Madam President: A US goal proves elusive

Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the Democratic presidential race leaves America’s highest glass ceiling still intact, prompting some to ask whether the country will ever be ready to put a woman in the White House.
After Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 2016, and then lost unexpectedly to Donald Trump, top women politicians openly theorised that 2020 might be their year.
This latest Democratic field was the most diverse ever, with a record six women in contention, including four senators: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Warren.
Their campaigns have since folded, and today’s fight to oust the 73-year-old president from the White House has come down to two white
men older than Trump: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard remains in the race but has always been an extreme long shot, registering at around one per cent support.
Warren, in announcing her exit, told reporters last Thursday that gender has been “the trap question” in the lengthy nomination battle.
“If you say, ‘Yeah there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, no, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?” she said.
“The hardest part of this… is all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years.” After Warren dropped out, former candidate Harris spoke of the “challenges of women running for president” that remain in the United States.
Women have reached the pinnacle of power in US states as governors, and Nancy Pelosi is Trump’s chief nemesis in Congress in her role as speaker of the House of Representatives.
But she, too, vented her frustration last Thursday that Warren — widely seen as one of the most competent and knowledgeable candidates in the race, with perhaps the best on-the-ground organisation — failed to progress further in the nomination battle.
“I do think there’s a certain element of misogyny that is there,” she said, noting the difficulties she herself faced in ultimately becoming the first female House speaker.
“This is a marble ceiling, it’s not a glass ceiling.”
Warren’s campaign was seen as having imploded in part because she did not inspire voters or convince them she was the right person for the job. She also failed to chart a winning path between her party’s left wing, championed by Sanders, and the more moderate lane occupied by Biden.
But Warren also may have been the victim of “systemic” bias in the campaign process, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics.
“Did she run a perfect campaign? Of course not, nobody does,” Walsh said on Friday in an interview.
But she finds it “hard to imagine a male candidate with (Warren’s) credentials and smarts, and empathy and connection to crowds” not doing far better in the race.
Sanders fudged his “Medicare for All” numbers and got away with it, Walsh noted. Democrats are desperate to win in November, and there is a form of “risk aversion” at play, Walsh said, with women and people of colour still seen as risky choices.
Polling bears that out to a degree. A CNN survey from January showed that 15 per cent of respondents did not believe a woman could win the White House. Notably, the percentage of women who believed that one of their own could not get elected president was 20 per cent, more than double the nine per cent of men who thought that.
Female candidates performed extraordinarily well in the 2018 midterm elections, however, when they won a record number of seats in Congress and helped Democrats take back the House. But women seeking the presidency still find themselves in a “horrible double bind,” Walsh explained. — AFP

Michael Mathes