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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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.

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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.

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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.
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?

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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…

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You can find just about anything on the web these days.  These 14 pointers on how to walk a tightrope ought to be required reading for political candidates, especially candidates who are any sort of historic “first”. The key instruction is: “Don’t look down”.  That’s less about technique than about having the courage to keep…

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In the first post on “Message to Obama: Change Your View to Obama for Women“, I made clear that I’ll vote for Obama, but the fervor with which I and many other women work for his election will be determined by his actions going forward. As one former Clinton activist said, “women aren’t marginal; we’re the key”. John Kerry took women’s votes for granted, and won only 51% of women’s votes in 2004. That’s several points too low to create a gender gap capable of propelling any Democratic presidential candidate to victory.

Since I wrote that post, Obama’s tidy double digit lead over John McCain evaporated to a measly 3%, a statistical dead heat. This shift was brought about in no small part by Obama’s clumsy attempts to tack to the presumed center on core issues like wiretapping and abortion ostensibly to broaden his base, but instead turning off the passionately progressive grassroots groundswell that brought him to where he is. And remember–Republicans vote for their candidate come hell or high water while Democrats argue the issues, and that’s how we all too often lose elections.

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So now that Hillary Clinton has lost her bid to be the first woman to win a major party’s nomination for president, Katie Couric has decided to speak out. My my. What a profile in courage.

Watch the video teaser and read more here on Huffington Post.

“One of the great lessons of [Hillary Clinton’s] campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life, particularly in the media….It isn’t just Hillary Clinton who needs to learn a lesson from this primary season — it’s all the people who crossed the line, and all the women and men who let them get away with it,” says Katie. Well, yeahhhhh!

Not that I don’t appreciate her speaking truth to power now–I really do–but where was she six months ago?

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IN HIS NPR BLOG “POLITICAL JUNKIE”, Ken Rudin says he wishes he hadn’t compared Hillary Clinton to Glenn Close’s character, the villainous stalker who wouldn’t die in Fatal Attraction. You have to scroll down to nearly the bottom of his column “The Democrats’ Fight to the Finish” to find it, but it’s there, claiming of course that he was misunderstood and by the way, was sooo distressed about the tone of some of the responses he received. Poor baby.

Nevertheless, it’s a start at righting a serious wrong. Here’s what Rudin said:

Finally, did I really say on CNN that Hillary Clinton reminded me of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? I did. I wish I hadn’t. It was a facile and dumb comparison. And for all the people who took their marching orders from the Clinton campaign’s e-mail blast instructing them to express their displeasure to me, rest assured, I have read every note. Some have been quite thoughtful, enough to establish some sort of dialogue. Others, regrettably, have contained an astonishing amount of vitriol and hate. It’s distressing that many of those who complain the most about bigotry and ignorance exhibit it themselves.

The point that I was inartfully trying to make, as I wrote in one e-mail, is that I was mocking the “when-will-Hillary-drop-out?” conversations that have been going on since New Hampshire — as in, well, if she loses N.H., she’s finished. If she loses Ohio or Texas, she’s gone. I wanted to make the point that she’s not leaving the race any time soon, nor should she. She wins in Pennsylvania by nearly 10 points and people still want to know when she’s getting out? Nonsense. I concede that I damaged my case by making the Glenn Close comparison, but I was trying to say sorry, you’re not going to get rid of her. This is only the seventh inning. The race hasn’t been going on “too long.” In fact, these states — Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, etc. — haven’t been part of the conversation for decades. Let the people have their say and then we’ll see who should drop out.

The “so-what do we do about it”?

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