By James M. Perry
Bosnia and Herzegovina recently had a female president (Bonjana Kristo). So did the Faroe Islands (Prime Minister Marita Petersen), not to mention Great Britain (Margaret Thatcher), Germany (Chancellor Angela Merkel), and Australia (Prime Minister Julia Gillard), and dozens more.
So what's the matter with the USA? We're supposed to be the world's oldest democracy. We should be leading the way on this sort of thing.
That, of course, takes us to Hillary Rodham Clinton. If she runs in 2016, she should be favored to win (especially if the Republicans put up one of their Tea Party stalwarts). The United States would then join the Faroe Islands as a place where women sometimes rule.
Mrs. Clinton is the first American woman to be considered for the presidency with the necessary chops to qualify for the job. She's been the First Lady, the junior senator from New York, and the Secretary of State. I watched her campaign for the Senate in New York in 2000. She was a little lucky; her Republican opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio, was lackluster. Mrs. Clinton, in the beginning of her campaign, didn't come across as much better. But she was smart and a fast learner. She picked up early on that the election would be won or lost in Upstate New York. One day she visited a Jewish retirement home near Rochester. She knew the woman who ran the home; she'd stayed overnight in her house! She received as as wild a welcome as 300 people in wheel chairs are likely to give. It was then I figured I was watching something special.
In September, in a TV debate, Mr. Lazio marched up to her podium, put himself in her face, and demanded she agree to do one thing or another. It was a huge mistake. Mrs. Clinton won, going away, 55 per cent to 43, and most of her winning margin came from Albany and Syracuse and Rochester and the rest of Upstate New York.
Once in office, she made dozens of return trips to Upstate. Some of the wine growers in the Finger Lakes at first didn't take her seriously; she was a spoiled celebrity, they thought, and wouldn't care much about their problems. They were wrong. She listened to them and, once she had seen what they needed. she helped them.
Mrs. Clinton works at incandescent speed.
I have only one woman politician to compare her to -- Great Britain's Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady." I was a reporter in London and covered two of her (and her party's) elections, in 1983 and in 1987. She was lucky the first time I saw her. Her opponent was Michael Foot, a colorful old socialist with flying white hair who seemed to take most of his pleasure by walking his dogs every morning on Hampstead Heath. He showed little interest in reforming the Labor Party. Her party, the Conservatives, won easily. The next time, she ran against Neil Kinnock, who, unlike Foot, began the modernization of the Labor Party that was completed by Tony Blair. I thought Mr. Kinnock was a pretty good candidate (Joe Biden plagiarized one of his speeches), but she demolished him too.
What was her secret? Like Mrs. Clinton, she was hard-working and smart -- smart enough to realize that the Labor Party had drifted well to the left of Britain's mainsteam. Her position was somewhat like Ronald Reagan's in 1980. He realized the Democrats had drifted too far to the left, and capitalized on it too. Millions of Britons agreed that Mrs. Thatcher's moves to dismantle the Labor Party was the right and timely thing to do. They might not have loved her (she was hardly warm and fuzzy) but they agreed with her.
And she was tough. I remember asking her what I thought was a fairly innocent question at a press conference. "How can you possibly say that?" she demanded. It was only a question, I mumbled. She moved on to the next reporter.
The strongest woman politician in the world today is Germany's Angela Merkel, sometimes called the "Iron Frau." She's tough and smart too, but I'm not sure her political insticts are as shrewd as either Mrs. Thatcher's or Mrs. Clinton's (she seems to be fumbling the euro crisis). She moves, her critics say, too slowly.
Chancellor Merkel is listed somewhere as the second strongest political leader in the world (President Obama comes first). Mrs. Clinton, should she be elected (by argung, among other things, that the Republican party has drifted too far to the right), would be the world's most powerful leader. Imagine that.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.