The End of Men in Politics?

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Much is being made today of the successes of women in Tuesday's primaries, and the rise of female political candidates generally--and with good reason.


Two women now sit atop the Republican ticket in California, vying for the state's most prominent open positions in nationally followed statewide races. Both are former CEOs, and both defeated men in aggressive primaries.

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman used her vast personal wealth, spending $71 million of her own money defeat fellow a fellow millionaire, the conservative insurance commissioner and tech businessman Steve Poizner. Whitman will run against Democrat Jerry Brown for governor in the fall.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina outmaneuvered a Tea-Party-backed candidate, Chuck DeVore, and a former congressman, Tom Campbell, on her way to victory in Tuesday's GOP Senate primary. In November she'll try her luck against another sharp, successful female politician (and published novelist), Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In South Carolina, state Rep. Nikki Haley muscled her way to the top of South Carolina's gubernatorial primary, despite accusations of affairs with two men. She bested Lt. Gov Andre Bauer and Rep. Gresham Barrett, heading into a June 22 runoff with the latter, aided by endorsements from Jenny Sanford and Sarah Palin. Haley will likely become the next governor of the Palmetto State, which one might expect to elect a good ole boy, rather than an Indian-American woman.

Nevada's multi-way Senate primary saw women finish in the top two slots, and even as this race shifted dramatically over the past six weeks, the frontrunner was always a woman. Tea-Party-backed Sharron Angle finished ahead of former Nevada GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden; in the fall, she'll try to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln showed toughness and savvy in holding off a well-funded challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Bill Clinton is now calling her the "new comeback kid."

The success of these women has dominated cable news coverage of last night's elections, but it marks an ascension of women in politics that extends far beyond Tuesday night.

As MSNBC's Chris Matthews noted on air last night, women are now "in the on-deck circle," waiting in the wings for the highest levels of power: women, more and more, are populating the second-highest tier of government roles, second only to the presidency--the Senate seats and governorships that consistently produce formidable White House candidates. (This, of course, comes after Hillary Clinton gave that job serious chase, and after Sarah Palin came reasonably close to becoming VP.) Washington Post reporter/blogger Dave Weigel predicted Haley will deliver the GOP's response to President Obama's next State of the Union address.

Coincidentally, the rise of political women fits in with the rise of women in generall, as outlined by Hanna Rosin in the current issue of The Atlantic. Women are earning 60% of bachelor's degrees, half of all law and medical degrees, and 42% of M.B.A.s. Whitman and Fiorina are part of a corporate trend, with their CEO experience and, in Whitman's case, almost laughable amount of earned wealth: though only 3% of Fortune-500 CEOs are women, they out-earned their male counterparts by 43% (perhaps indicating that, to be a woman in that position, one has to add value over and above male competitors).

The female wave has been accompanied (perhaps aided?) by the archetypes of pop culture, as Atlantic editor James Bennet points out in his editor's note: in film, slacker men now must prove their worths to driven, overachieving women. Think "Knocked Up." This literary pattern has emerged as hapless young men are getting out-hustled by ambitious young women in school.

Maybe the same thing is happening in politics. Men have had it easy for so long, consciously or unconsciously taking into account their good-ole-boy advantages, all clubby assumption and the ease of less pressure--just as women, entering the professional world, know about the history of the women's movement, of the glass ceiling, and are determined not to fail, having something to prove while men, given no historical or immediate disadvantage, find themselves bereft of a natural incentive structure--that maybe they're getting soft and the women will just take over.

Women seem more naturally adept at politics, anyway, being generally more sentient communicators. In the world of politics, multi-directional awareness is paramount. Men can barely listen when they watch TV. Stereotypically, men are better suited to a single logical task, rather than the complex interactions of a social group. It seems clear which ability is more useful in a campaign.

More and more women are coming into power. Not all of the above candidates will win in November. But it's worth noting that today's stories about the success of women candidates is not a stand-alone thing; it's part of a larger social trend.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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