"A matriarchy is a social organizational form in which the mother or oldest female heads the family. . . . It is also government or rule by a woman or women,” runs the entry in Wikipedia, adding helpfully that it can be a description for a society in which “the culture centers around values and life events described as ‘feminine,’ ’’ or in which “women’s power is equal or superior to men’s.” If this reminds you of the modern-day Democrats you are not mistaken, as over the course of the last few decades the party has transformed itself into an estrogen entity, run by and increasingly for elderly women, focused heavily on what are described as “gender-themed issues,” with men in retreat, and nary an Alpha Male in sight.
What happened to the party of Andrew Jackson, John Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt; the frontiersmen and the midcentury’s hot and cold warriors, whose exploits as recently as the Ford-Carter contest led a bitter Bob Dole to complain of “Democrat wars”? It is a long story and often a strange one, and the ultimate twist has been this: In 2008, Hillary Clinton lost her bid to become the first female president, beaten by Barack Obama, the mixed-race Hawaiian who became the first nonwhite president, but whose policy choices in health care and other domestic concerns caused upheavals in party dynamics that made feminists the dominant voice. How did this happen? Let us look back and see.
Once upon a time, the Democrats were almost the warrior party, the one that led the country into both of the world wars (Woodrow Wilson reluctantly, but Franklin Roosevelt always ahead of the country’s opinion), the party that crafted the response to the Cold War under the guidance of Harry S. Truman, the party of John Kennedy, who on foreign policy ran to the right of every Republican he ever contested and claimed that Dwight Eisenhower had not armed the country enough. But in the mid-’70s, it became at once the antiwar and pro-feminist party, and such it has been ever since. In 1972, George McGovern cried, “Come home, America!” and was trounced by Richard M. Nixon; Jimmy Carter ran as a former naval officer (and protégé of the hard-bitten Admiral Hyman Rickover), but by 1980, when he faced Ronald Reagan, a series of defense cuts, unfortunate statements (“inordinate fear of communism” being just one of them), and the Iran hostage crisis, in which he seemed both hapless and helpless, had established his role as a wimp. In 1988, Michael Dukakis posed in a tank, in which he looked ludicrous, and a series of poor decisions on crime and punishment issues suggested he had no inclination to take on aggressors, whether at home or abroad.
George H. W. Bush, who succeeded Reagan and had been his vice president, presided skillfully over the fall of the Communist empire, but it was his decision to eject Saddam Hussein from the Kuwaiti oil fields that carved the two parties’ new stances in stone. It was in May 1991 that Christopher Matthews (not yet an MSNBC hothead) wrote a prescient column, “Mommy’s Love and Daddy’s Protection,” that described the Democrats as the Mommy party, taking care of health care and Social Security, and the Republicans as the Daddy party, taking care of war and peace, crime and punishment, and keeping the wolf from the door.
How allergic the Democrats had become to even the thought of armed power was shown at a leadership retreat of the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. Wrote Matthews: “A meeting of liberal Democrats in Chantilly, Virginia, on January 26—10 days into the Persian Gulf war—focused on matters close to home: health care, employment fairness, reproductive rights. A handout scolded attendees not to stray beyond the water’s edge but to stay fixed on domestic social worries like ‘national health programs.’ . . . The biggest applause line was a pitch for national health insurance [from Edward M. Kennedy].”