Even before Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called state Sen. Scott Brown to concede defeat in Tuesday’s special senate election, the finger-pointing began. Several explanations as to why her campaign floundered were readily offered. But what really hindered Coakley was that it’s apparently easier to like a male candidate than a female one.
Even before Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called state Sen. Scott Brown to concede defeat in Tuesday’s special senate election, the finger-pointing began.
Several explanations as to why her campaign floundered were readily offered. She took for granted that independents wouldn’t defect to the other side after helping elect President Obama last year. She alienated Red Sox nation by calling former Sox ace Curt Schilling a “Yankee” fan. Brown did a far better job at branding himself as the candidate for the people. The vote was a referendum with this country’s disenchantment with the health-care debate.
But what really hindered Coakley was that it’s apparently easier to like a male candidate than a female one.
Despite all the advances of the last 50 years in this country in terms of gender equality, female candidates are still judged differently than their male counterparts. Female leaders in other countries don’t seem to have the same problem. Iceland, for example, recently elected a woman prime minister. Women also are heads of state in Germany, Finland, Ireland, Argentina, the Philippines and until this week, Chile.
But in this country they are still struggling with an identity problem.
Tuesday’s special senatorial election proved that once again. One constant in the post-election analysis is that Brown came across as more likable than Coakley. Thanks to an ingenuous set of TV advertisements starring his pickup truck, Brown was branded as down-to-earth kind of guy who cared about kitchen-table issues.
But Coakley, who stayed off the airwaves until it was too late, came across as aloof, cold and detached to the rank-and-file types who populate the Bay State. An ill-timed trip to Washington, D.C., and the unfortunate Schilling comment didn’t help, either.
But she’s not alone in obtaining the dreaded “ice queen” moniker.
It’s something that then-2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton struggled with during the entire primary campaign. In February, 2008, Clinton was pummeled in some circles for shedding tears during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H. Presidents can’t cry. They have to be tough as nails and show no emotion. But the tears ended up helping her show her softer side and she eventually won the New Hampshire primary.
A few months later she was drinking whiskey at an Indiana restaurant. It was a smart attempt to show middle America that she was someone you’d like to have a beer with. But across the nation, especially on the East Coast, it was quickly labeled by some as pandering to blue collars.
Sarah Palin, then-candidate for vice president, recognized the perils of trying to please everyone. So, instead she made it her mission to brand herself as one of the guys, or at least a hockey mom. She knew how to hunt and field strip a deer. She didn’t mind getting her blue jeans dirty. And she stuck to her guns about hot-button issues such as abortion, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and yes, guns.
Despite all that, Palin’s inability to comport herself during a series of television interviews with Katie Couric, along with some very poor mishandling by her campaign team, helped discredit her to all but the most vocal right-wingers. Since the campaign, she’s tossed her job as Alaska’s governor, authored a best-selling book and has become one of the most hated political figures in recent history.
In a matter of days, Brown has already proven himself capable of Palin-like gaffes. He’s endorsed a congressional candidate who believes Obama wasn’t born in this country and he offered up his two college-aged daughters by calling them “available” during his acceptance speech. But so far those off-message acts haven’t been widely reported. More sauce for the double-standard goose.
And that double standard spelled doom for Coakley. She would have been pilloried had she gone the Hillary Clinton route or ridiculed had she followed Palin’s person of the people persona. But what has to be disturbing to those seeking gender equality is that Brown was able to channel his inner Palin into a one-way ticket to the U.S. Senate while Coakley is now known as the ice queen who couldn’t deliver the bluest of states to the White House.
David Rogers is an editor with GateHouse Media, based in Beverly, Mass. Any comments? Send them to: email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.