NEW YORK--Are Latvians more open-minded than us? Is Pakistan's commitment to democracy stronger than ours? What do the people of Ireland and Malta know that we don't? While half the population of the United States remains unrepresented by its pantheon of presidents, the citizens of these more enlightened nations have elected female presidents and premiers.
When Sirivamo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world's first female Premier Minister in 1960, political prognosticators said that the United States, as the most important democracy, would soon follow suit by electing a woman president. Similar predictions followed Isabel Perón's ascension to the presidency of Argentina in 1974, yet both major American political parties continued to nominate males, and WASP males at that, to run for president. Meanwhile women took power in such supposedly backwards countries as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Mozambique. Forty-three white males have led the United States over the course of 216 years and 85 years have passed since women's suffrage, and all but one of these white males were WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants).
As we assert the right to overthrow foreign governments for denying equal rights to women (Afghanistan) and to religious and ethnic groups (Iraq), the widening gender-religion-race gap between our increasingly diverse population and our resolutely WASP male presidents has devolved from hypocritical to downright embarrassing. The U.S. political system looks more like apartheid-era South Africa. White men over 50 years of age account for a small-and-ever-shrinking proportion of the population yet occupy almost every seat in Congress, the Supreme Court and the 50 state legislatures. No wonder nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that the country isn't "ready" for a woman (much less a non-white) president.
Ready or not, here comes Hillary.
Three years is an eternity in politics, but soaring campaign costs have created an all but insurmountable barrier to late entries by dark horse candidates that make early predictions easier. The early fundraising leaders will probably get their party's nominations, which leads to an exciting possibility: America may elect its first woman president.
Machiavellian strategist Dick Morris' new book promotes a Condi vs. Hillary race, but the GOP, beholden to its racist base, is many years away from running a black woman for president. Hillary Rodham Clinton, benefiting from high name recognition, a PR campaign to promote her "newfound moderation" with swing voters and a dearth of high-profile challengers, is as close to a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination as you can get. But it looks like she'll face a formidable adversary in the general election--Arizona Senator John McCain. A Zogby poll conducted in June has the charismatic McCain beating Clinton 54 to 35 percent, a staggering lead to overcome. Both candidates are already well known, so the typical process of educating an apathetic electorate as the race draws nearer is less of a factor in comparing their popularity.
No matter who wins in 2008, we'll be better off than we are now.
Unfortunately, McCain's soft-spoken charm and reputation as an honest "maverick," belied by his right-wing voting record and his sucking up to Bush, could easily attract centrist voters turned off by Clinton's frosty demeanor. Democratic "base" voters aren't crazy about her either. Liberals like the idea of a woman president, but prefer one who worked her way to the top all by herself. Clinton doesn't qualify. Easterners still chafe at Clinton's "carpetbagging," running for the senate from New York despite not having lived there. Moreover, she voted the wrong way on the defining issue of the new century and, if she keeps it up, may end up as the last politician to admit supporting the Iraq war.
So why not vote for John "Plain Talk Express" McCain? If for no other reason than to send a message to the world, it's important for Americans to support Clinton's bid.
A country that claims to value its women as equals ought to have a woman president now and then--roughly half the time, as a matter of fact. The fact that we have never elected a woman president conveys to every American schoolgirl, when she learns that shameful fact, that she is doomed to second-class status, that she will never be able to go as far in life as a boy no matter how hard she works. A woman president won't necessarily close the gender wage gap, solve the daycare crisis or smash the glass ceiling--but electing one might spark those discussions.
Despite her shortcomings of both politics and personality, Hillary Clinton is smart, well educated, politically experienced and articulate enough to be president. We are unlikely to see another woman with her qualifications score a presidential nomination for years to come; voters should seize this chance to make history. There are plenty of solid reasons to vote for Clinton over McCain--which candidate would be more likely to let Bush's reprehensible tax giveaways to the ultrarich expire? withdraw troops from Iraq? close Gitmo? address the healthcare crisis?--but electing a woman to the White House trumps them all.