12/04/2012 03:19 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Mostly Male Configuration of Republican Leadership Shows Meritocracy, Not Sexism

When the 113th Congress is gaveled to order, the Republican Party leadership will be almost entirely male, with an all-male roster of committee chairs and lacking any women in the top three leadership posts in either chamber of Congress. Considering the recent history between the GOP and women, dominated by memories of Rush Limbaugh's misogyny and Todd Akin's bizarre comments about reproductive health, this may seem like the latest battle in the so-called War on Women. Attributing the leadership configuration to Republican sexism is a mistake -- women are represented in the middle levels of leadership, and the women who were passed over for committee chairs were defeated by the inferiority of their qualifications rather than prejudice towards their gender.

The major leadership contest between a man and a woman was the competition between Michael McCaul and Candice Miller to chair the Homeland Security Committee. Representative Miller is one of the few members of Congress who only has a high school education, was admonished by the House Ethics Committee for threatening to discourage donors from contributing to Representative Nick Smith if he did not support then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay in an upcoming vote, and has no pertinent experience related to Homeland Security. Representative McCaul studied at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and was the Chief of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security for the Texas department of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Given the disparity in qualifications, McCaul was clearly the better choice to lead the House of Representative's oversight of Homeland Security. Selecting a more qualified man over a less qualified woman is meritocracy, not patriarchy. The real problem would have arisen had the Republican Party made Miller a chairperson despite her severe flaws. That exalting of gender over ability would have been the sexist action, as it would have reduced Representative Miller to the sum of her chromosomes rather than the sum of her lackluster legislative career.

When women were the more qualified candidate for leadership roles, they were usually given them. Cathy McMorris Rogers, the newly elected chair of the House Republican Conference and thus the fourth ranking Republican in the House, was qualified for the position by her successful tenure on the House whip team. In contrast, her opponent, Tom Price, has a legislative history distinguished primarily by his staunch opposition to abortion under any circumstances. Anne Wagner will serve as the freshman representative in the leadership, fitting given her background as an ambassador, chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party, and co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Wagner's vast political experience makes her a standout among the incoming Republicans, and her selection as freshman representative was motivated by the same meritocratic process that propelled McCaul over Miller and Rogers over Price. This the way leadership selection ought to work, choosing leaders based on ability rather than demographic group.

Defending the makeup of the Republican leadership is not grounds for overlooking the Republican's difficulties with women voters. Barack Obama won the women's vote by 20 points, the largest gender gap Gallup measured since they started tracking voting patterns of different demographics. This gender gap will only be fixed by policy changes, not by identity politics. Even if every committee chair was a woman, women voters would still reject the Republican Party if it is viewed as opposing birth control, endorses a hardline pro-life position that makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and fails to condemn Rush Limbaugh when he sneers that liberal women are nothing more than "Feminazis." Imagine if Democrats tried to fix their electoral struggles with the white working class by shoving aside qualified women in favor of less-qualified men, with extra consideration given to those men who were also evangelical Christians. Liberals would rightly be outraged at this decision, and they should have the same outrage towards suggestions that the Republican Party's leadership configuration is proof of Republican sexism.