Pat Schroeder's tearful comportment as she told supporters of her decision not to enter the White House race has touched off a bit of debate on when and whether these sorts of emotional displays are harmful.
If, as one reporter points out, a woman must publicly announce that she will not be running for the very office that many still question her toughness for, she probably ought not to sob while telling them. True enough. This sentiment was shared by some supporters who found themselves wincing through much of the Colorado congresswoman's announcement. Feminists watching, I'll wager, were wincing more than most.
Not to worry. Schroeder's shaky finish will be little remembered. After a studied observation of Schroeder's presidential moves, I have come to this conclusion: She may withdraw like a woman, but she won't run like one. Neither will she run like a man. But when she does run for President--and she will--it will be different from her test run or any other seen so far.
I believe that Schroeder is open and honest, but not naive. I take her at her word that she finds presidential campaigning obnoxious and that she could not, as she put it, "figure out a way to run and not be separated from those I serve. There must be a way, but I couldn't figure it out."
What I do not believe is that she will never figure it out. She will, in due time.
She learned what she needed to, then left. She learned a lot about the factors that dominate running for President:
The system. Whether or not she can "bear turning every human contact into a photo opportunity," she knows very well that this system is as likely to change as her sex. Right or wrong, it's the one that we have and the one that she will meet again. Next time out, she may even be able to bear the photo opportunities.
The message. This ad-lib artist knows that some things are best thought through, then tried and thought through some more. She learned a lot about how best to get her vision for America across and what she must do between now and next time to increase credibility.
Support. She learned how much support there is and the depth, or the lack thereof, of support in the organized women's movement; when and whether pledges materialize, and how best to turn "gawkers" (the ones chanting "Run, Pat, Run") into workers and voters.
Increased name identification. Reporters spelled her name right, and voters know a lot more about her.
So don't get sidetracked by the tears. Her crying is not, after all, a daily occurrence, like New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's habit of recording every thought, word and deed in his diary. Whenever I hear the governor's name, a picture quickly forms in my mind. It is a picture of this extraordinary man who, robed and slippered and sleepyheaded, makes his way (quietly) to a little room adjacent to the bedroom. It is 3 a.m. There, all alone with his alter ego, he opens his diary, picks up his pen and begins to write. Each time this picture comes before my eyes, I feel lightheaded--like I'm going . . . to be sick! But I digress.
Back to the congresswoman. She wants to be the President, and while the conventional wisdom (I myself have said it) is that ultimately the beneficiary of the Ferraros and the Schroeders will be a moderate Republican woman, I doubt seriously that Schroeder believes it. Nor does she intend for any other woman to reap the benefits of her work, not even in her own party. It's not that she's opposed to blazing trails for others--she has done that already. But she's blazing this one for herself.
Time will tell. I hope that I'm right. I hope that she's preparing herself for the run of her life--and ours. If she does not, I'll just cry.