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Woman president a possibility

Amanda Johnson | Thursday, November 15, 2007

American citizens are ready for a conservative, “brand name” woman president, agreed panelists Wednesday in a debate entitled “Is America ready for a woman president?”

Much of the discussion, which took place in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall, focused on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s possible nomination as the Democratic candidate for the 2008 presidential election.

To begin the discussion, history professor Gail Bederman questioned the phrasing of the event’s title. She proposed the real question should be “Is the United States ready for a woman chief executive?” Bederman pointed to examples in 13th century B.C. Egypt, the 6th century Byzantine Empire, 16th century England and modern-day women to give examples of females in executive roles.

“It’s not that women have never had power before, and now we’re finally about to break through into some sort of modern state,” Bederman said. “Women have had political power for centuries at different times depending on the particular time or place.”

Bederman examined the instances of women in politics in America, from Rebecca Felton, who served one day in the U.S. Senate in 1922, through the myriad of women who served due to family connections, whether they were filling the vacancy of their husband or were appointed by their husband to a position of power.

“You need a brand name these days,” Bederman said. “You need to be a Kennedy. Or a Bush. Or a Clinton.”

Bederman said women often break into politics through family connections.

Political science professor Eileen Hunt Botting also examined the wording of the question posed at the debate. The constitutionality of a woman president is not contestable, Hunt Botting said.

“There seems to be a very sad tradition of a contradiction between our egalitarian political symbols innate in the Constitution,” she said “… and this tradition we have of excluding certain groups.”

Hunt Botting pointed to a thesis written by a famous political scientist, which said racism and sexism are traditions inherent to the United States, as support for this contradiction.

The goal of the nation should be to show that rights are available to all, Hunt Botting said.

Hunt Botting also emphasized the difference between voting for a political candidate because of his or her sex versus voting because of his or her opinions.

Political science professor Darren Davis used public opinion polls to show voter tendencies. Although one poll shows voters are more willing to elect a woman to the White House than an African-American, Hispanic, Mormon or Jew, Davis said he was skeptical.

“I don’t believe for a second that people are telling us the truth,” Davis said.

He suggested that when people hear “woman president,” they think of Hillary Clinton since she is currently running for that office. This thinking affects their poll answers, Davis said.

“Is America ready for a woman President? I’m going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I’m going to say ‘yes’ because of the particular characteristics of Hillary Clinton,” Davis said, citing Clinton’s name recognition, position as senator of New York and her financial resources.

When people call Clinton “overly ambitious,” they are using a “sexist codeword,” Davis said. But, he said, there are only six female governors and 15 female senators who could possibly run a successful campaign for presidency.

“I think only a woman president can actually get us out of the mess” and invigorate the United States, Davis said.

The debate was sponsored by Women in Politics, Pi Sigma Alpha and Gender Studies.