| 18.5°C Dublin

'Women shouldn't be president. They are too emotional'

'HilLary Clinton should not be the next president of the United States. Women are emotional. They do not make good political leaders".

The speaker was a middle-aged white mother. Just the kind of American whom you might think SHOULD be supporting Hillary Clinton. But when I met that mother on a flight from Kentucky to Texas last week, she was adamant. And typical.

Across the US last week I kept getting the same response. None of the presidential candidates is ideal, people tell me. All have something to offer, but none is quite good enough.And the polls reflect their divisions.

The woman on the flight to Texas admitted that she had voted for George Bush last time. "But it was a mistake", she quickly added, "He has made everybody mad". Disillusioned by the Bush years, with her country at war, she is not sure where to turn.

Not that you see much of the war in the media here. Where it was a story last week, it was usually about the cost to taxpayers or about the scams by contractors who got government money. What made the big headlines was not Iraq but the firefight in California.

The raging conflagration received saturation media coverage, and here in 'The Valley' around this sprawling desert city of Phoenix their TV presenters worried about how much smoke haze would drift

over from Southern California (which is about six hours by road away).

But this is a country that defies definition. Every time you try to sum it up, it surprises you. Like that same woman flying down to see her sister in Odessa, Texas.

It turned out that she had taken her son to the Dominican Republic last year, especially to have him learn just how so many poor people in the world live.

If no two presidential candidates are the same, it may be because the US itself is so diverse. All human life is here, not just in the packed subways of Manhattan but in the busy eating houses of the south-west where an obese nation gets steadily more obese.

At Ground Zero in New York earlier last week, I watched as some visitors cried when they recollected what had happened six years ago. There is something mawkish and almost desperate about aspects of the way that the dreadful events of that day are recalled there. But, in practice, relatively few people bother to take the 9/11 tour or to visit the special centre where you can have the 9/11 experience.

Life has moved on. Outside the airports, security seems barely to exist.

And out here in Arizona, in the bizarre and flashy desert city that is Phoenix, world affairs seem even more remote.

If the glassy wealth of these streets are what the men in Baghdad are dying to preserve, there is an evident disconnect between those volunteer soldiers and the daily life of their fellow citizens. The space at the airport especially reserved for their comfort was appropriately empty.

The US is a vast and sometimes bizarre country. Where else would you suddenly see a lush dairy farm in the middle of desert as you fly across a natural wilderness? It is artificially maintained by pumped water, in a state where temperatures are running 10 degrees above normal (in the nineties last week), and where the city of Phoenix depends for its very existence on air conditioning and refrigeration. It is unsurprising to find even academics at the university still sceptical about global warming.

But if you get too thirsty in the heat you can always drop into the modern "old" pub called Rula Bula that looks like something straight out of a back street in Galway but that is actually set on Mill Avenue in Phoenix. Outside, exotic birds come alive in the trees at sundown. At that point the suburb of Tempe sounds like the bird house in Dublin. It is a wonderful and multifaceted country to visit. But it is also a politically disunited states in many ways. There is no clear sense of where it is going next.

If you had to put $100 on the outcome right now, you had best bet on Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Rudy Giuliani -- but nobody is too sure about the outcome and there yet may be an election upset.

It was embarrassing last week to see on TV the Republican candidates attempting to ingratiate themselves with an Evangelical Christian lobby group. Perhaps they meant what they said but their appeals to God and morals seem as phoney as a three- dollar bill.

Rudy Giuliani gave the lobbyists the least, expecting like many commentators that the Christian right will not be as influential this time around.

But one of the country's leading TV programmes, Good Morning America, cut the ground from under Giuliani last week when it ran a story about how he has given a former priest who was accused of child abuse a place on his campaign team.

It will have done the former mayor of New York City no good whatsoever. For her part, Hillary Clinton still needs to convince women that she can do the job, and do it without any fallout from bringing The First Lad, Bill, back to the White House.

Ironically, a poll conducted here last week suggests that young men are drawn to her more than young women are and she has yet to persuade people like that lady flying to Texas that she is not too "emotional" to run the United States.

Prof. Colum Kenny of Dublin City University is visiting The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.