Monday, October 29, 2007

Political Alamony

This morning I saw this story about Argentina's first lady becoming Argentina's first female president. It reminded me of Rik Hertzberg's column last week (that I read on the train but couldn't blog about and therefore forgot about until now) that talked about political dynasties, but what interested me was what he said about women taking over in the wake of their husbands:

In most cases, the tie has been broken by death. In South Asia, which seems to lead the world in female national leaders, violent death is invariably a factor. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a total of four female heads of state have come to power in the wake of male relatives’ assassination; in India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, was herself assassinated, as was her son and successor, Rajiv. (Her daughter-in-law, Sonia, now heads the ruling Congress Party.) Burma’s imprisoned opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the daughter of the assassinated independence leader Aung San. And the father of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s two-time and perhaps future Prime Minister, was a Prime Minister whose life ended at the gallows; her return to Karachi last week was marked by a suicide-bomber attack that claimed more than a hundred lives.

In the United States, the widow-of and daughter-of pattern has been gentler. Of the two hundred and forty-four women who have served in the House and the Senate, forty-six succeeded their husbands and twelve their fathers. The wife-of, as distinct from widow-of, method of conferring power has been a relatively minor theme, found mostly in the nether parts of the country—one thinks of Governors Ma Ferguson, of Texas, and, especially, Lurleen Wallace, of Alabama, through whom George ruled when term limits forced him out of the state house.

He notes that Hillary Clinton is different because she was pretty successful all on her own. The thing is, though, that women who are successful all on their own don't seem to make it as far as the women who are successful, but then take over for their dead or retired husbands. Would Clinton be running for office if she weren't a Clinton, but just Hillary Rodam? It's hard to say, but my guess is probably not. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where women can be hugely successful on their own, but to really make it in political office, they have to tailgate on the roles of their men.

It's true that this makes sense on one level. Marriages are partnerships, and it makes sense that when one of the partners can no longer carry on a political agenda, then the other might take up the cause. But I'm waiting for the day when men ride in on the coattails of their wives. As of yet, I haven't really seen it.

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