Is the United States ready for a woman president? That is the question a friend from “across the pond” recently asked me. I stand by the answer I gave her a few days ago, “yes, I think so.” Thus far in my lifetime we have been presented with really bad choices when it came to women seeking either the presidency or the vice-presidency. Think Palin, Bachman, Ferraro, Fiorina … shudder, cringe!
I did some research … do you know who the first woman to seek the presidential nomination was? In 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first female candidate for President of the United States. An activist for women’s rights and labor reforms, Woodhull was also an advocate of free love, by which she meant the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference. I don’t think that in 1872 the U.S. was ready for a woman president. The 19th amendment giving women the right to vote would not be ratified for nearly another 50 years! That means that more than half the men eligible to vote would have to embrace very radical ideas (for the 19th century, that is) about women’s rights. I imagine Ms. Woodhull realized her chances stood somewhere around zero and that she was more interested in making a statement than actually becoming president. Nonetheless, she was a fascinating person with multiple marriages and careers, from stockbroker to newspaper editor to women’s rights activist.
Since Hull’s failed effort in 1872, some thirty women have made bids for the presidency, though it is only within the last decade that any have run on either a republican or democratic ticket. These included two whose names will ring a bell: Gracie Allen and Roseann Barr. Those of old enough to remember the husband/wife team of Burns and Allen will recall Gracie as the internationally famous, zany partner and comic foil of husband and “straight man” George Burns. She ran in 1940 under the “Surprise Party”. Although it was a stunt, they did a full whistlestop campaign tour and even published a book. She won 42,000 votes in the general election. Roseann Barr ran in 2012 under first the Green Party and then when she failed to obtain the nomination, ran on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. Neither was successful, and as is standard operating procedure for Roseann, she managed to stir up controversy. Enough said.
Now on to more recent times. In 2012, Michele Bachman, at the time serving in the House as a representative from Minnesota, ran on the republican ticket. She didn’t even make it to first base, dropping out after finishing 6th in the Iowa caucuses. Perhaps it was the many ultra-stupid remarks she made in public during her campaign, such as “If we took away the minimum wage — if conceivably it was gone — we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.” Or, my personal favorite, “He [Paul Revere] who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells, and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” Followed by “I know my American history.” And there are many, many more equally stupid things she uttered, but time and space prohibit me from listing them all. However, if you want a few good laughs, here is a link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-ultimate-collection-of-stupid-michele-bachmann#.cpNo7ZPwL. Yes, I think we can understand why Ms. Bachman was not successful in her presidential bid. And then last year, Carly Fiorina, the former HP executive, threw her hat into what has now become known as the largest GOP circus on earth. She, too, failed miserably, on the heels of her disastrous 2010 Senate campaign, unpaid campaign debt and dismissal from HP. Her campaign seemed to be based on not much more than open and noxious criticism of other candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton. With her past failures, lack of any government experience, and lack of a platform, she never got out of the starting gate. In Fiorina’s defense, she was no more ridiculous than many of her male counterparts, but this is a post about women candidates. Bachman, at least, had held public office.
And this brings us back to the original question: Is the U.S. ready for a woman president? My very short answer is “Yes, why not?” I follow this, however, with two questions: a) what does it mean to “be ready for a woman president?”, and b) why is it that every female candidate for the office of president has been a ridiculous option, a non-option, really?”. I do not attempt to answer either question in this post, but perhaps at a later date. This brings us to, arguably, the most potentially viable female candidate to have ever run in a U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton. This is not necessarily an endorsement of Clinton … at some point between now and November, I will choose whether to support Clinton or Sanders, but I am not yet ready to do so. This is simply to say that she shines as a beacon when held up against every other woman who has ever aspired to the office. She has prior government experience, both in and out of office, having served as U.S. Senator from New York (2 terms), served on five senate committees, and as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama. Although it is not part of her resume, nor should it be, she also spent eight years as First Lady. While that is not a formal qualification, you know that she likely learned more about governing a nation than most of us learn in a lifetime. In a nutshell, yes, Hillary Clinton is arguably the most experienced, best qualified candidate among all candidates of either party. Unfortunately, she also carries some baggage that may ultimately work against her.
But back to the question for a few final remarks. Why wouldn’t we be ready to embrace a female president? Intellect is not gender-based. The ability to reason, to apply logic, to make sound decisions based on facts and information are certainly not gender-based. The ability to engage in diplomacy with other politicos and foreign heads of state is not gender-based. Very few things actually separate a man from a woman, as we have come to understand, and those are mostly biological, anatomical. Look at Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the U.K. for 11 years, leader of the Conservative Party for 15. A very successful leader by any standards. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India for 15 years, until her assassination in 1984. Today, Angela Merkel is the well-respected Chancellor of Germany. Denmark, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Liberia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Finland, Lithuania, and Trinidad have all had women leaders. Is the United States so backward, so behind the times that we cannot accept that a qualified woman can do the job as well as a qualified man? No, I think the problem lies with the fact that until now we have never been presented with a woman candidate whom we could seriously consider, but rather have been inundated with mindless females whose IQ’s have ranged somewhere in the same vicinity as my cats’. I have hope for success for Hillary Clinton. I would like to see her earn the nomination and go on to win the election. I just hope she uses some of that intelligence to overcome the negativity that surrounds her campaign … a negativity which is being played upon and kept in the forefront by republicans and the media alike. So in a word, yes, the U.S. is far past due to elect a woman to lead the nation.