Friday 26 December 2014

Obama election machine isn't blueprint for female hopefuls

Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30

Barrack Obama Strategist Jen O'Malley Dillon during a Campaign Strategy workshop with Women for Election and female candidates running for the Local and European Elections 2014 at the European Parliament Offices,Dublin earlier this week. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Barrack Obama Strategist Jen O'Malley Dillon during a Campaign Strategy workshop with Women for Election and female candidates running for the Local and European Elections 2014 at the European Parliament Offices,Dublin earlier this week. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Barrack Obama Strategist Jen O'Malley Dillon during a Campaign Strategy workshop with Women for Election and female candidates running for the Local and European Elections 2014 at the European Parliament Offices,Dublin earlier this week. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Jen O'Malley-Dillon, former Obama strategist, has been giving tips on fighting elections to Irish women with political ambitions.

No doubt they have listened carefully. Anybody would – and should – listen carefully to a person described as an Obama strategist. US President Barack Obama's methods of fighting elections have been a world's wonder.

But do their huge successes on the far side of the Atlantic warrant emulation in Ireland?

Even by American standards, the scale of Mr Obama's two presidential campaigns was awesome. It involved the recruitment not only of tough-minded professionals but armies of volunteers working 12 hours a day or more.

They compiled databases packed with relevant information about millions of individual voters. Ms O'Malley-Dillon draws a distinction between this operation and reliance on the demographics publicly available to everyone.

You might wonder, though, whether all that work – and all that expense – was ever really necessary.

The demographics decide American elections. The Republican Party relies on the votes of white, middle-aged or elderly men. The Democrats can count on the women, the young men and the ethnic minorities. On present form, they cannot lose a presidential election.

That, however, is not to say that they would carelessly neglect any of their "constituencies". You have only to look at Hillary Clinton's speech in Boston this week.

The probable Democratic presidential candidate (and probable next inhabitant of the White House) spoke to an audience of female business executives. She told them to "dare to compete".

But Ms Clinton, being as tough and smart as any man you can think of, knows the hard facts of the competition she urges.

She knows, from her own experience, the prejudice against women in politics. She also knows that politics is usually a dreadful life for a man and a worse life for a woman, especially a mother.

If that is true of the United States, how true can it be in Ireland right now, one month from the biggest possible political day except for a general election, the day we vote in the local and European elections and two Dail by-elections?

Ireland has one of the world's worst records for electing women, even nominating women. That will not change next month. And we cannot suppose that prejudice does not come into the reckoning. Too many Irishmen still think that a woman's place is in the kitchen.

One consequence of the prejudice is that no more than two or three women – perhaps none at all – will have any say in the decisions that follow next month's election results.

Everybody assumes that Labour will take a hammering. I venture to suggest that Fine Gael could suffer likewise. The voters can punish both governing parties next month, thinking that the results do not matter and that at the general election they can turn back, if they wish, to Fine Gael or Labour.

But if the results are bad enough there will be grave implications for the Government's stability. Enda Kenny wants to hold the general election on the latest possible date, April 8, 2016. The decision may be out of his hands.

And on "the other side of the house", Micheal Martin has to worry about demographics.

Not demographics on the American scale. Ireland is still a fairly homogeneous country. But Dublin is different from everywhere else, especially for Fianna Fail.

Mr Martin would like to promote women and Dubliners, but there are none on his party's benches in the Dail. By contrast, Mary Lou McDonald is, aside from Michael Noonan, the star of the present Dail. Can this be a hint for the future?

If 40pc of deputies were women, and if half a dozen women held top jobs in the Cabinet, the bureaucracy, would we be any better off? We certainly would be no worse off if we ceased to neglect the potential of half the adult population – and stopped widening the "cultural" gap between Donnybrook and Donegal.

The Americans can't help us there. At the core of our troubles is our dysfunctional political system. We have to find a way to fix it ourselves.

Irish Independent

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