The Case for a Woman as Vice President, and then President

bush-rice.jpgAlthough the office of vice president carries little inherent power, it positions its occupant to be the natural frontrunner to succeed a successful president. And because no political party plans for its presidential nominee to not be successful, almost every time a party holds a convention, it is in effect nominating not just one presidential candidate but potentially, hopefully two (The recent precedent of the GOP nominating Dick Cheney as vice president has been an aberration — as well as an abomination — but apparently in the White House there had to be a grown-up, such as he was, to hold little Georgie’s hand).

In the wake of Sen. Hillary Clinton nearly becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, serious consideration is now being given to her as the party’s vice presidential nominee. What’s more, there may well also be serious consideration of other women for the VP slot. But in that, there is a difficult political dilemma.

If Clinton were chosen, many would say that Obama (with the counsel of his advisors) was “pandering” to her and her constituency, who fought such a passionate fight against him. On the other hand, if a woman other than Clinton were chosen, many would say that Obama was giving her, and by extension her supporters, a “slap in the face.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, that might well argue against Obama choosing Clinton or any woman as running mate. And of course, there are other important factors as Obama considers Clinton, including the compatibility of the two strong personalities who have just spent months in something other than a love fest.

But the question remains: Should the Democrats nominate a woman to be vice president in 2008 and, thus, potentially, hopefully president in 2016? Should gender be a factor at all? Shouldn’t this very important decision, potentially affecting every person on earth, be “gender neutral”?

Well, at the risk of offending all those who recoil at anything even remotely resembling “affirmative action,” here are a few facts to consider.

There have been 55 presidential elections in U.S. history. If those elections had been gender neutral (and of course we know that they haven’t been but bear with me a moment so you can see just how “un-neutral” they have been) then in each contest there would be a 50/50 chance of electing a woman and a 50/50 chance of electing a man. Actually, since the U.S. population has, at least in modern times, had slightly more women than men, the odds would slightly favor a woman being elected, all else being equal (Ay, there’s the rub!).

Conversely, there would be one chance out of two that a woman would not be elected in one election; one chance out of four that no woman would be elected in two elections; one chance out of eight, in three elections; and so forth. Thus, the chance that U.S. presidential elections to date have been gender neutral is just one out of two to the 55th power, or one chance out of 36,028,797,018,963,968 (36 quadrillion, 28 trillion …) — there’s more chance of George W. Bush having legitimately won the last election!

To put it another way, if a company had equal numbers of male and female employees but had chosen from its staff only men to fill the role of CEO in every one of 55 appointments, then should they really be surprised if they were charged with “sexual discrimination”? What if all the CEOs had been women?

“But,” I’m often interrupted, “that’s not a fair appraisal. Why, women weren’t even allowed to vote in national elections, let alone hold the presidency, until 1920!”

If ever there were a more damning assessment of the status of women in America than that, it eludes me (even former slaves were allowed to vote a half century before that) … except to say that even since 1920, there has not yet been a woman nominated by a major U.S. political party to be president — let alone elected — and there has been just one woman nominated to be vice president (Please don’t make me get out my calculator again to tell you how pitiful those odds are as well).

The bottom line is that there has been blatant discrimination against women to fill the role of president, or vice president … unless, of course, one were to argue that women are inherently incapable of fulfilling the duties of president: of being chief executive, commander-in-chief, and head of state.

But of course, women have fulfilled those roles in nations as diverse as the United Kingdom, India, and the Philippines. Women are chief executives of multinational corporations. Women are generals and admirals in the U.S. military (since the 1970s). And of course, women as queens have served as heads of state throughout history — some good, some not so good, on average probably no better or worse than the kings.

“But wait!” another interruption blares, “That is the fatal flaw in your argument. Unlike kings or queens, our presidents are not born into their positions; with very few exceptions (Poor Gore), they are ultimately elected by a majority of the people. If you are to condemn our nominating process and elections as sexist, then you are ultimately condemning the American people as sexist as well!”

Well … what can I say? While it’s true that “we the people” have very little say in who the slate of candidates we vote on are in the first place, the broad field of potential nominees with a realistic chance of winning the presidency is mostly, usually almost entirely, male; but that is primarily because there are far more men than women elected as governors, senators, and representatives — once again, hardly a defense against a charge of sexism, all across America.

Let’s face it: Women have not been given a fair share of the power in this country, and others; and both parties — and both sexes, at least since women have been voting — are guilty, or at least ultimately responsible.

Gender is, thus, a legitimate factor to consider when selecting a vice presidential and potentially presidential nominee. Then again, there are many other legitimate factors — all the qualities that make the individuals being considered considerable in the first place. There are many men whose names are being floated as potential running mates for Obama who would make excellent vice presidents and eventually presidents.

ddphoto120x160.JPGBut on a purely self-serving partisan note, do we Democrats want the Republicans to beat us to the punch? Remember that the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom was a conservative and the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was as well.

What if John McCain chose as his running mate, say, Condoleezza Rice?

— By Doug Drenkow

Doug Drenkow is a writer, editor, webmaster, and producer. A fourth-generation Democrat, Doug has produced the political talk shows “Barry Gordon From Left Field,” on radio, and “NewsRap with Barry Gordon,” on cable TV, featuring top progressive guests in the nation. Having met his wife through the Internet, Doug is a big believer in the power of new media!

Doug Drenkow’s progressive political commentaries have appeared in print, on radio and TV, and online — as in OpEdNews, DailyKos, BuzzFlash, UPI, and BBC News Worldwide.


  1. yehudi webster says

    (1) It’s time we had a woman president. (2) Democrats should select a woman vice-President and beat the Republicans to the punch (3) None of America’s 55 presidential elections has been “gender-neutral,” therefore, the choosing of Obama’s vice-president should not be. (4) “Women have not been given a fair share of the power in this country.” Drenkow’s fundamental premises are vapid beyond belief. Joseph Lieberman is a self-confessed Jew. In the 2004 elections, he and Al Gore garnered more votes than Bush and Cheney. Should we not offer Lieberman the vice-presidency? Some of the 18 million persons who voted for Hilary in the primaries may have done so because they are women. But it does not follow that they voted for her because she is a woman. It could have been Hilary’s stances on health care, the war in Iraq, taxes, social security, the environment, and the housing crisis that guided their choice. The concept of gender neutrality is double-edged. If some voters did choose Hilary because she is a woman, this raises a potentially embarrassing question: Is it because she is a “white woman?” The vitriolic reactions to Obama’s victory by some of Senator Clintons supporters, including promises to vote for McCain, even though Clinton and Obama did not differ significantly on any of the major issues, suggest a dark presence of prejudice. To suggest that Senator Clinton should be the vice-president because she is a woman, as a step toward the presidency, is to reduce the Senator to her reproductive organs. Drenkow notices that past elections have not been gender neutral, which he regards as a bad thing. He then suggests that the tradition of gender partisanship continue–selct a woman for the vice-presidency. But did Senator Clinton not disqualify herself for this position by the nature of her descriptions of Obama–“naive,” “inexperienced,” and “an empty suit.” Why should Obama be advised to accommodate himself to someone who expressed such disrepect for his abilities and achievements?

    • says

      “Joseph Lieberman is a self-confessed Jew”? Although I may disagree with Sen. Lieberman’s policies, particularly concerning defense issues, I find that expression offensive: What about Judaism is there to “confess”? It is a sacred faith to be respected, not reduced to something akin to a crime.

      I never stated that Clinton’s millions of supporters supported her just because of her gender. I do know personally many women and men who did support her in the hope of our finally getting a woman president, after they first determined that her policies were to their liking (Likewise, I believe most of those who did not support her made that choice, as you correctly point out, for reasons of policy: Personally, she lost me when she continued to defend her voting for the authorization to use force in Iraq by saying how could anyone anticipate that Bush would abuse that authority?).

      I agree that it would be problematic for Obama to choose Clinton, for the reasons you cite and as I mentioned in my article.

      Nonetheless, I would think that there are a number of women who are qualified to be vice president and — now or after eight years in an Obama administration — president; so if there were a choice between several qualified candidates and one were a woman, I would keep in mind that one important factor to consider is the terrible lack of representation — zero — American women have had in the highest office in the land.

      I can understand your arguments, the same as those who cry “reverse discrimination” whenever there is any sort of “affirmative action.” But the fact remains that when most of a nation’s citizens — and voters — are women and none has ever been president, such a nation should not be surprised if others — or history — consider it sexist.

      I am not trying to reduce this choice of a running mate and, hopefully, another president to merely a consideration of “reproductive organs”; I simply hope that we would make a conscious effort to more fairly share the power in our country with Americans of every description.

      Oh, and since my article spurred such a lengthy and involved response, my premises cannot accurately be described as “vapid” — lacking in interest. No, if you disagree with them so, perhaps you should have called them “inane.”

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