Two weeks ago, Rebekah Johansen Bydlak launched her campaign to represent Florida’s first district.
Two, she’s a woman.
Now, when I say I’m excited that Rebekah is a female candidate, I’m not engaging in base identity politics. If she weren’t the pro-liberty candidate I know her to be, I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about her campaign just because of her gender.
On the contrary, I’m excited that Rebekah is a female candidate because the liberty movement needs women leaders to succeed.
As I’ve written before at Rare, our movement is growing and diversifying, but it’s still disproportionately male and white. It’s also still a minority in the American electorate—even if, as I like to think, it’s an increasingly influential minority.
Nevertheless, if we have any hope that the push for truly limited government will be successful, we need women involved. No movement can survive without half the population—and especially not the half that still spends the most time influencing the next generation.
Marketing is a big part of that. When we’re making the case for liberty, we must paint an attractive picture—a picture that’s not just about unyielding principles and a bracing free market, but also about ending war to save civilian lives, stopping the drug war to reunite families, and shutting down corporate welfare to help the poor.
Let’s talk about gun rights, sure, but let’s also talk about issues which are likely to be of interest mainly to women, like legalizing midwifery or abolishing absurd licensing requirements for hair braiders. Let’s explain, for instance, our opposition to certain labor laws not only in ethical arguments about state coercion, but also in practical terms of unexpected bad consequences which hurt real people.
Beyond the issues, in political marketing personalities are key. We need women in leadership in the liberty movement if we want it to expand. Even if I’m not interested in Rebekah’s campaign solely on the basis of identity politics, lots of people realistically will be.
In fact, because of the gender imbalance in politics, a female candidate automatically garners extra attention and interest. Why would supporters of limited government want to miss out on that built-in advantage? Just by running a woman candidate we are guaranteed some free publicity. You may not think that’s fair, but it is unquestionably true.
Even in something as simple as social media, having a female candidate is an advantage. Both men and women are more likely to click on photos of women online. (I’ve observed this difference firsthand: When I was responsible for sending out a weekly email newsletter to thousands of political activists, I consistently observed recipients clicking on photos of women at a five or 10 times the rate they’d click on similarly placed photos of men.) Social media isn’t going anywhere, and we would be fools to pass up an easy benefit like this.
The second reason for my excitement is that studies suggest men and women tend to be politicians in different ways—and the way women tend to behave is exactly what we’re looking for.
In fact, women who get into politics tend to be more motivated by issues than by the chance for personal gain—while men are just the opposite. Women are more difficult to recruit to candidacy because they are humbler about what they can accomplish for their cause, but once they are elected, they introduce more legislation and participate in more debates than their male counterparts. Bills “sponsored by women survived deeper into the legislative process, garnered more press attention, and were more likely to be deemed ‘important’ overall.”
“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” explains Debbie Walsh of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”
Of course, these are general trends and may not apply to any given male or female candidate. (After all, running for office on the issues rather than for personal benefit is exactly the sort of thing we loved about Ron Paul!) But generally speaking, this all suggests that sincere promoters of limited government should be looking for their next big champion among the ladies.
With that in mind, here’s hoping Rebekah’s campaign will be the first of many.