- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

Who gets the women's vote? That's the question towering over the stretch of the presidential campaign. Some late polls suggest that a gender gap men for the Republicans, women for the Democrats has become a permanent feature of the landscape, and that George W. Bush's early lead among women was an unnatural act.
Part of the answer may lie in what the meaning of "women" is.
Married women vote differently than single women. (Now that Gloria Steinem is married, will she change her politics?) Rich women vote differently than poor women. Women who drive SUVs vote differently than women who drive station wagons. The childless vote differently than mothers with a handful of children and grandmothers with grown children.
"Women of color" traditionally vote differently than white women, but specific race and ethnicity play a part, too. Do beautiful women vote like plain women? The gorgeous Bo Derek stood out at the Republican convention, and Christie Brinkley was a knockout at the Democratic convention, but you could find lots of plain women in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, though the stars mostly come out in Southern California.
When women talk about likability in a candidate they're probably responding to sex appeal, although it's not fashionable now to call it that. When the Women's Independent Forum asked pundits what to look for in the debates, women addressed something called the masculinity factor.
Kate O'Beirne, editor of National Review, recalls how Al Gore joined a discussion group of women, sponsored by the Oxygen network and described as a way for the candidate to "get in touch with his feminine side." It was a good thing he wore a concealing blazer over his knitted earth tones, she said, because "by the end of an hour and a half spent pandering and patronizing the female audience, he must have been lactating." Mary Matalin, the Republican half of Mr. and Mrs. James Carville, mocked Mr. Gore for his remark that he has to practice at being "authentic." Authenticity practice, most people would say, is an oxymoron.
George W. won 49 percent of the women's vote when he first ran for governor against Ann Richards, and 60 percent when he won his second term. He won on issues and personality.
In a campaign when most everything is canned or scripted for a particular kind of political impact even how a candidate kisses his wife it's a relief to some of us to hear a spontaneous outburst of male anger. George W.'s contemptuous putdown of a reporter famous for his whining ways, was reminiscent of Harry Truman who said what he thought and peppered his speech with "damns" and "hells," and who once shocked a demure lady Democrat by describing a foe's speech as "horse manure." When the lady suggested to the first lady that she ought to clean up her husband's language, Mrs. Truman replied: "My dear, You don't know how many years it took me get him to say 'manure.' "
Masculinity, like femininity, changes with the forms of fashion. Mrs. George Washington, more generous than some wives, cut a lock of her husband's hair for one of the president's admirers. Then, with a wifely flair, she cut a lock of her own hair and included it in the gift. Thomas Jefferson would have suffered mightily today for his high-pitched voice. He hated public speaking, but he was a notable success with the ladies because he excelled with wit and intellect in the drawing room. William Henry Harrison tested his toughness and manhood against the expectations of his day with a two-hour inaugural address on a cold and blustery March day, standing bareheaded without gloves or overcoat. He died of pneumonia a month later. Ronald Reagan canceled the parade at his second inaugural when the temperature fell close to zero.
Perhaps the most macho president of all was Andrew Jackson, author of many "youthful indiscretions," including brawls, duels, cuttings and shootings, some in chivalrous defense of his wife Rachel's honor.
Of course, there was no women's vote then. The image of masculinity lay in the eyes of the partisan. Supporters of Jackson saw him as decisive, fearless and a down-to-earth leader. His enemies described him as reckless, wrong-headed and fuzzy. Sounds downright contemporary.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide