Sex and the Married General: 3 Reasons Petraeus Had to Go

When CIA director David Petraeus stepped down from his post, citing an extramarital affair, the political birds of prey immediately started talking about who should replace him. And the usual battleground map was drawn.

On the one side are those who say any leader caught in such a compromising position has to go. On the other side are those who contend private consensual sexual behavior is just that and as long as it is not interfering with a leader’s ability to do the job, it should not factor into whether he or she remains in power.

Petraeus’s romance with his biographer and former military officer, Paula Broadwell, is hardly a new circumstance in American politics.

General Dwight Eisenhower had a well-known affair with his driver while commanding the US Army in Europe, and this did not prevent him from becoming president. Franklin Roosevelt had a long-running affair with Lucy Mercer while he was president without any hints that he should resign the presidency. JFK was a well-known womanizer, including in the White House. And then of course there is Bill Clinton who despite his foolish high risk dalliance with Monica Lewinsky remains (perhaps second only to his wife) the most popular politician in the country.

So you might think I am going to defend Petraeus. Most definitely not, for three reasons.

First, though sexual acts in private life might be best kept private, it is well past time for men to be held to the same standards as women in their personal behavior. And men in public roles, especially roles with national security sensitivities, are subject to a higher standard than Joe Shmo down the street.

Second, sex with a subordinate–regardless of who initiates it–cannot help but include an element of power imbalance that skews the subordinate’s ability to say “yes” or “no” to sex with a completely clear head. That does not speak well of Petraeus as a leader. Broadwell is no longer in the Army, and therefore technically no longer his subordinate. She is one tough woman, and she should have known better herself. But even that doesn’t excuse Petraeus, who seems to have been able to adhere to discipline in his military responsibilities.

And third, since the power balance remains almost always male on top, Petraeus’s resignation is a positive sign–recognition that the old patriarchal standards no longer apply. Surely this turn of events is progress, to be applauded. It’s a lesson that the vaunted general should have learned during the past few years by observing Anthony Weiner, and many others too numerous to mention here.

All men. 

Not that women aren’t also capable of making poor choices about sex (former Senator Carol Moseley Braun’s financial scandal involving her campaign staffer/fiancée comes to mind), but how many more can you think of? For many reasons–greater risk aversion, the biological fact that women take longer to become aroused which gives them more time to think about the consequences of acting on the randiness of the moment, or simply cultural norms that train women to be “good girls” who control their impulses, whereas “boys will be boys”(wink/nod) remains a norm–women are rapidly becoming perceived as the safer bet for leadership roles.

The social chaos created by changing these sexual mores is a breakthrough opportunity for women who have been stalled at 18% of top leadership positions for over two decades. It’s no accident that when Lockheed’s incoming CEO, Christopher Kubasik, was fired November 9 after admitting to an affair with a subordinate, he was replaced by a woman, Marillyn Hewson. Just as Dominique Strauss-Kahn was replaced by a woman, Christine Lagarde as head of the International Monetary Fund last year.

So, gentlemen, if you want to retain a fair share of leadership roles in this new world order, I suggest you learn from these experiences to keep your brains atop your shoulders, where they belong.

This article began as a response to a question on Politico Arena. My original answer can be found here.

In Which I Answer POLITICO Arena’s Election Day Question: What were the campaigns’ biggest mistakes?

A friend posted a photo on Facebook of a long line at her polling place this morning with the comment that “it’s a good sign when voters are treating an election like Black Friday at Walmart.” Now we have to wait all day to learn which of the candidates brought forth this outpouring of interest: do voters think Obama or Romney is the better bargain?

Both campaigns have made mistakes galore, balancing each other out in about the same horserace numbers as the daily polls have recently shown the race to be. Romney’s worst was hoisting himself on his own petard of Etch-a-Sketch positions, thus eroding voter trust, then nailing his coffin with the deliberately false Jeep ad.

Obama’s worst mistake was four years in the making. He failed to run, as Harry Truman successfully did, against the “do nothing Congress” that is more at fault for the lack of economic progress than the president who at least put forward some ideas. He had to re-energize many discouraged 2008 supporters as a result. But thanks to the Republican War on Women which Romney could not separate himself from, Obama was able to seize a set of issues that resonate with progressive women who make up almost 60% of the Democratic base.

Romney’s mistakes were mistakes of character and likability; Obama’s were mistakes of leadership style.

I’ve walked many precincts knocking on doors and weathered many elections. In the end voters usually go with the person whose character and persona they find more appealing. Those scales weigh in Obama’s favor today. We’ll find out tonight whether that is enough of a bargain to carry the election.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’m posting on social media today:

The ballot box is where we win the #waronwomen. #Vote #Election2112 

I’d appreciate your shares and tweets of that sentiment.

This was originally posted in response to a question in Politico Arena. Find the Arena response here.

If Obama Wins Ohio, Fair Voting and Jennifer Brunner Get Credit

My grandparents were all immigrants from tyrant-ruled Eastern Europe during the early decades of the 20th century. They treasured their voting rights as only new citizens can, and they instilled in me their almost sappy love of the American ideals of liberty, justice, and fairness.

Having struggled to get to their promised land, they considered voting their sacred duty. Every election, no matter what. They weren’t naïve about politics, nor did they expect their favored candidates to win every time. They just wanted their votes counted honestly and their voices heard fairly.

They would have loved Jennifer Brunner, Ohio’s first female Secretary of State who served from 2007-2011. She’s a true American hero for cleaning up the state’s election system after its 2004 debacle, one that is remembered as one of the most sordid chapters in our nation’s history.

Ohio is a perennial battleground state. It has been pivotal to the outcome of every presidential election in recent history.  And since 1944, as Ohio has gone, so has the nation with only one exception, when voters chose Nixon over Kennedy in 1960.

Most elections are won or lost with a mere 2 percent swing. So the consequences of even a scintilla of voter suppression or a few malfunctioning voting machines can turn an entire election and change the course of history.  That’s why fair and honest elections are so incredibly important to American democracy.

In Brunner’s forthright memoir, Cupcakes and Courage, for which I was honored to write the foreword, you see firsthand the qualitative difference between a mere politician determined to stay in office even if it means jiggering the electoral system and an elected official who is first and foremost a public servant.

Brunner tells an inspiring story, full of juicy anecdotes that illustrate the power of the individual to make a difference. But unlike the single frosted cupcake on its cover, Cupcakes is not an individualistic story—far from it. Deeply rooted in values of family and social responsibility, she took those communitarian values into public service and audaciously trudged through bi-partisan criticism to protect the rights of the individual voter.

Brunner’s unwavering focus on fairness and transparency brought major changes to Ohio’s 2008 electoral processes, which in turn helped to restore voter confidence.  Her unflinching description of what she did and why after the 2004 presidential election turned on the shifting sands of Cuyahoga County’s voting irregularities deserves to be a political science class staple.

“Many have questioned the efficacy of our [2004] presidential election in Ohio,” says Brunner. “I simply questioned its fairness of process.”

Voting rights—yes, even in my grandparents’ rosy view of America—can be as fragile and as fleeting as they are in non-democratic nations around the globe. As a girl growing up in Texas, I heard the rumors of Lyndon Johnson stuffing ballot boxes in Jim Wells County with ballots of dead people. We might think those poll taxes, literacy tests, and other Jim Crow laws instituted in the South after the Civil War, and lasting well into the mid-20th Century, are well behind us.

But history is repeating itself this year in the wave of voter suppression initiatives sweeping the country. Just as a house that has been cleaned can become a mess again in record time, so the Ohio voting process that Brunner cleaned up—or any state that falls prey to divisive, partisan abuse of power—can, and in many battleground states, is faced with the risk of corruption and the contortion of the voice and will of its people.

As it has ever been historically, minorities often receive the short end of the voting rights stick. How tragic, considering that this country is the product of minorities, like my patriotic grandparents, at its core.

Since leaving office, Brunner started Fair Elections Ohio, a group that successfully fought back harmful Ohio voter suppression legislation, keeping 2008 voting rules in place for 2012.

In 2004, “Cuyahoga County” became a household term, and thus entered the political junkie’s lexicon as a metaphor for voter suppression.  If President Obama wins Ohio, it’s likely that he will win a second term as president. If so, he will have Brunner to thank—not for manipulating voting mechanism to favor him, but simply to allow the people to speak through their votes, the franchise of a free nation.

Romney Skewered by Candidate He Endorsed?

Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock told debate viewers last night that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape, because pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” This occurred just as Mourdock’s campaign unveiled a new on-camera endorsement from Mitt Romney.

To his credit, Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, later said that Mourdock’s comments didn’t reflect what “my God or any God” would intend to happen. And it’s no secret that most Americans, including Romney by own official campaign statements, reject such extremist views.

But Mourdock’s comments can’t help but damage Mitt Romney by association. Such a wild-eyed position by a candidate he has endorsed drives one more nail into Romney’s campaign coffin by revealing the stark truth about the extreme anti-woman positions the Romney campaign has been forced to take by the extreme right-wing of his party.

Just as Todd Akin did with his misogynistic attempt to parse what kind of rape is “legitimate” and what is not, Mourdock cruelly dismissed women’s moral autonomy and even their right to defend their own bodies against the assaults of their attackers. He even invokes God’s name to justify his position.

This is just one more illustration that the right-wing war on women’s fundamental human right to reproductive self-determination remains in full battle array. This conflict has nothing to do with abortion or babies or what God wants; it is a full-out culture war and its objective is to take away the economic, social, and political gains women have made over the last 50 years. It’s the ultimate way to keep women powerless—locked physically in those binders Mitt talked about.

Sadly, the formerly moderate Mitt Romney has proactively chosen to align himself with retrograde thinkers like Mourdock, and he is likely to pay the price.

This post was originally a response to a question asked in Politico Arena. My answer is here.

 

Debate #2: Crowley Wins It, Binders of Women New Mitt Meme

Candy Crowley was the biggest winner in last night’s Town Hall for her real time fact checking on Libya. She also asked follow up questions that forced the candidates to clarify their positions. She is, however, wrong in saying that it doesn’t matter that she’s a woman. It matters a lot that other women see they can aspire to moderate a presidential debate if that is their aspiration. And I suspect having a female role model gave permission, conscious or not, to female questioners who asked about such issues as equal pay.

President Obama snatched victory from the jaws of his first debate defeat, while Mitt Romney snatched defeat from the jaws of his previous winning performance by being, well, Romney.

The optics revealed two alpha males, each determined to prevail. However, Romney’s body language was stiff and menacing, reeking of privilege, whereas Obama seemed comfortable and nonthreatening in his leadership responsibility as president and commander-in-chief.  As Keli Goff observed, Romney not only appeared on the brink of losing his cool several times, but the way he brushed off Crowley was a turn off to women whom both candidates acknowledge are key to the election.

Obama skillfully skewered Romney on the economy with his one-liner characterizing Romney’s economic policy as a “one-point-plan” and saving the 47% moment to the end after Romney set his own trap.

Rivaling his Big Bird gaffe which rapidly became a social media meme, Romney stepped into the biggest pile of goo ever with his “binders of women” comment. Meant to puff up his creds with the ladies, poor Mitt only succeeded in showing

a) he himself apparently knew no qualified women despite having been in business for decades and

b) the Democrats are accurate in saying Romney lies; it turns out he didn’t request those binders.

The binders were prepared in advance of the election by a nonpartisan women’s coalition for whomever would become governor.

This has already spawned a “Binders Full of Women” tumblr and a whole slew of Democratic fundraising appeals playing off of Romney’s amazing tone deafness with the reality of women’s lives today. (Really? Only women want to go home for dinner with their families?) My favorite is the one pointing out that there are ballots full of women we can vote for this year.

I wanted Obama to say more, lots more, about the peril to women’s reproductive rights and health should Romney win, and to make more of a point that contraceptive coverage is in fact an economic issue. But there again, Romney managed to do himself in by dancing an inauthentic two-step as he tried to satisfy his anti-birth control base with their favorite code words while not frightening off the 99% of Americans who use birth control at some time during their lives.

So we go into the final debate with a tie score, each candidate having won one and lost one. The last lap of this election promises to continue to be a see-saw. Every vote cast will make a difference.

This post originally appeared in response to a Politico Arena question. Find the original publication here.

What’s the most important presidential debate question?

Bring on the hot wings and beer. My favorite contact sport event is coming up October 3.  I hope it’ll inspire tailgate parties all over the country.

No, I haven’t become a football fan after years of avoiding it. I’m talking about the first presidential debate. It should be required watching for all voters—that would be a far better qualification for voting than requiring picture identification.

What if you were the debate moderator, what do you think would be the most important question you’d ask?

Politico’s Arena, where I post regularly, asked about that yesterday, and also quizzed the panel on whether voters should expect fireworks or calm, polished debate. I wondered, what fun would it be without some fireworks. PBS’s Jim Lehrer will moderate this debate, the first of two debates between the presidential candidates.

I’m sure there will be many questions about their respective economic plans, as there should be. But in my response, I addressed the way questions are asked as well as the content.

Most of the time when I’m cheering and booing from the debate sidelines, I’m annoyed with the moderators’ softball questions that have too little follow up to get the candidates beyond their talking points.

Voters deserve a reasoned, polished debate, but also one that forces Obama and Romney to elucidate their most passionate convictions. That requires the moderator to frame questions specifically, not in general terms. And then to ask the second question, or the third follow up if necessary to get to the nut of each candidate’s answer.

For example, candidates will undoubtedly be asked their positions on women’s reproductive rights, health, and justice. But usually the questions are framed as being only about abortion rather than the full spectrum of access to women’s health and who gets to make childbearing decisions—women or politicians. As Carole Joffe, author of Dispatches from the Abortion Wars and UC Davis professor emeritus, explains in her recent post “Debate Questions That Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Need to Be Asked” :

“[H]ow the question is phrased and how much pushback a moderator is willing to do to with evasive candidates are very crucial. For example, a moderator who simply asks Romney, in general terms, to comment on his well-known changing views on abortion will set the latter up for a platitudinous answer about ‘realizing that this is a difficult issue for many’ and that his own views have ‘evolved.’ Such a broad question will not be as effective in communicating to the audience what actually are the policy stakes in this election…for Mitt Romney, his eager endorsement of a Personhood Amendment took place only a year ago — and therefore is much more relevant to voters than his flip-flopping on abortion that took place after his 1994 Senate run.”

What frustrates debate viewers more than whether there are fireworks or calm discussions is whether the moderators ask the hard questions and keep probing until the candidates give meaningful answers. I have much more faith in Candy Crowley to be an incisive moderator than I have in the more phlegmatic Jim Lehrer.

Will you be watching with me on October 3?

What question will you be hoping Lehrer asks?

What Would It Take for Dems to Retake the House?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on CNN yesterday morning that Democrats have a “very excellent chance” of taking back the House in November – pointing to Mitt Romney’s selection of running mate Paul Ryan as a “pivotal” moment in the campaign.

The Democrats need to pick up 25 seats to win back the majority.

Politico’s arena asked: “Does it seem likely that the Democrats could retake the House?  With a 10 percent congressional approval rating, are Americans even paying attention to House races?”

Here’s my take:

Pelosi’s dream of reclaiming the House could become Boehner’s nightmare. That’s not likely despite Mitt Romney’s fumbling campaign and various Republican candidates’ implosions on social issues, because voters tend to stick with the devils they know and vote for incumbents in the end. But it is possible that the Democrat’s could retake the House if:

  • women vote in proportion to their anger over assaults on their economic and reproductive rights and health,
  • progressive women go to the polls in proportions that match their 1992 “Year of the Woman” turnout,
  • attempts to suppress minority and women voters do not succeed,
  • Obama’s coattails are strong enough to reel in a few additional House seats for his party.

Those are big if’s. I predict Democrats have a better chance of winning a few additional seats in the Senate than taking over the House.

Thoughts? What are you seeing in the House districts where you live?

Did ‘Mom-in-chief’ Michelle make her case for Barack?

Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National convention last night was brilliant rhetorically and substantively. It was delivered with the passion of someone speaking her truth, the spark of a woman deeply in love, and the skill of a lawyer who knows how to build an arc of persuasion.

There was no ridiculous “I love you women!” moment in Michelle’s speech. There didn’t need to be because she actually communicated with women how her husband’s policies—from equal pay to reproductive rights—demonstrate that he respects and values them.

When Michelle said of Barack, “Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are,” she drove the ball straight home with voters. And she touched the hearts as well as minds of anyone watching.

The purpose of a presidential candidate wife’s speech is to humanize her husband. In the end, it was the humanity of Michelle’s stories and personal reflections that connected most viscerally with the audience. She brought them (and me, hardened as I am to political speeches) to tears and to their feet. For a shining moment, she brought back the aspirational hope and change that her husband promised and that had lifted Americans to our higher selves in 2008, and lifted him into the Oval office.

Paradoxically, though I felt she went a little heavy on her her “mom-in-chief” self- identification, her declaration, “Doing the impossible is the story of this nation,” is one of the strongest leadership lines ever uttered in a political speech.

Or maybe it wasn’t such a paradox after all. Being mom-in-chief is pretty good preparation for political office. I was left to wonder: why aren’t we running Michelle for president?

 

 

An excerpt from this article ran in the Politico Arena where the question “Did Mrs. Obama make a solid case for her husband’s reelection?” was asked. Here is a link to my response to the Arena question.

 

 

Can Ann Romney Cover for Mitt’s Agenda?

Last night as expected, Ann Romney’s speech covered her husband’s image in warm fuzzy love.

The New York Times suggested that Ann Romney’s speech, which highlighted the hard work she put in to raise five boys and battle two serious illnesses, may have zapped some of the energy away from her husband.

How and why any woman can drink the Kool-aid Ann Romney served up is a topic for another day. But no amount of Ann’s love and charming demeanor can obscure the realities of Mitt Romney’s intent if elected.

Politico Arena asked me whether Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention would persuade voters, including women, that her husband is someone we can trust.

Indeed, Americans can trust Mitt. There was never any doubt, and it didn’t take a speech by his wife to tell us the many ways we can trust him:

  1. We can trust Mitt Romney to escalate the War on Women (see this graph for a day-by-day chronology of what he and his party have already done to destroy women’s human and civil rights to full person-hood and to make their own childbearing decisions, to get equal pay for equal work, and to have access to health care for themselves and their families).
  2. We can trust him to be in the pocket of the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the evangelical right-wing, and the Tea Partiers. That doesn’t give him much governing wiggle room even if he had his own agenda, which he clearly does not—beyond getting elected, that is.
  3. We can trust him to give tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% and squeeze more taxes out of the rest of us, especially the struggling middle class. Even Republican analysts have said his tax plan (to the extent he has actually been specific about it) doesn’t add up and will further unbalance the budget.
  4. We can trust him to gut the Affordable Care Act, though it is modeled on the health plan he spearheaded as governor of Massachusetts.
  5. We can trust him to destroy Medicare and attempt to eviscerate Social Security, both of which enable millions of seniors to live out their last years with some semblance of dignity and independence.
  6. We can trust him to run roughshod over any attempts toward environmental sustainability.
  7. We can trust that he will never be trustworthy because he has no bedrock principles other than doing whatever it takes to become president, even running on a Republican Party platform so draconian he has opposed almost everything in it at some time or another in his attempts to get elected.

Romney will need more than speeches by his wife to cover up the negative realities of what his presidency would mean to the American people in their daily lives.

Can Romney’s speech overcome his image?

Are you watching the Republican National Convention? What do you think of the goings on?

Tell me your thoughts here. The Politico Arena question today talks about how Americans view Romney, saying a new Pew Research Center poll shows that more Americans are interested in the GOP platform than Mitt Romney’s convention speech.

Another Pew survey shows that 71 percent of Americans say that if Mr. Romney were elected president, his policies would be good for the rich.

This information may not bode well for Romney, who needs to overcome the perception that he is out of touch with regular Americans.

Will Romney’s convention speech make a difference for undecided voters? Or are Americans’ perceptions of Romney already largely cemented two months before the election?

Here was my top of mind reply, but how would you answer?

If Americans are more interested in the Republican platform than Romney’s convention speech, that’s good news for Barack Obama. The old adage “Watch what he does more than what he says” is true here. The platform is a harbinger of what Romney will do if he’s in office. And that, frankly, is frightening for women’s rights and self-determination, economic fairness and justice, and the economy as a whole. Think George W. Bush administration policies that practically bankrupted the country on steroids.

Romney torques himself into and back out of almost every position on the political map as he sense the winds of his base supporters blowing. His speech is likely to be carefully crafted as fodder to excite the base while stepping as lightly as he can around issues that are contentious with independents, moderate Republicans, and the few remaining undecided Democrats who are disaffected with Obama and might swing toward Romney.

Sometimes perception is reality though. Romney is perceived as not being in touch with regular Americans because he fundamentally isn’t in touch with the realities of our lives. If he gives an excellent speech, he might get a small temporary bump. But what his policies would do – or not – for average Americans is ultimately much more important.