No matter how strong Hillary Clinton’s performance was Tuesday night, more and more people are acknowledging that 2017 is unlikely to be the year America’s first female president is inaugurated.
Not that Clinton is the only woman in the race. Many Americans have warmed to Carly Fiorina, but she still has to make it through a crowded Republican field that includes Donald Trump, who is armed with boatloads of cash he can use to attack her. Her odds are unenviable.
Clinton, for her part, is proving a far weaker candidate than many had expected, with an unknown democratic socialist senator from Vermont plausibly staking his own claim for the Democratic nomination and the threat of Joe Biden entering the race still on deck.
Yes, unless Biden steps in, Clinton almost certainly will still be the Democratic nominee. But a number of 2016 dynamics favor Republicans, and that is setting aside a number of Clinton’s specific vulnerabilities as a candidate. From today’s vantage point, considering her a lock to become the next president would be ill-advised.
The fact is, in January 2017, America will probably swear another man into the highest elected office, and we will have another round in the eternal debate about why the United Kingdom, India, Germany, Argentina, and so many other countries have seen fit to install a woman in the top job, but the U.S. has not.
Instead of dragging out that discussion, though, perhaps we should instead be celebrating American women (mostly) having the good sense to avoid getting overly wrapped up in American politics or our government, such as it is. Maybe we should agree to preemptively ditch the “when will we have a woman commander-in-chief?” XX chromosome pity party and recognize that as long as it’s our self-limiting of our own free will, women shunning politics and high office is OK, actually.
Commentators correctly note that in this country, armed with its size, prowess on the global stage, economic strength, and human resources, there is no shortage of women who could undoubtedly make great members of Congress, presidential candidates, Cabinet members, or indeed presidents. Both parties have top-notch female talent well beyond Fiorina and Clinton.
The GOP, as of the end of 2014, boasted four female governors, Jan Brewer, Mary Fallin, Nikki Haley, and Susana Martinez. Our current House Conference chair is a woman, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. We have six female U.S. senators: Kelly Ayotte, Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, and Lisa Murkowski. And it wasn’t so long ago that people were predicting that Condi Rice could run for president someday.
On the Democratic side are the female national party chair(wo)man, 15 female U.S. senators, and the first female speaker of the House, the now-minority leader, Nancy Pelosi—plus two governors, Maggie Hassan and Kate Brown.
While still a minority of occupants of high political office, women are present at high levels of government and not in insignificant numbers—something that arguably proves that as a demographic, we do not have a huge discrimination problem. We may have a more inherent lack of interest in the jobs on offer, though.
Sure, sexism exists in politics, and contrary to what we’re often told, it does so on both sides of the aisle. Sadly, there are some people, whether donors, party bosses, activists, operatives, or voters, who harbor a (mostly) unspoken suspicion that many women won’t be as up to the job as their male counterparts might be.
More common, however, seems to be women self-segregating ourselves out of politics, or self-segregating into the less taxing roles of voter, volunteer, or mostly passive supporter.
And why not? Congress has an approval rating of 14 percent, according to September 2015 Gallup polling. The highest approval rating President Obama has seen in office, per Gallup, has been 70 percent. (That was in January 2009, proving the point that it’s really all downhill from Inauguration Day.)
Look at the clown show that really is Washington, D.C., whether the alphabet soup of get-little-done federal agencies or the “pwn you with a sneaky procedural maneuver!1!! 1!!” Congress, or the never-ending (bad) soap opera of negotiations between the executive branch and the legislative (most of which seem to result in government plodding along, mostly as usual, anyway). About the only branch of government that gets much done is the judiciary.
Be honest: Is it possible to conceive of 535 people, plus all the big, self-important muckety-mucks in the administration, with whom one would less want to commit to spending entire days out of entire weeks than members of the United States Congress? And this is to say nothing of the taxing nature of constant campaigning—events, fundraising, posing (physically and philosophically), and so on, which often makes having a meaningful personal life of any sort basically impossible. Why would anyone in their right mind want to do it, unless that person is simply a masochist? Why not effect change by doing something else?
This is the calculation a lot of women are undoubtedly making, from the average working mom to the high-powered single entrepreneur.
Melinda Gates no doubt concluded a long, long time ago that she could change the world through charitable endeavors she guides and undertakes with her husband.
Elizabeth Holmes can change lives right now through the diagnostics innovation she and her employees at Theranos are pioneering.
Meg Whitman is undoubtedly getting more done on a day-to-day basis as HP CEO than she ever would have as California governor, having a huge impact and probably leading a far more pleasant life, to boot.
Mary Barra also has a massive influence on millions of Americans, whether GM employees, consumers, or just those living in the economies surrounding major GM operations—probably far more than she ever would as even a senator or a governor.
Hell, if Clinton wanted, she could arguably have a bigger impact on issues ranging from the global environment to poverty to women’s rights by quitting the presidential race and focusing on the work of the Clinton Global Initiative.
There are very few major female donors in politics. Are women self-limiting our influence in politics? Or are we just the people who have the good sense not to blow thousands, let alone millions, on political endeavors that will frequently fail? As much as liberals love to fret about the “nefarious” influence of the Koch brothers and conservatives love to freak out about Tom Steyer and his fortune, isn’t the real criticism how much money these guys—and I do mean guys—blow on things that make New Coke look like a blowout success? Do we really still live in a world where the president of the United States is the most powerful person on the planet? Or is that now a title jointly held by Bill and Melinda Gates? Or even by the chairman or CEO of Goldman Sachs or Exxon or Apple?
It’s critical that women be in a position to pursue any job we want to, whether it’s coal miner or president of the United States, and that we be treated seriously and respectfully as part of that process. And to be sure, women do and should exert influence in politics. We’re the majority of voters, we do donate, we do knock on doors and make telephone calls, and many of us show great interest in local politics, especially.
But let’s not mourn the fact that politics, overall, remains rather male-dominated. While the boys are fighting about renaming post offices, who can give the best speech in an empty chamber to the C-SPAN cameras, and blowing their cash on donations to whoever sent them the best email that day, most of us girls are probably getting something meaningful done. That could be coming up with a new patent for a lifesaving drug, running a successful school fundraiser, expanding an existing business and hiring more people, teaching kids Spanish, helping fund groundbreaking medical research, coaching a major sports team, or making sure the neighborhood residents clean up their trash and think globally and act locally where their environment is concerned.
Presidents can change the world. But so can ordinary people, and leaders in nonpolitical roles. Let’s preemptively agree not to play the “woe are women” game if, as is likely, in January 2017, we inaugurate someone with a Y chromosome. We’re getting plenty done out there in the real world.