April 26, 2004
The April issue of the American Prospect magazine carries an article called “Kerry’s Women.” The title does not refer to the voters whom Senator John Kerry needs in order to win or to his love life, neither of which topics is considered at all. Rather, it refers to his Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill, Press Secretary Stephanie Cutter, Policy Director Sarah Bianchi, and Campaign Chair Jeanne Shaheen.
The article includes this quote from Ann Lewis, national chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Vote Center: “You really know the glass ceiling has been shattered when John Kerry replaces his press secretary and campaign manager in the same day and appoints two women and nobody says anything.”
I attended the march for women’s lives in DC yesterday, and I don’t know whether the count of 1.15 million was accurate, but I feel confident saying that at least 80 percent of the crowd was female. I read hundreds of clever messages about George W. Bush in the crowd (all of them negative) and saw quite a few John Kerry stickers. But strangely, I didn’t see a single sign, poster, balloon, t-shirt, or thong promoting Kerry’s record as a brave and wounded soldier, not a single banner promoting his desire to send more troops to Iraq (in fact, quite a lot of posters condemning the occupation). I didn’t even spot a single button praising Kerry’s plan to continue funding a grotesquely bloated Pentagon budget as well as the illegal and harmful foreign occupation that his opponent lied about to get us into. Photos of Kerry on a Harley Davidson were likewise nowhere to be seen.
What is it that the four women painting Kerry as a macho soldier rather than a brave truth teller and heroic peace activist know that a million politically active women from around the country don’t? Why is MoveOn spending its money on ads proclaiming that Kerry fought in the same war that Kerry himself so admirably criticized? And why could I get no one yesterday to tell me they supported that strategy? Why, in fact, did so many people tell me they’d be voting “against Bush, not for Kerry”?
Is it possible that although “nobody says anything” about a female-led campaign, the women themselves feel a need to act “male”? Or is it just that they’re too tight with the DLC (Democratic Losing through Corporatism)?
Bush’s single most vulnerable issue is Iraq: the ongoing illegal occupation and corporate war profiteering. But Kerry refuses to take a clear position against the occupation, and instead wants to send more troops. If Kerry wins it will be because enough independent activists register new voters and persuade them that Kerry is not as much like Bush as he sounds. It will not be because Mary Beth Cahill tells them (as she is quoted in the American Prospect) there’s a 50-50 electorate — unless she means 50 percent who have voted and 50 percent who have not yet been convinced there’s any point to it.
In his discussion of machismo as campaign strategy, James Rainey wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “political handlers say there is a danger in striking the manly man pose too blatantly, and it can be summed up in one word: women. They will cast more votes than men in November. And although some female voters may crave a paternal figure they think can protect the country, polls indicate more women remain preoccupied with so-called soft issues such as jobs, education and health care. In recent surveys, women tend to be more critical of Bush. Voters, though, have almost certainly not seen the last of Bush chopping wood on his Crawford ranch, or Kerry jumping on motorcycles. ‘In general, leadership is one of the key factors that voters are looking for,’ said Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. ‘A lot of people define that as strength, decisiveness and the ability to make decisions. It’s tough, tough, tough.'”
She said decisiveness, not militarism. Bush is not attacking Kerry for his pacifism. He would not find that task easy, given Kerry’s vote for Bush’s war and Bush’s rather awkward position of having lied and weaseled his way into a quagmire. No, Bush is attacking Kerry for indecisiveness, something even women have been known to find unappealing.
As long as Kerry is going to hang onto some form of sanity and wisdom in his foreign policy statements and not go totally Republican, his macho agreement with Bush on the occupation will seem false. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show remarked: “Of course, it is still eight months to election day, but the campaign is starting to fall into its own natural rhythm: falsely macho Kerry comment, falsely indignant Bush response.”
Jay Leno, meanwhile, summed up the situation thus: “The Secret Service has announced it is doubling its protection for John Kerry. You can understand why – with two positions on every issue, he has twice as many people mad at him.”
In a Los Angeles Times Book Review debate on C-Span yesterday Michael Ignatieff said (and I didn’t hear him say anything else remotely intelligent as Robert Scheer wiped the floor with him and Christopher Hitchens) Kerry’s “indecision appears to be final.” Let’s all hope not.
A LETTER I SENT TO THE AMERICAN PROSPECT:
To the Editor:
Your article on “Kerry’s Women” states falsely: “Not only was Kerry’s campaign the only one of the eight Democratic teams with a male candidate to have a female campaign manager….”
Dennis Kucinich’s campaign manager was/is also a woman.
You came as close as usual to acknowledging the Kucinich campaign’s existence two pages earlier in the same article with a quote that read “Of the major Democratic candidates, John Kerry had the only woman running his race.” You could make that true by defining as “non-major” anyone you had to, namely Kucinich. But you proved too clever for your own good and forgot the necessary hedge two pages later.
That said, your article was more interesting, I think, in something else it left unexamined, namely why a campaign run by women is bent on out-machoing and out-militarying W the Warrior. Bush’s single most vulnerable issue is Iraq and the ongoing illegal occupation and corporate war profiteering. But Kerry refuses to take a clear position against the occupation, and instead wants to send more troops. If Kerry wins it will be because enough independent activists registered new voters and persuaded them that Kerry was not as much like Bush as he sounds. It will not be because Mary Beth Cahill tells them there’s a 50-50 electorate (unless she means 50 percent who have voted and 50 percent who have not yet been convinced there’s any point to it). And it will not be because an all-female crew paints Kerry as a warrior rather than a brave truth-teller and peace activist. Is this happening because, although “nobody says anything” about a female-led campaign, the women themselves feel a need to act “male”?