Jeane Kirkpatrick shed no tears as she declined to seek the GOP nomination for president, thereby avoiding the sort of reproaches aimed at Pat Schroeder. Schroeder attributed criticism of her tears to a double standard that makes emotional displays acceptable for Ronald Reagan but not for her. On one level she was wrong. According to a convention that has prevailed since the similar outburst of Edmund Muskie in 1972, it is clear that anger may be expressed in a campaign appearance, but not sorrow.
But to the degree that she was expressing the frustration of women candidates, Pat Schroeder's tears were rational ones. As she said, women have not yet learned how to campaign and so either are not entering the presidential lists or are experiencing frustration in running for lesser offices. Lest it be concluded that only women are cluttering the air waves with their tears, however, it must be recognized that for the most part, it is men rather than women who are being emotional in their political messages. It's just that men's appeals are far more subtly packaged.
A double standard has emerged. Women must still prove competence, while men can move beyond that to appeals that focus on issues and character. On the latter front, men are openly emotional, and reap not only the male but also the female vote, while women, who are loath to focus on the caring side of character for fear of appearing weak, will be further inhibited by the response to Schroeder's tears.
This must be a setback to women, who are reduced to achieving few political gains above the local level. In 1986 they won statewide races only in Maryland and Nebraska. In both cases, women ran against other women. Despite eight challenges on the gubernatorial level, only Kay Orr was successful in Nebraska in her race against Helen Boosalis. Women scored four victories on the congressional level, but had no net gain over 1984.
The irony is that much of today's campaign image-making focuses on intergenerational bonding and that, although women are disproportionately responsible for meeting daily family needs, men reap the political benefit.
Intergenerational bonding focuses around the male candidate. It is not on the Bill Cosby show alone that fatherhood has experienced a comeback. In the 1984 election, Reagan cried on the bluffs of Normandy Beach as he reassured a young girl in white representing America that such a war, in which she had lost a male relative, would never happen again, because he and all American men in their farms, fields and factories would take his place and sacrifice for her. The president's eyes were misty as he and Nancy Reagan moved through the unending rows of crosses, and the first lady reached up to touch her husband's arm, offering consolation to the man who will protect America.
It was a deeply moving ad, which, like almost all of the Reagan campaign messages, focused on the ties that bind and offered reassurance both to the young, many of whom have experienced separation and divorce, and to the old, who, as the ads proclaim, can see the future in the "bright eyes of our young." It was advertising that brought tears even to the eyes of media consultant William Pope of Atlanta, who said, "I knew what they were doing, but I cried anyway."
Such bonding is at the heart of image-making for even the most serious candidate, and it is bipartisan. Thus in 1986 Ed Zschau addresses the voters from a raft filled with his children, John Breaux is presented to the electorate through the eyes of his daughter, Jim Abdnor tells us that the failure of a childhood dream to become a baseball player preceded his decision to become a politician, and Alan Cranston appears in timeless, mythical advertising, whose camera angles depict the candidate from the vantage point of a child.
Family members frequently present the candidate's position on the issues: Who better than the son can testify to the fact that Dad is tightfisted -- the necessary character side of the tax issue, which increasingly finds expression in highly personal ways? Who but the daughter can authentically testify that Dad would never cut Social Security?
From New York and Florida come expressions by governors or their campaign consultants that the state is like a family, with the governor-father at its head. Michael Dukakis presents the case for his trustworthiness in terms of the values learned from his own father. By contrast, the focus for female candidates must be on legislative accomplishment, presented in ads that frequently focus on an endorsement by a male colleague. On a medium in which political advertising competes with commercial messages, this spells exciting male and boring female candidates.
If this were not enough, there are no female symbols of strength comparable to those that derive from sports and military life for men. In the ultimate injustice, not only can candidate Tim Wirth throw a football in Denver to prove that he can "catch the ball" on many issues, but he will do it in an ad depicting multigenerational ball games.
Both Pat Schroeder and Jeane Kirkpatrick had advantages in this area. If Joe Biden's greatest strength was the fact that he was a family man who could communicate well, theirs was their ability to hold their ground on defense issues with male colleagues. But Kirkpatrick was passed over for appointment as secretary of state, and Schroeder had to break new ground as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Many problems remain for women candidates. The image of the married woman is hard to market in political terms. Democrats have gone with the "maiden aunts," Mary Sue Terry and Barbara Mikulski, who rack up legislative accomplishments. Republicans have touted the clear-headed experience of women such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elizabeth Dole, but it is now clear that neither is willing to venture into the electoral arena on her own behalf. Recruiters for both parties are reporting difficulties in finding women to run for the House and the Senate. For women candidates, Pat Schroeder was crying real, not crocodile, tears.
Montague Kern is a Washington writer currently completing a book on political advertising.