Category : Politics

Many people will love Divergent, the new Hunger Games-style science-fiction movie that arrives Friday in theaters: fans of the blockbuster young-adult novel by Veronica Roth on which the film is based; fans of actress Shailene Woodley, who plays Roth’s nonconformist heroine Tris; fans of a post-apocalyptic future in which the Earth’s remaining human beings wall themselves off inside the ruins of a major metropolis (in this case, Chicago) and split up into five factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite) designed to “keep the peace.”

One person who won’t love Divergent, however, is Hillary Clinton.

As the former first lady, 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, and Obama Administration Secretary of State prepares—inevitably, inexorably—to make one last bid for the Oval Office in 2016, it’s unlikely that she has the time to concern herself with what’s happening in the movies. But the movies, it seems, are concerned about what’s happening with her.

Consider Divergent. In the film, Kate Winslet plays a character named Jeanine Matthews. Actually, “character” is too weak a word. “Villain” is more like it. The leader of the brainy Erudite clan, Matthews plots to overthrow the reigning Abnegation government and seize power by injecting into the Dauntless faction a computerized serum that transforms the city’s brave defenders into an army of suggestible, sleepwalking drones. She believes that a strong, hyper-rational central government is the only way to keep human nature’s less savory impulses in check. She takes pains to affect a compassionate, concerned demeanor that nonetheless always feels calculated and self-interested.

Oh, and she just happens to have a Middle-American accent, blonde, bobbed hair, a matronly figure, and a closet full of long, collarless pantsuits.

In short, Matthews looks and acts exactly like Hillary Clinton—or at least Hillary Clinton as imagined by the conservative contingent at Comic Con.

Matthews isn’t alone. In Neil Blomkamp’s 2013 sci-fi action thriller Elysium, Matt Damon faces off against Delacourt, the Defense Secretary of the titular space habitat—a luxurious colony where the One Percent live in absolute comfort while the citizens of a devastated Earth are oppressed by brutal robots. Like Matthews, Delacourt plots to oust the current leadership (i.e., her boss, President Patel) and take control of the government with the help of advanced computer technology (i.e., program developed by a private defense contractor that can override Elysium’s core systems). She’s also a middle-aged woman with cropped blonde hair, a cool, martial demeanor, and a penchant for pantsuits. And later this year, Julianne Moore will star in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 as President Alma Coin: another cold, calculating, devious, power-hungry, besuited, light-haired woman leader who “will do whatever it takes to attain her goals.”

Why are all these Hillary Clinton caricatures suddenly showing up on the big screen? Women, of course, have been movie villains before. But this new crop of hyperbolic Clintonistas seems different. All of them live in the future. All of them are political leaders. All of them preside over dystopic societies. And unlike Catwoman, or Alex Forrest, or Satánico Pandemonium—or the vast majority of cinematic bad girls, to be honest—none of them use their sexuality to get what they want. Instead they use power, technology, and intellect.


Some critics will say that we should interpret the sudden big-screen appearance of Jeanine Matthews, Secretary Delacourt, and President Alma Coin—leaders who happen to resemble Barack Obama’s likeliest successor—as a sign that we’re still very, very uncomfortable with the prospect of putting a woman in charge. What these movies prove, they will add, is that America is still afraid of women like Clinton. Women who are tough, brilliant, and plainly ambitious. Women who don’t conform to society’s sexual expectations. Women who try to run the world rather than seduce it. We are so stressed out about the havoc these women will wreak on the future, the argument will go, that we’ve begun to subconsciously channel our anxieties into science fiction.

Perhaps. But it’s worth considering whether the opposite may be true instead: that we’re encountering more Clinton clones on screen because we’re actually becoming more comfortable with female leaders off screen. That the rise of the Hillaryesque sci-fi villain is a sign of growth, not statis. Science fiction tends to reflect reality, exaggerating it to make a point. But for most of movie history, an antagonist like Jeanine Matthews would have seemed too far-fetched, even for sci-fi; she wouldn’t have mirrored anything in the real world. Now she does.

After all, equality cuts both ways. It used to be that the only political villains we could conjure up were men. Now it’s just as easy to imagine a woman scheming and spinning her way to the top. In its own funny way, that seems like progress.

Most Americans still “aren’t ready” for a female president, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in an interview earlier this week. ”I don’t think there is a lot of pent-up desire for a woman president,” she said.

The reaction to Bachmann’s latest comment is no surprise. “I found her remarks shocking and disappointing, especially since she took the initiative to run for president herself,” said Marianne Schnall, author of “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?” ”Why would she do that if she felt this way?”

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost his own bid for the presidency in 2008, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton “would most likely” win if the election were held tomorrow.

“I just have a very different reading of the political scene,” McCain explained. He cited “the growth of women” in Congress, as well as the many female mayors and governors throughout the country. “We’re proud we’ve had women governors here in Arizona, two in a row.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll in January found that “voters remain overwhelmingly willing to vote for a woman for president.” In fact, 77 percent believe a woman will be elected president within the next 10 years. Only 18 percent thought it unlikely.

“I would say that everybody I spoke with — Republicans and Democrats — thought we were indeed ready for a woman president,” Schnall said.  In doing the research for her book, she spoke with more than four dozen politicians, public officials, thought leaders, writers, artists and activists.

“Well, I think we are more ready for it than we think we are,” poet Maya Angelou told Schnall. “I mean, if anyone had asked you five years ago, ‘Do you think we’re ready for a black president?’ it’s very likely that the wagging of the head would have been, ‘No, no no — not yet.’ However, we’re readier than we thought we were. And I think that’s true about women.”

Bachmann addressed the election of the first African American to the office in her interview as well, saying: “I think there was a cachet about having an African American president because of guilt.” She did not elaborate, so Thomas surmised it was guilt over “slavery and the lengthy denial of civil rights to blacks.”

Yet several of those interviewed by Schnall for her book contradicted Bachmann’s analysis, believing instead that the country would elect a woman before an African American for president. “I would have been certain that we would see a woman president before we saw a black president,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told Schnall.

“Well, I do think we’re ready and prepared (for a woman president),” former Republican senator Olympia J. Snowe said in Schnall’s book. “I think in looking back at history, you have to have more women running to even get to a place where the country is focused on a female candidate for president.”

Women have been elected to the House and Senate in record-breaking numbers (although far from parity), and several women have gained attention for their presidential campaigns. Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, cited Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in 1972, Pat Schroeder’s in 1988 and Elizabeth Dole’s in 2000.

Chisholm deserves credit for paving the way, said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “She charted the course for a woman to be president, and I think because of her and because of the movement, the country is about ready.”

“The country is ready; the electoral ground is fertile,” agreed Brazile. “The country now is eager to see a woman run and compete successfully for the White House.”

Schnall said she believes “there is a huge groundswell of excitement and energy, of women and men, toward reaching this milestone.”

Men aren’t the problem in getting a woman elected, Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Paley Center for Media, told Schnall. “I think men have been ready longer than women have been ready in a funny way,” she said. “There are enough men who have seen or experienced the leadership of women to believe that it is absolutely within our province and that women can do it just as well, if not better, than men.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former House speaker, admitted to Schnall that she believed a woman would be in the Oval Office before the House would ever shatter “the marble ceiling,” as she called it, and elect a female speaker.

“The American people are very, very ready for a woman president,” Pelosi said. “They’re far ahead of the politicians.”

Does she have a point?

Diana Reese
Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

Wendy Davis is learning the perils of campaigning on her personal biography.

Since The Dallas Morning News raised questions this month about whether she had fudged some items in her biography, Ms. Davis has been under attack by her Republican opponent for governor, Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, and everyone from Bristol Palin to Rush Limbaugh for omitting the fact that her second husband helped pay for her Harvard Law School education and that her two children mostly stayed in Texas while she was there.

The controversy has turned her underdog campaign to become Texas’s first Democratic governor in 20 years into a hotbed of second-guessing over her omissions and has prompted a debate over culturally charged questions about a woman’s balance of work, ambition and parenthood.

In a state with a booming economy but simmering problems with its public schools and water infrastructure and with high rates of poverty and people without health insurance, one of the central questions hanging over the race is how long, exactly, Ms. Davis lived in a trailer in Fort Worth as a single mother.

Supporters of Ms. Davis and some analysts of gender issues in politics said the scrutiny of her choices as a working wife and mother was something no male candidate would be subject to. Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who once worked for Ms. Davis, pointed out that when Rahm Emanuel was running for mayor of Chicago, he left his family behind in Washington so his children could finish school.

“And nobody ever said a thing about it,” she said. “Think about the number of women who put their husbands through school, and the wife is a self-sacrificing role model.”

Alice Tripp, 67, a mother, grandmother and longtime gun lobbyist in Austin who is supporting Mr. Abbott, said the issue was about honesty, not gender.

“I’m a gun lobbyist, a job seldom thought of as being a woman’s job,” she said. “My criticism of Wendy Davis has nothing to do with her gender or her age or anything. If you’re going to run for politics, you have to understand you’re going to be fact-checked. And you best not wander and embellish your own story.”

For at least some of the fallout, Ms. Davis had herself to blame.

She has been traveling the state and the country since her 11-hour filibuster at the Texas Capitol last year to block abortion restrictions, largely campaigning on her narrative of rising from a 19-year-old single mother in a trailer to a Harvard Law School graduate and a state senator. But her campaign has essentially acknowledged that she misstated certain details and omitted certain facts in her biography.

For instance, she has said in interviews and in testimony in a redistricting lawsuit involving her State Senate district that she was divorced by the time she was 19 and lived as a single mother in a trailer. Her campaign has since clarified that while she separated at 19 and lived in the trailer with her daughter, she filed for divorce at 20 and the divorce became final when she was 21.

Nor had she focused on the role of her second husband, Jeff Davis, whom she divorced after a nearly 17-year marriage. He told The Dallas Morning News that she left him the day after the final payment was made on the loan for Harvard. She has denied the claim. The Dallas newspaper also said he had won custody of their two children. Her campaign said the couple had joint custody.

In a letter released Tuesday, Ms. Davis’s daughters, who were 2 and 8 when Ms. Davis entered Harvard, issued full-throated defenses of her, saying that she was always a presence in their lives, even when away at law school, and that they had initially gone to Boston with her.

Amber Davis, 31, called the criticism of her mother “ludicrous.”                   

Ms. Davis in 1993 with one of her daughters at her Harvard Law School graduation. Davis Family

The issue has produced a freewheeling debate on social media and cable television that sometimes followed familiar partisan lines and sometimes crossed them.

A blog post by Ms. Palin, a daughter of the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, whose teenage pregnancy became a social media moment of its own during the Republican convention, criticized Ms. Davis’s parenting history and compared Ms. Davis unfavorably to her mother.

“Gosh, children are sooo inconvenient, huh?” Ms. Palin wrote. “I’m glad my mother didn’t put motherhood on the shelf when she was elected to City Council, then became our mayor, then governor.”

In a speech on Tuesday, Ms. Davis, who is 50, said the controversy was a result of political attacks by Republicans.

“These false attacks say more about my opponent’s character than they do about me,” she said before a crowd of supporters at a dinner sponsored by the Travis County Democratic Party. She added: “For those who have mangled the story of my life, either carelessly or purposely, know this. I never gave up custody of my children, I never lost custody of my children, and to say otherwise is an absolute lie.”

Some Republicans agreed that the issue reflected a double standard for female candidates.

Kellyanne Conway, a Republican consultant and president of the polling company WomanTrend, said, “They never ask the male candidates, how do you have all the time to play golf and have a girlfriend?”

When Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, was chosen as the Republican candidate for vice president, Ms. Conway said she remembered that commentators immediately began asking why she would accept the nomination with five children, including a baby with Down syndrome.

“If female voters conclude that a woman politician was a physically absent mother, they usually stop listening to the rest of your platform,” Ms. Conway said. “That’s a bridge too far. Your foremost responsibility is as a mother.”

Although gender roles have changed in the last few decades, with men shouldering more responsibility for raising children and women sharing more of the financial burden, traditional attitudes on parenting still hold sway for many voters, said W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“On the one hand, people are embracing more flexible views of gender; they’re much more open to flexible working and family arrangements,” Mr. Wilcox said. “But at the same time, there is a more residual, traditional orientation that suggests that moms are the primary caretakers. And most married moms would prefer to work part time or in the home. In a way that might color their view of the situation.”

The impact the debate will have on her campaign is uncertain. But some say it is a reminder that for all the changes in gender roles in American life, much remains unchanged.

Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said that for male candidates, having a family was almost always an asset because it humanized them and served as a support system. But for women who are candidates, having a family can be a liability because, Ms. Carroll said, “the expectation is still that women are supposed to be the primary caregivers.”

Manny Fernandez reported from Houston, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.

Maria Conchita Alonso- a Latino actress - has resigned from a San Francisco stage production after the backlash she received from the local Latino community for showing support for a conservative candidate for California governor who’s against illegal immigration. Maria, who’s of Cuban and Venezuelan descent, appeared alongside GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino County in his recent TV ad for governor.

Donnelly is a Tea Party favorite, reported KPIX-TV in San Francisco, adding that he’s against illegal immigration and was once with the Minutemen Project, which patrolled the border with Mexico to catch those coming across illegally.

Alonso, known for her role in “Moscow on the Hudson” with Robin Williams, was to perform next month at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco’s Mission District in a Spanish-language version of “The Vagina Monologues.” The show producer is Eliana Lopez, wife of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

“We really cannot have her in the show, unfortunately,” Lopez told KPIX-TV in San Francisco, adding that Alonso abruptly resigned from the cast on Friday.

“Of course she has the right to say whatever she wants. But we’re in the middle of the Mission,” Lopez told KPIX. “Doing what she is doing is against what we believe.”

That seemed to be confirmed when Alonso heard from angry listeners of a San Francisco Spanish-language radio station Friday after she said in an interview with KIQI-AM that she supported many of Donnelly’s views on illegal immigration.

“I am among those who think that we should help illegal immigrants who are already in the country and who do not have a criminal background, who contribute and who are good people, but those who are not, we need to take out,” Alonso is quoted by La Opinion as saying in an email, according to Fox News Latino. “I spoke with Tim about this issue and he agrees with me.”

Several listeners didn’t like Alonso using the term “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants during the interview or that she used vulgar language in the campaign ad.

“We don’t act like that. First of all, that is not a typical Latina,” Jim Salinas, a long time Mission resident and former president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, told KPIX.

Salinas added that there probably would have been boycotts if Alonso had stayed on the production.

“First Amendment rights, we all have the right to say something. But it’s also our right to say we object to that,” Salinas told KPIX.

While Leo Lacayo, a prominent San Francisco Latino Republican who’s been pushing his party to take a more moderate stance on immigration, said he believes Alonso is being treated unfairly.

“It was a political ad, it was a funny ad,” Lacayo told KPIX. “That anybody would lose employment over what their political leanings are is absurd.”

U.S. Senator Rand Paul on Sunday offered an way out of criticism that the Republican Party is waging a war on women: the women are ahead.

“You know, the whole thing of the war on women. I sort of laughingly say, ‘yes, there might have been, but the women are winning it,’” Paul, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Paul was asked to comment on remarks that former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made to the Republican National Committee last week, in which he urged Republicans to argue that women are not “weaklings” who rely on government for help, including contraceptives to “control their libido.”

Rand called Democratic criticism that Republicans are waging a “war on women” a charade that does not lead to good policy.

“I’ve seen the women in my family and how well they’re doing,” Rand said, citing women in medical and law schools. “I think women are doing very well and I’m proud of how well we’ve come and how far we’ve come, and I think that some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up.”

She became a household name immediately after staging an 11-hour filibuster over abortion rights, Texas state senator Wendy Davis insists she climbed a long political ladder to get to where she is today.

“I’m not an overnight sensation. I’m a Texan. And I’m a Texas success story,” the state Democratic gubernatorial candidate said in an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Maria Shriver. “I am the epitome of hard work and optimism.”

In her discussion, which will air Wednesday, Davis describes growing up poor, getting pregnant at 18 and getting divorced a year later. She also speaks about working two jobs at the same time to support her family.

The discussion is part of a weeklong #DoingItAll series of stories in which Shriver highlights the personal and financial challenges many women in America face.

“I think giving [NSA leaker Edward Snowden] amnesty is idiotic. He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead."

Former CIA Director James Woolsey


“I think giving [NSA leaker Edward Snowden] amnesty is idiotic. He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, speaking to Fox News with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton.

America has met the enemy, and it is Washington.

That was the message from a focus group of 11 Cincinnati-area voters, who issued a scathing and impassioned indictment Wednesday of Washington, D.C., and everyone in it — from lawmakers to the president and, most strikingly, a political system that makes them feel powerless to change it.

“They’re indicting the president, they’re indicting Congress,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the two-hour session exclusively for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.

“It is a sense that the system doesn’t work, and they don’t have an answer, but they know what they hate.”

These voters — who described themselves as independents who tend to lean one way or another — assailed the distrust, gridlock, weak leadership and callousness from a government they said seemed indifferent to solving problems. And, they added, they felt “helpless” to punish the lawmakers responsible.

“We have a political class now,” said Jerry Laub, a 54-year-old casino card dealer who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. “They’re above us.”

Obama ‘took it right on the chin’

obama chin

President Barack Obama was hardly spared from their frustration.

“The president took it right on the chin,” said Hart, the pollster. “Essentially, they don’t dislike him personally, they just feel like he’s failed them.”

None of the eight voters who supported Obama in 2012, nor the three who voted for Mitt Romney, described themselves as “proud” or “satisfied” with the president, opting instead for “mixed” or “disappointed.”

“He’s a big disappointment,” said Brandi Nixon, 34, an African-American nurse assistant who voted for Obama in the last election. “He just lost focus. He lost focus on his goals. … He stopped focusing on creating more jobs and fixing the economy.”

“It’s like the economy’s just sitting still,” she added.

Words used to describe the president, even by those who voted for him last year, included “inexperienced,” “powerless,” “cautious,” “timid” and “overwhelmed.”

Participants described a man buffeted by the events around him rather than a leader shaping the future of the country.

“This job is harder than he thought it was going to be,” said Beatrice Hodovanic, 57, a registered nurse who describes herself as a independent and leans towards the Democratic Party.

Much of their discontent stemmed from the poor rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which a majority cited as the biggest failure of Obama’s presidency.

Still, most participants said it was possible that the law could ultimately be fixed.

“As it stands right now, it’s not going to work,” said Terry Hartley, 63, a retired Romney voter who said Obama had “botched” the rollout of the law. “But with changes in the law and adjustments, I think there’s a possibility.”

‘It’s like they didn’t care’

For all the disappointment and frustration directed toward the president by the focus group, lawmakers in Congress received even more unvarnished anger, particularly regarding the government shutdown in October.

Again and again, these voters pleaded for both parties to “work together” and relate to their constituents rather than indulge in bickering and, as one put it, “all those steak dinners.”

If members of Congress spent some time in his shoes, said Hartley, “I would hope that they would care more about the people they represent.”

“That’s what upset me so much about the shutdown,” he added. “It’s like they didn’t care.”

The funding showdown wasn’t just problematic because of the closure of national parks and the missed paychecks to federal workers, participants added. Simply put, it made America look like a “laughingstock” around the world, said Leesa Carr, a 57-year-old special education assistant, who added that the Affordable Care Act rollout and the public education system were also “embarrassing” problems for the nation’s stature worldwide.

Obama wasn’t absolved of guilt for the impasse that shuttered the federal government’s doors for 16 days; five participants gave him a grade of “D” or “F” for his handling of the shutdown.

“I think they were selfish,” Brigid Brennan, a 51-year-old Obama voter, said of Washington politicians. “It’s sad that we can’t discuss things and come to a conclusion.”

No way out

Asked how to fix Washington’s woes, however, members of the focus group said they feel “helpless” to change a system that seems to pit career politicians against each other, cycle after cycle.

“The public has figured out what’s wrong,” says Hart. “They can’t figure out how to fix it.”

Congressional term limits could help, some suggested, but other ideas to radically change the structure of Washington all seemed unfeasible.

When Hart proposed a hypothetical situation in which a “Broom Coalition” from both parties ran on a platform of sweeping out all incumbents, all but two said they wouldn’t support such candidates, fearing that the newcomers would be too inexperienced for policy-making. A proposal to support a third party also received a mixed response.

Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd how they hoped to punish Washington, participants agreed that they feel “helpless.”

“That’s probably the anger and the frustration,” said Jeff Brown, a 45-year-old scientist who leans Republican. “It’s not easy to do that.”

A silver lining

While the participants struck a sour note on the health care rollout, the job market, and the gridlock in Washington, they also exhibited a spark of hope that the economy — and, in fact, Obama’s presidency — could take a positive turn.

Just two participants — one Obama voter and one Romney supporter — said that the current difficulties for Obama were a decisive “fork in the road” toward a permanent decline in his popularity, rather than just a “bump” that he may overcome.

Most said the housing market and the job situation in Cincinnati had markedly improved in past years, and several cited robust gains on Wall Street as an indication that the economy is on the upswing.

“I think, eventually, he’s going to recover,” Nixon, the nurse assistant, said of Obama.

“It all depends on the Affordable Care Act,” added Michael Ponti-zins, a 24-year-old health care data analyst. “That’s his whole legacy.”

Despite recent high-profile news coverage of U.S. concerns about Syria, Iran and elsewhere, foreign policy was barely mentioned by members of this focus group, who said international relations have rightfully taken a back seat to domestic problems. A majority gave him high marks on his handling of the Syria issue.

“We have enough problems of our own,” said Brennan. “Maybe that’s what’s important right now: to work on some of those things.”

Looking ahead to 2016

In this crucial presidential swing state, one pol who may campaign here in 2016 was perceived by the group as strong and purposeful — the very qualities that seem to be eluding Obama now.

Voters described former secretary of state and potential 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton as “strong,” “vivacious,” “powerful,” “a great head of state” and “smart.”

All of the women in the group praised her sense of purpose, although the three Romney voters said they found her “distrustful.”

“I think she’s very politically ambitious and will say or do whatever she needs to,” said Brown.

Receiving a surprisingly lukewarm response was Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. The focus group, while far from politically disengaged, had few strong opinions about the famously outspoken Republican who is frequently cited as a possible White House contender.

“Chris Christie was a non-personality,” said Hart.  ”We talk about him as being big and omnipresent; he was small and insignificant.”

Participants had more well-developed takes on Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as 2016 contenders, although both elicited mixed reactions.

The most striking positive remarks about any public figure — even those most critical of the White House — were for Michelle Obama. The first lady was lauded as “energetic,”  ”strong” and “a role model.”

Asked which of a list of political figures they’d like to have as a next-door neighbor, six participants — a majority — cast their vote for the first lady. None chose her husband.

Just five women are among the 91 people who have been entertained at private dinners with David Cameron and senior ministers. Figures taken from lists — published by the Conservative Party since a scandal over exclusive suppers at Number 10 — show that twice as many men called ‘Michael’ have been guests at at the so-called Leaders’ Group Meals.

The news will come as yet another blow to the Tories over their ‘women problem’, exacerbated by gaffes from David Cameron — who told a Labour frontbencher “calm down, dear” — and William Hague — who referred to another female MP as a “stupid woman”.

And despite Tory spin over the inclusion of more women in the cabinet, just one minister (Theresa May) has attended the meals. The lucky females are:

Men called ‘Michael’ are more in demand:

  • Michael Farmer
  • Michael Batt
  • Michael Davis
  • Michael Gove
  • Michael Alen-Buckley
  • Michael Gutman
  • Michael Hintze
  • Michael Spencer
  • Michael Fallon
  • Michael Freeman

Perhaps the BBC Comedy sketch of ‘Women: know your limits!’ has had an affect?

A 12-year-old girl waves a banana at a black government minister and shouts: “Who’s this banana for? It’s for the monkey!”

Such slurs – and a generally muted official response to them – have caused a bout of soul-searching in France. The question at the heart of the debate: is racism rampant in a country with revolutionary roots and a motto boasting of “equality” and “liberty”?

The issue has dominated discussion since the same politician, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, was likened to a monkey by a candidate for the right-wing National Front. The candidate was forced to withdraw, but the tensions lingered.

Last week, extreme-right weekly magazine Minute ran a photo of Taubira and the headline “Clever as a Monkey. Taubira reclaims the banana” on its cover.

Some critics allege the government has been slow to respond. When it did condemn the acts of racism against Taubira in the National Assembly on Nov. 12, only half the lawmakers left their seats for a standing ovation as she entered the chamber.

All this adds up to one thing, according to Harry Roselmack, the first black journalist to host nightly news on French television.

“A racist France is on its way back,” he wrote in an editorial in Le Monde newspaper.

“They are not slips of the tongue; they are the unvarnished expression of a world view widely shared in the National Front,” Roselmack said, referring to the far-right political group.

The National Front has become a political force to be reckoned with. A recent survey found that 42 percent of voters polled had a positive opinion of the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen.

Taubira, who was born in French Guiana in South America and has been a French citizen since birth, spoke out about the attacks in an interview with the Liberation newspaper.

“Millions of people are affected when I am treated as a monkey,” she said. “Millions of kids know that someone can treat them as monkeys in the schoolyard.”

She called the remarks “violent” in another interview on evening newscast France 2. “I absorb the shock but it’s violent for my children.”

Meanwhile, the country that is notorious for its strikes and protests has seen no organized demonstrations to condemn the insults. This may have something to do with the fact that the term “multiculturalism” is often seen as a shameful reminder of the country’s darkest period during World War II when it ghettoized Jewish citizens and handed them over to the Nazis.

Squeamishness about discussing multiculturalism and compiling statistics on minorities comes as the country’s troubled relationship with marginalized groups — including those who trace their ancestry to former colonies or protectorates like Morocco and Algeria — periodically tips into violence.

In 2012, there was a 23 percent rise in racist acts in France, according to the National Consulting Commission of Human Rights.

In typical French style, the country’s artists and intellectuals are speaking out in support of Taubira and against what they perceive to be a growing wave of racism.

“We are all French monkeys,” declared a full-page ad in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper bought by intellectual and artistic luminaries on Sunday.

Taubira was also invited by France’s world-famous philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy to a gathering of writers, filmmakers and intellectuals.

“We are here, madame, to express our anger, for sure, to confront this rise and return of infamy and racism, and to confront all these remarks that are in the process of gently justifying or explaining or excusing partially what was done to you,” he said.

Levy also suggested Taubira be the next model for the statue of France’s revolutionary heroine, Marianne. The statue, which symbolizes freedom and the patriotic mother who protects the children of the republic, has been modeled on figures like Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Latetia Casta.

“It’s time that Marianne reflected the face of minorities who proudly represent France,” Levy said.