Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A new era

If I had more energy and were so inclined, I would fashion this into a proper editorial. But, while inspiration is here, let me just quickly note that the withdrawal of Caroline Kennedy from consideration for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat is but one more sign that a political era has ended, that a newer and better politics has, for the moment, come to claim the stage.

Don't get me wrong. I admire Caroline Kennedy. I feel for her many losses. I think she is beautiful, smart, classy. She has handled her life in the public eye with grace and with a deep commitment to service. She is also a scion of America's greatest political family.

We bid goodbye yesterday to a horrible president whose main claim to power was that he was a president's son.

The election to replace him saw the failed bid of a supremely qualified woman who came to our attention primarily as a First Lady.

Now, a woman who wanted the former First Lady's seat has withdrawn. Her main claim to fame is as the daughter of a president.

This is a democracy.

It feels divine to put nepotism to rest.

Divine but also problematic for women: it's been hard in this patriarchal nation for women to find paths to power without the authorization of men. Being a daughter or a wife marks a woman as acceptable; it marks her ambition as an understandable family trait: the tomboy daughter, the wife who learned from the sidelines. Unmarried woman like Condi Rice or Janet Napolitano, are suspect. Married women, well, let's talk about married and partnered women.

See, there is this whole problem of child-bearing, child-rearing, childcare, that comes right at a really strong moment in women's lives. Just when your career seems to be taking hold--BOOM!--you're spending five or six pretty intense years wiping bottoms and wiping tears. Or, maybe you have your kids on the early side and, when jobs beckon you back, there is nothing on your resume to catch anyone's eye, so you end up with a dull job, a job with no leadership potential.

I have no doubt that both Hillary Clinton and Caroline Kennedy were able to fulfill the posts that they sought and, for different reasons did not get. I do not doubt, either, that Obama will be a better President, that Clinton was a better Senator than C. Kennedy.

It just feels more democratic, better, more redemptive, and more politically right to have elected someone who fought for the post out of intelligence, canniness, and good policy.

It's too bad that we're still a long way from having a path for women that permits a Barack Obama to emerge.

2 comments:

Richard said...

New York state has half a dozen female members of the U.S. House, each of whom would be an excellent U.S. senator - just as in the past Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Holtzman and Shirley Chisholm would have been great senators.

I vote in Arizona, where four out of our last five governors were female.

Cam said...

I agree with much of what you have written, but I'm not sure that the path is so long. It's a rocky one certainly, but I think that Clinton's campaign showed that we as nation were ready for a woman leader. But, she was not the best candidate. We have to be willing to lose based on merit as we are to win. A woman will never be elected to a powerful office just because she is woman; nor should she be. But, you are so right about the dilema of having those wiping bottoms & tears years that set us on different paths, that create meandering paths rather than expressways.