A woman president — it’s the dream of every politically obsessed feminist. Yet in ABC’s new drama, “Commander in Chief,” the real fantasy is the sexist world the new woman president confronts.
If you missed Tuesday’s debut, here’s the plot: The president has suffered a debilitating aneurysm. Before he dies, the president informs Vice President Mackenzie Allen, played by Geena Davis, that he wants her to resign. Her inclusion on the ticket was a political stunt to win votes. The president never seriously considered the possibility that she might succeed him.
Part of the president’s desire to oust Allen purportedly stems from ideology– the vice president is an independent; the president, a staunch Republican (i.e., evil cretin) who’d prefer the likeminded Speaker of the House carry on his agenda. Yet viewers are left with the inescapable conclusion that the real reason the president and his GOP allies oppose Mackenzie is sexism: Republicans just can’t handle a female leader.
No surprise, the writers of this West Wing wannabe depict Republicans as pure evil. At one point, Allen’s staff describes what would happen if the conservative speaker moves into the White House: “The return of book burning, creationism in the classroom, invading every Third World country….” This is the Republican agenda in the eyes of the hysterical, paranoid Left.
The veep considers acquiescing to the president’s request until her meeting with speaker, Nathan Templeton, played by Donald Sutherland. For feminists, Templeton is the devil incarnate. He’s openly hostile to the idea of a female head of state, insults Allen as owing her position to “theater,” and notes that she’s approaching menopause. He refers to a Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery as “a woman who couldn’t keep her legs together.” Allen, female avenger, thus decides to keep this monster out of the Oval Office.
Yet dastardly Republicans aren’t President Allen’s only obstacle to greatness — even more enlightened men present problems. She must deal with her husband’s bruised ego. He endures a tour of the First Lady’s quarters and faces menu questions from the White House chef. The new president decides to replace him as her chief of staff, fearing that he might undermine her authority. The new First Man eventually stands by his woman as she addresses a joint session of Congress, but no doubt future episodes will explore how this emasculated husband copes with his wife’s power.
The show closes with Allen delivering a rousing speech despite someone — we’re invited to suspect it’s Speaker Templeton — sabotaging the teleprompter so that she must talk without notes. It’s a harbinger of things to come: President Allen not only must lead the nation, but also must struggle against the country’s rampant sexism and radical conservative movement that will do anything to see her fail.
Some may celebrate “Commander in Chief” for casting a woman as president, an office a woman has yet to hold. The problem is that “Commander” perpetuates more myths than it debunks. Most notably, it preaches that Americans — especially those inscrutable red-state types– are hostile to women in power. All evidence points in the opposite direction. Each year, female pioneers in industry and politics are greeted with popular applause. A 2003 Gallup poll found that nearly 9 in 10 Americans are open to the idea of voting for a woman for president. It’s quite possible that this figure understates the level of support since many of those who answered “no” probably were thinking specifically of one presumed female candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton.
Americans are comfortable with women in positions of leadership. This (Republican!) administration has showcased powerful women, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, top presidential adviser Karen Hughes, and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. These women’s appointments weren’t even trumpeted as evidence of progress because it’s no longer news for women to hold such prominent positions. Bring on a Margaret Thatcher, and we’re liable see a Ms. President before long.
Hollywood and feminist leaders may prefer to cling to the image of women under siege — in which case they’ll undoubtedly enjoy “Commander in Chief” for affirming those biases. But Americans who live in the real world are liable to see the show for what it is: a feminist fiction.