Middle-age white guys still at the top

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

Put George W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman altogether and what have you got? A quartet of solid candidates with a breadth of political and life experience between them - no question about it.

But you've also got four middle-age white guys. Again.

And this time they're not just male and middle-age but all in their 50s - about the point, I'll admit, that those in the top tier of public service reach their prime.

People unfazed by the glaring disparity between the percentage of women in the nation (52 percent) and the percentage of women who've been elected president or vice president of the nation (0 percent) will argue that fiftysomething white guys still get the major parties' nominations because they're the ones prepared for such posts.

Intellectually, I know that their argument has merit. After all, women currently hold only 12.9 percent of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a puny 9 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate.

Still, the just-completed quadrennial veepstakes left me feeling left out. Again.

I know. I know. Gore deserves extra credit for picking an Orthodox Jew as his running mate. But that act of outreach seems worthy of an asterisk, not a parade. Most Americans couldn't categorize recent presidential candidates and running mates by their religious faiths. Given that it's 2000, I'd argue that they shouldn't.

But women - based on demographics alone, it seems to me they should be in charge by now, not in the waiting room.

Back when Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan raised the rafters at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, I sensed that soon she or some other woman would be the object of all the confetti and balloons - not the spouse of the object of all the confetti and balloons.

In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro lived that dream, before she and Democratic challenger Walter Mondale found out the hard way that President Reagan's ``morning in America'' hadn't yet reached high noon.

Because their ticket failed - as if that were all Ferraro's fault and not due to the double whammy of Mondale's weakness and Reagan's might - are women now to be passed over in perpetuity?

Was that our one and only chance?

If so, it sure would have been handy to know as much going in, so that we women could have (1) made sure the chosen one had a husband without problematic professional secrets, and (2) held out for a top half of the ticket that had a prayer of winning.

In 1988, we had to satisfy ourselves with the keynote speech of Ann Richards, then Texas' state treasurer, whose brassy bons mots included the priceless line, ``Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.''

Last year, we had the bright but brief candidacy of Elizabeth Dole, who proved no match for the fund-raising prowess of the previously anointed Republican male, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

This year, we heard many women mentioned as possible vice-presidential candidates in both parties, including Dole and New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman on the GOP side and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen on the Democratic side.

And thank goodness for Condoleezza Rice, the Bush right-hand woman who had a strong podium showing at last week's GOP convention and is expected to be national security adviser in a Bush White House.

But once again this year, the four women in tailored suits on stage at the conventions' final moments are there because of marital ties, not political entitlement.

I'm not suggesting that Americans imitate the French, whose gender parity was so poor that they amended the nation's constitution last year to mandate equal representation in elective government.

I think the United States ought to even the balance with a process that's natural rather than coercive.

But enough is enough. The women are restless. Move over on your own, guys, or prepared to be shoved.

Rhonda Holman is an editorial writer and columnist for The Wichita Eagle.

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