This is just speculation, for whatever it is worth….
America has a history of leaders elected for what they are, not what they can do. They epitomize what we want our leaders to be, as people — not for the policies they advocate. Or even what their record suggests they can accomplish. Generals are the most common example. We elect generals not so that we get treated like privates or led to war, but because they are bold leaders.
Carter was elected from a similar motive, although radically different type. He was a modern version of the President raised in a log cabin, epitomizing American strong rural virtues. We elected Carter in effect as a prop for the bicentennial celebrations, forgetting that he would remain in office afterwards.
Now we have women in the electoral game. What do we want in a women President? The movies and TV show us one answer. Xena: warrior princess. Buffy the vampire slayer. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Sara Connor in the Terminator movies. Cameron Phillips in the Terminator TV spin-off. Alien-slayer Ellen Ripley. These days you see them in almost every movie. Kick-ass beauty and omnicompetent (usually far more so than the male hero). As media critic James Bowman explains:
Of course, the girl who is omnicompetent as fighter, thinker and lover against all sizes and weights of men has become a convention of the contemporary cinema, as much taken for granted as white hats for the good guys and black for the bad used to be in old-fashioned westerns.
This has edged into real life, as media archetypes often do. The Republicans have hit this bulls-eye with Governor Palin, a strong women and soccer mom (the modern version of Betty Crocker). To achieve this they chose someone with many of these characteristics in her life and built a political narrative around her.
Will this work? I suspect the answer will be found in the reactions of America’s women. Among voters they are the largest single block. Also, women can criticize Palin without easily being accused of sexism (Both parties have adopted this game, nominating candidates for whom any criticism is beyond the pale).
What does this mean for the election?
I believe the polls show that the American public has a high if inchoate level of fear (me, too). How will we express that? Perhaps by choosing the candidates expressing the most powerful image, one that gives us confidence in our future. War hero plus modern “has it all” women might be a winning combination. And the latest polls show…
White women have moved from 50-42 percent in Obama’s favor before the conventions to 53-41 percent for McCain now, a 20-point shift in the margin that’s one of the single biggest post-convention changes in voter preferences.
— “White Women Shift to McCain“, ABC News/Washington Post Poll, 8 September 2008
This will be an interesting election. The stakes are high. Please get involved in supporting the candidates of your choice.
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Other Posts about the Candidates
1. How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other, 7 February 2008 — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
2. A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012, 1 March 2008 — What is next in Iraq? None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future. McCain intends to fight so long as (or until) we suffer few casualties, then stay for a long time (perhaps a hundred years, as McCain said here and here) ). On the other hand, Obama has been quite explicit…
3. Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay, 3 March 2008 — We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them.
4. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008 — The Presidential campaign rolls on in the seventh year since 9/11, with the only debate about the Long War being in which nations America should fight. We see this even the speeches of the most “liberal” candidate, Senator Barack Obama.
5. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties (18 May 2008) – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.
6. President Obama, an Muslim apostate?, 2 June 2008 — Nope.
7. Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?, 6 June 2008 — Weirdness from our next President.
8. Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 july 2008
9. More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series), 16 July 2008 — About charisma: know it before you buy it!
10. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008 — At what point does criticism of Obama’s charisma and rhetoric become criticism of leadership itself — and blind faith in technocratic solutions so loved by policy nerds? Michael Knox Beran crosses that line in “Obama, Shaman“, City Journal, Summer 2008.
11. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008 — Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.
12. A powerful perspective on the candidates for President of the US, 28 August 2008 — John Derbyshire expresses what I have said about the candidates dreams of saving the world.
13. McCain believes we are stupid. Is he correct?, 30 August 2008
14. Alaska is near Russia, and Gov Palin’s other foreign policy experience, 1 September 2008
15. It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
For interesting articles about the candidates from other sources, see About the candidates for President of the United States.