support. I need money." Within a month, people had sent her more than $10,000. "I didn't want anybody to call my bluff," she says, laughing. "So I decided to take the plunge. I knew I wouldn't be president, but somebody had to break the ice, somebody with the nerve and bravado to do it."
Weeks before Elizabeth Dole decided against running for president, Chisholm predicted it. "When you make a bid for such a high office, you have to have energy," she said. "You have to be very outspoken and assertive, and not be afraid to offend people. She doesn't have the temperament. She's too cautious."
After the experiment of putting a woman on the ticket in 1984, both political parties backed away from playing the gender card in presidential elections. In 1988, Warren Rustand, a friend and adviser to presidential candidate George Bush, suggested that Bush pick Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as his running mate. A former state legislator and a onetime candidate for governor, O'Connor understood politics. She was the right age (in her fifties), and her personal background had been vetted during the Senate confirmation hearings. "She is the most commanding woman of our time," Rustand told Bush. Choosing her would "do something for women and for the party," he said. Bush opted instead for Indiana senator Dan Quayle, a generation younger than O'Connor and someone whose fraternity-boy good looks would, at least in theory, appeal to baby boomers, male and female.
Quayle's unsuitability for the job quickly became known and has been documented elsewhere, but Bush's rejection of O'Connor remains puzzling. Did she not meet the one test that any vice presidential prospect must meet — the sure knowledge that she had the ability to step in and become president overnight should the need arise?
The climate for a woman president has improved since Margaret Chase Smith ventured into the New Hampshire primary in 1964. That was the year the Hollywood movie Kisses for My President debuted starring Polly Bergen as the first woman president and Fred MacMurray as her hapless spouse. On the couple's first night in the White House, they survey the separate bedrooms assigned to them. Hers is executive-style; his is frilly. He suggests the president's first official act should be ordering chintz curtains for her quarters. MacMurray's First Spouse is a study in wounded male ego. Sex is interrupted by phone calls from the secretary of state and secretary of defense. He sighs, "Another evening in front of a crackling fire with a good book." Immersed in her job, the president is oblivious to her husband's needs and those of her two children, who, by mid-movie, are transformed from two innocents into spoiled brats exploiting their mother's office. Having a woman president has upended the natural order. One man complains that ever since his wife voted for her, she's been "a pain in the neck. I should ship her back to the old country where she will learn who's boss."
The movie is a comedy, of course, and it was filmed before the women's movement got under way. The notion of a male First Lady was not only preposterous but humiliating for any man. "I'm the first First Lady with a background in electronics, and they don't know what to do with me," MacMurray moans in a self-pitying soliloquy. "I let her run, and what do I get for my act of generosity — four years minimum of being an absolute nothing." The president is juggling a foreign crisis and a balky legislature while her husband is supposed to plan meal menus. He can't take it and finally lashes out, telling the president, "I was a proud husband and a good father before you turned me into the First Lady, or whatever I'm supposed to be." Soon he's tempted to have an affair, and the viewer is left with the distinct impression that any woman elected president could not keep her marriage intact or her children from running amuck.
Just when the audience wonders how this will be resolved, the president faints. After some nervous moments, her press secretary announces, "The president is pregnant." In the next scene, the president is behind the podium with the presidential seal. She tells the country that she must either give up her strenuous duties as president or risk losing her baby, and she is therefore resigning. Moviegoers in 1964 no doubt were relieved that the traditional social order had been restored. The movie ends with some lighthearted but smug comments about the superiority of man, uttered by MacMurray, a happy former First Spouse. "It took forty million women to get you in the White House," he tells the first woman president, "and one man to get you out."
A prediction: There will be a woman president of the United States. When? Soon. The evolution of pop culture in the media age brings that goal closer with each passing year. The President 2000 Barbie doll — which, at Marie Wilson's insistence, will be available in African-American and Hispanic models as well as the standard-issue blond — will encourage little girls to dream. Fantasy will nudge politics to catch up with real life. Movies that feature a woman president are in the works. Writers and producers who watched Glenn Close's convincing performance as the vice president in the movie Air Force One, defying the demands of terrorists and staying cool in the face of danger, want her next to portray the president. Getting a woman on the ticket as vice president is, after all, the most likely stepping-stone to the presidency. If life mimics art, it is because art shapes the way we look at life.
Excerpted from Madam President, Revised Edition by Eleanor Clift Copyright © 2003 by Eleanor Clift. Excerpted by permission.
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2.Women Raising Money for Women: The Creation of Emily's List
3.The Anita Hill Hearings: A Call to Arms / Or: Women Running and Winning: The Post Ferraro Babies
4.Competing to Win Elective Office: The Obstacles Women Face
5.The 2000 Election: No Women Wanted
7.Go West, Young Woman
8.The Governor Gap
10.Governor Swift: A Cautionary Tale
11.Careful and Cautious
12.Women in the House and Senate
14.Coda A How-to for Women