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GUEST COLUMN: Sinking feeling America won't elect a woman President

By: Cate Terwilliger
February 14, 2016 Updated: February 14, 2016 at 4:20 am
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I try to steer clear of politics, minding the Old Testament counsel of Ecclesiastes: Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.

But as I watch this election cycle from what I presumed to be a safe distance, I feel myself getting sucked in. It's not the Trump-heightened entertainment of the Republican race; a certain What's the Matter With Kansas? segment of Americans has long been infatuated with privileged, polarizing simpletons who speak to our lower nature. Typically - though not always - a larger intelligence prevails, and we avoid putting such candidates in the Oval Office.

It's the Democrats who have me bothered.

I am an unabashed progressive, and I would be glad to vote for Bernie Sanders if there were not an equally forward-thinking candidate who is more experienced, better qualified, at least as intelligent and almost certainly more effective. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and her insurmountable liability appears to be that she lacks male genitalia.

In 2008, I watched with despair as Clinton's early lead was overcome by a callow upstart named Barack Obama. I had nothing against Obama, whose subsequent administration has been intelligent and principled, if only moderately effective. But Clinton was more qualified and would have won the Democratic nomination had she been a man. The choice for Obama affirmed that the United States, while undoubtedly still racist, remained even more sexist: Half black was more acceptable than all female.

The Sanders surge, like Obama's eight years ago, is a sobering reminder: American presidential campaigns are not about fairness, especially when it comes to gender. Rather, they proceed below the belt, in more ways than one.

I'm not concerned about the unrepresentative, bottom-feeding Bernie Bros. who malign Clinton and her supporters online. Nor even the considerably larger pool of Americans who still think it's OK to emphasize a female candidate's appearance over her credentials.

It's the biases we can't see - the simple, powerful subterranean forces always at work - that in their invisibility pose the greater danger. During my 20 years as a journalist, I came to respect those forces; I learned to listen when my gut told me that something contrary stirred beneath the surface. And my gut tells me that running beneath the pro-Sanders/anti-Clinton rhetoric is a deep, mean river of unacknowledged sexism. That we Americans - perhaps even the majority of women, apparently afflicted with internalized misogyny - will find a reason to choose a good man over a better woman. Still.

Once lambasted as unqualified, Clinton is now criticized as the establishment candidate; her experience is now cast as a detriment. Meanwhile, Sanders - a congressman entrenched in the American political machine for 25 years, a decade longer than Clinton - has somehow assumed Obama's appealing 2008 mantle as outsider and change agent.

It doesn't seem to matter that Clinton has worked tirelessly for change. As first lady more than two decades ago, she struggled to reform health care in a country where the pharmaceutical and insurance industries wield enormous clout. While we, and she, might wish otherwise, Clinton is precisely right when she describes the single-payer plan - long-debated, always defeated and now rechampioned by Sanders - as "some better idea that will never, ever come to pass."

Nor does it seem to matter that Sanders' views on other key policy issues are not substantially different from Clinton's, though Clinton is stronger on gun control. Nor, that he lacks the breadth of her expertise, especially in the crucial area of foreign policy.

Forget those facts: Sanders' followers are afire with his calls for political revolution. As if we live in a functioning democracy rather than a corporatocracy - a longstanding truth recently made explicit by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. As if the majority of citizens aren't complicit in that fact, embracing consumption as a personal value and unbridled capitalism as the American way. As if our easily distracted, entertainment-seeking, debt-ridden populace would suddenly, magically, get their faces out of their screens and give their time and money to the hard, sustained work of authentic revolution.

Those interests and their congressional cronies want Sanders to be the Democratic nominee. They don't want Clinton, who possesses not only the principles but the political savvy to pose a real threat to the status quo. They prefer the empty rhetoric of revolution to the reality of meaningful change.

Apparently, so do many of my fellow citizens, if the alternative is to send a woman to the White House. Time will tell their numbers.

But I'm getting that familiar sinking feeling that there truly is nothing new under the sun. That Americans, who supposedly stand for equality and opportunity, remain too misogynistic to nominate for president - let alone elect - a candidate who is eminently worthy if that candidate happens to be female.

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Cate Terwilliger is a former Gazette and Denver Post writer who lives in Manitou Springs.

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