Columns » Max Brantley

The year of the man

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Alice Stewart, former press aide to Gov. Mike Huckabee, now handles publicity for the Arkansas Republican Party. Among her duties is passing around notices to media about articles supportive of the party's cause.

Bright and early Monday came a note from Stewart about an article in USA Today. It said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, is fighting for her political life against favored Republican Rep. John Boozman.

It will indeed be a Truman-Dewey moment should Lincoln prevail. What interested me was that Stewart overlooked or found unremarkable the real point of the USA Today report and widely spread it around.

The article said that this could be the "Year of the Setback" for women candidates, who typically have a harder go in difficult economic times. Lincoln made the Senate 12 years ago with significant help from women's groups fighting centuries of legislative paternalism. There are now 56 female Democrats and 17 female Republicans in the House; 13 Democrats and 4 Republicans in the Senate are women. The article said analysts predict that the number of women in Congress will drop this election for the first time in more than three decades. So much for the glass ceiling cracked by Hillary Clinton's candidacy and Sarah Palin's nomination for vice president.

You'd think this would be a negative point to female voters. But there it was: Stewart's preferred political party is about to make gains at the expense of women.

Coincidentally, a Tea Party group held a rally in Mountain Home Sunday. A photograph of the scene was telling — where hair wasn't silvery it was often disappearing and men, middle-aged and up, dominated the modest assembly.

You know the Tea Party. THEY WANT THEIR COUNTRY BACK. It's not just the black president with Islamic relatives and foreign-born ancestors that troubles them. It's the wave of immigrants. It's the growing, if still grudging, acceptance of sexual minorities. And, yes, it's women who don't rely solely on sexual wiles to get ahead; who think independently and don't meekly submit to menfolks' bellicose and sometimes nutty notions. Times were so much better when white men were in charge and women tended the children, the cookstove and man's needs. Weren't they?

Our memories are so short that many voters really do think times were better two years ago and that President Obama's predecessor didn't leave the mess he's trying to clean up. Many voters, too, are hard-wired to believe that tough times — as if the economy was a cage wrestling match — call for men. Sadly, many of these voters will be women.

While swaggering men were lying the U.S. into bad wars, women like Blanche Lincoln were fighting for child nutrition legislation. While paternalistic men like John Boozman reflexively voted to restrict women's autonomy over their bodies, women like Blanche Lincoln were casting votes to preserve family planning programs that could reduce both unwanted pregnancies and abortion.

The list goes on. It is enough to know that the Republican Party opposes the Equal Rights Amendment and its guarantee of equal treatment for all regardless of gender. The GOP says it's no longer necessary. But look around. You don't need a calculator to compute the number of women CEOs in Arkansas or the number of women who serve on corporate boards. If the Republicans are successful, you won't need quite so many fingers and toes to count women in Congress, either. If I were Alice Stewart, I don't think I'd be bragging about it.

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