Friday, March 12, 2004

Up In the Tree Fort at Camp VeepWannaBe



With the Democrats’ presidential nominee decided, the election pre-game
prognosticators now turn their attention to the veepstakes--the roll of the wheel
that will ultimately determine just who will “round out the ticket,” as they say, in the
number-two spot. And so, inevitably, the name of New York Senator Hillary
Clinton bobs up now and again, if only because the oddsmakers, looking at a long
nine months ahead until the presidential election, long for something interesting to
happen---or at least threaten to happen--in the interim. Hence, we kid ourselves
that there’s a chance in hell that a woman could be named to the Democratic
ticket.



In truth, we know how unlikely, even absurd, it is to consider Hillary a vice
presidential contender. None of the three states she claims as home are
considered battlegrounds in the presidential contest. And what presidential
candidate in his right mind would name someone to the ticket who is bound to
upstage him at every turn?



For her part, why would Hillary gamble her hard-won Senate seat, from which she
represents the most powerful state in the union, for the busywork of a ceremonial
office? Hillary’s done the ceremonial thing, for which neither she nor her giant
brain seem to have the right temperament.



With the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barbara Mikulski in the Senate, and Martha
Stewart on trial, just like the big boys, for stock-market shenanigans, it’s
sometimes easy to overlook the fact that as women, we’re still not in the club,
even if we’re now allowed to hang out at the bar from time to time. I mean, even a quasi-professional feminist like me managed to miss International Women's Day this year--once a holy day of obligation for me.



I have a niece named Megan, a young woman in her second year of college, who
has rarely, if ever, entertained the idea that there’s something she shouldn’t or couldn’t do because of her gender. Megan was born in 1983, and consequently has no
memory of Geraldine Ferraro’s historic run for the vice presidency. In practical
terms, Megan has yet to see a woman make a serious run for our nation’s top
offices.



Which brings me to last week’s edition of “Meet the Press,” whereupon Tim Russert entertained the strange-bedfellow couple of James Carville, the Clinton campaign strategist, and Mary Matalin, former adviser to Vice President Dick
Cheney--and a woman who broke through to hold jobs in the Republican Party
that were once reserved for men.



As the trio shuffled the deck for the parlor game of vice presidential speculation,
Russert showed his TV audience a graphic arrayed with six photographs of likely
vice presidential contenders. It was a veritable tree fort, complete with the "No Girls Allowed" sign. Oh, they were all perfectly decent fellows, chosen for some supposed strategic advantage: Senators John Edwards and Bob Graham hail from the all-important South--North Carolina and Florida, respectively, as does Senator Bill Nelson. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt cover the Midwest, while New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson could perhaps deliver his southwestern battleground state and bring along the Latino population where he finds his roots.



Carville lauded the group as “a deep stable,” and no one, not even Matalin,
seemed to notice anything wrong with that set of pictures. For Russert’s part, I
suppose you could applaud him for not floating the Hillary silliness.



But let’s just imagine that strategic, regional advantage were the only criteria in play--not gender. Need a southerner? How about Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, or
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a battleground state. Either one of those picks could
virtually lock up the so-called soccer-mom vote.



You like the Midwest? Senator Debbie Stabenow hails from the mother of
battleground states, Michigan.



Prefer to skip the double jeopardy of two from the Senate? How ‘bout Michigan
Governor Jennifer Granholm, or Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco?



If you’re keen on the Southwest, there’s always Arizona Governor Janet
Napolitano. Looking for a savvy campaigner? Why not consider former New
Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen?



A brilliant tigress who could chew up Cheney in a debate? Representative
Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia would surely spark things up.



As for me, I hate the idea that, in the 21st century, we should have to make a
point of looking for a woman to include among the vice presidential contenders.
At least one or two female faces should have appeared, without force or favor, in
that group simply on their own merit. The women I just mentioned are people of
substance; that no one has even thought of them as politicians who could round
out the ticket speaks volumes. It’s certainly to the advantage of the politically
savvy to remember that women make up more than half the electorate. The only
plausible explanation for their omission from the list of vice presidential prospects
is prejudice.



If a deliberate, concerted act of tokenism is what it will take to name a woman to
a presidential ticket, then so be it. Mr. Kerry, go ahead, go out of your way to
pick a woman.



Time is wasting. Megan is nearly 20. I’d hate to see her cross the threshold to
adulthood thinking there’s something she just can’t do because the fellas won’t let
her.






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