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Gender Politics


12 months from now, Americans will finally get to go to the polls to elect a new president. A whole year from now? Seems like this presidential election season started in the last century… and might go on for the entire next millennium. The greatest danger all of the candidates face is voter fatigue on all of them. Too much exposure, too many silly diversions into inconsequential riffs, too many missed opportunities to show real leadership.

So, in a week in which war still raged in Iraq, and capped with the alarming events in Pakistan, the main news from the presidential campaign front seems to be a somewhat puzzling debate about whether Hillary Clinton is pulling the gender card. She apparently flubbed and careened all over the lot in the most recent Democratic debate (was it the zillionth or billionth, who knows?). So, her opponents had a field day with her contradictory statements about her positions on the war, illegal immigration, and other issues.

But the real weirdness emerged when a very strange commercial appeared on Hillary’s website (see it also on YouTube) that makes it seem that all of the male candidates are ganging-up on the lone female candidate. Immediately, Hillary critics howled — can this woman who wants to be taken seriously as “one of the boys” also have it both ways, crying foul when the men “pile on” to exploit her weaknesses?

Whew. I have no idea what she intended, or whether the men were actually saying, “Oh, goodie, let’s get the girl!” I do think this is all so trivial it hurts — hurts presidential politics and the presidency itself, hurts this nation at a time when so many truly serious issues beg for real leadership.

The whole world is watching this election and the long run up to the voting booth. We need to demand a more serious public discourse about what really counts. Can a woman be elected president today? I believe yes, if she has the right leadership talents and the right philosophy for the people who are the voters. I believe the same thing about Barack Obama’s chances as an African American, Mitt Romney’s chances as a Mormon, Rudy Guiliani’s chances as a Republican candidate with a well known history of marital woes. The issues this nation and our world society face today are far too serious to boil it all down to gender or race or religion or personal issues. Frankly, the issues are far to serious for party politics as well, but so far, it seems all we’ve seen are the traditional set pieces. The players are different, but the rhetoric is stale.

Americans need to elect a true leader, not a celebrity or media star, not the person who is most clever in the debates or most charming to Tim Russert. Let’s hope that the real campaign will soon begin — the one about real issues, not the superficial nuances of survival in the media circus.

See Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York times

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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