Voting Women, 100

A hundred years ago today, American women finally got a Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Women Marching for Voting rights. Public domain photo. Our source: Wikimedia.

I confess, when 2020 began, I assumed this centenary was going to be the big splashy news event of the year! Yes, we turned out to have, shall we say, “other preoccupations” throughout the year, but that needn’t keep us from celebrating the enormous historical significance of this day. 

Before this date, a majority of American adults had no legal guarantee against the federal or state governments denying them any say in who makes the laws to which they were subject. Some “democracy”!

Speaking of democracy, this happens to be an election year. Wouldn’t it be cool to vote for a woman for the top job, on this special anniversary?

There is actually an option. Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate for president, assuming you like her policy ideas. Third parties don’t do very well in American politics, but “third parties don’t win” is also a self-fulling prophecy that keeps voters flocking to whomever they think are “electable” instead of voting according to their genuine principles, which often are reflected better in third parties. Socialist leaning environmentalists, for example, line up much better with the Green Party than the Democrats who usually get their vote. Likewise, small-government free-marketers are much better represented by Libertarians than the Republicans they tend to elect. As the name implies, Libertarians espouse an individual liberty and free-market based philosophy. Like most Libertarians, Jorgensen’s platform is very socially liberal: anti-racist, pro-immigration, pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-drug legalization, pro-criminal justice reform. Fiscally, she’s more “conservative” in the traditional American sense: lower taxes, fewer regulatory burdens on businesses, a less activist federal reserve (she even wants to audit them). I put “conservative” in quotes for two reasons. (1) While we call free-market economics “conservative” in America, the rest of the world calls it “liberal” economics. (2) Despite frequently adopting the “free market” rhetoric, conservatives are not always actually pro-market. They are sometimes simply aligned with powerful business interests, which is condemned as “crony capitalism” by Libertarians. Another strand of conservativism (arguably the strongest current trend) is more populist and protectionist or “economic nationalist” as they sometimes call themselves – also condemned as anti-market by Libertarians. Jorgensen also staunchly opposes war as well as tariffs and other barriers to trade.

In this era of extreme tribalism and authoritarianism, battle fatigued Americans might find Jorgensen to be a refreshing choice, and, as a bonus, they would get to vote for a woman in this landmark year for women in politics.   

That said, it is remarkable that there is no major party female candidate. Why is that? Why the heck, in the CENTURY since winning the vote (and actually being an electoral majority) did American women never elect a woman to the highest office? Even on this landmark anniversary year, THIS election after four years of non-stop, high-pitched “resistance” against a president who faced a historic “women’s march” to protest his much noted reputation for misogyny; THIS election, after the one where the first serious female candidate for president was the favorite to win but lost out to the aforementioned misogynist; THIS election, after the supposedly tectonic socio-cultural shifts resulting from “MeToo” and “Time’s Up”; WHY isn’t there a woman at the top of a major party ticket?

“Does Kamala Harris count?” you ask.

“Meh,” I say.

Sorry. But Kamala Harris was selected by a man to be his running mate and is Number 2 on the ticket. This does not indicate the country’s readiness to elect a woman, or even her own party’s readiness for her leadership. After all, she ran a primary campaign for the Democratic nomination. She didn’t win. She didn’t even come close. Her polling was so low she dropped out before any actual voting occurred. And this is the DEMOCRATIC party; the purportedly liberal, progressive, intersectional, woke, party; the frequently pretends to be “feminist” party; the one that (sort of) nominated Hillary Clinton, THAT party.

Just to be clear, I’m not dissing Harris. I’m just pointing out that her candidacy is not the groundbreaking event it’s cracked up to be. Six women candidates tried for the Democratic nomination, covering the whole gamut of ideological “wings” that make up the party. None made much of an impact. One of them, Elizabeth Warren, is a party stalwart, with ample creds among both centrists and leftists, a strong campaigner who comes across as an intellectual workhorse yet exudes a populist warmth. But even she performed poorly, coming in a distant third behind two men who are both pushing 80 (one of whom had a heart attack during the campaign while the other is visibly confused much of the time and has trouble remembering ordinary words).

Speaking of identity voting – being female is not Harris’s only claim to membership in a historically nondominant demographic group. She is part African American, part Indian American. What, if anything, these elements of her identity mean for voters has been a controversial point. Particularly among African Americans, for instance, there has been concern about her background as a tough prosecutor with a record of helping to incarcerate large numbers of African Americans for nonviolent drug-related crimes. There are, of course, many pro-law-and-order African Americans, but they usually tend to be conservatives who are unlikely to vote for Harris (or any Democrat) based on a host of other issues.

In any case, as I did with Jorgensen, I would stipulate that electing someone like Harris to high office (assuming one likes her positions on the issues one cares about) would be kind of cool, in this special anniversary of our right to vote. But, unlike I did with Jorgensen’s positions, I am hard pressed to make a quick list of Harris’s positions on substantive issues, because she seems reticent about discussing her views in a detailed and forthcoming manner. In speeches and interviews, she comes across overly rehearsed and focus-group-tested. She keeps repeating her standard talking points. She responds to particularly difficult questions, not by addressing the substance of the question, but by adopting a smug-yet-folksy demeanor, as if she has cleverly seen through an inside joke meant to be at her expense but has graciously decided to enjoy it.

But for those who feel they understand and like her positions, I think her being a woman, an African American, and an Indian American will be nice bonus points. Though it would be nicer if she were at the top of the ticket and chosen by the primary voters in her own right.

There are intricate and enormously important questions of identity-centering in politics, which we hope to explore here at Cuckoo News (along with other election related issues) in the coming weeks. But for today’s purposes, in honor of Woman’s Suffrage, I say this: all other issues being on point, at long last, after 232 years of male leadership, it might be (or should I say “might have been”?) cool to elect a woman president.

Categories: History, Politics

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