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February 7, 2007
We're More Equal Than You Are

Betsy Newmark offers an interesting comparison of the late suffragette movement and the sudden Momminess quotient in politics today, and argues that women have gone backwards in their attempt to gain political ascendancy. Instead of arguing equality between the genders, politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Barbara Boxer appear to argue that giving birth creates a difference between themselves and others (in Boxer's case, even between women) in such a manner that would create a huge backlash against anyone arguing that the difference might make them worse candidates:

And if women are going to use their status as mothers as a qualification for higher office, should voters then ask about their parenting skills and which candidate raised better children? After all, running as a mom means that their mommy skills are now part of the political calculus.

Why should gender matter in politics today? Have we returned to the arguments from a century ago that women are more moral and will clean up politics? In the 2006 campaign, Pelosi argued that it might take a woman to clean out the House of Representatives, unconsciously echoing a 1912 cartoon showing a giant woman voter sweeping away corrupt politicians. What happened to all the feminists’ slogans about how there was no difference between women and men? Wasn’t it questioning just this idea that got Larry Summers into trouble?

Women can’t have it both ways. Either men and women are essentially the same, or each gender has certain strengths that the other lacks. If women are going to claim that they bring special gender-based skills to politics, men can start claiming that they, too, have particular strengths as leaders.

Of course, no male politician would be so crass as to say that openly, but you can bet that voters, faced with a woman candidate for president, will be wondering exactly that. And, in a time of war, do women really want to start that discussion?

This is the problem with identity politics in general. Instead of focusing on the issues, people get caught up in easy, obvious, and essentially pointless visual qualities of candidates when voting. Ever wonder why we haven't had a bald president since the advent of television? Or, for that matter, a female or dark-skinned President since ... well, ever?

Women have a tough time overcoming that human failing, and it's natural that they would want to turn the disadvantage into an advantage if they can, and the same can be said for all of those who belong to underrepresented groups based on gender or appearance. However, it only buys into and endorses the mechanisms that have kept them locked out of leadership positions in the past. If they want to argue that their gender makes them superior, it leaves open the argument that it could make them inferior as well.

Identity politics eventually leads us to these kinds of dead ends. It overwhelms the discussion of the actual issues, and that is its intent: to discredit certain voices on key issues. We need to argue equality and put aside momminess quotients, regardless of the attraction these kinds of arguments have. It seems that almost a century after the triumph of the suffrage movement, we still haven't learned that lesson.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 7, 2007 5:39 AM

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