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Twilight of the Pale Patriarchs

Being the party of white men no longer adds up to victory for the GOP.

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One perceptive male reader, elated by the magnitude of the sea change that this election represented, wrote to enlist me in a quixotic campaign to eliminate men from politics altogether. “Male Rule has proved to be an abject failure,” he argues, “a downward spiral of death and destruction that’s eliminating both the human experiment and the possibility of any life-supporting habitats.”

This provokes no objection from me — never on a day like this one, the Ides of December, when yet another deranged male (mass killers are never female) with yet another assault rifle has just massacred yet another classroom full of innocent children. But what my reader seems to be proposing is an estrogen test for political participation, a biological gender barrier that would automatically eliminate all the testosterone-stoked machismo that has created the most violent affluent country in the world.

I wish it were as simple as that. But I’m obliged to call his attention to my home state of North Carolina. Women here have made great strides toward sharing political power; currently our governor, one of our senators and three members of our congressional delegation are female. US Sen. Kay Hagan defeated another woman, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, to win her seat. Very few states can boast as much gender distribution at the top of the political pyramid. Unfortunately it has not, at the moment, produced a net gain in enlightenment or humanity for the state of North Carolina. We seem to be slipping in the other direction.

Hagan is a responsible senator. The other Democrat, Gov. Beverly Perdue, might have had a more illustrious term in office if the Republican legislature hadn’t hounded her mercilessly, eventually discouraging her from running for reelection. The three women who represented North Carolina in the 112th Congress hail from an entirely different species. Like the original vampire, Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, the late Sen. Jesse Helms — the physical embodiment of the white Southern patriarchy in the Carolinas — seems to have sunk his fatal fangs into any number of female victims before his crypt was sealed. How else do we account for three of Washington’s most intransigent high-heeled hard-liners, a Tea Party trio that rivals Michele Bachmann for intolerance and resistance to logical discourse?

It’s only an archaic code of courtesy toward women, especially older women — for me there are fewer all the time — that restrains me from an even more contemptuous assessment of the obtuse, often comical Rep. Virginia Foxx. In addition to her shrill homophobia, Far-Right voting record and bewildering attempts to explain herself, there’s speculation that she no longer plays with four suits of 13 cards each. A meltdown in one of the House elevators last month found our gracious legislator shrieking “Members Only! Members Only!” at a terrified staffer who was actually entitled to ride — the sign Foxx pointed at while she screamed only barred non-Members during voting on the floor of the House. An acute embarrassment who feeds the worst stereotype of the befuddled Southern reactionary, Foxx arrived on the political scene at about the same time that Jesse Helms left it. If Jesse has been reincarnated as a woman, she’s the one he became.

Sue Myrick, who retires this month, is another ultra-conservative whose specialty has been hysterical outbursts against American Muslims. The most recent female to join the delegation is a pure Tea Party creation, Renee Ellmers, who celebrated her election to a second term by proposing to rename one of Raleigh’s historic federal buildings in honor of Jesse Helms himself. To the chagrin and amazement of every Tar Heel who votes to the left of Kaiser Wilhelm — that includes at least the 48% of us who voted for Obama — the traditionally progressive Raleigh News and Observer has endorsed her proposal.

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