The XX Factor

USA Today Columnist Worries That Democratic Women Have Stolen All the Power

Will allowing one woman to run for president mean men have lost everything?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Democrats are quite likely to nominate a woman for president in 2016, which would be the very first time in American history that a major political party has done such a thing. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers, explains in USA Today that this possibility should alarm us all. Baker argues that by allowing women to have power, the Democrats “have scared off serious male challengers” and created a “gender problem” in the party.  

Baker pays lip service to the idea that it’s good to let women have some power by allowing that the “advancement and championing of women has been a source of justifiable pride for Democrats.” Then he lets loose with his real argument, which is that allowing women into positions of power is inherently anti-male, because we all know how afraid men are to challenge women. “Take Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi,” he writes. “Both are towering and intimidating figures, who have sucked the oxygen out of the spheres they dominate.”

Baker argues that these women have amassed power not because of merit, but because they are using the immense terror of ever challenging female power to intimidate their worthier male opponents. “But the very elevation of these extraordinary women has placed male Democrats in the position of being unwilling to challenge them,” he writes. “The mantra ‘it’s her turn’ has broad appeal among Democrats.”

The list of Clinton victims is long, according to Baker:

While the Democratic bench isn’t as full as it has been, there is still no shortage of qualified male candidates who will probably not step forward in 2016. In the Senate there are potential hopefuls who could win the hearts of the very people who consider Clinton too middle-of-the-road: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. There are well-regarded governors such as Jack Markell of Delaware and Andrew Cuomo of New York or former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. None of them has given the slightest hint that they might consider a run.

The fact that there are so many male senators and governors to begin with is lost on Baker. And to those who would point out that the all-powerful Clinton lost to a male opponent last time she tried to secure the Democratic nomination, Baker says this: “Yes, but he also represented a core Democratic constituency that also enjoys favored status in the party and rewards it in return with overwhelming support.” Which is a euphemistic way of saying that it’s only because Obama is black.

Reality check: There are twice as many male Democrats as female ones in Congress, suggesting that Baker’s fear that women are stealing all the power is a tad overblown. Baker presents no evidence for his concern that the deference to either Clinton or Pelosi is due to gender and not to their political acumen, just as he assumes that Obama’s success must be due to race and not his inherent talent as a politician. That’s particularly odd when you consider the long history of famously overbearing Democrats, from Lyndon B. Johnson to Tip O’Neill, whose ability to intimidate challengers has always been attributed to their political skill and not their race or gender. 

Hillary Clinton is a powerful figure in American politics, no doubt. I’m sure there are several qualified politicians—maybe even some female ones—who would like to run but will not because of her power. But the fact that, if she wins the primary, she will be the first ever female nominee does not suggest impending matriarchy, but rather a long way to go before women are truly treated like equals.