Obama’s Leadership: Will “Buffett tax” fly?

I didn’t get around to answering Politico’s question “Will ‘Buffett tax’ fly?” in time for them to publish it.  But after a day of hearing the President argue his case, I’m sharing my thoughts with you. Let me know what you think.

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Arena Asks: President Barack Obama will release a plan today to cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade, drawing half the savings from new tax revenue and sparing Medicare recipients from having to wait longer to collect benefits. Invoking calls by investor Warren Buffett, Obama’s plan would also would prohibit millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans. Will this populist-sounding proposal win broad backing? Or is it repackaged class warfare that won’t play well in an aspirational society?

My Answer: If Obama had launched this bold Buffet Rule initiative in January 2009, it would have been a slam dunk. The public was with him, it would have fulfilled a campaign promise, and it would have sucked the wind right out of the Republican “no”-sayer sails. Obama would be in a much more favorable leadership position today and the polls would show it. That’s because he would have shown both strength and courage by setting the agenda and establishing the playing field’s boundaries.

It’s still the right thing to do, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. If the president goes all out to educate people about why this proposal is fair to individuals and good for the economy overall, he might parlay the initiative into an electoral plus. The “class warfare” charge is nonsense, and in fact it’s just the opposite–an attempt to ameliorate an unfair tax system that has exacerbated economic class differentials.

Timing counts for a lot, though. Three years of transparently (and often foolishly) pre-emptive political compromising have used up the moral high ground momentum Obama brought into office. The Buffett Rule proposal in 2012 feels like the calculated hail Mary pass of a team captain with time running out for a win. And with a Republican House and weakened Senate Democratic majority, the likelihood of scoring a meaningful legislative victory is zilch.

Scoreboard: Net yardage gain to Obama, but not likely to change the game.

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.

Does Palin Trump Biden?

I had intended to blog throughout the Democratic Convention. But there came a moment when I just wanted to be a spectator. Partly this was motivated by the fact that my husband Alex and I were simultaneously shopping for (and finally picking) a new apartment, an endeavor that diverts one’s attention considerably.

So I took a couple of days off from writing just to soak up the historic events. I especially enjoy lavishing myself with the rich sounds and sights of major speakers’ rhetoric, turning every nuance of what was said or not said around in my mind and analyzing their delivery.   

Last night, Alex and I went to watch Obama’s speech with a group of friends who were all charged up and ready to go out and work for him. Dawn, a young woman who’d attended the first few days of the convention, had brought hats and placards, and the flags we frequently waved to signal our approval of some speaker’s point, were provided by the host, Loretta, along with all-American Chinese food and ice cream sandwiches for sustenance.

That afternoon, a wave of sadness had washed over me unexpectedly. Yep, I thought I’d gotten over the fact that the Democratic nominee wouldn’t be a woman, and that not even the vice presidential candidate would be a woman. For so long, I thought sure….

I wanted to be in total celebratory mode that America would have its first African American major party nominee. And I do celebrate this incredible advance, but not without a dash of bittersweetness.

After all, the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 70’s awakened my social justice instincts and drew me into the front line activism that led me to work for women’s civil rights and reproductive justice for over three decades. But it was also the way civil rights organization leaders, virtually all men, tended to treat gender-based injustice as having lesser importance, that made me realize we needed a women’s rights movement too.

Obama’s speech was excellent, but not quite great, comforting if not moving. Strong on substance as it needed to be, yet not as strong on the rhetoric as he can be. I don’t remember any of his specific lines, which is a  clue.  And though the warm-up speeches by Al Gore and Dick Durbin touched on reproductive rights, Obama’s spoke only in a downplayed, appeasing way about reproductive justice, even though he stood on the podium in a state with a pending ballot initiative that intends not just to outlaw abortion but to take down many kinds of birth control with it, granting fertilized eggs full personhood status while demoting women to second class citizenship:

What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

The — the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

(I left in the gun control part to illustrate that women’s rights to reproductive self-determination and gay rights get equated to just another policy issue that it’s ok for people to disagree on. Would he say the same about civil rights based on ethnicity or religion? I think not. And pray tell, why didn’t he mention his co-sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act?)

I’d thought all along that a ticket with both Clinton and Obama on it, in whichever order, would be the American dream ticket that would affirm for me the reason my grandparents came to this country from Eastern Europe almost 100 years ago.And if he didn’t go with Clinton, that he should choose another women such as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Arizona’s Gov. Janet Napolitano, women who clearly have stellar executive experience, if he wanted to attract those 18 million voters–especially the majority of them who are women–who cast their lot with Hillary during the primaries.

Now that John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, the already immense rock Obama was pushing up a steep hill to garner those women’s votes just became infinitely heavier. Though Palin is staunchly anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-gay rights,  she

is a young, attractive woman whose presence on the ticket coupled with the absence of strong pro-choice rhetoric from Obama will lure many voters into the complacency about reproductive rights that contributed mightily to George Bush having two terms. The Rush Limbaugh and evangelical hard right are gleeful about this pick.

It’s probably a good thing I took a few days off. Looks like there will be no rest for the foreseeable future.

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.


Her orange pantsuit might be a Glamour magazine “don’t”, but like every word Hillary spoke last night during her moment at the Democratic National Convention, it was so right, so Hillary.

Her once-ridiculed pantsuit is part of the Hillary brand now, like Barry Goldwater’s thick-rimmed black glasses, Winston Churchill’s smelly cigars, Joe Biden’s train tickets.

Standing sharp against the cobalt blue DNC backdrop in the organgest pantsuit I ever saw, Clinton paid tribute to her “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits”.  It was a moment of feminist humor and a nod to the fact that she was today truly, completely, and finally ceding the Democratic nomination to her former chief rival, Barack Obama.

All the Hillary’s Spoke
That she threw her unequivocal support to Barack Obama on the 88th anniversary of women’s suffrage, urging her supporters to do the same in terms that could not have been clearer, is a painful bit of symbolism for some of us women’s rights activists. Marie Cocco in the Washington Post called it “Hillary’s Thankless Job”.   But in her always practical way, Hillary made the point that her own mother was born before women could vote while her daughter Chelsea got to vote for her mother for president to illustrate the enormity of her victory even in defeat.

The passionate Hillary spoke about the “people left out and left behind” whose plight has touched her. The policy wonk Hillary threw in references to the issues that have driven her public service work:

I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches, advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women’s rights here at home and around the world…to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people. And you haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months or endured the last eight years to suffer through more failed leadership. No way, no how, no McCain!

The indomitable Hillary quotes African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going…”.

What you didn’t see was a bitter Hillary, because that’s just not her style.

The Designated Adult
In every family, there is a designated adult. Within the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton showed herself to be it last night. Her remarks balanced well the necessary laudatory comments about Obama with self-references sufficient to tell her supporters that supporting Obama means supporting the things they care about most in this country.

And Hillary’s role modeling how to be a losing candidate might be as important to women contemplating political office as her role modeling as the first woman who really had a chance of winning the presidential race. As more women seek power positions of all kinds, we have to lose the passive aggressive responses to losing that we ingested with our mother’s milk.  We must learn to appreciate what we learn from the fight. Losing a hard fought race may hurt, but is also strengthens, teaches, and opens doors to new and often unanticipated opportunities.

That’s why Hillary pulled up her orange pantsuit and stepped onto that state last night with the confidence to pledge her full support to Barack Obama.

Now the ball’s in his court to reach out to Clinton’s supporters in the same passionate and full-throated way. Will he step up to the plate and become the designated adult for the next, all-important, final stretch?

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.


All eyes will be on Hillary Clinton when she speaks tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

Media pundits and McCain loyalists will be parsing her every word, scrutinizing her every nuance, analyzing every element of her body language for quite a different reason. They love a political food fight. They’ll pounce on any whiff of tepidness, real or imagined, in her support for Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. The Republicans have even set up a “Happy Hour for Hillary”,  lying in wait to whip up animosity toward Obama, whether their spin is real, or if all else fails, conjured up by their Rovian attack dogs.

But while talking heads will strain to see any shred of conflict between the Democratic nominee-to-be and the second-runner, some of us will be looking at the occasion with what the Tohono O’Odham people call “long eyes”.

The historic significance of the first time a woman came close to winning a major party’s presidential nomination gives special meaning to the serendipity that today, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day –the 88th anniversary of American women’s right to vote. And the fact that Thursday, when Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech, will mark the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, gives the Democrats powerful symbolic bookends unmatched by any convention in recent memory.

In her own elegant speech last night, Michelle Obama observed that she herself resides in the intersection of advances that have been made for both women and African Americans, acknowledging Hillary’s “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”
and Dr. King’s dream.

On Women’s Equality Day, it is important to note that history always has long eyes.  The movement to get women the right to vote began during the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. It took 72 years of diligent organizing, continuous campaigning, and courageous speaking out before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was adopted. Only one attendee of the Seneca Falls convention—Charlotte Woodward—was still alive by then; she cast her first vote at age 81. I thought of her when Senator Ted Kennedy spoke so movingly about his long quest for universal health care in his extraordinary “season of hope” speech that brought the convention to cheers and tears just before Michelle spoke.

In the face of charges that women were too emotional to be entrusted with the serious act of voting (or alternately that women would just vote like their husbands, so why bother giving them the franchise), the suffragists persisted until they prevailed, and female citizens of our nation achieved that basic right of free people: to have an equal voice in electing those make the laws and policies that govern our lives.

Because of the suffragists, and all the courageous activists like Clinton who’ve taken up the torch and run with it to ever-greater height, women have reached a power point unparalleled in our nation’s history.

Sure, Hillary must feel a sense of disappointment that she’s not breaking that “highest and hardest glass ceiling” in politics. So do I and many of the women who ached to see a woman president in our lifetime. There’s no substitute for a clear win. But Hillary Clinton is a great leader precisely because she sees with long eyes that, while history is important, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” in her mentor Eleanor Roosevelt’s words.

Women in years past couldn’t have even dreamed of Hillary’s candidacy, let alone more subtle advances: Ted Kennedy mentioned gender as one of the divisions our nation must overcome so that “the dream lives on”; the Democratic platform for the first time highlights sexism as an injustice that must be rooted out; even greeting card companies are putting out Women’s Equality Day cards these days.

And everyone says that because women vote in greater percentages than men and are more likely to be swing voters, women will determine the outcome of the general election.

There’s much to celebrate this Women’s Equality Day. But John McCain’s inherently anti-woman agenda places in sharp relief that there is ever so much more unfinished business we must still act upon every day going forward. I anticipate Hillary Clinton’s speech will urge us convincingly to see our way clear to do exactly that.

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.

“Omaba Caint” Post Sure Could Get Blog Buzz Going

Seems like my last post, “Obama Caint Choose Kaine”, riled some folks up.

Erin Kotecki Vest, who blogs at BlogHer and Queen of Spain, got on my case with several arguments worthy of response. I have great respect for Erin, and am pleased for this excuse to congratulate her in public on becoming BlogHer’s Producer of Special Projects (high five here!).

However, I learned from hard knocks on the political frontlines that her argument on behalf of Gov. Kaine is self-defeating. Sadly, it also demonstrates how we can make it so incredibly hard to hold politicians’ feet to the fire about reproductive rights, health, and justice, and how women are often entirely too well behaved to make history turn out the way we want it.

True, the issues of birth control, sex education, reproductive rights, and abortion have been so polarized by the media’s false balance (someone else used that phrase on HuffPo last week, but I made it up when I wrote The War on Choice) that both the facts and the framing get skewed in public discourse. That’s frustrating to be sure. But, the deal is, whoever defines the terms of the debate is probably going to win it. And you can’t ever win at all if you don’t stay in the game.

If you haven’t already, please read “Obama Caint Chose Kaine” for my key points about Obama’s veep pick, which I won’t reiterate here. Here’s an excerpt of Erin’s reaction:

We could go through and talk about Kaine’s repeated his position supporting Roe and what he’s done as Governor…however, let’s just put all that aside too.

Let’s deal with the realities of this country. The reality of government. The reality of America in 2008.

The abortion issue is never going to be resolved. The abortion issue is never going to go away. The abortion issue is one of the many, many issues that splits this country right down the middle.

I think we can all agree extreme viewpoints in politics, religion, and American life have led to stalemates, ugly campaigning, inaction of government, special interest, and even death, destruction, and wars.

So why is it bad to have a VP who WILL NOT vote to overturn Roe v Wade, yet does express concern with abortion?

That makes him like many of my neighbors. Like many in my family. Like many of my friends and like half of this country. I certainly will not be agreeing with them anytime soon, but I would like Thanksgiving to be more civil.

Senator Obama keeps talking about change. The biggest, single change our country could see is unity. Ending the divisive, nasty way of life we currently lead.

Are you really willing to hear all sides of an argument and bring everyone to the table? Are you really willing to respect all voices in this country? Even the ones you TOTALLY disagree with? Will you at least listen?

Or will you stay set in your extreme ways, and sit and wait for your knight to rescue you?

Bear with me please as I address three points that I believe are most egregiously misguided: 1) The relevance of Roe today, 2) The negotiability of reproductive justice, and 3) The political strategy most likely to succeed.

1. Roe v Wade was an important decision in its time, but it has been chipped away so dramatically by subsequent legislation and court decisions that it is today a fragile shell of what it represented in 1973. Protecting it/not opposing it has become increasingly irrelevant as a consequence. If you haven’t read Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the Supreme Court, The Nine, I commend it to you. I spoke with Toobin; he explained that in 1965 when Griswold v Connecticut gave married couples the right to birth control based on the constitutional “penumbra” (meaning an assumed right not written explicitly in the Constitution) of a right to privacy, there were no gender-based civil rights precedents. Privacy was the best precedent the Court had. And when the question of abortion came before Court, the whole idea of gender equality as women’s civil right was still unformed, so the Court again used the privacy precedent. Asserting privacy rights, however, does not carry the moral or legal heft of acknowledging women’s equality as citizens whose civil rights extend to making their own childbearing decisions.

This might seem like TMI, but it’s necessary in order to understand the insecure backdrop against which the debate about reproductive justice has been carried out, and why today we must proactively create a new legal and ethical basis if we want policies that protect the right to choose about birth control and childbearing–to have or not to have. Merely having a candidate who says he “won’t vote to overturn Roe v Wade but does express concern with abortion” is totally insufficient in 2008.

2. Women’s human and civil right to make their own childbearing decisions is not a negotiable matter, any more than right to attend school without discrimination, or the right to be a Christian to a Jew or a Muslim or no religion at all is negotiable. That doesn’t mean that I or anyone else is unwilling to hear all sides of an argument or that we don’t respect worldviews other than our own. In fact, I’m pretty sure pro-choice folks are a lot more willing, and even interested, to listen to opposing views than those who are anti-choice. It is a fascinating conversation, and we progressives love to play with ideas.

But in the end, just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant; you either have reproductive rights or you don’t. You simply cannot have your right to decide whether and when to be pregnant determined by a shouting match, a committee, or a legislature and still be a full and equal citizen. To live in that kind of environment means your body is metaphorically and sometimes literally being torn apart for the sake of someone else’s ideological comfort.

Erin is 100% right that the debate isn’t going to go way; but that’s all the more reason to create a space for the woman to exercise her personal moral beliefs and the legal right to her own body. If she opposes abortion, she shouldn’t have one. But she has no right to judge her sister is whose shoes she hasn’t walked, or to saddle her with a vice president whose personal beliefs do not respect her moral capacity.

3) Now we come to political strategy. The first principle is never start from a position of compromise. Because in the course of the political process–the art of the possible, as it has been called–there will inevitably be some give and take. And there will be many areas ripe for crafting compromises where eveybody can come away feeling like they have won something. Far from waiting for “your knight to rescue you”, staking out the principled position at the beginning will bring the conversation and the resolution closer to where you want it to be in the end. It’s the position of strength, the position of integrity, and the position of an empowered citizen who actually can make history.

And the time to tell Barack Obama what we want from him is now, before he is nominated and before, goddess willing, he is elected, while he still feels the heat of our passion for reproductive justice on his feet.

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 Hillary Will Lead More Women To Partake in Politics

Like Kristen said in her post at Girl With Pen, “Now That The Dust Has Settled (Sort Of)”, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president  is still fascinating to ponder. I was recently asked to write an article on the topic for the ILF Digest, the journal of  a think tank I’ve been a fellow of (I find this terminology amusing, but have never come up with an acceptable alternative—can you?) for some years. It won’t be published for a few weeks but I’d like to share an excerpt here because takes up where Kristen’s questions were leading:

Despite many problems with sexism in the culture and media that made themselves self-evident during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there are even more reasons to be optimistic that Clinton’s presidential run will be a net plus in motivating women to enter politics. I predict a sea change in women’s participation in politics up and down the ticket and in non-elective political roles as well, for these reasons:

1.    Seeing gives the potential for being. The message chanted at Clinton’s rallies: “Yes she can!” has clearly been delivered to younger generations.  All young girls hereafter will grow up knowing it is possible for a woman to be president.  And Clinton’s willingness to stay in the race despite all the challenges, despite constant calls for her to bow out, despite what must have been intense exhaustion and disappointment, is exactly what women of all ages with political aspirations need to see. In her speeches, she often mentioned “two groups who move me: women in their 80’s and 90’s who come out in walkers and wheelchairs and say they just want to live long enough to see a woman elected president, and families who bring their children and lean over and whisper in their daughter’s ear, ‘Honey you can be anything you want to be.’” Now they know they can.

2.    Women were energized as never before.  Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at a recent event sponsored by Lifetime Television, which along with three major women’s magazines has spearheaded a massive multimedia campaign called “Every Woman Counts”, that even though Clinton lost the primary campaign to Obama, “I think she lifted up the self esteem of women across the country, across the world.” Observing that Clinton raised $190 million in the primary race, Maloney said. “I think she helped all of us..”  One measure of how much she has helped women become more engaged in politics is that in past races, women’s financial contributions amounted to less than 30% of the total. For the first time, fueled by excitement over Clinton’s candidacy, half of the contributions to a presidential candidate came from women. And, in fact, over 40% of Obama’s contributions came from women as well, demonstrating women’s importance to the Democratic party and women’s understanding about the strategic importance of giving their fair share of the proverbial mother’s milk of politics in order to get their fair share of influence on the public policies they want. As North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue pointed out, “Everybody is involved in politics whether they realize it or not.” Since men have little motivation to change the power structure, women have little choice but to become the change we want to see. Clinton’s willingness to put herself out there will motivate more of us to try.

3.    Media sexism has been called out, and that roots it out. Rep. Maloney went on to say at the Lifetime event that there was “a big undercurrent of sexism, misogyny and stereotyping” against Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. But the point here is Maloney made her claims at a public, mainstream media-sponsored event. That would not have happened in the past. The nonprofit Women’s Media Center mounted a campaign called “Sexism Sells, but We’re not Buying It”  in collaboration with several media justice organizations They got the attention and the responses of major media executives and producers, as well as on-air apologies from Chris Matthews, David Schuster, and others. Even Katie Couric—too late, sadly, to make a difference in this year’s primary reporting but with luck influential enough to change the way women candidates are treated in the future—finally had enough and spoke out publicly on the subject. Change will be slow and imperfect, but it will happen.

4.    Hillary’s post-primary awakening led her to embrace her leadership role as a woman and on behalf of other women. Throughout the campaign, she downplayed the importance of her gender, saying as she did at her Beacon Theater birthday bash early in the campaign when she was still considered the front runner, “For me it is a great honor and humbling experience to be the first woman president. But I’m not running because I am a woman but because I am the most qualified. “ Since the campaign, she has been much quicker to champion women’s rights. For example, she led the charge to challenge the Bush administration’s proposed new regulations an-outrageous-attempt-bush-adminstration-undermine-womens-rights  that would redefine many birth control methods as abortion and allow medical providers to refuse to provide them. She seems to have learned a lesson about being her true self; other women will take courage from that.

At Hillary’s birthday event almost a year ago now,Elvis Costello performed to a standing ovation. Then the Wallflowers joined Elvis onstage; the decibel level elevated ten-fold, whipping this audience of aging rockers into frothy enthusiasm.

When comedian Billy Crystal came up to close the evening, little did he know just how prescient he was when he said, ““Hillary is making this campaign not so much for the old rockers but for the new ones.”

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.