Jill Abramson and Gender Bilingual Communication

Jill AbramsonWith hindsight, this 2013 article all but predicted Jill Abramson’s unceremonious fall. Though according to the New Yorker  rendition, her demise was precipitated when Abramson, the New York Times’ first female executive editor, confronted her boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., after learning her pay was significantly less than her predecessor, I point the finger of firing fate much toward implicit cultural biases that influence behavior much more than any of us want to believe.

Daily Beast columnist Keli Goff asked me whether I think Abramson’s firing will deter women from seeking top jobs. I have in the past made the naïve assumption that once doors are open, women will inherently want to walk through them.

But I’ve come to realize that women have been stuck at under 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors because we too often resist the hard knuckle fray or don’t even apply for positions for which we’re technically qualified because we lack the confidence to do so. We literally speak a different language from the men who make up the majority of the prevailing corporate culture and have learned that when we ask, we are less likely than men to get, and thus it’s safer not to ask.

Even though we’re all speaking English, there is cultural and linguistic gender bilingualism. Women typically use more words than men, for example, more adjectives, more body movements, less directness. And while men might (and often do) complain about that language pattern, the truth is that when women violate the familiar norms, they are treated even worse. Wise insights about this reality in journalism are offered by Newsweek’s first female Senior Editor Lynn Povich.

Not adhering to that stereotype, not being willing to play the nice girl, was Abramson’s real Achilles heel. I seriously doubt that Sulzberger even knows what he doesn’t know about his own biases. His privilege runs so deep that he has never needed to understand them.

Tech journalist Kara Swisher describes a deep-seated problem for the Times if these gendered biases are not openly addressed, however.

Let me see if I can say it more simply than Sulzberger: She was a real pain in my ass and so she had to go.

I can relate, to say the least. As one of the few top editors in tech journalism who is a woman and, even from my many years of reporting before that, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been called a pain in the ass for my aggressive manner. Silly me, but that kind of tonality is exactly what makes for a successful journalist — you know, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted — and what is more often than not needed in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of media.

Take The Lead blogger, Susan Gross nailed the grey lady to the wall with this relevant bit of research:

Abe Rosenberg was the top editor of The New York Times for 17 years. The Times own obituary of Rosenberg described him as an “abrasive man of dark moods and mercurial temperament,” who had a “combative and imperious style” and was known for “driving his staffs relentlessly.”  Yet there was never any move to force him out. Instead, when he retired Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The Times, declared that Rosenberg’s “record of performance as executive editor of The Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism.” The abrasive Rosenberg got plaudits. The abrasive Abramson got the sack (emphasis mine).

So what’s a woman to do? To speak the language of leadership, women still have to navigate the double-edged sword. The plain truth is that the group with less power always has to learn to speak the language of the group with greater power. You have to know the rules of the game before you can change them. While it is exhausting to be relentlessly pleasant as women are often advised to do, we always benefit more by respecting others’ communications patterns and “languages” than not.

But we won’t succeed by trying to “go the way of the man” as a colleague recently described those women who adopt male characteristics to be heard and promoted. To the contrary.

We must remain aware that all those little mincing steps we learn as women–the suppression, silence, overcompensation that are so deeply ingrained–are cultural ways of controlling women and keeping us in a subordinate space. And we must not let anything stop our full expression of who we are and what we want. Authenticity in the end draws people to you and allows you to demonstrate your unique value. The solution is to be smart and strategic and unleash our authentic selves while speaking in tongues others can understand.

Write on, Jill, and speak on. I believe the media firestorm this episode wrought has created an inflection point, and that if women keep speaking up now, we’ll keep on moving up, thanks in part to your willingness to self-advocate. My guess is that though you might think being executive editor of the New York Times was the pinnacle of your career, you’ll soon find a higher peak, right around the next switchback.

Bikinis and Bongos: GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving Beats the Drums of Change

Blake IrvingWhen you speak with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, it’s easy to conjure the teenage percussionist he once was, asserting his high energy drive with his drumsticks, and quite possibly driving his mother crazy by beating bongos while doing the split in the kitchen like Jean-Claude Van Damme in this classically weird GoDaddy ad.

I had a chance to interview the leader of the world’s largest and most controversial domain name registrar, not long after his first anniversary there.

This New York Times piece on GoDaddy’s changed advertising strategy had initially drawn my attention to Irving, who describes himself accurately as gregarious and easy-going. I was curious to find out about his leadership philosophy, and how he had quickly moved the company to a laser focus on the mission of serving small businesses, their core customer base, while deftly changing its public image with women.

Like many women, I’ve in the past been offended by GoDaddy’s sexist brand presence. Remember those Superbowl ads depicting “hot women” in scanty clothes, their come-hither messages aimed to entice adolescent boys — and men who think like adolescent boys — to use the company’s products? Eye rollers became deal breakers as they increasingly objectified women’s bodies, with ample breasts and bikinis splayed over the company website.

And then suddenly, there was the switch from boobs to those funky bongos. What had happened?

The timely confluence of three factors — economics, personal lived experience and women’s activism — I believe, propelled Irving’s successful change of course.

Baring it all: women, business and changing the core culture

I found Irving, who keeps a drum set in his office, straightforward about how he had approached the company. He’s big on doing the hard work of understanding the company and the culture before making decisions about where to take it, then being decisive and consistent about his vision. He likens the discipline of leadership to Jazz, saying that in both, one must simultaneously perfect performance while improvising.

One of the first things he observed is that women, lo and behold, had become GoDaddy’s core customer. “We conducted extensive customer research and found that 58% of our customers are women. Women own half of the businesses in the US, and globally, women are the primary business owners,” said Irving. “The values inside the company didn’t square with the ads that were in the marketplace.”

Careful not to disparage GoDaddy’s founder, Irving opines that Bob Parsons knew garnering attention could gain market share. But he acknowledges, in today’s economy, a successful company has to be inclusive of women, both inside the company and in its public face: “We value everybody. We allow women customers to pursue their own ventures. We do not want to objectify them.”

And Irving believes a successful company’s employee base has to match its customer base. GoDaddy’s leadership overall is 30% women, and they’ve just appointed Silicon Valley insider Betsy Rafael (about whom I will write in my next post) to their board. Though she’ll be their first female board member, one gets the feeling she won’t be the only one for long.

I’ve even noticed more female (and female-friendly) voices lately when I call GoDaddy for customer support.

So the marketplace has pushed GoDaddy, as it has many companies, to better serve women customers and better treat female employees. But other factors are also at play.

The personal is still political

Often it’s soft hearts for their daughters that influence men to want women to get a fair shake. But Irving, who has sons and no daughters, says his views were shaped by his mom, wife and sisters — feminists all. And he was moved by the untimely death of his youngest sister, a leading researcher on the effects of women’s body image. He promised her he would do everything he can to get women into leadership in the tech industry. He’s making good on that promise.

At the root of social change is always the personal story, the most powerful driver in all realms. So for Blake Irving, commitment to advancing women comes from this deep well of lived experience.

But for changes in any field to occur and to stick, pressure for that change also has to come from outside.

How women are changing GoDaddy

GapAppIt’s said that the job of advocates is to make it impossible for decision makers not to do the right thing.

Women customers had begun beating the bongos of change at a volume impossible to ignore. Many were quietly voting with their mouse clicks, moving over to other web hosts. My female journalist friends launched a campaign to move their own website hosting to other services.

When I posted on my Facebook page about GoDaddy’s sponsorship of the Close the Gap App, a young woman entrepreneur quickly let me know her university still won’t use GoDaddy’s services because of its founder’s highly publicized ultimate macho elephant killing escapades in 2011. There’s even a hashtag #breakupwithgodaddy.

And if anyone thinks it’s hard to affect large systemic change like Take The Lead’s goal of reaching leadership gender parity by 2025, look at GoDaddy. Women, as purchasers of 85% of consumer products, now very much possess of all the power we need to achieve whatever we want.

Whenever I tell audiences that it’s time to change the narrative about women’s leadership from problems to solutions, they cheer. There is a readiness as never before, and clearly there are male champions like Blake Irving who will — and do — use their power to drive that change forward.

Suskind Flap: Is the Obama administration sexist?

You might look at my headline and reply, “Is the Pope Catholic?” because you agree with my contention that institutional sexism is bound to exist in a structure so traditionally male-dominated. Read on and let me know what you think about Arena’s question of whether the new Suskind book’s revelations about the treatment of women in the White House will damage Obama.

Politico TheArena logo

Arena Asks: Tuesday’s release of a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind is causing heartache at the White House. “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President” describes a difficult work environment for women in the Obama administration’s early months, among other revelations. How much, if at all, will the book damage the Obama White House? And did staffers err in giving access to the author, who previously wrote books often critical of the George W. Bush administration?

My Answer:It should come as no surprise to anyone that institutional sexism exists in the White House, as it does in virtually all leadership structures traditionally run by men, progressive or conservative. Suskind’s findings were hardly new or unique to the Obama administration.

True, Obama should be more sensitive because he has experienced institutional racism. So women rightly expect better of him, but hey, in the end, he is still a man’s man who does business on the golf course or over a beer. When Obama appointed a largely male (and largely white men associated with either Obama’s campaign or previous administrations) team of top advisors, it was clear women could expect business as usual: they would not be taken into the inner circles nor would their voices be heard at the same decibels as men’s. Women experience this kind of subtle discrimination every day in almost every venue.

What was different this time–and this is huge–is that the women spoke up for themselves, demanded changes, and from evidence in Suskind’s book, got at least some of what they wanted. It is incumbent on women to embrace our own power to make these changes happen. If Obama shows a sincere and continuing commitment to erasing the institutional sexism and moving women to parity in the inner circles of power, he will not be hurt, but could actually benefit from this issue being aired in Suskind’s book.

 

The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy is Powerful Women

You know how it goes: after all is said and done, a lot more is said than done most of the time. Goodness knows there was way too much said about the Weiner debacle last week. So I’m really happy to share a terrific guest post from Jodi Lustig who did something important. And she has other ideas about things to do and why we must do them–now. Enjoy.

Last Monday I took my own advice and went to The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy’s Annual Spring Breakfast. Eleanor’s Legacy is dedicated to supporting Democratic women candidates, voters, and activists throughout New York State; and there was an abundance of each present.
Continue reading “The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy is Powerful Women”

Shay’s Story: Struggling to Be Taken Seriously at Work

It’s been quiet here with the holidays taking people’s attention. And I’d just about run out of 9 Ways stories to tell. Then in the “what you need is there if you can see it” mode, Shay Pausa’s story landed in my inbox. Shay has a video production company, ChiKiiTV, and in full disclosure is currently making a new speaking reel for me. Trust me, if you have video production needs, hire her. She wrote to share how her experiences and feelings as a woman in the workforce matched my findings in No Excuses. Here’s Shay’s story:

Truthfully, I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist yet as I read your book and watch your presentations, I know that I am and always have been. I struggled from the time I entered the business world at 17 years old to be taken as seriously as my male co-workers. I made attempts to be unattractive so that my superiors would see that I was a smart, assertive hard worker. I was passed over for promotions and opportunities repeatedly. I was even once was told by the hiring manager that though I was the heir apparent, the executive team could not “picture” me in the job. They hired a man with 5 years less experience from outside the company. But I did not give up and I stayed at that company until I got the promotions. At a certain point, I brought up my concern that I was not being given deserved promotions based on my sex and age. I got the next one. What they feared even more than a smart woman who can call a spade a spade was a lawsuit.

As I worked my way up the corporate ladder, I found that my success was dependent not so much on the results I produced. but in demonstrating that I could act like a man. I never took a full maternity leave because though I had the legal right, I knew it would hurt my career. I took calls and had my laptop within 3 hours of giving birth. I had to work harder than my male counterparts just to keep my job. I felt I had to sacrifice being feminine to compete. And yet through it all, I believed that if I wanted it to be different, I was going to have to make a difference. I imagined that when I was the CEO of a publicly held company, I would change the culture and the unspoken rules. The laws were not my problem. I wanted real parity, the kind not forced because of law but accepted because it is true. Women bring skill sets to the workplace that produce results. These are natural skills and talents that make a difference.

I know that my experience is not uncommon. And I know that companies are not getting the most out of their employee base if the women in those companies feel as I did. Women are keeping and getting more jobs right now because we’re cheaper labor in a tough economy. And we’ll be the ones who turn the economy around but I fear if there is not a real change in core belief that women are equally valuable in producing profit, we won’t see those board room or management statistics change in any significant way anytime soon.

Different Approaches to Controversy Yield Different Results

I can’t think of a better example of controversy well-taken than then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s thoughtful speech exploring the role of race in American history, delivered in Philadelphia in the spring of 2008. In response to exploding controversy around his relationship with his pastor and mentor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who had made inflammatory (and frankly racist) remarks in his sermons, Obama rode directly into the wave of controversy. He didn’t deflect or minimize it, but took the festering issue of race in America head-on, thus defusing criticism, positioning himself as a courageous truth-teller, and building respect and enthusiasm for his candidacy among voters hungry for change. He turned a powder keg of a controversy that could have exploded his presidential campaign into a brilliant platform to teach about a subject so sensitive that it is often avoided in public discourse.

I sincerely doubt Obama or his campaign advisers would have sought out this controversy, but when it came up, they realized they had been handed a priceless moment to demonstrate genuine leadership. I believe this was the turning point that led him to victory, and that if Clinton had treated the equally vicious sexism thrown at her with the same directness and candor that Obama confronted race, the outcome might well have been different.

Sometimes we embrace controversies that have turned up on their own. And at other times, we need to create our own controversies in order to get things moving. In other words, there are controversies we make and controversies we take.

What are your own examples of embracing controversy? Did you make the controversy or did you take a controversy that came to you? What did you learn from your experiences?

Is This Election Day Good for Women or Bad for Women?

OK, so this is a little blatant self-promotion, because I’m very honored to have been quoted extensively by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz in her column “On Balance, Progress for Women” today.

Connie called me Sunday evening fretting about the Gawker kerfluffle about Christine O’Donell’s sexual and shaving practices. Personally, I said, I’ve declined to write or talk about it because I don’t want to make either Gawker or O’Donnell more important than they are.

So we quickly moved on to how this election day will reflect upon women in politics and impact progressive women’s agenda priorities. Here’s our conversation as she reported it, quite accurately:

“Gloria,” I said. “Gloria, Gloria.”

Patiently, she waited for a verb.

“What do we make of this sexist coverage of women? Why does it persist — even from supposedly liberal guys? How do we change this?”

I could hear Feldt take a deep breath.

“Connie,” she said. “There’s good news here.”

Her list:

No. 1: Women candidates are no longer on their own.

“We learned from Hillary Clinton’s race,” Feldt said. “There are so many organizations watching the media now. Each time this happens, they call it to the public’s attention.” [NB: of course, I mentioned the Name It Change It Campaign specifically but Connie was wise to me promoting some of my favorite organizations]

No. 2: Women candidates are increasingly fearless.

“They don’t let the attacks stop them,” she said. “And because of that, we now know that leadership comes in a turquoise pantsuit with changing hairdos and a higher-pitched voice. We’ve seen women become secretary of state and speaker of the House. We know what women can do.”

No. 3: Threaten power, and power attacks.

“I tell women all the time, ‘If they’re attacking you, they’re paying attention to you. They’re telling you that you’re important.'”

As Feldt and I talked, it became clear that this column should end with a call to action for women and the men who love them. So, here it is:

Get moving.

It takes action to create a movement, and you don’t have to run for office to make a difference in the lives of women who do.

Feldt suggests that each person make a list of 10 media outlets and put it next to his or her computer. The goal is to send two e-mails a day: One to a news organization or blog that got the story right, and another to one that got it wrong.

It’s a lot to ask, I know, when most of us are so busy. But it could change the lives of women we haven’t even met yet.

Feldt said she often tells women, “What you do is going to be somebody’s else’s history.”

So, think about it.

What kind of history will you make today?

I especially love Connie’s last line. I am in awe when a columnist comes up with such a perfect ending that delivers exactly the punch she intended.

But please read the full column and tell me what you think: is this election good or bad for women? Where do you see the balance? Am I too optimistic? What do you think? How would you answer Connie’s questions?

It’s critically important that women who are politically progressive have this conversation now. Because while the election will be history tomorrow, the future is still ours to shape.

Daylight Lessons from Letterman’s Late Night Escapades

Guest post By Ellen Bravo, originally published as a Women’s Media Center exclusive.

The author, an expert on the prevention of sexual harassment and other issues of women in the workforce, suggests that human resources professionals and corporate executives take the occasion of David Letterman’s revelations to revisit their companies’ policies with the understanding that “sexual favoritism is sexual harassment.” I’m posting her commentary here because I think it is one of the best and most realistic about 21st century sexual mores for the workplace that I’ve read on the Letterman affair(s). Your thoughts? Read on…

I don’t know David Letterman or any of the staffers he had sex with.

I believe fidelity is the business of only one person, the philanderer’s partner.

Extortionists aren’t whistle-blowers—they’re criminals, and should be put away.

But whenever I hear the justification, “I didn’t violate company policy and no one complained,” my hackles jump up.

Let’s talk about why it’s bad business for the boss to sleep with subordinates.

The key part of consent is that the right to say “yes” is balanced by the right to say “no.” When the person doing the asking is the boss, declining becomes dicey.

Even if there’s no threat or demand involved, how do you know there won’t be repercussions for refusing to go along?

If there’s a problem, whom do you tell? Especially when company policy is silent on the matter, how do you know anyone will listen? Who isn’t beholden to the boss for their job?

Suppose later you need a reference from that person. What assurance do you have that your refusal to play around won’t lead to a negative comment, or a deadly neutral one: “Yes, she worked here.”

The problem is exacerbated when the boss is well-known. Maybe an assistant really digs the head honcho. She might take the initiative to get something going or be flattered that he has shown interest in her.

But the bloom can fall off that rose. What happens tomorrow or next week when she decides she’s changed her mind? Or he starts looking at the next or younger intern and wants to move on and move her out?

And what about the rest of the staff who aren’t sleeping with the boss? If someone who’s known to have done so (and sooner or later, everyone will know) goes on to be promoted, the perception will be that sex was the reason—even if that person is the smartest, most talented person onboard.

The result isn’t hard to predict: resentment, lower morale, conflict, and when opportunities arise, people jumping ship.

Sexual favoritism is a form of sexual harassment. Those who aren’t in a romantic relationship may well feel disadvantaged by that fact. The company opens itself to legal liability.

CBS says Letterman wasn’t their employee. But companies have an affirmative duty to protect workers from third party harassment—especially in cases like this when the third party holds so much power at the workplace.

My concern is that corporate execs will learn the wrong lessons from this case.

They’ll review the company sexual harassment policy to make sure it’s silent on supervisors sleeping around unless there’s egregious retaliation. They’ll remind themselves to call the bluff of anyone who threatens to reveal misdeeds.

And there’ll be a huge run on personal recording devices.

So this is an appeal to human resource professionals and boards of directors to draw the right conclusions from the Letterman experience.

First, make sure there is a written sexual harassment policy and that all employees, senior management included, are trained about that policy and their rights and responsibilities under it. Make sure the policy spells out clearly that senior managers (no matter who signs their paycheck) may not have romantic entanglements with any subordinate. If he or she does, the relationship must be disclosed immediately so management can see whether there’s a disinterested outside party who can take over supervision of the lower level individual. If not, the relationship should end or one of the individuals should leave.

Second, firms—including media outlets—should have an arrangement with an independent, outside counsel with no ties to the organization. That counsel’s number should be made available to all employees with instructions to call with impunity in the event that a top-level staff behaves inappropriately, whether to them or someone else. Employees should be assured that such a call will be held in strictest confidence until the matter can be properly—and promptly—investigated.

As for Letterman and anyone else in his position, here’s some advice: If nightly adoration and huge paychecks aren’t enough for you, try sweat yoga or cold showers.

Ask yourself if you were just Joe Schmo and not in a position of power, would this woman be interested in you?

Above all, ask yourself: if the staffer were my daughter, how would I want her boss to behave?

Setting the World Aright for Reproductive Rights

My new post in On the Issues is up today. They call it “A Do Over for Reproductive Rights”. I had named it “Turning the World Upside Down to See Reproductive Justice”. I liked their alliteration, so I came up with “Turning the World Aright for for Reproductive Rights.” Anyway, I don’t believe in do overs. Here’s the commentary:

Lars Larson is a conservative radio talk show host with a following of four million listeners. His producer assured me, when asking me to appear for Roe v Wade’s 36th anniversary, that Lars is respectful, though he would take views opposite to mine. No problem, I said, as long as I can speak my piece.

My “piece” led me to talk about where I think the debate should be: squarely on women’s human rights to make their own childbearing decisions, access to preventive family planning services, and economic justice, as well as abortion. It flipped Lars out. When he couldn’t keep the conversation on pitting the innocent baby against the murderous woman who stupidly didn’t use birth control, he started spinning. He lectured me during the commercial break—in stern-father tones—that I was speaking my piece a little too much for his comfort. Perhaps I wasn’t being the desired foil.
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Though he began by challenging me with the focus on the fetus, within seconds he shifted to peppering me with denigrating statements about women. What clearer example could there be of the sexism that puts all responsibility and blame for unintended pregnancy on women?

Lars is entitled to his view. But what so vexed him, I realized, was that we were looking at the world from diametrically different vantage points. Everything I said disturbed his very sense of who he was and where he fit into the universe. He was used to a world, for his entire life, where people who look like him have been in charge. What seems like simple justice to me was cognitive dissonance to him.

So I wondered: what if the world were turned upside down? What if women held the majority of power and leadership positions?

Would peacemaking be the primary subject of the evening news rather than wars? Would, as Florynce Kennedy said, abortion become a sacrament if men could get pregnant?

I wouldn’t go that far. But as Roe hangs on by a thread and with the political world turned upside down by Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, it is clearly time to examine the underpinnings of American laws and cultural norms concerning women’s rights, health care access and justice related to childbearing decisions from a different vantage point than the Supreme Court did in 1973.

And it is way past time for pro-choice political leaders to elevate the debate to a higher, human rights and justice-based value set. We could start with the anti-choice usurping of the term “pro-life,” a complete misnomer.

Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine, says that in 1965 when the Supreme Court decided the case of Griswold v Connecticut (which legalized birth control), the justices had no gender-based civil rights precedents on which to base their ruling. So they used the analysis that there is an unwritten but implied right of privacy in the Constitution. The concept of marital privacy does not effectively challenge the intellectual framework of those whose mission is to advance the patriarchal regulation of motherhood by stripping women of the right to make childbearing decisions.

That right of privacy then logically formed the basis of the Roe v Wade decision. The 14th Amendment’s clause on equal protection, which forms the framework for other civil rights decisions, was given a nod, but it wasn’t the central rationale. Justice Ruth Ginsburg has long held that was a big mistake, and she has been proven correct. Roe has been repeatedly subjected to successful attacks since the moment it was decided. At this point, it is a mere shell, de facto overturned. Any restriction that doesn’t cause an “undue burden” is upheld by the court, which finds almost no burdens undue.

I believe we need to start over. In thinking Beyond Roe, I argued that we have to create a new movement for women’s human and civil rights to make their own childbearing decisions.

Roe was a meaningful and necessary advance, but its grounding in privacy rights portended that it could not stand forever. There must be something more than privacy. And there is. A woman’s right to her own life and body has to be elevated to the moral position that supports a human rights framework.

This framework must be translatable into civil rights-based legislation that gives access to relevant healthcare, education, supportive counseling and economic justice. It must be articulated in policies that will be upheld by courts, and those courts must be reshaped by presidents to speak without apology about the legitimacy of women’s reproductive self-determination.

That’s my challenge to the next generation of feminists.

President Obama said in his inaugural address: “The world has changed, and we must change with it.” Nowhere is this more true than in the arena of women’s rights, including reproductive justice.

Some, like Lars Larson, will think we’re turning the world upside down. What we’re really doing is setting the world aright.

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!”