The Young Politica: Dissecting The Susan Rice Conundrum

Before the November elections, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already forthrightly assumed responsibility for the Benghazi debacle that resulted in the death of four Americans including much-admired Ambassador Chris Stephens’

But neither her statements nor subsequent departures of State Department officials has quieted the echo chamber of blame.  The buck stops at the top, and an independent panel report  found plenty of buck to lay on Clinton’s desk. She must own and start to fix the problems of inadequate security at US embassies before she departs.

Still, it’s hard to see the trashing of Susan Rice and the subsequent GOP drumbeat about Hillary Clinton as anything other than blatantly intended to discredit her stellar performance on the world stage this past four years and to mortally wound her candidacy (previously declared unbeatable by Newt Gingrich should she make a second presidential run in 2016.

As Meagan Vazquez points out in her “Young Politica” column below about Susan Rice, the facts are never just the facts but rather come laden with political and cultural meaning.

And by the way, I’m thrilled to tell you that Maegan is going to continue her column into the new year! So if you are one of the many followers of this smart column from a student’s point of view, we’ll return to publishing it on Mondays in 2013. See you then!

After the initial boredom post-election, the political media immediately focused on the eminence of the fiscal cliff. Since those talks are still going nowhere, media sought a new subject to sink their teeth into: Susan Rice and the secretary of state bid. Rice, who was being vetted to take over Hilary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State, has been the subject of scrutiny by some for being the ill-informed messenger to national media after the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

Rice went on five political talk shows saying that the newest information linked the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Islam video protest in Cairo. Rice was relaying the message from that day’s intelligence brief, which was the same information given to Obama that morning. By the time she was on air, however, the link had been debunked. The attacks were not linked to the events in Cairo, but rather, they were premeditated events linked to al-Qaeda.

Soon after Rice relayed the information provided to her, Senator John McCain slammed her at the Washington Ideas Forum for claims she later learned were not correct.

Complications arose after McCain said that he would join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which  must first pass on nominations for secretary of state.

Even after Rice spoke to McCain and Linsey Graham, and admitted that her talk show statements were “partially incorrect,” Graham and McCain continued in their stance—they would not support Rice’s nomination.

In an effort to avoid any more complications, Rice withdrew her name from nomination. In a letter for the President, obtained by NBC News, Rice said:

“I didn’t want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because there are so many things we need to get done as a country and the first several months of a second term president’s agenda is really the opportunity to get the crucial things done.”

It seems odd that these two senators in particular would choose to attack Rice, especially since both of them have made blatantly false statements in front of a political forum. Perhaps we should remember also some of the statements by Colin Powell and Condeleeza Rice, too. The magnitude of their statements is infinitesimally greater than the slip up Susan Rice soon admitted was a mistake. Yet, their careers remain unblemished.

Maybe it was her race, maybe her gender, or maybe it was just bad timing. However, as pundit Keli Goff writes for The Root, there is some irony in seeing validity in “the man who presented Sarah Palin as presidential material labeled…a Ph.D., Rhodes scholar and former assistant secretary of state—unqualified.”

Maegan Vazquez, a Texas born sophomore at New York University, brings her young woman’s lens on all things political to Heartfeldt Blog every Monday. Send news tips to

Take this action now to pass health reform without Stupak-type restrictions

Looks like we’ll be spending another exciting Saturday night in front of the TV watching Congress debating a health care reform. I’m awfully glad women are so important that our bodies and our health seem to be a center of attention. On the other hand, I’m furious that the attention is once again on taking away abortion coverage rather than working to make sure women have access to all the basic health care services they need without Congress telling them what to do about their own lives, especially decisions as profound as childbearing and reproductive health.

It’s urgent that all senators hear from us TODAY AND TOMORROW.  I vote in Arizona. My senators are Jon Kyl and John McCain, both 100% anti-choice Republicans who are almost certainly going to vote against the final bill. But still, they need to hear from me and you. Let them feel the heat.

So I’ve just signed this letter to my senators, prompted by the Center for Reproductive Rights which has it all set up so it’ll even figure out who your senators are and send it to them for you. Actually, I made several edits to the CRR letter and you can to if like me you find it too wussy for you. Here is my version–lift anything you want:

I’m joining with the Center for Reproductive Rights to urge you to vote in favor of opening debate on the Senate healthcare reform bill HR 3590.

I hope you’re working hard to make sure every American has access to fair, quality healthcare. I have children in Arizona without health insurance because they can’t afford it now despite working very hard to make ends meet, and they need more affordable options. It’s critical that women’s needs are accounted for and protected within any health reform bill, in order to make it viable and worthwhile.

It is absolutely crucial that the current Senate bill prevail. While I am not altogether happy about the compromise that has been struck to restrict abortion coverage, Sen. Reid’s bill at least ensures that women across the country keep the coverage that already they have.

Abortion decisions are not the government’s business. Abortion is however a common experience and a constitutionally protected and morally appropriate medical procedure that one in three women will have in their lifetime and that’s why a majority of private insurers cover it today.

Women’s health care needs have already been compromised substantially and shamefully in order to help pass the bill, and Senator Reid’s merged bill contains even more stringent segregation of funds and other requirements to ensure that no federal money will pay for abortion services.

I urge the Senate to fight for women in this country and reject any attempts to roll back the clock on women’s health and rights.

Thank you for your time.

Gloria Feldt


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Moose, Mousse, and Spalinism by Robin Morgan

Guest posting again! This was just too good not to share, especially with some folks who  have been commenting on Heartfeldt. recently. Award winning author of 21 books, and feminist leader Robin Morgan takes laser-beam aim at a few “feminists” who have taken to the blogways lately to support John McCain and Sarah Palin.

You might have noticed a recent media burp—gassy, though blissfully short—about a handful of faux “feminists” backing the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket. I won’t name these women out of concern that feeding their misplaced sense of self-importance may risk them bursting into shriveled balloon ribbons of overextended ego. If you’re addicted to surreal humor you can find such SP supporters (I call them Spalinists) via Google—if you lack an excuse to put off, say, cleaning the garbage pail, and if you can manage it without bladder-challenging fits of hilarity at the cognitive dissonance invoked by juxtaposing words like “feminism” and “Palin.”

But if any actual feminists are concerned about the effect on Women’s Movement institutions and energy of this clutch of “formers” (a former chapter official of a national feminist organization, a former editor of a feminist publication, former Democratic funders, former Hillary supporters, and so forth), let me reassure you. The “trust date” had already long expired on these women, who’d been voted off feminist leadership posts, or fired, or quietly asked to resign. Some are confessed consultants to the campaign whose candidates they now—surprise!—endorse. I never imagined I’d see a “feminist” mercenary. But then I never heard of rats climbing onto a sinking ship, either.

Spalinists traipse around with their candidate, grinning and applauding her, sometimes getting paraded out to take a bow at a rally. They sound off about how she’s the target of sexism. (She is. D’uh. But being a victim of misogyny does not necessarily a feminist make—or we’d never have had Liddy Dole. Or Britney Spears.)

Spalinists claim they support the GOP ticket (while conveniently ignoring McCain) because: A) Palin is secretly brilliant, B) she is a feminist who only differs with the Women’s Movement in opposing abortion; C) us “elitist” Women’s Movement types who supported HRC but disavow SP are “anti-working-class women,” and—here it comes—D) Spalinists want to “teach the Democratic Party not to take women for granted.”

Oh, as Joe the senator says, lord love ya.

A) Anyone who hazards arguing that Palin is brilliant is herselfmorethana few watts short of a bulb. Palin is calculating (you betcha’!), or McCain wouldn’t be hemorrhaging from her stab-him-when-he’s-down wounds as she hypes her 2012 campaign before his is formally pronounced dead. But any real intelligence remotely attached to Palin gleams in Tina Fey’s eye.

B) If you still need a list of all the feminist agenda items (in addition to abortion rights) supported by the vast majority of U.S. women—but opposed by Palin—see When Sisterhood Is Suicide, or check Palin’s positions vs. the to-do list on any honestly feminist website:,,,,, EqualityNow.

C) Don’t you love it when wealthy nouveau-Republican women (confusing moose with mousse?) know best what working-class women need and want—better than working-class women who are actually feminist activists? Oh please.

D) If Spalinist women wanted to waste our hard-won suffrage, and truly cared about punishing the Dems for not taking women seriously enough, why didn’t they endorse the Green Party ticket: two women, both people of color (Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente), whose candidacies, though symbolic, at least share a pro-feminist platform? (See “The Other Nominees,” by Nida Khan, on the Women’s Media Center site.) If you claim you want to drive a party toward feminism, strategically you’d pressure from the left, not the right. But “teaching the Democratic leadership a lesson” brings us to the heart of it: Since when do feminists sacrifice women’s basic survival needs in order to impress men?

Still, here’s the good news. Their 15 minutes of infamy now over, even Spalinists must know they’ve blown whatever wobbly “former” creds they might’ve once had in the Women’s Movement. Their only hope lies in becoming guests on some future tacky talk show hosted by Palin—on Fox News, no doubt.

This commentary was written by Robin Morgan for The Women’s Media Center ( The WMC is a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making women visible and powerful in the media. Full disclosure, I serve on the WMC board of directors.

Obama in St. Louis: Metaphor for America (Guest Post by Mark Salo)

Of all things during this last pre-election week, I’m in the utter chaos of moving into a new apartment, unpacking boxes filled with material elements of life while watching the increasingly frenzied campaign coverage on CNN. As though we’d picked up conversations from decades of working together, an e-mail from Mark Salo popped up on my Blackberry. Mark retired a few years ago after 35 years with Planned Parenthood, most as CEO of one of its largest affiliates. A former marine, wise leader, and tough political fighter, Mark sent me (in addition to the photo of himself with his new granddaughter—see below) his take on the meaning of Obama’s quest for the presidency, melding historical context with current political events. I was so moved by it that I asked his permission to guest post it here at Heartfeldt. This is a longer than usual post, but so beautifully written that I didn’t want to cut a word. Read on, and let us know what you think.

It is October 18, 2008. With his back to the Mississippi River, United States Senator Barack Obama of Illinois stands beneath the great St Louis Arch and speaks to one hundred thousand people who come to hear his vision for change in America.

Much was written on that day about the fact that this was the largest crowd that a candidate for President has ever addressed during a presidential campaign. The very fact that a black man of mixed race was the presidential nominee of a major political party was historic. It was also written that the gathering was biggest of its kind in the history of this middle state.

I use the phrase “middle state” because Missouri has been the state where the tectonic plates of American politics have, more than any other place, pushed against each other.

While not in the exact geographic center of the United States, Missouri is surely the place where the country has collided with, and blended itself into, uneasy consensus.

St Louis was the place where east met west…the great water highways of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers meet here. In 1800 the areas east of St Louis were the United States and its territories. To the west was uncharted wilderness. It was here where the Lewis and Clark expedition embarked upon the endeavor that would ultimately create a bi-coastal nation. St Louis has never been completely east or west. It is both and it is neither.

Missouri too stands between north and south and was the place where a divided nation squabbled most bitterly with itself over slavery. Missouri squabbled because she, like the nation, was divided against herself. The metaphor for this division was certainly the Missouri Compromise. The very title of that agreement speaks of the dualities of the place. She was neither north nor south and she was both.

Even after the sullen peace that fell on the nation after Appomattox, some Missourians remained restless. Quantrill’s raiders spawned the James Brothers and other men who refused to make peace after the war and turned their guerrilla fighting skills to robbery. Missouri’s history makes her the perennial battleground state. She is the conflicted center of us…

Just a few weeks ago, Missouri was considered a safe Republican state. The Republican candidate, John McCain, held a comfortable lead there. For many months, the Obama campaign quietly and competently registered voters and built a formidable political campaign there…a campaign that astonished everyone who thought that the effort was futile. A tangible result of that campaign was the hundred thousand people who gathered at the Arch. Obama now leads in the polls in Missouri.

The Obama presidential campaign has been a phenomenon that has baffled and amazed the country. Missouri is no exception. The conservative columnist, David Brooks, noted that while other political leaders woo the crowds, the crowds woo Obama. I think it is because he has a calm grace and a diffidence about him that hesitates to overstate or over emote. The result is a political figure that has strengthened his hold on the affections of the country through a reticence…holding something back.

Barack Obama has managed this in a nation where the legacy of racism has afflicted the fulfillment of the promise of its Bill of Rights. This has been made troublingly worse by the wedges of resentment and difference articulated by the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign. The ensuing public discourse has, as a result, become more nakedly racist. I have watched with thoughtful respect as the candidate Obama has revealed no hint of malice or resentment as he calls Americans to unity.

Obama has observed that he is a “Blank slate” on to which people project themselves.

Unlike most political figures who write biographies as a prerequisite for running for office, Obama has written his books himself. It is rare for a public office holder to be literate and an excellent writer. Obama is both and writes with an honestly and self-knowledge that is rare in any discipline. In his book, “Dreams Of My Father” he navigates us though his own journey of identity as a man whose father was African, his mother, a white woman from Kansas. He identifies with sisters and brothers who run the racial gamut. Obama’s writing does not show the subliminal anger that one would expect, and often sees, from those who live between different racial worlds. It seems that he has absorbed them and integrated them into his character.

Perhaps this explains Obama’s “Blank slate” nature.

There was another historic dimension worth noting of Obama’s speech on that day. It was hiding in plain sight. None of the news articles I read reporting on the event mentioned it. I saw it because my private passion has been history…most particularly, the history of the American Civil War.

The first thing I noticed in the photograph of the multitudes gathered before the Arch was the building in the background. I recognized the structure immediately because I spent hours inside of it reading what is to me was the most infamous ruling in the history of the United States Supreme Court. A decision that some historians believe made the Civil War inevitable.

That bright white courthouse in the background of the photograph of the Obama event is the place where the Missouri Supreme Court deliberated the “Dred Scott” case in 1850. It was in that case where, seven years later, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Roger B Taney, upheld the decision and further polarized the country on slavery.

It is the last sentence of his statement that became famous. A more careful reading shows a different context but combined with the ruling that sent Dred Scott back to slavery in Missouri, Taney’s words inflamed the passions of an already divided nation. The statement follows:

It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

When he looked up from the podium and over the crowds in St Louis, Obama looked directly at that old courthouse. As a former professor of constitutional law, Obama certainly knows the history of that place. I wonder if in the rush of a frenetic campaign schedule he had the time to think about the significance of a hundred thousand people of all races roaring his name? People who were bridging a 159-year historical gap between this man in front of them who might be president and the courthouse behind them where a black man “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”.

Obama has confounded many supporters by not being dependably liberal in all of his views. He has shown support for funding faith-based programs provided they keep religion separate from funded programs. He has sought some middle ground on abortion and, while opposing the Iraq war, has shown a willingness to use military force where diplomacy fails.

It is my observation that Obama, despite the scurrilous accusations of radicalism by his political opponents, is temperamentally and politically a centrist.

He is neither black nor white. He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is none of those things…and he is all of them…kind of like Missouri.

Of course, there are differences between countries, states and individuals. Still, all of this has got me to thinking about Mohandas Gandhi and what is perhaps his most famous quote; “We must become the change we want to see in the world”.

I look at Barack Obama who appears to have taken all of the disparate pieces of his history/heritage and integrated them into a man who is confident, kind, well balanced, tough, competent, intelligent and effective.

I believe that the attraction of Barack Obama to the country and to those one hundred thousand people converged in St Louis; Missouri is the promise that as a people, we might possibly do the same.

E-mail Mark Salo here, where he’s busy enjoying his three-week-old granddaughter.

Powell Endorses Obama: What Does It Mean?

I imagine just about every reader of Heartfeldt Politics watched Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama on today’s Meet the Press; you can listen to the key points on this podcast.

I often find Powell too wishy washy for my taste, but then he is a diplomat by disposition and profession. And in this case, the cool, calm, measured way he articulated his reasons for endorsing Obama while respecting McCain may have served the national debate well. At least I am sure it serves the debate going on about my most recent previous post here between Linda and Stacy.

Key point summarized by Jonathan Martin at Politico point out that even devoted moderate Republicans like Powell do finally have a breaking point with the meanness and right wing extremism that has captured the Republican Party in recent years.

But Powell made plain that his decision to back the Democrat was as much motivated by what he saw from McCain and the GOP as anything Obama had said or done, using much of his explanation to express unhappiness about the campaign of a man he’s known for 25 years…The former Army general and moderate Republican also repeatedly expressed concern about the GOP’s “rightward shift,” using the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president as an example. Palin, Powell said flatly, is not qualifed because she’s not ready to be president — the primary role of the vice president . Powell, a native son of New York City, also knocked one of Palin’s signature lines. “Not just small towns have values,” he said.

Powell didn’t address some of the issues we have been talking about here, in particular McCain’s positions on women’s or reproductive rights, nor the disdain for women’s health that I feel  exhibited in the last debate by putting that key concern into quotation marks with his hand gestures. However, Powell did include probable Supreme Court appointments in his reasons why he chose Obama over McCain.

Powell’s endorsement comes at the time when the candidates are closing their deals with the American public and when the majority of Americans are making their final voting decision. Some will say that blood is simply thicker than water and it’s not surprise that an African American man would endorse another African American man. My guess is there is a shred of truth, even though Powell’s creds as an honest broker are strong. It’s not going to make the difference in the outcome of the presidential race in any case, for Powell in typical fashion didn’t take a particularly courageous or game changing stand.

Nevertheless, his endorsement of Barack Obama is especially important for many who have worried about Obama’s foreign affairs leadership qualifications and for many independents and moderate Republicans who are still uneasy about Obama for a variety of reasons.

Powell has basically summed up where the majority of Americans already are politically. It won’t change many votes but it will increase voters’ comfort level with the man Powell calls “transformational figure”.  And when it comes to governing post-election, that will be of enormous importance in an Obama presidency.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Snidely McCain Bullies as Usual but Fails to Tie the Final Knot

Remember the bumbling villain Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right animated series?  But for the absence of mustache, John McCain might well have been mistaken for Snidely in the final—thank goodness—presidential debate. I could imagine him rubbing hands together, cackling as he anticipated tying the gentle Barack Obama to the verbal train tracks, sure of his imminent demise.

Darting, flashing eyes reveal the anger that roils within McCain, no matter how hard he tries to cover it up. The only time his eyes softened was when he talked about his running mate, Sarah Palin. Then he looked like he was in love.

His unconvincing grin forced through clenched teeth makes him look like a kid who has a really bad tummy ache but doesn’t want to leave the party. He tried but failed to control his agitation, revealing a sourness of demeanor that, when spotted on children causes their mothers to warn, “Wipe that look off your face, Young Man!”

Only McCain can’t wipe it off because it is what he is: a sour, angry man. His lame attempts at humor inevitably corrupt into sarcasm.

He thought he was cute saying, “Senator Obama, I’m not President Bush.”

But as point after pointed, practiced barb failed to hit its calmly smiling target, you could see McCain winding into higher and higher torque. I began to fear his head would spin right off his neck.

Truth is, McCain is simply a mean, nasty man and he can’t hide it any more under his fake maverick mantle.  Though his hot temper is well known, it’s not the temper that bothers me as much as what he does with it. Like all bullies, even laughable, bumbling ones, Snidely McCain is an abuser of his power.

My Personal Experience With McCain’s Power Abuse
I’ve personally borne the brunt of his nastiness more than once since his first run for Congress in 1992. A few years after that, he stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic without warning in his Mesa AZ district.

I was CEO of the Central and Northern Planned Parenthood affiliate, and had several times invited him to come tour the facility. I knew his anti-choice proclivities and never expected him to agree with us on abortion. But I hoped he’d see the value of prevention as did Arizona senator Dennis DeConcini, who also opposed abortion but championed preventive family planning programs like Title X of the Public Health Services Act that funds health services for low income uninsured women. I always reached across the ideological aisle, just as McCain touts over and over.

He repeatedly declined my invitation, but then he decided to go unannounced, clearly intending to find something amiss that he could bash us with. I learned he was there when I received a call from the clinic manager: “Senator McCain is in the reception room and he is screaming and upsetting the patients.”

“Hand him the phone,” I said. Whereupon he screamed at me, threatening, “I’m going to defund you!” over and over. Mystified as to what precipitated his rage, not to mention his unexpected visit, I asked him to go somewhere he could call me back and we could discuss whatever had so agitated him.

A few minutes later, he called back, still frothing. He asked no questions, but screamed threats to defund us at the top of his lungs.  Like Obama, I listened and didn’t take his bait. I finally got him to tell me the source of his ire: a small shelf with information about legislation and post cards so people could write their elected officials if they chose. In addition, it was clear he couldn’t distinguish between preventive family planning services and abortion and had no idea what services were provided there.

He simply assumed he was entitled to threaten an organization he didn’t like because it was vulnerable to his political clout. But he hadn’t done his homework. First, this wasn’t a federally funded clinic. Second, even if it had been, you don’t lose your freedom of speech as a result; it is perfectly proper to offer non-electoral advocacy information with private sources of money. Third, courtesy of Ronald Reagan, we’d recently been audited and found fully in compliance of those rules by both the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General’s office. Fourth, no abortions were performed at this clinic.

I explained all this but it didn’t mollify him. He kept right on screaming and threatening to use his Congressional power to take away our Title X funding.  Which if course, he couldn’t. Afterward, he never met with me or my board members again, the bully’s way of slinking off to avoid the consequences of his behavior.

Bullies Get Away With It, Until They Don’t
Stories of McCain abuses of power are rampant   in his (chosen) home state. But few will speak of it publicly for fear of his retaliation. One person told me of how McCain literally threw him and a number of other organizational representatives out of his office because they deigned to urge him to vote against the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.  In this video, prominent individuals from  DeConcini to former Phoenix newspaper publisher. Pat Murphy, describe other examples of volatility, explosive anger, and abuse of power.

McCain can’t deny any of these things, though he has tried mightily to create a completely different, more moderate image
of himself. But as his experience has devolved into arrogance, even his war hero narrative seems to be losing its glow.

So he tries to distance himself from his record and reframe his temper as fiestiness. ”I got the scars to prove it,” he says now, listing issues where he voted against his party. That might be persuasive until Obama points out McCain voted for four of five Bush budgets.  We are forced to ask: so if he is working so hard to distance himself from President Bush and his own party, why then is he a Republican? And if he has to work so hard to distance himself from his own character, how can he serve with integrity, or be trusted not to use the awesome power of the presidency to abuse others less powerful?

He hasn’t made a coherent case for himself, let alone a compelling one on either the issues or his temperament. Though we’re experiencing campaign fatigue, the extensive exposure to the candidates has allowed the American people to see the real John McCain.

This time, McCain looks like the Dudley Do-Right show script that says: “Camera pans to Snidely Whiplash, who is tying a blonde to some convenient railroad tracks. He seems to be having some trouble with the final knot.”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Why Appearances Matter–and Corrupt

In response to comments both pro and con on my previous post here, I have been thinking a lot about why it matters that Sarah Palin uses her looks, her cutesy down-home phrases, her flirty moves. All politicians use whatever it is they’ve got to appeal to voters, after all.

In fact, each and every one of us uses whatever we’ve got to appeal to our “publics”, even if that’s only to negotiate who’s cooking dinner tonight within our immediate families.

Goodness knows, I use my Texas sayings and small town upbringing all the time in my speeches and writing. I do it to engage people, because I like those stories, and because it authentically shares a lot about who I am. I also own up to wearing lipstick, and I have a penchant for clothing that is both tailored and just a tad funky, like Sarah Palin’s black suit, severe but for the peplum flourish.

In our society, it is well known if not well acknowledged that physical appearance makes a big difference in how positively we are received by others, however fair or unfair that may be. And that there is always some element of sexual tension in attractiveness, however, much we might try to take that out of the equation.

But the real issue is that Sarah uses her style and uses it  brazenly to cover up for utter lack of substance. I don’t mean that she’s not smart–she’s plenty smart to have amassed the power she has and to have won the elections she has won. In the big boy power games, as she did in high school basketball, she has always excelled, and as I said in previous posts and comments, you do have to respect her for that.

But power devoid of empathy is dangerous. Power devoid of information is dangerous. Power devoid of actions for the good of others is amoral if not immoral. Power devoid of the honesty and/or perhaps the ability to answer reporters’ questions is devastating to the integrity of the political process. It corrupts, makes a mockery, of democracy.

Abraham Lincoln’s personal narrative of small town, humble beginnings and self-taught law education is revered, not for their own sake but because his political actions served the public good. I see absolutely nothing in Palin’s “accomplishments” except an opportunistic march to power for its own sake. I see much to fear and to fight in the political philosophy to which she has hitched her wagon. I see deliberate dishonesty in her brassy rejection of Gwen Ifill’s debate questions.

The big question raised by Sarah Palin’s candidacy (and John McCain’s choice of her for a running mate) is this: In our Rovian world, where George W. Bush got away with the artful dodge so blatantly–and with the complicity of the mainstream media– have we become so inured to this corrupted way of evaluating people for public office that we’re going to let the right wing get away once again with electing yet another vessel for their mean-spirited agenda?

I say voters’ answer to that this time around must be a resounding “No!”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

What Did Sarah Learn?

The frisky pit bull bounded out of her debate camp confinement, lipstick glistening under the PBS staging lights. Her black suit might have echoed Susan B. Anthony, were it not for the decidedly un-serious peplum that added a not so subtle, curtsy-cute feminine flourish.

But then nothing about Sarah Palin is either subtle or uncalculated. Just as her glittering rhinestone flag pin, ten times the size of the one on ol’ “Say it ain’t so, Joe” Biden’s lapel, intended to telegraph “I’m a red-blooded, patriotic all-American girl”, her perky (Red Bull enhanced?), “Hey, kin I call ya Joe?” aimed squarely to disarm both her audience and her debate adversary.

I mean, what was Biden going to say?  “No, honey, call me Senator Biden”?

She certainly knew full well her political future and that of her presidential running mate John McCain hung in no small measure on her performance at this, the only vice-presidential debate. To that end, she had practiced forcefully spitting out her most emotion-laden words like  “maverick!” the Republican red meat “tax cuts!” or the ultimate epithet “Washington DC!”, even while flashing a shining smile. And she looked absolutely gleeful when she got to pounce on Biden’s promise that “We will end this war” applause line with her obviously practiced sound bite: “Your plan is the white flag of surrender.”

Palin is a fierce competitor, as her high school basketball teammates knew when they nicknamed her Sarah Barracuda. If you’re a feminist, you’ve got to love the way this woman embraces her powers, both the power of her physical attractiveness and the power of her current political opportunity to become America’s first female vice president. It’s pretty heady, even for someone who said, when told she might become governor someday, that she’d really rather be president. You can’t blame her for going full bore for the brass ring.

The chattering classes used the word “spirited” often in describing the tone and tenor of the debate, and most concluded that Palin didn’t knock it out of the ballpark, but her performance kept McCain-Palin in the game. That was no surprise, since the format agreed to had been designed to favor her particular strengths.

To me, the only real surprise in this debate was how well Biden did. Republican strategist David Gergen said it was the best performance of his life.

Most of the pre-debate speculation had centered on whether Palin would measure up. I was frankly much more worried that Biden would be too smart for his own good—that he would display his deep knowledge and experience as Al Gore did in 2000, and afterward find himself characterized as arrogant.  People like perky a lot more than they like arrogant. And if they don’t like you, it doesn’t matter how smart you are; you won’t get elected.

More than once at Senate hearings, I’ve seen Biden become testy and condescending with women. Anita Hill is a case well known, but I myself have been pointed to publicly by Biden and excoriated for insisting that the Senate Democrats shouldn’t roll over and confirm George Bush’s judicial nominees without evaluating whether their judicial philosophy is consistent with American principles of justice and equality for all, including women.

That why Biden’s reply to debate moderator Gwen Ifill’s question, “Can you bring up a single policy issue where you had to change your position over time due to changed circumstances?” was to me the pivotal point of the debate.  It spoke volumes about the man’s character, his principles, and his willingness to learn.

“Yes,” he said without skipping a beat.

I was of the view that the only criteria for judges is judicial temperament, had not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitide…. It took about five years for me to learn that the ideology of that judge does matter

That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

And so that — that — that was one of the intellectual changes that took place in my career as I got a close look at it. And that’s why I was the first chairman of the Judiciary Committee to forthrightly state that it matters what your judicial philosophy is. The American people have a right to understand it and to know it.

In contrast, Pit Bull Palin answered that same question by referring in her usual generalities to compromises she had struck in state government.

He went immediately to a question of principle; she went to a question of expedience.

Ever the calculating competitor, for Palin the game is simply about winning. In this debate, Palin certainly lived to compete another day. But Biden won the debate hands down on his humanity and on his substance.

You betcha.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Lilly Ledbetter, a Real War Hero, Could Help Obama Win

Little did I know a few weeks ago, when Carole Joffe and I wrote “It’s About Time Working Women Get Straight Answers from John McCain”, showing the connective tissue uniting economic and reproductive justice–you know, like the phrase “barefoot and pregnant”– and challenging McCain to clarify his positions on basic questions such as:

Do you believe in equal pay for equal work?

…that I would soon have the opportunity to meet the woman whose name has become synonymous with equal pay, Lilly Ledbetter. She’s a true hero of the ongoing battle for paycheck equality regardless of gender.  I was invited to a press briefing sponsored by AAUW (the American Association of University Women, in case there is anyone in America who doesn’t know the acronym of this large and powerful organization which has championed women’s educational and professional advancement since 1881). 

Lilly Ledbetter and yours truly at AAUW briefing on the status of equal pay legislation in Congress

This article on AAUW’s website explains the two equal pay bills and why they are critically needed to ensure American women are treated fairly and equitably when it comes to compensation:

[O]n May 29, 2007, the now infamous decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a contentious split decision, the Court turned 40 years of legal precedent and EEOC practice on its head, and in the process made it virtually impossible for victims of pay discrimination to protect their rights under Title VII. Under this new rule, employers cannot be held accountable for their discrimination after 180 days.

The sheer wrongheadedness of this decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to read her dissent, aloud, from the bench, a very unusual event. It also caused a public outcry, and newspapers across the country editorialized against the Court’s action. The decision also galvanized Congress to right the Court’s wrong. AAUW’s report, together with the Ledbetter decision and the courage of Lilly Ledbetter, who continues to campaign tirelessly in the hopes that other women won’t face the same inequities she did, created a perfect storm that cemented the issue of equal pay for equal work on the congressional agenda.

Ledbetter, you know the minute you look at her and hear her speak in that soft Alabama twang, is the real deal. At 60, she was in the first wave of women who sought what used to be known as “nontraditional jobs”, and she was the only woman in her plant holding the supervisory job she had when someone anonymously dropped her a note with the information that would change her life.

In her company, it was against policy for employees to discuss salary with anyone else. This note informed her that she was being paid far less than men holding the same position, with equal or less seniority. She found out that it was true and decided it was an injustice that should be challenged. Though she asked other women in the plant to join her, and they all confirmed the rampant discrimination, none would buck the company for fear of losing their badly needed jobs. The men in management tried to push her out despite glowing performance revews. But Lilly pressed on. She eventually won her case and was awarded over $3,000,000 by lower courts before having the judgment reversed by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

Ledbetter and Linda Hallman, Executive Director of AAUW, made sure the audience knew that the $0.77 women earn on average to men’s $1.00 adds up to a whopping $300,000 lifetime loss. And at the rate the wage gap is closing, it’ll be 2057 before we reach parity. Salary level in turn affects pension and other retirement benefits. That plus women’s greater longevity are largely why women are twice as likely to die in poverty as men.

We already know, though much of the public does not, that John McCain opposes legislation that would restore protection for the civil right to equal pay for equal work. And we know, though much of the public does not, that Barack Obama supports it, because Lilly Ledbetter herself has been campaigning with him. But I think this war hero for women’s equal pay could help Obama even more by persuading him to push Congress to pass a bill this fall.

There are battles a leader takes because he or she is confronted by them. But there are also battles a leader should make because they are for a just cause. The battle for equal pay is clearly one of those just causes that should be front and center this election year. Lilly Ledbetter says she continues for the sake of the younger women just entering the workforce, and she speaks all over the country, urging them to be assertive about negotiating for their fair pay from the beginning of their careers.

It’s about time for working women to get Lilly’s message, but way past time for American women to get Congressional action on equal pay.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Women Take Talmudic Advice, Organize for the Change They Believe In

The Talmud offers this advice, which I have often cited tongue-in-cheek as a metaphor for leadership in times of crisis, especially when it fell to me to figure out what the heck to do about it: “Where there are no men, strive thou to be a man.”

A number of women I know are taking that admonition to heart right now, while it seems like the men in charge of the Democratic presidential campaign are temporarily spinning in place from Hurricane Palin.

This piece, for example, from The Nation by Michelle Goldberg illustrates a heartening trend of women taking–imagine!–community organizing into their own hands: “Alaska Progressives Challenge Palin”.

[A participant] pointed to the woman next to her, who lives in Palmer, a town about thirteen miles from Wasilla. “Bridgette was hiking on a glacier two days before she had her child, and picking blueberries a week after she had her baby. And that does not qualify us for being Vice President.” The two of them were so horrified by the prospect of a Palin presidency that they drove nearly an hour to Anchorage on Saturday to join a rally called Alaska Women Reject Palin…According to a policeman on site, the rally drew between 1,500 and 1,700 people, an astonishing turnout by Alaska standards…To put it in perspective, according to official estimates, 1,500 people turned out for Palin’s first Anchorage campaign rally Saturday morning, an event where, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the governor was “treated like a movie star.”

Then there’s this personal essay in the Irish Times by Mary Mullin,  an Alaskan who like Sarah Palin has a child with Down syndrome, but says her soul sister is an “empty vessel” and that “hell no” she won’t be voting for Palin despite their similarities. She rightly observes that it’s the Democrats who care about single mothers and children with Down Syndrome; the Republicans have done nothing for them.

I especially like Arizona lawyer Lucia Fakonas Howard’s advice. She’s putting herself out there as a clear-headed consultant where there apparently are none. Here’s her commentary, “The ‘White Woman Variable’ in the 2008 Presidential Election”. I might quibble with her contention that Clinton supporters need to be courted by Clinton, because as I’ve said in previous posts, I believe Obama must be the one to enlist them personally. But overall, it looks like such good advice that I plucked it from the comments section and put it here:

The latest polls and political pundits are telling us that “white women” will decide the outcome of this Presidential election.  DAAHHH!!  What a surprise!!   Less than 60 days before the election, and both campaigns are discovering that women voters are really important.  Even though women represent more than 50% of the vote, most candidates still haven’t figured out how to target and address women.

Why does this lesson need to be re-taught in every campaign cycle, usually when it’s already too late? Strategists and analysts (usually white men) need to stop lumping “white women” (or women in general) into one homogenous group.  In this Presidential election, I think women fall into at least 4 very different constituencies, and the Obama campaign needs a separate strategy, message, and messenger for each.

1.    Anti-choice, religious right, conservative women.  Obama never had these women and will never get them. The goal here is not to convert them, but to contain them.  Stop attacking Palin on character, thus making her the patron saint of conservative women, which only angers them into action.  The message of Obama’s character and values is best delivered to these women by Michelle Obama and her daughters.  (Yes, I’m advocating that the Obamas drag their daughters front and center for the next 55 days.)

2.    Women who feel/know we need change, but what?  This is the group that I think represents the biggest shift in the polls over the last week.  These women were leaning toward Obama because he represented change and hope, while McCain represented the status quo.  These women were not truly committed to Obama, but they liked him more than McCain, because Obama promised a new direction and an understanding and voice for the needs of their families.  Enter Palin, who is assuring them that McCain is the real reformer and agent of change – just look at who he picked as his VP.  A number of women in this group are shifting to McCain, but they are not strong McCain supporters or anti-Obama voters.  They can be won back with the right message.  Obama needs to convince these women that he is a man of character who can be trusted to move the country in a better direction, and that his “hope message” is not hollow, overly intellectual or wimpy.  These women vote their gut.  They need to know who Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin are as people: the values they stand for, who they really represent, and the “culture” they will bring to Washington.  Fear and uncertainty are powerful with this group, so Obama needs to convince them that he can best protect their families, their pocket books, and their country.

3.    Women who vote the issues.  They want to know the candidates’ positions on the issues, and will vote accordingly.  Obama is getting pulled into the classic Republican defensive strategy, which is taking him off message.  Obama and Biden can reach these women in the debates and their appearances by sticking to the issues.  We can win a majority of these women on the issues, if we can remember what the issues are.

4.    Angry Hillary supporters.   There were a number of women angered over Hillary’s loss to Obama, and even more who believe he made a huge mistake in not making her his VP (assuming she would have even taken it).  They’re not finished saying “We told you so”, but in the end, I think very few of them will actually vote for McCain.  The McCain/Palin ticket may not be “putting lipstick on a pig”, but it is the embodiment of failed Bush administration values and policies in a skirt.  Hillary supporters need to be courted—by Hillary Clinton.  My take on the “white women” variable is not based on polls or data, so I may be off base.  But, based on watching years of failed Democratic campaigns, I don’t think I’m off by much.

Another Talmudic pundit–perhaps the precursor to Chris Matthews–Rabbi Tarphon said, “The day is short, the labour vast, but the labourers are slothful, though the reward is great, and the Master of the house presseth for despatch.”

But we know that he really meant what Eleanor Roosevelt would later say about politics, “It’s up to the women.”

Heartfeldt Politics

Cross posted at Blogher

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.