Should The First Female President Be A "political Wife"?

by Isaac Chotiner | January 6, 2008

Reason's Kerry Howley had an op-ed in the Times yesterday which seemed pretty unconvincing. Here's Howley:

If you’ve ever wondered why India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines seem readier to elect women than does the United States, here’s your answer: Societies that value a candidate’s family affiliation, and therefore have a history of nepotistic succession, are often open to female leadership so long as it bears the right brand. Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, among many others, slashed through gender barriers on the strength of their family names.

So far, so good. 

But their chief function to the cause is outside of policy. By their very existence, these women attack the norms and assumptions that bar other women from ascending to power on their own.

Women like Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, who lost her husband in a plane crash in 1972 and then assumed his vacant office in the House of Representatives, showed us they could lead as well as their husbands did — even if they never would have been given the chance otherwise.

And, finally:

The great feminist promise of a Hillary Clinton presidency amounts to this: If we elect a political wife now, perhaps we won’t have to later.

The problem with Howley's argument can be seen by the examples she cites above. Is Pakistan any more likely to elect a woman now than they were before Bhutto became Prime Minister? I doubt it. Further East, it's true that arguably the most powerful person in India is Sonia Gandhi, but she is--by marriage--related to Indira Gandhi and the Nehru family dynasty. The strain of liberalism in Indian society is perhaps a sign that a woman will soon become prime minister (the country currently has a female president, although the office is mainly ceremonial) but there isn't any evidence that this will have been even an indirect result of Indira's (illiberal) rule. There certainly may be some social value in electing a female president, but the evidence cited above does not quite bear that out.

P.S. I am not quite sure why Sonia Gandhi deserved this shot from Rick Brookhiser. 

--Isaac Chotiner 

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/should-the-first-female-president-be-quotpolitical-wifequot