“Women are held to a higher standard. Otherwise we could play a game called ‘Name Your Favorite Woman President,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men.” ~ Senator Amy Klobuchar
“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard, and it’s going to take someone who digs into the details to make it happen.” ~ Senator Elizabeth Warren
While it is difficult these days to focus on anything else but the novel coronavirus, I would like to take a brief pause to honor Women’s History Month before it is over.
After all, this year is very special, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave American women the right to vote on August 18, 1920. In doing so, I have chosen to recognize two women who have been making history today, in the quest for votes to be cast for them in this primary season. Yes, many women have been elected to public office on the local, state and national levels; but there has yet to be a woman in the top job.
Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts have been working hard and making news for many months in the breakneck race to become the 2020 Democratic nominee. As we know, that in particular would not be a first for women, as former First Lady / Senator / Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee four years ago. As we also know, Hillary won the popular vote yet lost the Electoral College; but her nomination resulted in a whole bunch of additional cracks in that Presidential glass ceiling.
So here we are, four years later, with more women of varying backgrounds vying with men for the Democratic Presidential nomination. In addition to Senators Klobuchar and Warren, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson, New York Times four-time No. 1 bestselling self-help author threw their hats into the ring.
Then, over time, one by one they dropped out. Elizabeth Warren had a very strong start and for awhile it seemed that she was unstoppable. Amy Klobuchar had some outstanding debate performances and surprised everyone in the New Hampshire Primary. Then suddenly the Party of diversity, the Party that for one brief shining moment in 2016 nominated a woman at the top of its Presidential ticket, and before that elected the first mixed-race President twice, and before that twice selected women to run as vice-president (more about that later) — is back to choosing between two white guys, both septuagenarians.
Electability and the Male Mold
For 243 years, our nation’s Presidents have been males; 44 out of 45 of those Presidents have been white. In 2008, when the Democrats had two unusual candidates vying for the White House — a white woman and a mixed-race man — primary voters chose the man. Not that Barack Obama wasn’t a great President, but he was not as experienced or qualified as Hillary Clinton when they were competing against each other. So the choice said to me that, in some respects at least, America is more sexist than it is racist.
So when we talked “electability” this time around, we seemed to pay lip service to the female candidates while taking the male candidates much more seriously. The question after all this time is – why? One theory is that as a civilization we simply are inured to men being Presidents, leaders, period. Hillary Clinton came very close to breaking the male mold, and there are many reasons offered for why she lost — among them Russian meddling; but sexism is thought to have played a role as well.
Back to the present, in one Democratic Presidential debate, Elizabeth Warren pointed out that the two remaining women standing on stage, she and Amy Klobuchar, were the only candidates that had never lost an election. She contrasted that with the fact that the men standing on stage had lost a total of 10 elections among them. In that same debate, the kerfuffle between Elizabeth and Senator Bernie Sanders was raised about the comment she said he made to her two years ago that a woman could not win the Presidency!
This idea that women cannot lead a Presidential ticket is so ingrained in the American psyche that another fact seems to get buried: that companies headed by women tend to be more profitable and better for employees. Studies have indicated that women exhibit different, and often better, leadership styles than do men. Men are often quick to take action, while women are more analytical and intuitive and therefore, are more cautious handling money and making decisions.
While it has taken the nation far too long to discover that companies can do well under female leadership, there should be no further delay in discovering that a woman can be as competent a President and Commander in Chief as a man, perhaps even more so. How’s that for real hope and change?
Two Women – Two Individuals
But that does not mean we should continue to stereotype women. Elizabeth and Amy are quite different from each other, in a number of ways. Both are Democrats, but Amy is a member of the Minnesota Democratic / Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Elizabeth is a former Republican-turned-Democrat.
Amy is a Midwesterner, born and bred; Elizabeth is an “Okie,” born and bred who has lived and worked in many states — Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to name a few — before settling in Massachusetts. Amy is a moderate who describes herself as a “pragmatic progressive”; Elizabeth is a progressive who says she is a “fighter.”
Amy has the distinction of being the Senator who has sponsored or co-sponsored the most bills that have been passed into law – 111; she is known for working across the aisle in the Senate to make things happen. She gained public notice during the confirmation hearing of Judge Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Elizabeth came to the attention of the American people during the 2007-2008 economic crisis when as an influential professor of bankruptcy law she became a force to be reckoned with as she opposed the 2005 restrictive bankruptcy law and advocated for more rigorous banking regulations. Believing that incumbent Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown was not doing his job for the people, she ran against him and beat him to become the first woman Massachusetts sent to the United States Senate. And, for good measure, she established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Amy and Elizabeth want the same things for their country, but they have different plans to achieve them. And their personalities differ; Amy is outspoken and firm; Elizabeth is passionate and intense. In their own ways, they are both confident, dynamic, competent, accomplished and Presidential. These two stateswomen have proved their electability, one by winning elections in both deep red and deep blue districts in her state and the other by defeating the aforementioned incumbent male Senator.
The two women were not afraid to disagree with each other on the debate stage, but occasionally they also showed solidarity and empathy for the other. Both are accomplished debaters, often aiming stinging zingers at their competitors: Joe, Bernie, Pete, Mike, Tom and each other right between the eyes. But Amy tempers her cuts with Minnesota-nice comments, and Elizabeth can switch gears and become friendly and chatty after she clobbers. And they both have quick wits and the ability to connect in very human ways. For example, in one debate, a moderator pointed out to Elizabeth that if she won she would be the oldest President ever inaugurated; she responded to applause and laughter that she would also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated!
In another debate, Amy told the story of FDR’s funeral cortege passing by a man who was crying. A reporter asked the man if he knew the President. The man replied, “No, I didn’t know the president. But he knew me.” Amy then looked into the camera and said, “I know you.”
Both women can be dead serious, emotional and powerful as well as witty, ironic and humorous.
Getting the Vote versus Getting Votes
It does seem that women are creeping along at a snail’s pace with regard to occupying the White House. It has been a century since women got the right to vote; will it take another 100 years before women get the votes that will make them President? Not if candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are around to keep landing such forceful blows on that Presidential glass ceiling.
In the March 15 debate between the last two standing male candidates (at that point Representative Tulsi Gabbard had not yet dropped out but did not qualify for the debate), former VP Joe Biden, who has left little doubt that he will be the Democratic Nominee for President, responded to a question by stating that he will choose a woman to be his running mate. In statements made previously, Joe Biden has suggested that he might choose from one of his opponents in the recent debates. Of course, that would not be the first time a woman was on a Presidential ticket. Ironically, it was Amy Klobuchar’s mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesota, who ran for President in 1984 and chose Representative Geraldine Ferraro to be the first woman ever to run as Vice President on major party’s ticket. And then Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin ran on the ticket with Presidential nominee John McCain in 2008. So all these years later, having a woman again at the bottom of the ticket isn’t as satisfying, but it is continued progress. I believe if we want to “go big” on something, having a woman in the White House — or a heartbeat away from it — should be it.
As Elizabeth Warren said in her interview with Rachel Maddow about her dropping out of the Presidential race, “We can’t lose hope over this, because the only way we make change is we get back up tomorrow and we get back in the fight. We persist.”
Will Elizabeth or Amy wind up on the Democratic ticket after all? Stay tuned! And Happy Women’s History Month to all women and men! Like so many things in life, we’re all in this together.
Until next time,