Religion, Gender Play New Role in Politics, Kaminer Says
Politicians are increasingly using religion and gender to manipulate their public images and win voter support, Wendy Kaminer, a fellow at the Radcliffe Public Policy Center, told a gathering of 20 people in an address Wednesday afternoon at the center.
Kaminer, a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly and a commentator for NPR's "Morning Edition," began her talk with a discussion of the role of religion in politics, expressing strong displeasure with the presence of "god-talk" in the race for president.
Kaminer said the level of religiosity in America has never been greater but argued against the widespread belief that religiosity is essential to political virtue. Candidates do not have to be devout to be moral, she said.
She highlighted several examples of candidates who are "eager to advertise their own closeness to God," pointing specifically to Texas Governor and Republican candidate George W. Bush as well as Vice President Al Gore '69.
"Only Bill Bradley has had the dignity to keep his religiosity to himself," Kaminer said, calling upon voters to judge candidates by standards of virtue other than traditional religious morality.
From religious concerns, Kaminer moved on to discuss gender politics, in front of the mostly female audience.
"In an ideal world, we would examine candidates as individuals rather than as members of a racial, ethnic or gender group," Kaminer said.
She criticized many groups--including the White House Project, which aims to elect a female president by 2008--that Kaminer said justify their plans to elect women politicians by stressing 19th-century feminine stereotypes of female gentleness as well as their ability to resolve conflicts and cooperate.
Kaminer said the goal of putting women in office should be an end in itself and that supporters of programs like the White House Project continue to further the stereotype that ideology is determined by gender, she said.
At the conclusion of her talk, Kaminer opened the floor for discussion. Not all of the members of the audience, composed of other fellows and community members, shared Kaminer's views.
One critic said that Kaminer's views on the way to elect women to office failed to address the problems that rise when young girls grow up with the belief that they will never be able to hold high political office.
Kaminer responded by saying that the only way to combat such notions is to continue to fight for laws that offer greater equality to women both in education and the workplace.
Another audience member took issue with Kaminer's assertion s that voting trends cannot be observed among women. For example, women are much more likely than men to vote against military spending, the audience member said.
But Kaminer maintained her belief that women are less defined by gender in their political beliefs than by class or ethnic group.
"I think it is a real mistake to look at women as a voting block," Kaminer concluded. "It mostly furthers the careers of consultants like Naomi Woolf."
Kaminer's views on religion and politics will presented further in her forthcoming book, "Sleeping with Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety."