Friday, January 26, 2007
The skirtification of politics
Thank you very much. And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker.This opening drew thunderous applause in the chambers and a breath of great pride from Americans everywhere. But aside from an uncharacteristicly conciliatory and pleading tone when it came time to mention sensitive issues, such as the war, that was the only notable thing about the SOTU address baba Bush delivered on January 23. So I'm not going to gnash about that here, tempted as I am.
Since I've returned to the states after almost four years in China, where I daily hung my head and despaired of my home country, there have been signal moments of hope and pride and that was one of them. And they seem, even in the tide of difficult challenges, to be accelerating as we, pardon the expression, surge toward what is certain to be the longest and most exciting presidential campaign in American history.
I am pleased about and proud of our new speaker of the house. The percentage of women elected to federal positions is rising worldwide. 15.2% of The U.S. Congress are women, the highest percentage ever. Judith Warner's column in today's NY Times cites polls that overwhelmingly say that voters would support a qualified woman (and then goes on to say why polls can be hinkey).
We have in Hillary Clinton the first viable woman candidate for President. I do definitely believe she is viable. She was elected to the Senate, and has satisfied most New Yorkers, which are arguably achievements even more difficult than becoming President of the U.S. The Senator from New York has proven herself, as a seasoned and considered legislator, a hard worker and an inspired leader of a very persnickety and bull-headed major state. She's become a good politician, which I do not infer as a pejorative, politics being the art of the possible, as many of us hot headed liberals have learned as we've aged. While I continue to be enchanted by Barak Obama's luminous magnetism and ability to articulate ideals we long for, I know that running the USA and being Commander In Chief is not so much wrestling with ideals as it is parsing the difficult global and domestic realities into policies that are more productive than they are now. That might not make for the best sound bytes but there it is.
For distaff candidates to prevail they will need to outperform their counterparts. From what I saw in an interview with the first woman network news anchor, Katie Couric, Senator Clinton could use some lessons in hotseat composure and charisma from her husband, who has it to spare. In campaigning for her, he will be a powerful ally. In office he'd be as valuable (and controversial) to her as she was to him--and us.
In that interview, she certainly had most of the answers. And she didn't back down when Couric hammered at what I consider a bonehead point, Sen. Clinton's vote for the war at the beginning. (I will admit to stooping to gender-biased indignation when Couric kept pressing the point. Why was she doing that? And redeemed my reason by realizing, that's her job.)
A woman head of state is far from unknown in our world. We would catch up with India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, not to mention England and Israel in this respect. These leaders are no better and no worse than men.
I believe Americans are ready, as never before, to weigh the merits of the candidates, the baggage they bring with them, their experience, their records and their appraisal of required reforms and factor in as a secondary consideration their genders. Save one: The high privilege and distinct honor to say for the first time, Madam President.
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