Commentary: Angle, O'Donnell and Palin lead dumbing-down of female politicians

Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. MCT

Maybe Ginni Thomas was inadvertently doing women a favor with her telephone plea to Anita Hill.

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made news this week for leaving a voice mail message inviting Hill to apologize for the damage done to her husband's reputation during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Hill notified the FBI, and Thomas apologized, sort of.

Despite herself, the aggrieved Mrs. Thomas has reminded us all of the so-called Year of the Woman, as the 1992 elections were dubbed, when women reacted strongly to a political culture determined to keep them in their place. It was the demeaning attitudes U.S. Senators displayed toward Hill as she testified in the Thomas confirmation hearings that sparked the indignation of female voters and candidates in the following election cycle. As a result, the U.S. Senate gained four new women members: Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer from California, Carol Moseley Braun from Illinois, and Patty Murray from Washington. Twenty-four new women were elected to the House of Representatives, representing 22 percent of freshman House members.

We could use another such onslaught of feminine political mystique in our electoral politics right now, if only to counter the female quackery set loose this midterm season. Ginni's by no means the only lady of the right out there stirring the pot with lunatic behavior. We've got one woman running for Senate who is now celebrated for her anti-masturbation activism, her televised reassurances to voters that she is not a witch, and her unique interpretation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Another female Senate hopeful has warned darkly of "militant terrorist situations" and Sharia law taking hold in U.S. municipalities, and recently told a group of Latino students they looked Asian to her.

Can you name these candidates? Of course you can: Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle. Of all the Senate challengers - perhaps of all the candidates, incumbents and all - they're the most visible this year. Because they're punch lines.

As a woman, I'm embarrassed. This is not what women suffragists envisioned a century ago. Frankly, we women haven't come far enough politically to have flakes soaking up our share of the political limelight.

Don't believe me? Let's test your knowledge. The U.S. Congress currently has 535 members, and 90 of them are women. Quick. Name more than 10 without hitting Google.

Apparently the seduction power of a daffy female remains more powerful than that of a woman who can intelligently state her political position. Each replayed segment of foolishness takes focus from the more serious campaigns of Blanche Lincoln, Meg Whitman, Zoe Lofgren, Nikki Haley or Carly Fiorina. Can you name their races, political parties and opponents? Sure, a handful of women have risen to the highest reaches of political power: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the line of women who have served as secretary of state (Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton), not to mention the other women who have served as congressional committee chairs and in Cabinet posts.

But, overall, women are still so few in politics that everyone is tarnished a bit by the antics of a few. In pundit land, these women are a goldmine. They are candy for columnists and comedians. It's all fun and games until some fruitcake female actually gets elected. And that fruitcake might be Angle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hasn't been doing his campaign any favors lately with lackluster debates.

Most galling is that these high-profile women are taking a cue from Sarah Palin, campaigning with a campaign message that amounts to, "Elect me because I'm ordinary." They are pandering to voters as everyday gals, no smarty-pants Ivy League education to intimidate. Shouldn't we be electing our best and brightest minds to Congress? It's offensive that women are leading the charge to dumb down Congress, as if that would make it function more effectively.

We women will know we have arrived when enough of us are serving in Congress and as state governors that we, too, can appreciate the few daisy-pickers in the outfield just for fun. We're not there yet.


Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.

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