James Carroll says that the political culture of Massachusetts is “misogynist,” and his account is pretty convincing. He offers a brief rundown of the past 24 years of prominent statewide women candidates and places Martha Coakley’s loss last night in the special election firmly in the Bay State’s tradition of snubbing and/or drubbing women pols. He’s right: by comparison, most of the white men who have held the job in over the past 20 years have been either flaky (Paul Celucci), or opportunistic (Mitt Romney), or both (Bill Weld). And yet, it’s never held against them, or (perhaps more importantly) against the next man to run for office. This all sounds terribly familiar to me. Women have been the last two Lieutenant Governors here in Colorado, but neither of them was ever mentioned as a possible successor to the men they served. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette is Colorado’s longest serving and highest-profile politician nationally, but none of the political gossips here ever mentioned her running for Governor in 2006, or for the open Senate seat in 2008, or for Governor in 2010, nor was her name seriously mentioned as a worthy replacement for Senator Ken Salazar when he stepped down last year to become Secretary of the Interior.
Aside from the failure of political parties (and in Massachusetss, voters) to advance women pols, there is plenty of depressing evidence of the double-standards by which women are judged. (Surprise!) As Echidne pointed out the day before the special election in Massachusetts, “Scott Brown can have naked pictures from his past and it doesn’t cause much of a stir at all but a woman politician? Probably the end of her career.” Doubtless–recall all of the hay that has been made of some women pols for their youthful “beauty pageant” appearances (Sarah Palin and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, for example, and they never went for the full monty.)
Try this on for flaky and unserious: here in Colorado, our current governor, Bill Ritter, made some news a few weeks ago when he announced that he was ending his re-election campaign because he had decided that he wants to spend more time with his family. (Three of his four children are adults, and the fourth one is 16.) Even his political opponents appear to believe that he’s on the level–there have been no sly implications of scandal, anyway–and the local media have spun the narrative that he’s not a career politician, just a super nice guy. Awwwww! Isn’t it cute? He’s such a devoted family man! I’m sure you too have seen a man pushing a stroller, and how he gets compliments and cookies from complete strangers because he’s spending time with a baby–almost assuredly his own–whereas women pushing strollers are just doing the work God made them for, and are never complimented or acknowledged to be doing anything special.
A friend of mine in Political Science and I were talking over lunch last week about Ritter, and she asked, “can you imagine if a woman governor announced that she wasn’t going to run for re-election because her kids were unhappy and she wanted to spend more time with her family?” I agreed that there was no way that she’d get credit for it the way Ritter has, and that in fact she’d be singed by the press and by public opinion as unserious, flaky, stupid, irresponsible, and I’m sure the rest of you can fill in the blanks. My friend commented that “duh–of course public service is hard on family life. What did he think he was getting into when he ran for the job?” Her parting shot was, “I’d never vote for him again anyway. There were two safe Democratic seats–[Ken Salazar's seat in] the U.S. Senate and the Governorship. Now Ritter has put them both in jeopardy,” first by appointing Senator Lockjaw, a man who’s never won a single vote in his life, and secondly then by squandering his own incumbency and making the Governor’s office an open seat.