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Caroline Kennedy, Victim Of Sexism?

This Caroline Kennedy farce will drag on a little longer, but in the meantime Anne Kornblut has a front page story in Friday's Washington Post on whether sexism had something to do with Kennedy's rough few weeks. Kornblut's piece starts off with this shaky claim:

With her abrupt exit this week from consideration for the Senate, Caroline Kennedy added her name to a growing list: women who have sought the nation's highest offices only to face insurmountable hurdles.

In what sense were the hurdles faced by Kennedy "insurmountable"? The next paragraph reads as follows:

Like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin before her, Kennedy -- in her aborted Senate bid -- illustrated what some contend is an enduring double standard in the handling of ambitious female office-seekers. Even as more women step forward as contenders for premier political jobs, observers say, few seem able to get there.

"Some" and "observers" seem to refer to three people quoted in the article: Kennedy loyalist Bob Shrum, Dee Dee Myers, and Donna Brazile. Brazile does manage to get two apparently poll-tested lines into one story, which does count as something of an acheivement: "Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents," and "The elevator to our future growth in the Congress is still stuck in the lobby." Meanwhile, here is Shrum:

"There's something different about when women run," said Bob Shrum, a Democratic consultant and a close ally of Kennedy. Echoing the complaints of many other family friends, Shrum noted that much of the criticism of Kennedy centered on her demeanor...

This is of course coming from the man who worked on three losing presidential campaigns (for weak and wooden Dukakis, sighing Gore, and stiff Kerry) that were derailed (in large part) because of absurd complaints about the candidates' "demeanor."

That being said, and as my co-blogger Brad Plumer just mentioned to me, it is disappointing that the Democrats did not use all these Senate vacancies (Delaware, Illinois, Colorado) to increase the number of female senators, especially at a time when the United States demands quotas for legislative offices in Afghanistan and Iraq. It might be too strong to call this sexism, but whatever it is can be chalked up as much more disturbing than the basically justified treatment that Kennedy received.