Matthew Dowd was top campaign strategist for the Bush-Cheney reëlection in 2004 and went on to lead Schwarzenegger’s winning gubernatorial bid two years later in California; he hasn’t worked a campaign in the five years following those two high-profile victories. What would get him back in the game? A woman for president——who isn’t Hillary Clinton.
Charlie Rose asks if he could be persuaded to work on a third party presidential run by Michael Bloomberg, and Dowd quickly pivots to his preferred hypothetical campaign:
DOWD: The next race I would like to do is [to] elect in this country a woman president of the United States…that has some level of business background, but is a strong woman. That to me is a fascinating race that I would like to be involved in.
Election of the first woman president will be an historic moment that any political strategist would love to be associated with for the notoriety and prestige. Stating that desire nearly unprompted suggests something more than padding his biography is motivating this desire, though. It was heartening, until he explained his reasoning:
DOWD: I think what the country’s looking for is actually a maternal figure that can bring people around the dinner table and say “No, no—you stop talking. No, no, no—give him some of your dinner.” That’s what I think the country’s looking for, and you’re like “Aw, do I have to?”
In Dowd’s reckoning, the first female president must be a strong woman with a business background and political experience, but she should be elected for her innate capacity to scold a Dennis the Menace-like populace into grudging compliance. The country will utter slurs under its breath as we clean our collective room, and will be better off for having done so.
Applying familial analogs to political figures in general, and the president in particular, is deeply unsettling and dangerous. Citizens are invariably cast as the children in these analogies, with no right to question the adults in Washington and the capitols. The particulars of Dowd’s formulation, simultaneously infantilizing the populace and dictating an archetypal mother role for the president to perform, is more harmful than run of the mill paternalism espoused by conservatives of both parties.
The president is not our parent, but the head of our executive branch, the Commander in Chief of our military, and our representative in international affairs. We do not ask the president to provide rides to soccer practice, or help with homework, or a story before bed. No one asks the president to explain where babies come from or why the dog won’t wake up.
The first woman elected president can provide an inspiration to other women, and to young girls especially; she will serve as proof that the highest elected office in our country does not require any particular organs or chromosomes to attain and occupy. She will inevitably be viewed through a thick fog of gendered expectations, but her campaign can avoid having essentialist nonsense as its core value (provided Matthew Dowd and his ilk are not on the team.) Whoever it may be, I’m sure she will eschew the pantomime of running for Mother in Chief when the office she seeks is President of the United States.