As the first African American woman ever elected to Congress and later the first African American as well as the first woman to run for the presidential nomination of a major political party, the late Shirley Chisholm more than once observed that she faced more discrimination in the political arena for being a woman than for being black.
And, indeed, the record for women seeking the presidency and vice presidency is not good. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win her party’s nomination for president but lost to Donald Trump despite winning the popular vote by two percentage points. Past female vice presidential aspirants — Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 for the Democrats and Sarah Palin in 2008 for the Republicans — have fallen short as well.
Women are most assuredly blocked from the Oval Office by a glass ceiling, which has undoubtedly made the United States a lesser republic. We’ve limited the political talent pool to less than half the population. It’s shameful.
So we have to applaud former Vice President Joe Biden, who announced Sunday during a presidential debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders that he intends to pick a woman as his running mate.
There’s surely no shortage of talented women for Mr. Biden to choose from. Just looking at those who ran against him offers:
The candidate who often appeared to have the deepest policy knowledge in the field (Sen. Elizabeth Warren);
And the candidate with the best track record of reaching out to Republicans and middle America (Sen. Amy Klobuchar);
And then there is the star power of Sen. Kamala Harris.
Or perhaps Mr. Biden would choose someone who did not run for president such as Stacy Abrams, the Georgia state lawmaker who almost was elected governor and now crusades for voting rights. Both Senator Harris and Ms. Abrams are African American.
In 2020, electing a female vice president should not be regarded as groundbreaking. It’s more like overdue. The list of other industrialized, democratic nations that have had female heads of state is a lengthy one extending from the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Israel and Norway to South Korea. Canada elected a woman as prime minister 27 years ago. So did Australia, 10 ten years ago. The late Margaret Thatcher might still be remembered as “iron,” but she was also a “lady” whose 11-year reign as prime minister began way back in 1979. More than two-dozen countries have a female head of state right now. What does that make the U.S.? A backwards patriarchy? The Handmaid’s Tale with a slightly better birth rate? It is, frankly, embarrassing.
This is not a sop to women. This is not tokenism. And it is surely not a lowering of standards. And please don’t suggest that electing a woman vice president represents some kind of affirmative action hire. Look at the work of most any woman currently in Congress or serving as a governor or perhaps CEO of a major corporation, and there’s no denying their qualifications.
A woman vice president would demonstrate to the next generation that in fact, yes, in this country you can, with hard work and sacrifice, be anything you choose to be regardless of gender. Call it symbolism perhaps, but examples matter. A woman has never been elected president or vice president of this nation. It’s beyond time that should change.