Why can’t Americans accept strong women?

Allan Fotheringham July 20 1992

Why can’t Americans accept strong women?

Allan Fotheringham July 20 1992

Why can’t Americans accept strong women?



It is interesting that North American voters, supposedly representing the vibrant and youthful New World, have never come to grips with the idea of female political leaders. The fuddy-duddies across the oceans have, not making any fuss about electing those of the other sex to lead in India, in Israel and Sri Lanka, in Britain, in Pakistan, in Norway and Iceland.

This side of the water, where women have the highest standard of living in the world? Joe Clark was tossed out of office because, among other things, rural Canadian voters thought he wasn’t strong enough to force his wife to take his own surname. And we all know what happened to Geraldine Ferraro—not to mention Walter Mondale—when the latter took so bold as to name the former as his vice-presidential candidate.

It is, therefore—considering the North American males and nervousness about women—most intriguing to contemplate the first American election in history that may be decided on the voters’ perception of females.

Bill Clinton’s surprising (surprising because it is daring) choice of AÍ Gore as his Democratic running mate will be a real test of the American voting public. Never mind that the pick of Gore is a risk in itself: his state of Tennessee borders on Clinton’s Arkansas, they are within 19 months of each other in age, they are boys of the South, were educated in the Ivy League, they are in essence baby boomer twins—too much alike?

Real tests of the American voters will be: can they abide in 1992 two wives who represent very much 1992—well-educated, wellopinioned, more than slightly obstreperous and possibly stronger than their husbands?

Careful Democratic party strategists have already cautioned Clinton about calming down mate Hillary, who has panicked the nervous flacks surrounding her husband by blurting out to a Vanity Fair writer that everybody knows George Bush has had an affair or two so why don’t they lay off her husband?

So what does Clinton do? As a vice-presidential candidate he picks a guy whose wife is

celebrated as yapping about putting warning labels on recordings with sexual lyrics. Do parents actually read warning labels? Of course not. Do kids love warning labels? Of course. Never mind. Tipper Gore is famous, in the American context, about being a strict mother trying to protect her four kids.

Does this sound like a nice antidote to White House-bound Slick Willie, he of the tape-recorded phone conversations with the airhead Gennifer Flowers? Of course. What is interesting is that Clinton is using women to counteract the rumors about himself and women.

Hillary Clinton—who went the Maureen McTeer-my-own-name route until she concluded it was hurting her husband politically— has stated that she sees nothing wrong with sitting in on cabinet meetings in the White House (as Rosalynn Carter did, and you know what happened to Jimmy). She says, further, that she sees nothing wrong with the possibility

of her being picked as a member of the cabinet.

Clinton may have shut her down recently, but, aware of the risk, has now picked a comparative yuppie couple where the wife is not ordered to sit adoring, like Nancy Reagan, or silent, like Mamie Eisenhower. Maryon Pearson said that behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law, a truth we all know, but Clinton is daring the voters to recognize that he is prepared to put into the White House two strong-minded, intelligent women who may challenge their husbands on issues of import.

It is, in fact, a throwback all the way to the Roosevelt years, when Eleanor was a world figure—before the word feminist had been coined—as husband Franklin got on with coping with Winston’s drinking. Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, to Dan Quayle’s disgust, are very much of the Murphy Brown mould—same age, same education, same independent character.

So is, as a matter of fact, Quayle’s wife, Marilyn, who has just published a political novel and is brighter than he is, but he wouldn’t recognize—since he is not that bright—the similarity between his wife and the Murphy Brown clones he now will be attacking this fall.

One must give Clinton credit for his daring. The most dreary aspect of American presidentialmaking, for a foreigner, is the super-cautious attempt to “balance” the presidential nominee with his veep: other end of the country, North-South, ProtestantJew, working class-aristocrat, those who inhaled while smoking grass balance with those who didn’t.

Clinton, admittedly, chose in Gore a senator who has legitimate foreign-affairs credentials that he has not—he supported the Gulf War, served in Vietnam, which Clinton did not. Gore has just published a best-selling book on the environment, an area where Clinton is evidently weak.

But a major risk is a risk he must know. He’s not only chosen a southerner to match up with a southerner—disdaining all the regional mumbo jumbo—but picked a chap his own age rather than some long-toothed pillar adviser as running mate.

What he is challenging American voters to do is to pick two young men in their mid-40s married to two young women who represent what the world is about today—they yip and they yap and they force men to acknowledge that their opinions are just as good because their experience and their education and their knowledge tells them that it is so.

It will be interesting to see what Americans do with it.