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Anne Arundel 100
From the President
“What do we do now?”
That’s the question that Associate Professor Kate Norlock asked me at the first faculty dinner after hearing the announcement that Senator John McCain selected a woman for his vice presidential running mate. Norlock and I had discussed Obama’s selection for vice president—would he choose Hillary?—and we were, like everyone else, surprised
by McCain’s selection of Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate. Hillary was out of the race for president, but here was a curve ball: a woman in the race from a state far away, not well known to us self-described Washington insiders, but there she was on TV screens across the country, a woman candidate on the presidential ticket.
Not quite the world order I predicted 10 years ago. At that time, I argued in an eponymous piece that a first woman president “will be not only acceptable…but more appealing than her opponent.” It wasn’t Senator Clinton that I had in mind when I wrote that. I hadn’t intended a political statement or a bit of soothsaying but instead a logical extrapolation from the upward tick of women representatives, senators, and governors, and that, sooner or later the first woman president would be prepping for her inaugural speech.
Senator Clinton convinced many voters—the ones she christened “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”—that she deserved the honor. The Democratic nomination proved elusive, though, and the possibility of electing the first woman president in 2008 was rendered moot. Disappointment lingered into the Democratic convention and still haunts the private conversations of the true believers, enough so that the thought of a woman as a vice presidential candidate has clearly caused reflection on what the fundamentals are that will shape this race. Gender? Maybe. Maybe not.
Whatever happens in the waning days of this campaign, and whether Governor Palin becomes vice president of the United States or not, some women will consider the gender issue relevant. But others, apparently, will not. And it may have to do with her generation. In a recent Washington Post article (“For Younger Women, Clinton is No Martyr,” August 5, 2008), a leadership group of young women in Washington disagreed with each other on Clinton, her political role, and the world for women. For some, Senator Clinton’s bid for president “inspired them to work even harder” towards election successes for women; for others, the issue of gender has become irrelevant. They say we are finally becoming “gender-blind,” and regard the candidates on issues, not on gender or race or whatever.
Have we actually come to a time where we no longer need to concentrate on women as a group, but on the merits and weaknesses of individual candidates? I’d like to think so, but am not entirely convinced. There is one thing I can conclude: this is certainly an interesting time to be a woman in politics.
—Jane Margaret O’Brien