Primary Examples for Our Daughters

By Meacham, Jon | Newsweek, June 21, 2010 | Go to article overview

Primary Examples for Our Daughters


Meacham, Jon, Newsweek


Byline: Jon Meacham

As the father of two formidable daughters (one is 5, the other 2, but they already seem formidable to me), I loved the splendid evening female candidates had last Tuesday in primaries from South Carolina to Arkansas to California. Leaving aside the politics of the winners, the returns ratified the cultural and political shift that took place in 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin played central roles, in effect establishing a new normal in which female candidates more often than not stand on the same ground with male ones.

President Obama's victory in 2008 was of such immense symbolic significance in terms of our racial history that it has been tempting to skip over, or at least take for granted, the progress made on the gender front. Is the fabled glass ceiling broken forever? Of course not, no more than the color line has been erased for eternity. Men continue to hold a hugely disproportionate share of elective and appointive offices. But one thing is clear: we are living in a different, and I think better, country than we were just a few years ago, for the iconography of politics has changed in ways that are impossible to undo.

African-Americans and women are now embedded in elective life. Their portraits will hang in capitols, their examples will be taught and pointed to. Yet the kingdom of heaven is not at hand; diversity is a value worth cherishing and nurturing, but it does not repeal the laws and limitations of reality. Leaders from different backgrounds and perspectives are likely to be just as flawed and as susceptible to error as any other human being (though it is hard to see how they could be worse than the white men who have reigned for so long), and their legacies will be fair game for debate. We can celebrate their irreversible arrival in the arena without reflexively lionizing them.

The larger female presence in the arena--or, more precisely, on the stage--means a lot in my house. On the weekend between the 2008 Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, our daughter Mary, then 31/2, was playing in the room where I was watching the Democratic presidential debate. (Mary's mother had gone out for a bit, and I am, to put it mildly, a soft touch on the discipline, go-to-bed front. …

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