Conventional wisdom in my inner circle of sorcerers and sources has been that the first female president will be a Republican. This is because America is still mostly a center-right country, and voters would feel more comfortable with a conservative-leaning woman. So goes the thinking.
While she waits out President Trump’s possible second term (because life is strange), Democrats have filled their bench with enough declared women — six at last count — that one wonders why we’re always talking about men. Given the bulk of media coverage, one would think the only candidates were Joe, Bernie, Beto and Pete.
The fact that those four are known by their first names is helpful if you’re a politician or a simpleton, not that they’re mutually exclusive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders need no introduction because they’ve been around since the Gold Rush. One looks like he just stepped off a yacht, the other like he just lost a fight with a bulldog. Beto O’Rourke is famous for being newly famous — and also for mastering the distant gaze in profile that reminds people how much they dislike him. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Ind.) is just so darned likable, we can’t get enough of him and his multilingual-ness, despite his reportedly lugging around a copy of James Joyce’s gloriously indecipherable “Ulysses.”
But what about Amy, Elizabeth, Kamala, Kirsten, Marianne and Tulsi?
Until recently, being a woman meant a presidential candidate could count on special attention, if only for her rarity. But that was in the era known as HRC — Hillary Rodham Clinton — which occupied most of the past three decades. In the post-HRC era, more Democratic women finally feel free to go for the prize. Perhaps for the first time in history, Americans will fully understand that women are not all the same.
The challenge for these six candidates is how to stand out. Fortunately, or not, some have already made headlines with their uniqueness. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota reportedly ate a salad with her comb when an aide delivered her lunch without plastic utensils. Call her utilitarian, or a mother of invention, but never call her hungry.
Another tactic might be to claim Native American heritage, as the history-haunted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has done. Even though DNA testing indicated that she does, indeed, carry a teensy-tiny fraction of Native American blood, she’s forever saddled with Trump’s nickname for her, “Pocahontas.” This is a shame given Warren’s considerable intellect, her passion and her professorial grasp of complex policies.
In politics, you only have to do one monumental or minuscule-but-memorable thing, and that thing becomes your persona, identity and legacy. A single impression can catapult a candidate to instant popularity or condemn her to infamy.
Similarly, Klobuchar has been characterized as an unholy boss. Again, a shame. For Klobuchar is a levelheaded, centrist pragmatist and surely capable of handling Trump in a fair debate. But comb-cuisine is an unappetizing image, to say the least, and other draconian tales abound.
Now let’s turn to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who will be most remembered for pushing the ouster of former senator Al Franken (Minn.) following sexual misconduct allegations. Democrats may have manned the #MeToo battlements, but they sure didn’t like losing one of their favorite senators, and they may be unforgiving.
Another candidate cursed with controversy is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), who two years ago met with Syrian genocidal dictator Bashar al-Assad and called the U.S.-backed opposition “terrorists.” Marianne Williamson is a New Age self-help specialist beloved by Hollywood. Say no more. Kamala D. Harris, a former California attorney general and now U.S. senator, is perhaps best known for her prosecutorial zeal during Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. Great for the primary, disastrous in the general.
These pithy summaries aren’t meant to be disparaging or dismissive, but reductive identity is the bumper sticker of fate. This time around, there will be no female nominee or president — but not because of their being women. They will lose like men — because they weren’t right for this job at this moment — a feminist feat in itself.
Be not dismayed, for a female president is coming soon, likely in 2024. She’ll be a woman of color, a real Indian (with parents from Punjab), a Christian, a Republican, a wife and mother with Southern manners, statewide governing experience and an international profile. Wouldn’t that beat all?