Friday, January 04, 2008

Ain't No Fun When the Rabbit's Got the Gun... for lots of reasons

HuffPost's Kim Mance crows, "Women have realized their power and will decide this election." Her argument: Women were influential in the 2006 election of a Democratic congress; women believe the country is on the wrong track; female voter turnout is on the rise. And finally, "A landslide percentage of young women voters cast their ballot for Obama in Iowa."

Would it were true that women were exerting their power for a fairer, more democratic America. I love Mance's tongue-in-cheek conclusion: "Look out middle-aged, white men - it ain't no fun when the rabbit's got the gun."

But there are a couple of problems with Mance's analysis of yesterday's Iowa caucus. First, to be perfectly accurate: It was independents, not women, who were responsible for Obama's win. Iowan Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Hillary, but Iowa allows independents to vote in primaries, and they favored Obama.

Secondly, I think Obama's popularity is partly accounted for by his youthful good looks. He's 46, and he's a handsome man. Give him ten or twenty years and he might develop jowels and wrinkles that aren't quite so photogenic. When people talk about Obama being "fresh" and "anti-establishment", that's partly his policy/spin but it's also largely his looks. Choosing a president by who's the prettiest, as happened with G.W., is no advancement of democracy. If women are more inclined to make political decisions based on looks, then that's no advancement for womankind.

Finally, the majority of Democrat voters said that their top factor in choosing a candidate was change - they want a candidate who will bring about change. Only 20% said that the candidate's experience was their most important criterion. This depresses me profoundly. It seems that politics has devolved from argument to sound bite to single-word issue summation. But if people - and women - don't see that change is only possible if the candidate is qualified, then the outcome seems hopeless.

The reality is that huge change will be achieved by electing any of the Democrat candidates. They all stand in complete opposition to Bush/Cheney. In terms of policies: they all want universal health care (well, except Obama), they all want to end the war in Iraq, they all want to return to sound fiscal management, they all want to return to responsible, multilateral foreign policy, and they all went to reform the influence of big business interests.

The trick is to find a candidate who will be able to achieve change. In this regard Obama has come off as naive and unrealistic. His performance in the debates showed that he doesn't understand international diplomacy or domestic power struggles. This is the Big Leagues. Good-looking amateurs are not good enough - as the last seven years have proved.

Sure, there is no comparison between Obama's character and George Bush's. Bush is a bad, bad man - perhaps the first truly evil US president, as seen by his policies of torture, secret surveillance of citizens, illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign state, wanton fiscal mismanagement, personal reprisals against political opponents, and on and on. Obama is by all accounts a good, principled, thoughtful man. Comparison of Obama to Bush is easy. It's a little trickier comparing Obama to Hillary and John Edwards, because Obama simply doesn't have the record. You can't complain about what he said about this or that because he wasn't on the national stage. Even in the three years that he's been in the US senate, he hasn't done much. He hasn't had to get his hands dirty yet.

I'm all for greater political participation by women. When I think of a stronger female presence in politics I envision thoughtful, caring decision-makers who reject grimy spin and look to the essentials of good leadership. But if greater female participation is no better than male participation - if women are as superficial and easily misled as men - then it's all a lot less of a big whup.


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