Gender games: A capitol idea

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, February 1, 2007

Now that Hillary has declared that she is “in it to win,” the 2008 presidential cycle promises to be the mother of all presidential cycles. If you think that our national politics have overdosed on estrogen in the wake of San Francisco congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s elevation to Speaker, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The night she took the gavel, striking a Rosie the Riveter pose and declaring her breaking of the marble ceiling (that’s got to hurt), ABC evening-news anchor Charlie Gibson declared: “But in a picture perhaps even more symbolic, the new Speaker was on the floor for a time, holding her 6-year-old grandson, all the while giving directions on how events were to proceed. It seemed the ultimate in multitasking: Taking care of the children and the country.”

She may be a woman, but I’m the one who will roar if she’s taking care of me. This, the woman who during the State of the Union address refused to stand as the president declared: “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. … It is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.” The fact is, we are over there, and we ought to at least give the president’s new policy a try before we advocate failure. But I digress.

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During that same speech, the president had gracious words for Pelosi — a short, sweet and appropriate acknowledgment of her achievement in becoming the first female Speaker of the House. But then he moved on — to address Congress, with the Speaker, who happens to be a woman, standing behind him as normal.

And we should all move on. Or the chick rhetoric is going to cause one helluva backlash, one that women ideologues — those for whom being a woman is everything — will not like.

Hillary and her advisers could learn a lesson from the guy currently in the White House. When he was looking for a Supreme Court justice, he homed in on his White House counsel, Harriet Miers. By most judgments, she was a hardworking, smart, good woman. But it looked as if she were being nominated because she was a woman. The president overlooked plenty of other, more qualified candidates because of the ridiculous conventional wisdom that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat was a woman’s seat, never again to be filled by a male.

That attitude was insulting — to Harriet Miers, and to qualified judges, men and women both. It sends the message that you — whatever group we’re favoring — can’t make it on your own.

Well, we girls can make it after all. And Mary Tyler Moore is dated for even TV Land nowadays. There may be a milestone or two yet to hit, but women are in the mix — in the marble halls, our nation’s top diplomat, editors, you name it. And they do it, for the most part, because they do it like the guys do it: they work hard and prove themselves.

So when folks advocate Hillary for president because she is a woman — let’s make history! — we ought to take a step back, lest we fall into “The Hillary Trap.” This is a phrase radio talk-show host (and former Supreme Court clerk) Laura Ingraham used in her book (Hyperion, 2000) of the same “Trap” name to describe a devotion “to a liberal agenda than reduces women to yet another interest group seeking yet another government handout.” Because she is a woman, we gloss over the actual substance of what she promotes because all that really matters is her gender. As Ingraham put it: “Despite her public image as the independent modern woman, Hillary has always been a throwback, who for decades relied on a philandering husband and big government for all the answers.”

As Pelosi took charge, she had to be reminded that being a woman isn’t really an ideology unto itself; she swore other women in to Congress, including Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, a member of the leadership of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Blackburn agrees with Hillary and Pelosi on very little — even though all three are mothers, wives and women. The real milestone will be when we realize that playing gender games is less important than exercising right reason.