Are we ready for a female president? Bachmann says no.


From left, former senator Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former House speaker Newt Gingrich chat before they start the first 2012 Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., on June 13, 2011. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

A lot of Americans still “aren’t ready” for a female president, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in an interview earlier this week. “I don’t think there is a lot of pent-up desire for a woman president,” she said.

The reaction to Bachmann’s latest comment is no surprise.

“I found her remarks shocking and disappointing, especially since she took the initiative to run for president herself,” said Marianne Schnall, author of “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?” “Why would she do that if she felt this way?”

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost his own bid for the presidency in 2008, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton “would most likely” win if the election were held tomorrow.

“I just have a very different reading of the political scene,” McCain explained. He cited “the growth of women” in Congress, as well as the many female mayors and governors throughout the country. “We’re proud we’ve had women governors here in Arizona, two in a row.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll in January found that “voters remain overwhelmingly willing to vote for a woman for president.” In fact, 77 percent believe a woman will be elected president within the next 10 years. Only 18 percent thought it unlikely.

“I would say that everybody I spoke with — Republicans and Democrats — thought we were indeed ready for a woman president,” Schnall said.  In doing the research for her book, she spoke with more than four dozen politicians, public officials, thought leaders, writers, artists and activists.

“Well, I think we are more ready for it than we think we are,” poet Maya Angelou told Schnall. “I mean, if anyone had asked you five years ago, ‘Do you think we’re ready for a black president?’ it’s very likely that the wagging of the head would have been, ‘No, no no — not yet.’ However, we’re readier than we thought we were. And I think that’s true about women.”

Bachmann addressed the election of the first African American to the office in her interview as well, saying: “I think there was a cachet about having an African American president because of guilt.” She did not elaborate, so Thomas surmised it was guilt over “slavery and the lengthy denial of civil rights to blacks.”

Yet several of those interviewed by Schnall for her book contradicted Bachmann’s analysis, believing instead that the country would elect a woman before an African American for president. “I would have been certain that we would see a woman president before we saw a black president,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told Schnall.

“Well, I do think we’re ready and prepared (for a woman president),” former Republican senator Olympia J. Snowe said in Schnall’s book. “I think in looking back at history, you have to have more women running to even get to a place where the country is focused on a female candidate for president.”

Women have been elected to the House and Senate in record-breaking numbers (although far from parity), and several women have gained attention for their presidential campaigns. Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, cited Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in 1972, Pat Schroeder’s in 1988 and Elizabeth Dole’s in 2000.

Chisholm deserves credit for paving the way, said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “She charted the course for a woman to be president, and I think because of her and because of the movement, the country is about ready.”

“The country is ready; the electoral ground is fertile,” agreed Brazile. “The country now is eager to see a woman run and compete successfully for the White House.”

Schnall said she believes “there is a huge groundswell of excitement and energy, of women and men, toward reaching this milestone.”

Men aren’t the problem in getting a woman elected, Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Paley Center for Media, told Schnall. “I think men have been ready longer than women have been ready in a funny way,” she said. “There are enough men who have seen or experienced the leadership of women to believe that it is absolutely within our province and that women can do it just as well, if not better, than men.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former House speaker, admitted to Schnall that she believed a woman would be in the Oval Office before the House would ever shatter “the marble ceiling,” as she called it, and elect a female speaker.

“The American people are very, very ready for a woman president,” Pelosi said. “They’re far ahead of the politicians.”

She may be right.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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