Female Trouble: An Exchange

Can a progressive woman be elected President?

By Susan Madrak Kathleen Geier

Tagged Feminismpolitics

Sexism and misogyny have always been inextricable parts of American politics. The United States lags behind dozens of countries in female representation in its legislature, and the first female candidate of a major party lost in the most recent presidential election to a candidate whose own awful treatment of women seemingly never became a liability.

What are we to make of this? Is it simply an original sin of American political life that women, particularly progressive women, will face hurdles not placed in front of men? Or are there steps to be taken in future elections that could break down these barriers?

To answer these questions, we asked two of our favorite feminist writers, Susan Madrak and Kathleen Geier, on the prospects of women running for President in the future.

A Problem Still with Us

By Susan Madrak

As Kenny Rogers once sang:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.

Let me just say it, flat out: I believe the Democratic Party should run—not walk—from the idea of running a female candidate in 2020.

Party activists and progressives insist Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election because she was, as they like to say, a “deeply flawed” candidate. She had her flaws, but they were no more pronounced than anyone else’s—and certainly nowhere near the degree of now-President Trump’s.

So I wonder why hers—and only hers—were so very glaring. Blinding, even.

My female writer friends and I talked often during the past two years about what we assumed was coming. We understood the Republican Party would eviscerate the Democrats’ nominee, and if it was Hillary Clinton, we knew most of those attacks would be gendered. We even knew that sexism would come from our own side, because we saw it in 2008.
But we were hopeful she would ultimately prevail.

Only one friend was a holdout. “I hope you’re right,” she kept saying. “I hope the country is ready for a female President, but I have my doubts. I just don’t believe it.”

As it turns out, she understood the reality the rest of us refused to see. Just as the presidency of Barack Obama uncovered the still-festering wound of racism in America, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton reminded us that women’s roles are still subject to the electrified limits of an invisible fence.

Unlike sexism, racism is generally agreed to be a Bad Thing. We have outward manifestations of it like the KKK, which decent people denounce. Where is the national anti-woman hate group? Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, so we can’t single it out anywhere.

It’s nebulous, like fog. Sexism operates on such a deep subconscious level that only rarely can you pluck it out and hold it to the light, crying, “Aha! Now, that is sexism!”

That’s what makes it so hard to root out. Sexism is sneaky, usually tolerated, and mostly unexamined. It’s rare that we even think to ask ourselves such obvious questions as “Why does Rachel Maddow actually have to glue false eyelashes onto her eyelids to talk about the news?”

To me, the Democratic primary was a master class in the subtleties of sexism. Whenever I’d call out the gendered nature of someone’s opinion, the response was always, “I’d gladly vote for a woman! Just not this one.” (At which point, they’d invariably hold up their support of Elizabeth Warren as a magical shield against charges of sexism.)

Yes, the same people who found it so distasteful, so meaningful, so deeply disqualifying that the teenaged Hillary Clinton was a Republican had no problem at all with the fact that Elizabeth Warren was a Republican until the mid-1990s.

The same “sexism isn’t a factor” progressives would have no answer when I would point out that when she was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts (one of our bluest states), there was a ten-point gender gap in her Democratic support. And a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that Donald Trump would lose to a generic Democrat in 2020—but he would win against Warren by six points.

And once Warren was considered a contender in 2020, progressive men began attacking her—first for endorsing Hillary Clinton, lately for the sin of her supposed collaboration with Donald Trump. (She voted to confirm some of his Cabinet nominees.) And that doesn’t even include the Trump supporters’ gleeful adoption of “Pocahontas” as a handy slur, one that I predict some on the left will also adopt, perhaps chiding Warren for “cultural appropriation.”

There will always be something. I can just hear it now: “Warren being a woman has nothing to do with why I won’t support her. I mean, I’d vote for Tulsi Gabbard!” They’ll always support some theoretical female candidate, not the actual one.

What struck me so strongly during the primary was the realization that so many voters won’t allow female politicians to be . . . politicians. They’re supposed to be pure, like nuns. They shouldn’t raise money, they can’t cut deals or compromise, they shouldn’t be aggressive, and by God, most important of all, they shouldn’t be ambitious. Ambition in a woman is death.

They should, oh, I don’t know, sort of stumble into office, borne upon a wave of popular adulation (like Elizabeth Warren, before she “sold out” by voting for Ben Carson). Women in politics should be saints. If they’re not, they’re the devil.

They must be pure of heart, perfect in thought, word, and deed. Even though it costs millions of dollars to launch a legitimate run for the presidency, the next female candidate must make sure that every single penny she raises comes only from companies with the highest ethical ratings, in every area. And she can’t make too much money. If she speaks to groups, her pay must be commensurate with the accepted value of women’s speech: significantly less than men’s.

And this mythical electable woman cannot have been married to anyone who did anything that might be viewed as less than perfect, because we know the wife is always responsible for the husband’s professional choices. And if she worked for a high-profile male, the same rules apply. If she sat on the board of any corporation, she will be held to account for every single business decision made in its entire existence.

She must speak with strength, but mustn’t be shrill. She should moderate her voice, and smile more. She must be aware of how she looks all the time, under every circumstance. She can’t look tired, or upset. Wearing pantsuits will be viewed as totally emasculating, or a weak attempt to imitate those who really wear the pants. She can’t be too feminine or show cleavage. She can’t have a bad hair day, or be seen without appropriate makeup. If she can’t maintain the ideal level of appeal to the male gaze, she can expect loud comments about frumpiness, or ridicule for having cankles.

It seems clear that the totality of a female politician isn’t real, only a hook on which her detractors hang their subterranean feelings. And so, when they say, “Not this woman,” they refuse to acknowledge their own double standards. They can’t see them.

For much of the past year, I argued with Hillary Clinton’s progressive detractors on social media. “If only she had a policy on such-and-such, I would have supported her!” was a frequent comment.

“She did,” I’d respond.

“If she was serious about it, she would have released a policy paper.”

“Actually, she did,” I’d write, sharing a helpful link.

A pause. “Well, she said it, but she probably didn’t mean it!”

So it goes. And so it went.

Now, in light of the horror that is the Trump presidency, it does seem quite insane that the minor infraction of Hillary using her own email server was a major scandal, inflated and hammered home by Big Media.

Or that no one on cable news could mention her name without adding the words “flawed,” “disliked,” or “dishonest.” (Corruption was always implied, from surrogates on both sides.)

Speaking of corruption: Last year, when The New York Times broke its supposed blockbuster series based on the book Clinton Cash, I was flabbergasted. The paper of record wrote these stories based on the word of Peter Schweizer—a right-wing hack, a man with a record of fabrication—without disclosing his partnership with Steve Bannon in a foundation that did the “investigations” for Breitbart.com.

(Remember, getting their stories mainstream credibility is the goal for extremist right-wing publications. The Times didn’t just lower the bar on this one, they threw it away.)

Compare and contrast how carefully the Times handled a story last September that possibly connected Donald Trump to Russia and covert attempts to influence the election with the Clinton Cash story that was riddled with errors and strategic omissions. Why do you suppose Trump was handled with kid gloves and Hillary was gleefully curb-stomped by Big Media?

There was such a chasm between Hillary’s perceived flaws and Trump’s utter unsuitability for the office of President that I have to wonder what could breach that kind of image abyss—and what created it. That voters happily selected the pussy-grabber, the open sexist and racist, convinces me there’s something powerful working in the Jungian shadows.

When Bill Clinton entered the White House, the Washington establishment labeled the Clintons ignorant hillbillies. The right-wing scandal machine quickly geared up to produce a constant flow of fabricated stories to be passed around (remember when Hillary hung dildoes, cock rings, and crack pipes on the White House Christmas tree? Good times!) until they finally got their impeachment.

She wasn’t a Madonna, so she had to be a whore.

Remember when Hillary was a lesbian, one who also had an affair with White House counsel Vince Foster and then killed him?

Maybe she was just too flawed. Maybe it had nothing to do with her being a woman.

I’d love to be wrong. Convince me.

No Time to Lose Hope

By Kathleen Geier

I appreciate the forcefulness and bracing clarity of your straight-no-chaser argument, but your conclusion couldn’t be more wrong. If the Democrats refuse to consider running a woman for President in 2020, it would be bad for the party and bad for feminism. As you so eloquently attest, our society and our national political culture are rife with misogyny.

Yet there is also growing evidence that voters’ gender bias does not disadvantage women candidates. To argue that a woman can’t be elected President not only exaggerates the degree of sexism in American elections, but also carries the risk of discouraging women from running for public office. And that is the last thing that we, as feminists, would want to do.

The specter that haunts any discussion of the woman as President question is, of course, Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. For many feminists, Clinton’s loss was traumatic. It’s not only that a fiercely smart woman with decades of experience in government lost to a nitwit political neophyte. Even more painfully, the explicitly feminist candidate lost to one of the most gross and notorious misogynists in America. That result was horrific, both on the substantive level and the symbolic level, and I fear, Susie, that it’s causing you to be overly fatalistic about the broader prospects for women candidates.

Moreover, if the Democrats believe that Clinton was doomed by her gender, then they are learning all the wrong lessons from the 2016 election. Election results are always highly susceptible to misinterpretation. That’s because, although elections are extraordinarily complex events determined by a multitude of variables, the outcome is a discrete binary. That fact all but guarantees that people are going to draw overbroad conclusions from them. But elections never turn on one factor and one factor only; the results are always multi-causal.

Take the 2016 election (please!). Let’s start with the fact that Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes than Trump did, which in any sane system would have made her the winner. Structural factors hurt Clinton. We always knew the election was likely to be close. We live in a sharply divided country, and Clinton, running for a third consecutive White House term for her party in an economy with sluggish growth, was always fighting an uphill battle. Even so, according to Nate Silver, Clinton actually outperformed the results that were predicted by political science models based on the economic and political “fundamentals.”

So, in some ways, Clinton actually did pretty well, given what she was up against. That said, she was also, as many have pointed out already, a weak candidate. Like Al Gore and John Kerry, she lacked charisma and had been in politics for approximately 1,000 years, which tends to create undesirable baggage. At a time when the Democratic Party was moving left, she was associated with her husband’s failed neoliberal policies such as “free” trade, financial deregulation, mass incarceration, and welfare reform. In an election in which an increasingly restive, populist electorate yearned for change, she was the quintessential establishment politician who represented continuity and staying the course. And then there’s Clinton’s campaign, which frankly stunk on ice. To her credit, Clinton did support a host of progressive policies. But because she never made them central to her messaging, many voters remained unaware of them. Ultimately, Clinton failed to perform that most basic task of telling voters how she was going to make their lives better.

Now let’s be real: Clinton faced a tsunami of sexism. Some of the misogyny came from the left and from the mainstream media, but the ugliest attacks came from the Republicans and the right. And yes, those attacks were brutal and debilitating. But does anyone doubt that any Democratic presidential candidate would also have faced vicious smears by the right? Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama were also put through the GOP shredder. The contemporary GOP has made it clear that it will use any means necessary to destroy any Democrat. Strong candidates can weather these attempts at character assassination, even when they deploy hateful ideologies and stereotypes. Yes, our society is marinated in misogyny. But there’s a whole freaking lot of racism in this country, too, and that didn’t prevent us from electing a black man as President. A ton of racist garbage was thrown at Obama, but he had the personal and political skills to deflect those attacks. A more talented female candidate than Clinton would similarly have been able to, at least partially, defuse the sexism.

Patriarchy is also, one should note, universal the world over, yet some 70 countries have been led by female heads of state. Why is the United States not one of them? It can’t just be misogynist attitudes. Country after country—places that, by most accounts, are considerably more sexist than the United States, including Argentina, Chile, Liberia, and Taiwan—have elected women presidents. The level of female representation in American politics, compared to in other countries, is similarly disgraceful. In a survey of women’s representation in national legislative bodies, the United States ranks a dismal 104th place (out of 190 countries surveyed). Pakistan, Morocco, and even Saudi Arabia have a higher proportion of women in their national parliaments than we do. Yet according to a study by the World Economic Forum, those nations rank among the countries with the least gender equality in the world.

And not only is female representation in American politics pathetically low, there is no evidence that it is getting any better. Following some improvement in the 1980s and ‘90s, the number of women in the House of Representatives and state legislatures has remained stagnant. In 2010, there was actually a net decrease in the number of women in the House. In the wake of the 2016 elections, the number of women representatives in Congress didn’t budge.

The question we must ask ourselves is, why have women in American politics made so little progress? The political science literature provides some unexpected answers. The big surprise is the finding that voter sexism does not appear to hurt women candidates. As political scientists Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless discuss in their book, Women On the Run, women are just as likely to win primary and general elections as men are. The point is not that voters are free of gender bias; rather, it’s that those biases do not appear to affect their votes. In this era of partisan polarization, the most powerful determinant of the vote is, instead, party identification. Voters overwhelmingly vote for their own party, regardless of a candidate’s gender. However, a limitation of these studies is that they do not include presidential elections, and of course presidential elections could well be qualitatively different. Another caveat is that the studies don’t control for candidate quality, and it’s likely that women who run for office are, on average, better qualified than men.

Nevertheless, the research provides strong evidence that the heart of the problem is not that American women are running for office and losing. It’s that women don’t run for office in the first place. Some of the reasons why women don’t run are institutional, and some have to do with women’s socialization. In part, it’s a pipeline problem. Women are still underrepresented in professions that have traditionally led to political careers (lawyers, for example, are still only 34 percent female). Another obstacle is the power of incumbency. Many elected offices remain in the hands of an older generation of politicians, which is overwhelmingly male.

But researchers say that the most important cause of women’s underrepresentation is a gender gap in political ambition. Women are significantly less likely to have considered running for office, and they are also less likely to have done so. They are more likely to consider themselves unqualified to run, even compared to men with similar credentials, and they are also less likely to be recruited to run. The political gatekeepers are usually men and they recruit from their own professional networks, which of course are overwhelmingly male. As mentioned, women’s political socialization also plays a role. Factors including parental encouragement, self-confidence, participation in competitive activities, and educational experiences are among the important factors that determine young people’s interest in running for office. On each of these dimensions, women are at a disadvantage.

It’s pretty clear that if we want more women to run for office, we have a lot of work to do. We need to change social attitudes and parental behaviors. We need programs in schools and different ways of recruiting women candidates. And since the rate of women’s political representation has been stalled for some time now, we should give some serious consideration to gender quotas. Voluntary and mandatory gender quotas are in effect in at least 50 countries around the world. They have been shown to significantly boost the proportion of women holding elected office.

One thing we don’t need to do, however, is claim, on the basis of one election, that a Democratic woman can’t be elected President. It’s not like the party is drowning in political talent, and it’s already clear that some of the strongest 2020 contenders, including Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, are women. And do we really want to exaggerate the extent of sexism in politics, when, as researchers have shown, it is often these very perceptions of gender bias that discourage women from running?

Susie, I’ll close by noting that one thing we haven’t discussed is why, exactly, we would want to elect a woman President in the first place. To be clear, I am talking about a feminist woman President. I’m dead certain neither of us would want to see a President Joni Ernst. Should electing a feminist woman President be a feminist goal? Would a feminist woman President benefit women as a class, in ways that a feminist man wouldn’t? Would she be more progressive? I’ll share my own thoughts in my next response, but, in the meantime, I am eager to hear yours.

Susan Madrak responds:

Oh dear. I get the distinct impression you think I’m more in need of a hug than a clear-eyed discussion of the effect misogyny has on our political system. Let’s talk some more about it.

To clarify: I didn’t say we shouldn’t ever run women for President. I said we shouldn’t run a woman as the Democratic nominee in 2020, and I stand by that. It will take much longer than four years to undo the sexist programming that contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss—and quite frankly, we can’t afford to take that chance against Trump. Unless something changes radically, the next cycle is not the time for a female consolation nominee, because she is likely to lose. It seems as though Trump’s toxic male recklessness encouraged something dark in the electorate, and it won’t be that quickly exorcised.

Since I wrote my first entry in this exchange, I found yet another classic example of what I’ve previously described. The newest issue of Boston magazine features this cover story: “Why Is Elizabeth Warren So Hard To Love?” It accurately depicts the challenges of pushing a national agenda while running in your home state, but it also validates my point. Namely, sexism allows voters to support some theoretical woman in a theoretical race, but the support mysteriously drops off when the woman becomes specific.

The article eerily echoes the same tropes that dogged Clinton: Why is Warren so unlovable? “Deeply polarizing”? Once again, we read strained praise of a driven, intellectual wonk who just can’t get people to “warm up” to her—as if she were a waitress at Hooters instead of a highly accomplished United States senator. Instead of being berated like Hillary Clinton for not being the charming and oratorically gifted Barack Obama, Warren is instead discounted for not being the charming and oratorically gifted Teddy Kennedy, Lion of the Senate. Kennedy, after all, balanced both local and national politics with a serious drinking habit and infidelity issues, yet was still loved by all (except the people on the right who thought him a murderer).

The question, as we saw with Hillary, seems to boil down to this: Why does no one like her?

First, let’s acknowledge that, at the national level, American women must clear an insanely high bar, and all the female town commissioners and state senators in the country won’t fix that. It’s one thing to give that nice real estate lady a vote on the school board. It’s quite another to put her in charge of the free world.

The courageous women who aspire to any office must climb some structural obstacles along the way. Meeting schedules are erratic and require many late hours away from home; the effect on children is too often harmful. (There’s a reason why Washington insiders praise how well the Clintons raised Chelsea. Politicians’ kids are more likely to make the news for a DUI or killing a dog than they are for wonkish, if over-compensated, public service.) Those sacrifices make women with children less likely to get an early start in politics—and we have already seen what many voters think of aging women.

In addition to the time demands, political office either doesn’t pay enough for women with families to hire household help while they’re gone—or the job pays very well, and in that case, is a political plum much more likely to be handed off to a man. So I’m not surprised that so many successful female candidates are wealthy, either by profession or marriage. It helps.

So there’s that. But there’s also the covert misogyny reserved for high-profile women who challenge traditional feminine roles and threaten the structure of political power. Republicans handle it differently. If you’re the “right” kind of woman (traditionally attractive, not too much fancy education, doesn’t ever mention higher ambitions, no boring lectures about women’s rights), why, you can mosey on in, little lady. Isn’t she cute when she runs for higher office? See anti-feminists Nikki Haley and Marsha Blackburn.

And see how they welcome black men like Tim Scott and Ben Carson. As long as they don’t make waves, come on down! This is how Republicans prove to themselves they are not sexist or racist. Like Ivanka Trump, you can call yourself a feminist, as long as you don’t act like one.

Progressive sexism is more a difference in style than substance. As I said before, female candidates have to be deeply accomplished, yet impossibly personable and trusted. So Democrats favor the “death by a thousand paper cuts” treatment for women who aspire to the Oval Office. The media merrily pile on, probably because male Democrats so rarely challenge sexism. (Joe Biden, who has never won even one presidential primary, now speaks sorrowfully and openly about how he would be President if he ran. No one questions that, either. Hey, he’s a white man!)

When you compare Hillary Clinton’s lack of charisma to Al Gore and John Kerry, I’d posit that a lot of the scorn directed at both of them had to do with their being feminized, most famously by Maureen Dowd.

For a jumble of rationales, journalists are much harder on Democrats than Republicans, and the media attacks on Hillary Clinton were distorting, harsh, and unrelenting. Now I picture them warming up in the bullpen, ready to start throwing beanballs at the head of Senator Pocahontas. Would it be different if the potential candidate was the lovely and well-liked Kirsten Gillibrand? I just don’t know. In the time of Trump, I’m not willing to stick my hand into the fire twice.

Kathleen Geier Responds:

Thank you for clarifying that your argument against the Democrats running a woman candidate for President holds for 2020 only, not indefinitely. You won’t be surprised to learn that I still disagree with you! It’s not that I believe that the party should necessarily nominate a woman—though should Elizabeth Warren enter the race, I will be happy to knock on doors for her until my knuckles bleed.

But if you look at the Democratic contenders for 2020, it’s clear that most of the strongest contenders, including not only Warren but Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, happen to be women. Eliminating them from consideration would be an act of Democratic self-sabotage—especially because the male hopefuls have serious, and perhaps disqualifying, flaws. Biden and Bernie are too old, and Cory Booker, Andrew Cuomo, and Tim Kaine are disliked by the left.

The quality of a candidate is more important than that candidate’s gender, but whether a woman would be the best Democratic candidate for 2020 is hard to say. Three years is a long time, and we don’t know how Warren, Gillibrand, and other women would fare on the national stage, or if they have the political chops to run a strong national campaign. But what is the harm in encouraging them to run to find out? The original sin of the Democrats’ 2016 presidential race is that the Clinton campaign cleared the field, strongly discouraging other candidates. But a more open and competitive process, like the one that took place in 2008, is more likely to produce a strong nominee. Why shouldn’t Democrats encourage all the most talented people in the party to run, and let the voters sort things out?

Yes, any woman who runs for President will be subjected to a vicious onslaught of sexism—particularly in the current political climate. The rise of the internet-fueled gynophobia on 4chan, Breitbart, and men’s rights activist sites has made public expressions of misogyny more visible than they have ever been in my memory. And of course the electoral victory of Pussygrabber-in-Chief Donald Trump was in part due to his mobilization of this misogyny. That kind of virulent sexism, as well as the more mundane type epitomized by that dopey “Why isn’t she more likable?” piece about Elizabeth Warren that you cited, has the potential to seriously damage a female candidate.

These days, acts of gross public sexism tend to incite an intense feminist backlash. The infamous comments made by Mitch McConnell as he silenced Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor—“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”—became an instant feminist meme, and ended up burnishing Warren’s national stature rather than diminishing it. Women’s anger at the sexist treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings help sparked the “Year of the Woman” in 1992, resulting in a record number of women elected to the U.S. Senate.

A similar dynamic was at play in the rise of Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s survival, in the face of the right’s quarter century of savage misogynist abuse, turned her into a powerful feminist symbol. For Clinton’s largely female base, every attempt her enemies made to destroy her only intensified their fierce loyalty to their candidate. But a Hillary Clinton without that strong gender-based appeal would have been about as exciting as Martin O’Malley. It is hard to imagine that a male version of Hillary—say, a male relative of Bill Clinton, with a resume and political record identical to Hillary’s, and a similar level of political skill and (lack of) charisma—would have come anywhere near as close to the presidency as she did.

Hillary’s loss directly inspired one of the greatest pro-feminist backlashes in American history: the Women’s March. The march was the brainchild of two Hillary-supporting women on Facebook who had never been involved in politics before but were spurred to action by her stinging defeat. The feminist backlash against the election has also been a powerful motivator for the Trump resistance movement. Polls have shown that the overwhelming majority of anti-Trump activists are female and that the single factor most correlated with taking action against Trump is disapproval of his comments about women.

Signs look promising for the Democrats in 2020, given the post-election mobilization of the progressive grassroots and Trump’s plummeting approval ratings and increasingly shambolic presidency. A female candidate would be particularly well-positioned to tap into surging feminist political energies. But there’s an important caveat: A woman candidate would need to walk a fine line between leveraging female enthusiasm and support on the one hand, and being seen as the woman’s candidate, and the woman’s candidate only, on the other.

Electing a female President was a strong motivator for Clinton’s core supporters, but not so much for most other voters. The finding from Clinton’s own focus groups showed that the glass ceiling argument was “the least effective positive case” for her candidacy. What voters cared most about was not whether the candidate would make history, but whether she “could make their own lives better.” Unfortunately, Clinton lacked a compelling story about how she would do that. But a candidate with a strong economic vision, especially a populist like Elizabeth Warren, would be well-positioned to reach voters beyond the Democratic base, including key swing voters like white working-class women in the Midwest.

Democrats should be open to a woman presidential candidate in 2020 because that may well be what is best for the party. Running more progressive women candidates would also be good for American women. Of course, as a matter of fundamental feminist principle, no woman should be denied opportunities because of her gender. It is also clear that electing progressive women is in the interest of women as a class. In general, progressive women know more and care more about feminist concerns like reproductive rights, sexual assault, domestic violence, and women’s workplace issues. That’s not true in every individual race, of course, and a progressive man will always be better for feminism than a centrist or conservative woman.

But in the aggregate, if more progressive women are elected, women’s interests are likely to better represented. I am writing this on a day when feminists are fuming because male Democrats ranging from party establishment types like Tom Perez to insurgent lefties like Bernie Sanders have been campaigning for a Democrat with a terrible record on choice. Would the party be investing scarce resources on anti-feminist candidates if progressive women were as well-represented among Democratic officeholders as they are among the Democratic base? Somehow I doubt it.

Ever since the era of conservative dominance “that swept over America in the late 1970s,” the Democratic Party has been crippled by its habits of risk aversion and learned helplessness. What it desperately needs is a bold vision and a fighting spirit. The right woman presidential candidate could be the ideal person to provide it. She will face daunting obstacles. Nevertheless, she should persist.

Read more about Feminismpolitics

Susan Madrak is a journalist, blogger, and a contributing editor of Crooks and Liars. Find her on Twitter at @SusieMadrak

Kathleen Geier is a Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, Washington Monthly, Bookforum, Salon, and other publications. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee.

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