Coming Soon: Madame President?
Many critique Elizabeth Hanford Dole's lack of "feminism," claiming that Dole doesn’t support women's issues. Personally, I find it infinitely refreshing to look down the names of the 20-odd presidential primary candidates and see betwixt "Howard" and "Steve" that lone "Elizabeth." Indeed, I would feel the same thrill of excitement about any woman who was a serious contender for the presidency, regardless of her actual politics.
As a woman who waited to marry until age 39, in large part because she was juggling an intense career, Dole never had children because, she says, it just never happened. Dole has never publicly admitted any regret over not having children, an admission which would undermine women who postponed raising a family to further their careers.
Dole was among the few women admitted to Harvard Law School in the first year woman were allowed to attend, and the reception she had from some members of her law school was a prediction of the attitudes she would face in politics. Highly politically ambitious, she had no choice but to deal with the boys' club atmosphere that dominated politics at that time.
In fact, Dole played an important role in a number of areas both traditionally male and traditionally female. Her friends confide that her desire to be a mother has been channeled into an intense devotion to helping children in Africa, her pet cause. As head of the Red Cross, a public service organization and thus associated with the nurturing woman Dole ran an organization larger than most Fortune 500 companies.
On the other end of gender spectrum, she stands out as one of the few powerful woman in the conservative Regan administration when she served as Secretary of Labor. Indeed, she has a talent for being an iconoclast while at the same time fully associating herself with the conservative mores of society, a talent which along with her drive allowed her a level of professional success unmatched by almost any of her contemporaries.
Dole's opponents have accused her of political grand-standing as head of the Red Cross. Other nay-sayers have accused her of being too much of a perfectionist, and not willing or able to make spontaneous decisions. Avery few on Capital Hill have accused her of being weak or against women's rights.
Fortunately, Dole's strong belief in gender equality is readily apparent. Her critics claim that her stance against affirmative action in universities proves that she is anti-woman. Yet Dole passionately supports child-care and flexible hours for working women. Much of her hedging on controversial women's issues stems from her need to attract Christian Right voters, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that change should she be elected into office. Ostensibly, she is not pro-choice, but anti-abortion tracts have a tendency to mysteriously disappear from her speeches.
Simply as a woman with a good chance to become president, Dole has had a positive influence on the future of women in politics. I expect that many young woman will be inspired to contribute their time and support to Liddy Dole's campaign. She could jump-start a few nascent political careers as young girls, inspired by gender pride and encouraged to participate because they feel more included help out with Dole's campaign as volunteers and find themselves with a taste for politics.
Even if Dole should lose the election, I have the feeling that one of those girls, inspired by participating in her campaign, may take the still available opportunity to became the first female President of the United States of America. And after that, we will finally be able to focus on whether a female presidential candidate happens to be the right person for the job, instead of having that discussion overshadowed by a philosophical debate on whether America should vote for a woman for President or for a male candidate who is more blatantly supportive of women's issues.
Will I base my choice of who should be President on Liddy gender? As a staunch democrat, no I will not. AL Gore'69 (should he win the primary) will get my vote. Although I support Elizabeth Dole, I would feel more comfortable if she were explicitly pro-choice or if she hadn't spun herself as a cookie-backing homebody when we Knew her as Presidential candidate Bob Dole's wife. (Her catty comments about the rate at which Hillary's hair underwent transformation were particularly uncalled-for.) But if I were still in high school and choosing which presidential campaign to help with, I can tell you whose campaign I would be jumping to volunteer for.