No Pipe Dream

Sometimes it seems that they stand on the navigation bridge just to stare into space - with dangling sails and drooping eyelids - while the ship floats hither and thither with no direction or purpose.

Sometimes it seems that they stand on the navigation bridge just to stare into space - with dangling sails and drooping eyelids - while the ship floats hither and thither with no direction or purpose. Years can go by like that, their only goal not to sink, and to survive.

Even while they still shine like stars, they are already going out. Nicolas Sarkozy, merely a year after his election, is reflected in the polls as a vagrant living under a bridge. Gordon Brown, also a year after his election, was crushed in every voting district, even in Laborite London, and his successors are already being considered. Angela Merkel is keeping mum, her "great coalition" harnessed to two querulous horses, each pulling in different directions, while the promised reforms have been thrown out by the wayside. Silvio Berlusconi was recently reelected, but he was and remains a kind of buffoon, who will remove Naples' garbage mountains - to see them and die of the stench - only in three years' time.

And George Bush is dragging his feet toward November. America is ahead of him, sealing a miserable chapter while it is has already started the next. Ehud Olmert is not alone, he's in good company. Is this the bitter fate in store for every head of state - paralysis? Is democracy a monster that devours its leaders and none can escape its jaws?

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was recently reelected, is proof that there is an alternative. He too is supported by a tiny majority, he too needs a complicated coalition, he too is struggling with a terror movement - yet he managed to change Spain beyond recognition. In the most conservative state of all, hounded by the Catholic Church, Zapatero carried out his social-liberal revolution. Spain today is the most progressive state on the continent - its sails are swollen with wind and the clear-sighted captain is forging ahead.

Prime Minister Zapatero has a vision, which he calls "the secular vision." The church called to vote against him and almost doomed him, but he did not bend: his government recognized gay marriages and adoption by same-sex couples, took budgets from religious education and gave it to the state education system, strengthened the autonomous communities, and did not incite the people of Spain against foreign workers, as many governments do.

And that's not all: Women make up a majority of his new cabinet - nine ministers, compared with eight men. More than in Sweden, the same as in Norway and Finland, and three times more than in Israel. Even the notoriously chauvinist Berlusconi appointed four women ministers, while we have only three.

One of Zapatero's nine, Carme Chacon was appointed defense minister, in the homeland of the "macho." Wasn't Israel the first to boast of its gun-toting women, as immortalized in old albums? So where have all those women gone?

The photograph of Chacon, 37, eight months pregnant, inspecting an honor parade of her troops in Afghanistan - how many words is that worth? Last week she gave birth to her first son and took a brief maternity leave.

It's all the same to me whether Tzipi Livni is elected prime minister or not. I,for one, don't have great expectations for her. But I wouldn't want her chances to fizzle out because she's a woman, only because Ehud Olmert and Shaul Mofaz and Meir Sheetrit cannot say "what she has actually done all her life."

As far as I'm concerned, what she hasn't done is better than everything they have done. In these parts only men "do," especially men in uniform, even if it is not quite clear what they have in fact done and perhaps it would have been better had they not done it.

Do you want Tzipi to direct the next war?" they ask patronizingly. My answer is simple: I wouldn't want you guys to direct the war you start.

I'm not sure women are better than men merely by nature of being women - Golda Meir was a limited woman and Benazir Bhutto was corrupt. But we cannot have 50 percent of the population blocked and excluded, and we cannot have every woman unable to realize her desires and implement her qualifications. The waste and injustice are too appalling. Especially after Spain has proved that realizing a vision is no pipe dream.