Sen. Hillary Clinton did not win enough delegates to capture the Democratic presidential nomination but she is not conceding to Barack Obama. It is a strategy of having it both ways that is familiar to Clinton watchers. Why should she surrender when, as she has said, "anything can happen"? The nomination is not official until the delegates convene at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Assuming, though, that this is truly the end of her 2008 campaign, the question now becomes: what about the next female candidate? Will it be easier for her because Sen. Clinton broke new ground? Will that next woman run as a liberal Democrat like Clinton, or a conservative Republican in the mold of Margaret Thatcher? Will she get the same attention as Clinton, or will she be like the second man to walk on the moon?
The media mostly ignored - and so did the public - a detailed analysis of what Clinton promised (everything), what it would cost (plenty), how it would be paid for (higher taxes) and the effect of a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq when substantial progress is now being made (disaster). Gender and the parallel issue of Obama's race trumped substance. Those issues masked a retread liberal Democratic agenda, gift wrapped in new packaging and sold as "change you can believe in."
A major problem for those wishing more conservative women would run for national office is the smaller pool from which to draw candidates. Large numbers of conservative women adhere to the "family values" they preach. Many prefer the company of family members to that of politicians. It isn't that they don't have drive, vision, or care less about their country than liberal women; it is that their fulfillment comes at a different level and they are paid in a different currency.
For liberals, government is the ultimate solution to all problems. For many conservative women, solutions begin with individual decision-making and family.
Is there an experienced, conservative, "traditional values" woman out there who would be willing to put herself through the kind of campaign Hillary Clinton has fought with every eye examining her hair, makeup and piece of clothing (and accessories), rather than the substance of her views? If Hillary Clinton has made superficiality less likely in judging women in future national campaigns she will have made a great contribution. But I doubt it. Media superficiality is bottomless.
What would a female conservative presidential candidate look like? First, she wouldn't wear pantsuits - except when climbing into helicopters. She would wear St. John (note to male readers: look it up; women are impressed I know this). Her husband would be mostly in the background, like Denis Thatcher. Unlike Bill Clinton, who can never leave the stage, this conservative woman's husband would be secure enough in his own skin to allow his wife to promote her beliefs unencumbered by him.
A conservative female candidate would tell stories of empowerment and overcoming personal challenges that begin not in Washington, but in the home. She might recall Barbara Bush's commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1990 in which she said, "Your success as a family Š our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house." Home, not Congress or the White House, is where ultimate power lies. Getting and staying married, being responsible to your children and spouse, these are the American values that built and sustained our nation. No politician can do for an individual and a family what that individual and family won't do for themselves.
A female conservative candidate would not reflect the narcissism that characterizes the male quest for power. She would be tough, like Thatcher, but she would be experienced in disarming egotistical males who would end up (grudgingly) praising her for the experience. Like your mother or grandmother, she would tell us to "stop whining, suck it up and make something out of yourself. Don't wait for opportunity to knock at your door; go out and break down opportunity's door."
Hillary Clinton may not have broken the "glass ceiling" for a female president, but she's put a crack in it. Now if we can get beyond gender to ideas that work, perhaps a conservative will break through that ceiling and become our first female commander in chief.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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