Monday, November 19, 2012

Gender Quotas for US Elected Offices?

There will be 20 women in the US Senate in 2013. This is a record. But if you're anxious to smash the patriarchy and make everything "equal" this isn't anywhere near good enough. Thus some people wonder if the time hasn't come to dust off Title IX. Instead of applying it to college or high school sports or ridiculously threatening to expand its jurisdiction to the scientific classroom, some think the US should have political gender quotas for elected seats. Some people would want women to be guaranteed at least 30% representation in elected bodies while others demand 50% representation in the US Senate.  Each state would have to have one man and one woman as its Senator. 

It is a source of constant amusement to me that Harrison Bergeron, a dystopic satire by a left-leaning writer, has instead become a virtual guidebook for some earnest current left-wingers (and a bete noire for right-wingers) who really are obsessed with trying to enforce equality of results no matter what. 

You don't have to be a fervent racist or chauvinist to understand that people aren't the same and have different interests. Looking at the state of the world today I wouldn't argue that men are better at leadership but they definitely seem to be more interested in leadership. Should we pretend that the gender that is literally awash in testosterone and aggression and gets certain (ahem) benefits from the other gender for seeking, holding and expressing status and power would not then on average show greater interest in obtaining formal leadership positions? Every single American man who's been elected to office in the past ninety two years has had to appeal to women voters. What we see is what the electorate, men and women, want. Maybe the electorate is wrong, bigoted, behind the times, etc. Maybe. But ultimately power resides in the people.

It may well be a feminist truism that men and women are roughly identical and interchangeable and thus any societal differences are solely an example of invidious discrimination. But just believing something doesn't make it so. We still have a legal and constitutional system that would, I hope, make it difficult for gender quotas to be used. I don't think that such quotas could be reconciled with equal protection concerns or the right to freedom of association. How can we tell voters that their choice will be limited by gender? 

And enforcement would be unpleasant if not impossible. Let's say that a insurgent political movement led by a honest, hardworking charismatic man arises and defeats the moribund ineffective Democratic (woman) Senator. But as the state's Republican Senator, who's not up for re-election this year is a man, that would mean that the state would then be sending two men to the Senate. No good. All those votes for the new guy were thus meaningless. Are we going to tell the rising star that sorry, he can't serve in the US Senate because he has an outie instead of an innie? Does that sound remotely American?

Bad policy arises from bad ideas. There are two bad ideas here. The first is that you can only or best be politically represented by someone who shares your immutable physical traits. If everyone felt that way then we'd not have the President we have nor would a decent politician like Steve Cohen ever have served. What matters is not so much what you look like but what you do. 
The second bad idea is that men and women are interchangeable and ought to be doing the exact same things in the same proportion. That's never been and never will be the case in human society. Men and women are of equal value but they are rather obviously not identical. And women can be just as mean, greedy, short-sighted, ignorant and bigoted as men. There is certainly no guarantee that having more women making or executing law will produce better results. Would you enjoy a President Palin? Michele Bachmann as head of HHS? Is it better for South Carolina pro-choice women that right wing pro-life Nikki Haley is governor instead of a right wing pro-life man? There is no law preventing interested women from running for office.
There is no law preventing political parties and interest groups from encouraging women candidates, donating to women candidates or even leaning on male potential candidates to sit an election out because the party wants more women to run. 
There is no law preventing current women (or men) elected officials from identifying and mentoring potential women candidates. 

Right now, if you've got the guts, intelligence and the heart to do it you can run for political office. There should not be a federal law preventing you from doing so because of your gender. Period. Gender quotas are the political equivalent of giving everyone in a sports event a trophy. It's a silly idea and debases the challenge. This idea also shows a nasty hostility to the voter's choice.

I believe in equality of opportunity. I don't believe in legally requiring equality of results. I think our system can occasionally get away with a small thumb on the scale where there is historical or ongoing discrimination. But quotas go way beyond that. There is a tension between freedom and equality just as there is between freedom and safety. The US body politic has mostly tended towards freedom. Our constitution is set up that way. However there are some powerful currents that tend toward equality and safety at the expense of freedom. 

The voters must be able to choose the best woman or man for a particular job without being prevented from doing so by a particular interest group that decides it doesn't like current gender (or any other kind of) political demographics. Black people are roughly 13% of the population and have no Senate seats. Jewish people are about 3% of the population and have eleven Senate seats. Hispanic people are about 15% of the population and have three Senate seats. Left-handed redheaded bisexual agnostics are 2% of the population and on and on and on. If you go down the path of political quotas, pack a lunch because it's gonna be a long haul.


1) Do you think there will ever be proportional gender representation in Congress and the Senate?

2) Do quotas have any place in American politics? Do you think they're legal?

3) Have you ever read Harrison Bergeron?