Jacques: Merit, not tokenism, should govern women's success
Elizabeth Warren’s temper tantrum Tuesday night on the Democratic presidential debate stage made me feel like I’d been transported back to 2016.
The Massachusetts senator did her best to channel former presidential contender Hillary Clinton in her calculated attack against her “friend” and rival Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont.
There’s little doubt the Warren campaign leaked an alleged conversation Warren had with Sanders in 2018, regarding whether a woman could make it to the White House in 2020. Warren claims Sanders said it couldn’t happen — he denies saying it.
Conveniently, CNN got to break the story the day before the cable network hosted the national debate, setting up Warren’s “woman” moment.
Shortly after Sanders again denied he said those things and made a strong case for his longtime support of women politicians, a CNN moderator asked Warren what really happened. She of course said Sanders did make those comments and then launched into her girl power speech.
“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are women: Amy and me,” she said, referencing fellow Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Good for them.
Warren and Klobuchar are on the debate stage because they are smart, successful women. But Warren’s focus on whether a woman can beat President Trump is shifting attention from her qualifications as a candidate and toward tokenism. That was a theme this week, on both the debate stage and in Hollywood, which was hit with charges of “patriarchy” after no women made it on the best director list of 2020 Oscar nominees.
Clinton erred in 2016 by assuming she’d earn the woman vote simply because of her sex. It was time for the first woman president, after all.
She was wrong. Many women didn’t trust her and didn’t approve of her big-government plans. Yet Clinton assumed her loss was because of sexism — women voters must have been bullied by husbands and boyfriends to not vote for her.
Warren is starting to tread into this territory. And it’s not going to help her.
Can a woman win the presidency? Absolutely. But it’s got to be the right candidate — one who blends a solid resume with a connection to the voters. Clinton proved that it’s very possible; she won the popular vote by 3 million votes.
Hadley Heath Manning, director of policy for the Independent Women’s Forum, says Americans are ready for a female president, and that many voters (the majority of whom are women) would relish the opportunity to elect a woman. But it has to be someone who also represents their interests.
“It’s certainly possible for a woman to win the presidency,” Manning says. “It’s a foregone conclusion.”
Klobuchar on Tuesday got it right when she said winning candidates above all else have to “be competent.” She pointed to two women governors, including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, as proof women in politics can best male opponents.
While women in the entertainment industry — and their fans — were outraged no women were on the best director list this week, women are finding success in Hollywood. But Hollywood is extremely competitive and standards for excellence are high. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow won the honor for “The Hurt Locker,” and four other women have been nominated, including Greta Gerwig in 2018. Gerwig is getting deserved attention this year for directing “Little Women,” and she’ll no doubt be on the Oscar list again in coming years.
Women would have a better chance of winning awards if there were more women involved in the industry — the same with politics. The Hollywood Reporter notes a study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which found only 10.6% of the directors of 2019’s top-grossing movies were women — too low, but still a 13-year high.
When Warren refused to shake Sanders’ hand at the end of Tuesday’s debate, it only made her look petty. Does she assume men should simply step aside because it’s her turn?
As Clinton proved, that’s not a winning strategy.