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30 Juli 2008 @ 15:10
No woman but the best?  

Every now and then, an article in my morning newspaper will call to mind scenes of high fantasy presumably uncontemplated by the journalist who wrote it. Consider for example the following sentence, from a piece by Tim Harper, of the Star's Washington bureau, speculating about potential vice-presidential candidates for the upcoming election in the United States:

With many of her supporters still reticent [sic] to move into the Obama camp, there is a sense the nominee would also be reluctant to pick Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius [sic] for fear of further alienating Clinton backers who believe the New York senator is the most qualified woman in the country.

Here's how I pictured it: (Please forgive the prose style; I'm seriously out of my genre here.)

Sir Barack sighed. The prophecy of the Clintonites was clear: "No woman but Hillary shall be thy squire." But Lady Hillary was a formidable warrior in her own right, and had contended against Sir Barack in the jousts that had determined who should lead this quest. Even if she consented to be his squire, it would be an uneasy partnership.

Suddenly, an armor-clad figure burst through the door. "I will be your squire, sir!" the figure announced, in a voice somewhat muffled by the cumbersome helmet that obscured its face. "But what of the prophecy?" asked Sir Barack. The figure removed the helmet, revealing a startlingly masculine face and a head of close-shorn, greying hair. "I am no woman!" proclaimed Tim Kaine, for the figure was he.

But politics—even American politics—is not fantasy, no matter how fantastic it may seem at times. Most of Senator Clinton's supporters, I should think, believe that she is the most qualified person (of either sex) for the job. A great many of them are feminists. Why on earth would they be more alienated by the choice of Governor Sebelius (or any similarly qualified woman) than by the choice of Governor Kaine (or any similarly qualified man)?

This "sense" that support for Clinton means that Obama cannot choose any other woman as his running mate is nonsensical. Its an existence is a reminder of how far North American political culture has to go to achieve anything like true equality between the sexes. The fact that a woman can be a serious contender for the nomination of a major party is good, but it is nowhere near good enough if there still lurks behind it the notion that one female contender blocks any possibility of another female contender, while male candidates are always an option. And it's not just the political culture, either; I'm reminded of a somewhat clue-deficient professor of mathematics who asked a colleague of mine, "Is there another woman in your department?" (Well, yes, actually—in fact a large majority of the faculty there are women. Why do you ask?)

The vice-presidential nomination will not necessarily go to the most qualified candidate. (As Kim "Qoheleth" Campbell would say, the race is not always to the swift.) There are always lots of considerations other than the question of who would actually be best at the job of being vice president. Some reasons for rejecting a candidate are better than others, but "Sorry, we've already considered someone else of your sex" is one of the worst.

Henrytahnan on 31. Juli, 2008 19:51 (UTC)
I think the sense behind the "most qualified woman" is: if Barack picks Sebelius as a running mate, it would only be because he wants a female running mate in order to woo female voters (who, presumably, are currently swooning over the megahunk that is John McCain). And if all he wants is a female running mate, it should be Hillary.

Put that way, it still utterly fails to make sense, but perhaps it shifts the reasoning to "insane stupid logic" instead of "insane troll logic".
theridger on 5. August, 2008 16:29 (UTC)
Yes - "How can you diss Hilary by asking Kathleen???? It can't be because you think the latter is a better candidate, it has to be an attack on Hilary!!!1!1!" At least, this is the way the media wants us to think women think. Feh.

And isn't that use of "reticent" odd? I see it frequently and it always gives me pause.