Women and politics: Do they mix?

by Susan C. Fischer

It was the 1992 presidential election and the buzz circling in the United States political arena was the “woman” vote. Polls revealed that a large number of women voted for Bill Clinton not because of his political views, but because of his charming manner and propensity to hug. Women like huggers. In the 1996 election the woman factor, according to polling data, again played a role with the now termed “soccer moms” voting for the smiling and young Bill Clinton vs. the media-portrayed angry and old Republican candidate, Bob Dole.

Now in the year 2000 we have two major candidates vying for this “soccer mom” vote: Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Al Gore has reportedly taken great pains to attract this voting bloc, soliciting expert advice on what type of clothes to wear, how to speak, and how to become the “alpha-male.” This is a type of male that appeals to women. This male type can be recognized in the ever-popular Julia Roberts romantic movie. He is masculine and handsome, yet gentle and a ready listener to the female star. He is there, eager to take away the difficulties of life; his love is passionate and all-consuming. A woman can throw herself with full abandon into his arms, where complete security and eternal joy is assured her. These movies are called “chick movies,” and they bore boyfriends and husbands.

Al Gore scored a major coup in his quest to be viewed as the alpha male with the now famous “kiss” at the Democratic convention last month. When Gore leapt onto the stage (vital: leaping shows vigor) after being introduced by his wife, Tipper, he planted a huge—really huge—kiss, directly on her mouth, before taking the microphone. This was not the usual politician’s polite kiss-your-wife-on-the-cheek gesture. It was an unprecedented phenomenon. “The kiss” has now been replayed on news programs everywhere, and Oprah, when interviewing Gore in September, played it twice for the woman-dominated audience. And do not think this means nothing. Polling data are showing that a large number of women are now voting for Gore because of “the kiss.”

My note: they are voting for a candidate for the most politically powerful office in the world, who will hold the lives of millions of people in his hands through such things as his leadership of national defense, his foreign policy decisions, and his nominations to the Supreme Court, which will determine the fate of millions of tiny babies, because of a kiss?

I might be accused of being concerned about this because I favor George W. Bush, but the fact is that I would be equally alarmed to discover women were favoring Bush for such reasons.

My great uncle lies in Arlington National Cemetery, having died in WW I at the age of 24. Another uncle, Buckner Creel, has served in three wars: WW II, Korea and Vietnam, giving up much of his life with his family for real service to this republic. My brother is now a Captain in the United States Army. I am alarmed at the idea that all of our gains in freedom, by the blood of others, may be threatened by the emotional appeal of a kiss.   What about the political candidate’s position, his aims, his means, and his true beliefs?

Peggy Noonan addressed this issue in a September 15, 2000 article for the Opinion Page of the Wall Street Journal, when she spoke of the “charm offensive” in politics and how it is taking precedence over substance. She writes:

“Have you been watching Joe Lieberman? Did you see him on Conan last night, singing “My Way”? Did you see him on Imus this morning talking about religion and culture and Hollywood? He was masterly—interesting and funny and solid. He has the authenticity and self-command of the secure, mature adult, of a man who has nothing to fear from himself. He is winning the charm offensive, the personality offensive. So is Al Gore; did you see his hip and witty self on Letterman last night? The other afternoon I was home surfing the Net and a friend instant-messaged me: ‘Are you watching Oprah? Gore is winning the election.’ My friend told me later that Oprah’s debut show, on which Gore was the only guest for an hour, had an estimated nine million viewers, the vast majority middle-class women of all ages. From what I saw he must have impressed them all. This is the problem for Bush-Cheney. . . George W. Bush was of course once famous for his charm. And Dick Cheney didn’t need charm, so full of heft, seriousness, experience and wisdom was he. But now . . . now both seem relatively charm-free zones, and to their detriment. One of the problems is the obvious and famous one: the media tend to like the Dem and not the Rep, and the Dem feels it and blossoms and the Rep feels it and contracts.”

Thus, this political expert, a woman, notes the large role the “charm offensive” plays in politics, and she calls on her party of favor to acknowledge this and act on it in order to win.

But are women (I realize men might fall prey to the “charm factor” as well, but I am focusing in this article on the “woman vote”) really so immersed in the subjective? The ear marker of American culture, the television, bears this out. A way to gather what the “soccer mom” demographic group values is to note what daytime television offers. This time slot is noted by television executives to include a predominantly female audience, hence the proliferation of commercials for cleaning products, diapers and beauty aids. Daytime television presents the soap opera, talk shows with celebrity interviews (the predominately female audience claps and screams when the celebrity appears), and scandal shows where families and friends turn against each other without tact or taste, shamelessly exposing salacious details of their illicit relationships and love-triangles.

Another media venue marketed to and lapped up by women is the romance novel. Thousands and thousands are sold every year with the same plot, altered somewhat in character and setting, but containing the same emotional content: lovely, yet lonely, young, headstrong maiden, finds peace, love, wealth and everlasting happiness in the arms of the alpha-male, after yearning for this alone.

And all of this media grabbing starts young. Look at the girls screaming hysterically over the “boy’s groups,” N ‘Sync and the Backstreet Boys. These are complete strangers to the female listener, and yet the girls imagine they are “in love.” It must be the (relatively) innocent beginnings of something that women are prone to fall prey to, the fantasy of the alpha-male who will make them blissfully happy.

What is it in the nature of women that makes them prey to the illusion of the “prince charming”? What is it that they are truly searching for? This would be a topic for further discussion, which, it is to be hoped, could throw light on the problem, and expose it for what it really is: a dangerous illusion. It is an illusion deceptive to its core and terrifying in its consequences. Women begin to vote for presidential candidates based on their romantic fantasies.

This is precisely why it was difficult for women to win the right to vote in the first place. Men thought that they might not have the capacity to examine the issues and make responsible decisions. Writing in 1932, Edith Stein noted this when she wrote in her Essays on Women:

Until a few decades ago, public opinion concurred that woman belongs in the home and is of no value for anything else; consequently, it was at the cost of a weary and difficult struggle that woman’s too narrow sphere of activity could be expanded. It is very difficult to know what is meant by they. Of course, opinions and judgements originate from individuals. But we cannot explain this simply by saying that certain prominent people coin these opinions and judgements, which are gradually accepted by wider circles. The mind of the individual is formed by the mode of the time…

We all know that women do have the capacity to intelligently analyze political issues, but the question now looms in my mind: why are they not doing it? And how can they morally vote on appearances and sound-bite performed behaviors?

I am not the only one voicing this concern. In fact, there are places in which sober people can be heard calling for the woman’s right to vote to be repealed. Truly.

A few callers to the Rush Limbaugh show (though, not the host) have called for this radical remedy to the problem of an ill-formed woman electorate voting on subjective feelings. Nationally syndicated talk show host Neil Boortz resisted going to this extreme, but he did, jokingly, suggest that concerned store owners should advertise massive sales on election day. He begged them to call a white sale, a shoe sale, a dress sale, any sale. That way the ill-formed women would forget all about voting in their frenzy to catch a sale, and only the rational women would actually go to the polls.

This illustrates the core of the problem. Women, of course, are not incapable of understanding politics, but something has occurred, possibly in their development and education that has lead to the predominance of the subjective-type female who leads, not with the intellect, but with the passions and affections.

Again this could be a springboard into many further articles exploring the origin of this problem and its remedies. Perhaps it is the loss of God that has led to this deep yearning for love that so easily overcomes feminine sense. Perhaps it is a poor educational system that fails to form the intellect, steady the emotions, or tame the will through objective work or study. Perhaps it is part of the fallout from the rejection of the precepts of Humane Vitae, where a woman, rather than being objectified by her spouse, is loved in her entirety and loved for her own sake. A woman is meant to be loved with a love that sees “her,” not her exterior physical traits, though these, too, are gift, but gift in their entirety, body and soul. Woman has a deep need for love and when objectified and used in love, she finds herself pressing to see it outside of her realm. Thus, she may fall prey, urged by this deep, true need, to the maneuvers of others (politicians) that know this and exploit it to their advantage—like a lonely widow taken for all her money by the smooth talking con artist.

Such things have been happening across the ages, yet it seems a more pervasive problem now. A solution is urgently needed not only to aid our women but to protect our republic. The future of our freedom in every manner is not guaranteed. It can be lost, and there are those who want to take it all. It is as Thomas Jefferson once said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Edith Stein, again showing herself a prophet wrote of her concerns regarding such similar issues as they occurred in Germany, 1932, when she wrote on women:

Those who are not interested in political affairs today must remind themselves that the whole political situation depends on how they use their political rights; and it depends on the political situation whether their husband and children will have work and bread, whether they will find opportunities to develop and utilize their intellectual gifts, whether they will be allowed to practice their faith and live.

Ten years after writing these words, Edith Stein was dead—killed in Auschwitz, a place resulting from the persuasive power of a politician, Adolf Hitler.

This is a call to action and responsibility. A vote is a moral action because of its ramifications. It is also a civic duty and a serious one. I hope it is viewed that way, by all, men and women.

Susan Fischer graduated from FUS in 1984. She is now studying in the MA Philosophy Program, and working as a Contributing Editor to the Concourse. She has five children.