Mars, Venus and Presidential Politics
Nonfiction books come and go. Most don’t stay in your mind for over a decade. One that did for me was Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by former marital therapist John Gray.
This book was first published in 1992. Its central idea was the different modes of emotional “accounting” that men and women use in intimate relationships.
Men are like traditional accountants. They assign a rough numerical value to each debit and credit and add them up. Women have a less arithmetic and more impressionistic approach.
For a woman, numerous small, random acts of affection and kindness can overcome even major blunders or betrayals. They can outweigh things like totaling the family car, losing the house by gambling in stocks or commodities, or having an extramarital affair. For a man, any blunder or betrayal that big overwhelms small acts of affection and often spells divorce.
Venusian “relationship accounting” makes sense for child rearing. We humans have the longest child-rearing cycle in the animal kingdom. It takes about two decades to train our offspring to real fluency in our language, to a profession that is useful in our highly specialized economy, to understanding our inordinately complex culture and history, and to finding a comfortable place in them. As long as a couple enjoys enough random acts of affection, kindness, respect and cooperation to keep it working as a unit, the vital job of child rearing can proceed.
What does all this have to do with presidential politics? Plenty. For months, the persistent tale of Hillary Clinton’s “experience” has puzzled me.
Read the list of things on Hillary’s website, written by her husband Bill, one of the most gifted salesmen in human history. There are numerous items, going back to Hillary’s law-school graduation.
The number of items is large, but the weight of each is small. The biggest things on the list are Hillary’s push for S-CHIP—in which she supported initiatives of Ted Kennedy and others from within Bill’s White House—and her 1993 health-care proposal, which failed. Also of note is her inspirational 1995 speech on women’s rights near Beijing.
The rest of the items are things like chairing non-profit corporations, advocating for children, writing reports, chairing and serving on lawyers’ committees, organizing and attending conferences and rallies, and so forth. Almost any lawyer interested in politics and public service does these things, usually for free. No one thinks they make anyone qualified to be president. The only reason Hillary’s efforts seem different is that she did some of these things as First Lady.
To a Martian, the most important things about Hillary’s “experience” are not on Bill’s list at all. Her 1993 health care proposal failed because of “mandates”—a political mistake she’s repeated in her current health-care proposal. She voted for war in Iraq without reading the crucial intelligence report. She fell in line with Dubya and voted to declare the armed forces of a sovereign nation (Iran) a terrorist organization—the first step to war. By Martian accounting, these errors of judgment outweigh all the little items on Bill’s list.
Yet to Venusians, the long list of small things shows a lifetime of commitment, good intentions and noble effort. Those many small things add up; they qualify Hillary to lead our nation. They are the random, small acts of kindness, affection and cooperation that make relationships work.
This chasm between Mars and Venus reached its widest point in a recent piece by Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist. Here’s what she wrote about John Fitzgerald Kennedy:
- “J.F.K.’s grand achievement was the raising of expectations, not the follow-through. His administration was a decidedly mixed bag, during which people spent a great deal of time building nuclear fallout shelters.”
But JFK did have one accomplishment that, at least for Martians, outweighs anything done by any president since FDR. He saved the world.
I’ve outlined the history in detail in another post. Suffice it to note here that Kennedy’s intelligence, wisdom and good judgment defused the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose most likely outcome for days was nuclear Armageddon. Virtually his entire cabinet (except for his brother Robert) supported a massive air and ground invasion of Cuba to remove Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles detected there by our spy planes and rapidly being made operational. Instead, Kennedy negotiated a secret deal with the Soviets. That deal resulted in the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba and ours from Turkey, all without war.
With at least 50% probability, every American alive today, including Gail Collins, owes his or her life to JFK’s wisdom and judgment in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I’ve outlined on my post how I personally felt my own salvation. But Kennedy’s legacy suffers because he didn’t live long enough to accumulate a laundry list of minor achievements. He was under 45 when he saved the world—younger than Senator Obama is now.
I write this not to disparage Gail Collins, whose light touch, humor and whimsy I love to read. Nor do I write to inflame the gender wars that Hillary’s candidacy sometime provokes. Venusian accounting has an important place in marriage and personal relationships, and I’m still trying hard to learn it.
But the question before us is whether Venusian accounting will give us the best president and keep us safe. Despite our current preoccupation with our ailing economy, the president’s primary role is not in domestic affairs, which Congress controls. It is in foreign and military affairs and intelligence, where the president has virtually supreme power, especially in time of war.
In that sphere, we and the rest of the world have always kept our accounting on Martian principles. Many of our voters now appear ready to try out Venusian accounting both at home and abroad. The question to ponder is whether domestic accounting will work well against global problems like cooling our planet and fighting implacable enemies like Al Qaeda.