10 January 2008

Women in Politics

Hillary Clinton stated today that her show of emotion was "a deciding factor in her sweeping to victory" in the New Hampshire Primary. She admitted in a TV interview that the rare show of her feelings, when tears welled in her eyes after being asked a personal question, helped sway many voters, especially women.
Basking in the glory of defeating Barack Obama and confounding predictions that her presidential campaign was over after her defeat in the Iowa caucuses, the former First Lady said she hoped her tearful moment proved her sincerity.

I do not share Mrs. Clinton's view. Being the cold, controlled and manipulating person she is - and has been for a long time - it is much more likely that her tearful moment in New Hampshire was as much a calculated performance (which seems to have achieved the desired result) as all her other speeches, actions and public appearances have been.

There is no doubt that politics does often create emotional moments, and it is also a fact that by nature women tend to be more emotional than men. But it is rarely seen that an otherwise cool and composed politician breaks out in tears during a public session. Had this politician been a man, it would have had a negative effect, as the public perception would have been of a moment of weakness and losing control over himself. Men are not supposed to do that, especially when in high public office or aspiring to such.
But when a female politician starts weeping in public, it seems to earn her some sympathy, most of all from other women, who assume that it must be horrible for a woman to be in politics and that all is much harder for a female candidate. There is no business like show business...

Personally I do not appreciate weeping politicians, regardless of their sex, party or position. To be a leader is a difficult job with huge responsibilities, and one looks for strength, character and exemplary behaviour in such a person, not for streams of tears. And if crying is really all a leader (or one aspiring to become one) has to offer to the public, it is clear that this person is certainly not suited for the position.

But Mrs. Clinton did not only disappoint me with her New Hampshire tears. What I find much more disturbing is her triumphalist behaviour after she narrowly won the state, only 2% ahead of Barack Obama. Had she won with a margin of 10% or more, I could tolerate the way she went over the top in her victory celebration.

Having studied Psychology and being an avid observer of public figures and their body language, I am frankly shocked by Hillary Clinton's hysteria after the first modest win she gained in a very small state at the beginning of the Primary season.
This photo of her was taken in New Hampshire and carried today by a number of newspapers, including the British "Daily Mail" where I saw it first. By itself it says a lot more than words can do. One does not need to be a psychologist to recognise the expression of the proverbial "mad woman in the attic"... (but no President would have such an expression)
If there is still some common sense and decency left in the American voters, then this picture of Hillary should be a warning and make sure that she is not elected President.

For the benefit of those who don't know me personally I should say that I have nothing against women, and that I hold them actually in high esteem. This even extends to women in politics, as in my opinion the input of both men and women is needed to cover all aspects of a nation and in this way create a fair and balanced system of government.

However, when one looks at the track records of women who were not only involved in politics, but rose to high public offices, the result is rather disappointing and somewhat discourageing.
Of the women who hold or held significant government positions in the USA in recent times the only one that stands out as a positive example is Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was US Ambassador to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985. Even though originally a Democrat and supporter of the campaigns of Humphrey and McGovern, she accepted when President Ronald Reagan offered her the job.
Even some Republicans admit that Condoleezza Rice is by far the worst Secretary of State the USA have had in modern times, and the least qualified and suited for the position.
The first woman in charge of the State Department, Madeleine Albright, was only marginally better and for most of her period in office more the "token woman" than a real maker of great policy and shaker of diplomatic matters. She was, however, a lot more energetic and determined than former US Attorney General Janet Reno.
The greatest blunder in recent US history is also down to a woman, as it was Judge Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who handed the unelected George W. Bush the keys to the White House by casting her vote in his favour and thus creating the 5:4 Supreme Court decision by which Bush was declared the 43rd President.

Outside the USA women have actually been active in politics a lot longer and often much more than in America. It would be too complex to name and review them all, but let me give you just a few significant examples:
- Sirimavo Bandaranaike, three times Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the world's first ever female Prime Minister, was directly responsible for creating the deep political rift between the majority Singhalese and the minority Tamil communities in Sri Lanka, which lead in 1983 to the country's civil war (that still continues today, even though now on a lower level of violence).
- Indira Gandhi, four times Prime Minister of India, was the least fair and democratic of India's Prime Ministers, creating much division and unrest in the sub-continent, especially among the minority communities (which led eventually to her assassination by her own body guard).
- Golda Meir, Israel's first - and so far only - female Prime Minister is often portrayed as a dear elderly lady and a mother figure of the Jewish nation. The reality was quite different from that image. Golda Meir personally sanctioned numerous acts of aggression against individuals and countries, including the clandestine vendetta campaign against Palestinian intellectuals (several of which were murdered by Israeli agents in Europe) in 1972. But more significant is that she always put the interests of her Mapai (Labour) party ahead of national interests. This led to a series of bad mistakes, the most serious of which nearly lost Israel the Yom-Kippur-War of 1973 (and could well have meant the end of the State of Israel).
- Margaret Thatcher is probably the best-known female politician, and many still refer to her with some reverence as the "Iron Lady". There is no doubt that she was tough and determined, and certainly a woman of conviction and exceptional courage. But she was also an arch-capitalist and enemy of the common people, and during her time as British Prime Minister (1979-1990) she systematically destroyed the natural social and economical structure of Britain's society. In a cynical comment on her ideology she even coined the phrase: "There is no such thing as society." (The fall-out of her policies still hampers Britain today and fills her prisons with thousands of uneducated criminals, hopeless drug addicts and up-rooted drifters with no perspective...)

Only one of the world's current female leaders has so far made a very positive impact in her own country as well as in world politics. She is Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand since 1999 (and the second woman to hold this office).

The jury on Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany since November 2005, is still out. Although she has surprised some observers with a number of tough decisions, she lacks charisma, inspiration and other natural leadership qualities.

Sadly there are also outright failures among the world's female leaders, some of which are by now almost forgotten. They include the former Prime Ministers Edith Cresson (France), Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo (Portugal), Hanna Suchocka (Poland), Milka Planinc (Yugoslavia), Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene and Irena Degutiene (Lithuania), Tansu Ciller (Turkey), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wazed (Bangla Desh), Beatriz Merino Lucero (Peru), Elisabeth Domitien (Central African Republic), Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica) and Claudette Werleigh (Haiti).
The wooden spoon for the worst performance of a female Prime Minister, however, must go to Kim Campbell, the first - and so far only - female leader of Canada. Having been previously the first female Minister for Defence, she succeeded Brian Mulroney as Prime Minister on June 25th, 1993. Feeling strong and confident, she soon called general elections for November 5th of the same year, during which her Conservative Party - in power since 1984 - was wiped out. All but two MPs lost their seats - including Ms. Campbell - and the Canadian Conservative Party disappeared into political oblivion.

Here in Ireland we have mixed experience with female politicians. In 1990 the independent human rights lawyer Mary Robinson, a clear outsider, was elected Ireland's first female President. During her seven years' tenure she changed the climate of domestic Irish politics forever, in fact so much that no political party even dared to nominate a man as her successor. She also had great influence internationally and became the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights after stepping down as President in 1997.
Subsequently Mary McAleese was elected as her successor, and she is still President of Ireland (now in her second seven-year term, to which she was elected unopposed). It was the first time in history that an elected female head of state was succeeded by another woman.
On the other hand we also have the worst Minister for Health one could imagine. She is Mary Harney and was for a long time also (the first female) Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), as well as Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

It is quite obvious that the sex of a person does not give any advantage or disadvantage for the holding of high political office. However, on an overall scale, the number of women who had a negative impact in politics clearly outnumbers those who made positive contributions. There are many reasons for that, but one is certainly that the structure of most political systems is more geared for male thinking and attitudes than for female intuition and emotions. It would be a mistake to see anything wrong in that, but equally there is no reason for standing still either.

Women can and do have important roles in all walks of life, and politics should be no exception. But the manipulative use of specifically female emotions for electoral purposes - as done by Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire - will neither earn respect, nor is it a guarantee of success (even if it has worked in New Hampshire). Only true skills, commitment and the ability to take responsibilities of the highest order make a real leader. I did have my reservations about Hillary Clinton before, but in New Hampshire she has demonstrated for me that she is not of the right mindset to lead a great nation, and in connection with it the Western world.

The Emerald Islander


Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

Once again an excellent piece of deep analysis. You are clearly a mine of knowledge about world politics!

With regard to Hillary Clinton I do share your concern. When I saw that picture in the "Daily Mail" my first thought was also: Oh God, she's lost the plot and gone mad!

It appears that some women are drunk on power and think that only a woman could make a difference in this ever more complicated world. This is clearly not the case, and it would be better for women, for politics and for the world if they would concentrate their energy and efforts on areas where the natural female advantages can be brought to greater use.


Thank you. I have nothing as such against women in politics, and also nothing against Hillary Clinton. All I do is applying the same yardstick to women that I would apply to men.

However, with Mrs. Clinton it is really more her personality than her policies that are worrying. Would you want to have this woman's hand on the nuclear button?

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