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.

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Geez, poor Huma Abedin. She has to bear the burden of being married to Anthony Weiner  — and now this. Anyone who has ever worked with Abedin (as I have) knows she is an extraordinarily loyal, honest, and capable public servant.

But Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) keeps drinking the Kool-aid of conspiracy theorists. And now she alleges that Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s devoted aide for many years, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore Bachmann says Abedin’s loyalty is in question.

It’s pathetic. Perhaps Bachmann really believes this stuff. More likely she misses the limelight she had when she was running for president.

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In decades of experience as a women’s advocate, I’ve learned people can be inspired to action by one of two things: anger or aspiration.

A roiling, boiling anger is propelling women — even many who’ve never been activists before — to embrace their “power to” to take leadership and make change. They’re making their voices heard over the din of political rhetoric they might shun under other circumstances.

There was no one trigger, rather a succession of insults. I talked with Richard Lui about them this week on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. Here’s a smattering:

  • After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance…
  • After the stunning optics of an all-male “expert” panel pontificating on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
  • After shock jock Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute (can one be both—don’t sluts give it away?) and demanding to see videos of her having sex…
  • After bills like those in Texas and Virginia forcing women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands” (as Doonesbury dubbed them), an AZ bill requiring women to bring notes to their employers verifying they take birth control for health reasons not pregnancy prevention or risk being fired, and a Tennessee bill that mandates public reporting of the doctors by name and the demographics of each patient…

Women are rightly furious.

Why is this happening?

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There was a short piece in Monday’s USA Today saying that 2012 is shaping up to be another “Year of the Woman.” And they did have some very good news numbers to back that notion:

…a notable number of candidates are running in potentially competitive races in both the House of Representatives and Senate that could send a wave of female lawmakers to Washington in November. If so, it would reverse the 2010 election trend that saw the first dip in female representation in the House since 1978 and only sent one woman, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, to the Senate.

In the 2012 Senate lineup, there are 10 female candidates — four Republicans and six Democrats — seeking office. Of the six states with female Democratic candidates — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin — none has ever elected a woman to the Senate.

Republican women are running in Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico.

I want to believe, oh how I want to believe. These numbers, though inching up, still represent a mere fractional increase—even if all of them are elected—a probability somewhere around that of hell freezing over.

At the rate we have been going for the last 20 years and since the first “Year of the Woman” in 1992, it will take 70 years to reach gender parity in Congress.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.

That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.

But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.

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Want to have a little cognitive dissonance?

First watch this video of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a keynote address at the first-ever Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit 9/16/11 in San Francisco CA, essentially saying that women are the key to the world’s economic future.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jbLUHIveIQ[/youtube]

And for good measure, take a gander at the latest

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Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Kevork Djansezian / Getty ImagesPassion! What a relief to see President Obama express some in his jobs speech Thursday. And for the first time that I can remember, a presidential proposal specifically addressed women’s essential role in driving the economic engine.

But the political narrative shifts awfully quickly these days. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s presidential candidacy, a hot ticket just a couple of weeks ago, is suddenly melting. And Sarah Palin is in her bus, hurtling full-speed toward self-parody as an attention-seeking political used-to-be. While women’s importance in the political landscape can no longer be overlooked, some might say that the much-hyped “year of the conservative women” is over…

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Congresswoman (D-NY) Bella AbzugAs second wave feminism gathered peak velocity forty years ago, the late bombastic and behatted Congresswoman (D-NY) Bella Abzug persuaded Congress to designate August 26th as Women’s Equality Day. It recognized the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that in 1920 gave all U.S. women the right to vote.

There are many reasons to celebrate the 91st anniversary of women winning the ballot, which some suffragist leaders mistakenly believed culminated the struggle for women’s rights. But it turns out the solution to a problem changes the problem–creating uncomfortable new questions about the value of equality and what to do once we get there.

We’ve come a long way, maybe…

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The other day I tweeted:

“Love Traister’s writing http://t.co/GPYXI1X but it misses key #leadership lesson: executive responsibility C gets, O doesn’t.”

I was immediately flooded with retweets and comments both there and on my Facebook page. Some disagreed but most concurred–strongly. As I see a preponderance of the comments on the Times post do.

Have you read this article? What are your thoughts?

In case you didn’t see it yet, the article referenced is a New York Times Magazine piece speculating “What Would Hillary Clinton Have Done?” by one of my favorite feminist writers, Rebecca Traister. The intent of the article was to suggest people stop speculating, whereupon she speculates that there would have been little difference because the two candidates were both center-right in political philosophy.

I have to disagree strongly with my friend Traister this time. Full disclosure: she interviewed me and quoted me extensively in her book Big Girls Don’t Cry, which analyzes Clinton’s run for the presidency and chronicles Traister’s own slow shift from supporting Obama to Clinton as she considered the gender, racial, and socio-political implications of her voting choices.

So when I received the Politico Arena question, the answer came easily. Their query was: Is President Obama vindicated on Libya?

The answer to the question, it seems to me, is rooted in the same missing piece of analysis as that in Traister’s article. Executive leadership requires setting an agenda, having a strongly articulated point of view and teaching/arguing/inspiring/politicking/leading the people and then the Congress to it…

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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?

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