Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Voting for a Woman

Voting for a woman is what I hope to be doing next year. Yesterday I heard this question raised: isn't it arbitrary to vote for someone just because she's a woman? This question arises when we see poll numbers, like we did this week, that suggest (well, the one said) that over 90 percent of women under 35 say that they are more likely to vote if one of the presidential candidates is a woman. The gender gap, thus far, has been a partisan phenomenon, and it has worked both ways: the Republican Party can rely on receiving a greater share of male votes just as the Democrats get a greater share of female votes. With a woman candidate, the thinking goes, the gender gap will suddenly widen, with the advantage to Hillary (although it remains to be seen how many men will turn out to vote against a woman). It may be that we will have the first presidential election where the outcome is unambiguously a result of women voters voting for one of their own.
Which brings us back to the question: is this a superficial reason to vote? The answer is no, it's not. The reason it's not superficial is that women diverge from men, statistically, on a whole range of issues. Women's views on gun control, abortion rights, even the conduct of foreign policy are measurably distinct from men's. That's why women are more likely to support Democratic candidates, after all. It's true that many women would turn out to vote for a woman who was a Republican, just as many (not all) black voters would enthusiastically vote for a black Republican presidential candidate, even if they had never voted Republican before. But that still would not be a superficial vote. A woman President can be expected to have a different style, tone, and substantial differences on a wide range of issues. And don't let conservatives get away with claiming that they're "gender-blind" now at long last, when it finally suits their purposes. At this point the conservatives have become a very right-wing bunch. Does anyone doubt that our contemporary right wing (unlike that of, say, thirty years ago) would have voted against women's suffrage?
This discussion itself is a taste of things to come over the next year. Now that Hillary is closing in on the nomination, the historical significance of the moment is starting to dawn on everyone and make itself felt in the popular discussion. That will snowball into enthusiasm about the prospect of a woman President. The question is, how big of a snowball?

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