WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently suggested Ehud Olmert should step aside and let her be prime minister, nobody batted an eye over the fact she is a woman.Golda Meir laid that debate to rest in Israel nearly 40 years ago.The answer is not particularly surprising, except...
Britain had Margaret Thatcher, Pakistan had Benazir Bhutto and India had Indira Gandhi. Women hold high office in a dozen countries around the world, in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines.
So why has the United States, where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, never elected a woman to the White House?
"The rules of the game are set up to the advantage of the dominant majority bloc, which is not just Democrat or Republican but is wealthy white males," said Andrew Reynolds, a professor at the University of North Carolina.Um. Hm. Thatcher? If there was ever a nation that was predominated by rich old white guys, England would be that country...
Women have tended to have two main pathways to high office, he said. The first is dynastic, which has been the route in developing countries for many women, like Gandhi and Bhutto, who were daughters of prime ministers.So what does that mean? Hillary, even before she was First Lady, was a highly visible figure in the world of women's rights and family issues. Continuing...
The second pathway is seen in wealthier democracies, where more women pursue careers and political positions that act as a springboard to higher office.
"You get more and more women in parliament and then you get more and more women in the Cabinet, and then you sort of have this critical mass where it becomes no longer surprising that a woman makes it into being president or prime minister," Reynolds said.Why?
The United States is on the latter track but lags many of its European counterparts. Only 16 percent of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are women. Compared to countries of similar wealth, one would expect 30 to 50 percent, Reynolds said.
There is an inherent structural block to women advancing in politics. We have a two party system, which is unusual in most countries. Again, England being that rare exception, save for the fact that there are minor parties that align themselves with either Tory or Labour, much like the Liberal and Conservative parties here align themselves with Democrats or Republicans. Too, England has had a queen for some 60-odd years now, so a highly visible women playing politics couldn't have hurt Thatcher's chances much.
More choices means more opportunities, obviously. One of the biggest problems this nation faces, in my view, is the duality of points of view on issues. In an attempt to throttle, out of paranoia, any dissident political faction from gaining momentum, the two major political parties went out of their way to roadblock smaller parties from the fray. Duverger's Law goes a long way to explaining how this works: the structure of elections in this country being what they are, a one-off, one-shot, winner-takes-all deal, tends to reinforce those parties that can muster financial resources for electoral success. If you don't win often enough, your party dies.
In fact, this just recently happened to the Liberal Party in New York State, having been de-listed from ballots for failing to even garner the minimum number of votes required to remain on, in part due to the rise of the Green, and Working Families Parties.
Which raises the other issue of the two-party system that Duverger points out: successful third parties will only supplant one of the dominant two parties, not supplement them.
Two-party systems tend to aggregate factions that would otherwise represent dominant single-issue parties, like pro-lifers or anti-warriors, because the attraction of wielding actual political power is too great to overcome, much like a black hole will suck up debris in its outlying solar system. This tends to quash dissent and radical solutions to problems.
And ultimately, every so often, it results in a spectacular supernova of political infighting, much like the Democrats underwent in the late 70s and 80s, and much like the Republicans are about to undergo (Carl's Political Theorem #1: Republicans run about 30 years behind Democrats in terms of evolution.).
It is due to this factor, above all, that women haven't been as successful in politics as you might expect them to be, because once you add to the dinosauric inertia of a huge political animal the gender factor, you can see that even in a allegedly progressive party like the Democrats, women are going to have a really tough time cracking the old boys' network.
Why do I say that? If a woman could run a successful third party candidacy for any major political office, say governor of California, she would be wooed and courted by both major parties, and shepherded to the front of the room, much like Barack Obama has parlayed his lone Senate win into a serious run at the Democratic nomination. In other words, if a woman could sidestep the party mechanics and prove she could win on her own, she'd be gold for the party that managed to land her.
Why would she agree to do this? Simple. Independent candidates who win major administrative (not legislative) offices tend to perform miserably. Just ask Jesse Ventura.
Legislators, like Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, ultimately align themselves with a party caucus (in these cases, Democratic). This way, they can get things done.
Independents who administer government, say a governor or mayor, have to deal with both parties equally, and will be trusted by neither, until he or she chooses sides.
As you can see, the political gravity of the two party system even influences winning candidates. This factor, the two-party system, raises for the me the largest flag that women have had to work harder in the US than anyplace else to get ahead in politics.
The good news? I think we will see a woman President before too much longer. And once that happens, I suspect it won't be long before we see an African-American, Latino, and Jewish president (maybe all at once? :-) )