Madam President

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(HOST) The new television season has started, and one program in particular has caught the attention of commentator Madeleine Kunin.

(KUNIN) We have our first woman President. Yes, she’s not real; her name is MacKenzie Allen, played by Geena Davis on the new television show “Commander in Chief.”

Real or not, she’s a trailblazer. We have to visualize a woman President in office before we can have one.

We have to see her there, in the oval office; there, sitting down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff; there, preparing for her address to
a joint session of Congress; and there, coping with her children’s and husband’s demands while preparing for a press conference.

There is much to criticize about this show – it’s not West Wing; MacKenzie miraculously pulls herself out of tough situations and comes out a winner at the end of each episode, a bit too quickly to be realistic.

There is also much to praise. The writers have taken pains to cre- ate a character who is credible, combining characteristics that we associate with men: strength, decisiveness; with characteristics we associate with women: caring, family, kids.

Even her nickname, “Mac” – a man’s name, is intended to reveal her toughness – a trait which the first woman President will have
to display. Her dress – mostly in black; her presence – tall; her speech – straightforward; all designed to show her ability to lead
a nation.

But the show also portrays the hurdles a woman President will face. First of all, getting the job. This commander-in-chief gets
the job because she is Vice President when the President dies
in office.

Unlike male Vice Presidents, who would automatically take the oath of office, she is asked to resign by the dying President and the Speaker of the House, who covets the job himself. The mes- sage is clear: a woman doesn’t belong in the oval office; a woman can’t do the job.

The message of the show is that a woman can do the job – even if she does it differently.

Unlike her male predecessors, whose day to day family life is invi- sible, we see the first woman President coping with a rebellious daughter and a husband who has difficulty with his new role – first gentleman.

She has somewhat different priorities and a slightly different style from her male predecessors – ready to pull out troops for a woman who is about to be killed for having been raped, creating a bond with a former communist leader by remembering his father.

But there is no doubt that “they” – the traditional pols – are out to get her. She’s an independent, unaccustomed to partisan battles, and a product of academia, where merit is supposed to prevail.

But in each episode she learns the ropes and fights back. One TV critic called the show a “feminist wish-fulfillment fantasy.” I’d rather see it as a preview of what’s to come.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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