Obama not giving women much of a lift
Opinion:President Barack Obama ran promoting women’s issues – but how about promoting some women?
With the old white boys’ club rearing its hoary head in the White House of the first black president, the historian Michael Beschloss recalled the days when the distaff was deemed biologically unsuited for the manly discourse of politics.
He tweeted: “1/12/1915, US House refused women voting rights. One congressman: ‘Their ankles are beautiful . . . but they are not interested in the state’.” Now comes a parade of women to plead the case for the value of female perspective in high office: women reach across the aisle, seek consensus, verbalise and empathise more, manage and listen better. Women are more pragmatic, risk-averse and, unburdened by testosterone, less bellicose.
Unfortunately, these “truisms” haven’t held true with many of the top women I have covered in Washington.
Janet Reno was trigger-happy on Waco and a tragic conflagration ensued. Hillary Clinton’s my-way-or-the-highway obduracy doomed her healthcare initiative; she also voted to authorise the Iraq invasion without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate and badly mismanaged her 2008 campaign.
Condi Rice avidly sold W’s bogus war in Iraq. One of Susan Rice’s most memorable moments was when she flipped the finger at Richard Holbrooke during a state department meeting.
Maybe these women in the first wave to the top had to be more-macho-than-thou to succeed – and maybe women don’t always bring a completely different or superior skill set to the table. Maybe none of that matters. We’re equal partners in life and governance now and we merit equal representation, good traits and bad, warts and all.
It is passing strange that Obama, carried to a second term by women, blacks and Latinos, gives away the plummiest cabinet and White House jobs to white dudes.
If there’s one thing white men have never had a problem with in this clubby, white marble enclave of Washington, it’s getting pulled up the ladder by other men. (New York magazine claims that of late, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has a better record of appointing top women than Obama does.)
Last week, the New York Times ran a startling photo, released by the White House, of the president in the Oval Office surrounded by 10 male advisers (nine white and one black). Valerie Jarrett was there, but was obscured by a white guy (though a bit of leg and “beautiful ankle” did show).
Obama has brought in a lot of women, including two he appointed to the Supreme Court, but it is more than an “optics” problem, to use the irritating cliche of the moment.