Politics & Policy

We’Ve Come a Long Way, Baby?

Insulting prime-time politics--real and invented.

I suspect that I should be having warm, fuzzy “We Girls Can Do Anything” feelings about being a woman this fall.

Just think about the fairer sex’s collective accomplishments: Geena Davis is president of the United States! And didn’t President Bush answer calls to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court, just to meet some perceived quota rule, when he named his pal Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court?

In short, instead of being the inspiration to women I’m sure someone thinks they are, the two events lead me to one solid conclusion: Blue staters–in D.C. and Hollywood–do a darn good job making women look silly.

Take first the lighter of the two fall phenomena: Commander in Chief, the new ABC drama about the first woman president. The White House Project, a group whose purpose is to make sure that a woman makes it to the White House someday, encouraged women to hold parties to celebrate this supposedly groundbreaking drama.

Ironically though, I watch Commander in Chief and just get depressed.

The first message of the show–as I watch it, anyway–is: Women can only be elected president through a backdoor. In Commander in Chief, Geena Davis’ character only becomes president because she is the vice president to a president who, as milestone luck would have it, dies. But before he goes he makes clear that he believes she shouldn’t be president. The Speaker of the House thinks she’s a joke.

The second message I get from Commander in Chief is: Women are silly. Moses would have stopped to ask directions! Are we really supposed to take that kind of caricatured dialogue seriously? Most professional women I know–many of them in the Beltway political world, as it happens–are not playing juvenile Battle of the Sexes games. They’re just out doing their jobs and proving themselves just like everyone else (i.e., just like the guys). And that’s how (ideally, anyway) women rise–on merit. Do the job, measure up on any objective scale, and you’ll be in the pool of the qualified and successful. “Just do it,” as the sneaker commercial would advise. Not in a dumbed-down “well-here’s-the-best-the-women-can-do” category. To do otherwise–to make that separate category–is insulting and unnecessary.

Or so that’s how I hoped things worked among the serious. But the “Prez Geena” nonsense seems to have infiltrated my often-beloved Bush White House. Or so is the message I take from the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court.

Whatever the criteria the president used to choose Miers for his second Supreme Court nomination, there are few who believe she wasn’t picked, perhaps first and foremost, because she is a woman. There was an erroneous conventional-wisdom perception that the president simply had to nominate a woman: That the Sandra Day O’Connor seat is a woman’s seat on the Court.

And the president surely hasn’t done much to debunk that image that he buys into the woman’s seat nonsense. The day after his nomination of Miers–a nomination met with criticism from many of his usual allies (like me) on the Right–the president held a press conference during which he kept latching onto female things as evidence that she is Supreme material. First woman member of her former law firm. Trailblazer.

But couldn’t she just be qualified in a pool of potential picks, male and female? You know, like John Roberts was? Boosting the self-esteem of white guys wasn’t part of his qualifications for the Court. Can you imagine anyone even suggesting such a thing? Never mind the president of the United States doing so.

As for the White House, the impression Commander in Chief may give you that a woman president is unelectable may, in fact, be fiction. We won’t know until it happens, but according to a May 2005 USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, 70 percent of respondents claimed they “would be likely to vote for an unspecified woman for president in 2008.” Maybe that’s because they see women who can compete in the political field not because of their sex, but their talent. Who, as it looks right now, may just have more winning potential than some of the guys on the list of 2008 potentials.

Condi vs. Hillary? Maybe. Today, women are players on many of the same fronts as men. And, say, in presidential politics, if they happen to be the best of the options–the most popular–there we will be. Not because someone gave the American people a lecture that it was time we gave the girls a chance to throw the ball. But because the girls took the ball and ran with it and did just as well or better than anyone else. That’s the only fair way. Be it in the White House, on the Supreme Court, in the military–or just about any other professional front. Anything less is insulting.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


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