Moral Limbo, Political Style

June 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Capitol Hill

A couple of years ago, when former California Governor and movie icon Ahnohld Schwarzenegger’s revealed his dalliance with one of his domestic employees, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek response to the “shocking” news.  I framed it as a letter to those opposed to letting gay people marry, and suggested that the crowd to whom we should deny marriage is the group of people who, historically, had proven themselves really, really bad at it.

I am talking about superstars in the businesses of entertainment, politics and sports.  THESE are the ones for whom marriage is not natural. Of course, not all superstars in these fields practice infidelity, and not all of us regular folk stay true to our spouses.  Regardless, can we please just assume that once a politician, athlete, actor, musician, etc., reaches a certain level of success and fame that their ability to remain faithful to their spouse is seriously compromised?

Let’s go down the list of suspects, here:

  1. People whose careers involve staying gorgeous and taking their clothes off with other gorgeous people and pretending to be in love with a different person for each movie,

  2. People whose chosen paths involve lengthy absences from their families while they are worshipped and fawned over by people seeking all kinds of favors and favor,

  3. People whose prowess on the athletic field guarantees they will be showered with offers to demonstrate their prowess off the field, and

  4. People who actively pursue careers wherein success equals ungodly fame, extreme wealth, wielding great power, and obscene stroking of egos as a matter of course.

I’d like to strike a more serious tone, though, when talking about our elected officials.  Of course, they fall into categories 2 and 4 of the above list.  In “The Hypocrisy of the Powerful,” Dr. Robert Smither discusses how politicians caught up in sex scandals “do things that are completely opposite of the image they present to voters.”  That’s true of Eliott Spitzer and Larry Craig – both advanced their political careers by expressing loud moral outrage in public about behaviors in which they personally engaged in private.  Simply put, they were hypocrites.  They also broke the law.  Somehow, though, I don’t feel it’s as striking as Dr. Smither does.

This is because we have yet to come to terms with the obvious truth about which I joke in my list above.  Of course people in power consider themselves infallible.  Of course people in power have no trouble forgiving their own bad behavior while condemning others who engage in the very same behavior.  People don’t ascend to positions of great power – especially political power – because of their forgiving and humble natures.  In fact, I really think if you’re forgiving and humble, and somehow manage to ascend to great power, it is not because of those qualities, but rather, despite them.  I’m speaking in ridiculously broad generalizations, here, but you catch my drift.

Sincere apologies for sounding crass, but it doesn’t upset me when I hear a politician has been unfaithful to his or her (come on, though, you know we’re mostly talking about “him”) spouse.  It upsets me that  I hear a politician has been unfaithful.  Here’s why:

1.  I don’t think it’s any of my business.  It’s between the politician and his or her spouse and family.  And the third party, whomever it is.  And their clergy, their lawyers, and their therapists, should they have the inclination to consult such people.  I think primarily of the innocents in these scenarios, and how painful it must be to have their humiliation played out in front of hundreds of millions.

2.  I don’t equate fidelity to one’s spouse with the ability to govern.  Plenty of talented surgeons, artists, etc., might be unfaithful, but how often does that cost them their jobs?  Yet I know news of infidelity often ends a political career.  If it doesn’t end a career, it creates a huge distraction from it, and an opportunity for the opposing side to claim moral superiority.  THAT makes me gag.

3.  The fact we hear about it is reflective of the fact we have such an appetite for it.  I fear that speaks very poorly of our priorities and our national maturity.  I mean, I was embarrassed and ashamed during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal – not because our President had an affair, but that his lying about it led to his impeachment.  What a farce and waste of resources and energy that was.

Which brings me to Anthony Weiner.  Full disclosure – we’re from the same part of Brooklyn, his younger brother went to my high school and owns a restaurant where I once enjoyed a superb meal.  None of that, though, brings anything to bear on the fact that I find it tragic that such a smart guy with such great potential, fighting the good fight (in my eyes, at least) has lost his voice in Congress just because he tweeted d*ck pics to some college hotties.  I mean, here’s a guy who managed to SHUT Joe Scarborough UP about health insurance companies.  Here’s a guy who went on an epic rant in Congress making Republicans look like idiots for defunding NPR.  (Ironically, now that he’s running for Mayor of New York City, the endorsement that would help Weiner the most is the one he’s not going to get – the Clintons’.  They’re not going near him with a 10-foot cigar, for obvious reasons.)

I understand the argument of some that it’s hard to vote for a politician who exhibits such bad judgment.  If he or she is so careless in his or her personal life, how can I trust him or her with matters of great significance?  That’s a completely legitimate question to ask.  Again, though, I wonder why we don’t think infidelity makes a doctor less medically capable or a conductor less able to lead an orchestra.

I consider role model status for national politicians to be extremely fuzzy when it comes to their personal lives.  If we removed the specter of their personal lives being dragged through the mud, might we have a more focused Congress?  If we didn’t so delight in publicizing private lives of the rich and powerful, might we be able to then insist they concentrate at the work at hand that really DOES matter?  If running for office didn’t automatically mean subjecting themselves and their families to the media dumpster diving that is sure to follow, would more people who would make good politicians step up to the plate?  I don’t know what the answer is.  I’m not sure what is the right thing to do.   What we’re doing isn’t working, though, that’s for damn sure.  How else can we explain that Congress has a 10% approval rating, yet 90% of incumbents are re-elected?  To what degree are we, the governed, responsible for the incredible dysfunction of the government about which we complain so loudly?

This post originally published at The Broad Side on June 20, 2013.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of Defense


Rape Culture Round-up

June 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

Fearful woman

Well, folks, it’s June 24, 2013, and I’d like to welcome you to a little feature I call “Rape Culture Round-up.”  Progress on the War on Women front?  Let’s just say any moves have been lateral at best, rather than forward.

We can start with this little gem from conservative talking head Laura Ingraham.  When discussing how Plan B (emergency contraception) will likely soon be available over the counter, she opines thusly: ” It’s a good deal for pedophiles, a good deal for people who commit statutory rape against young girls.”  Right.  Because rapists and pedophiles are FIRST AND FOREMOST concerned about the consequences of their actions for their victims.  And the mentality of a rapist is such that he’s worried if a pregnancy results from the rape, he might have to stick around and raise the kid.  Let’s completely ignore how the availability of Plan B (aka the “morning after” pill) might actually help or empower a person who’s the victim of a rape or pedophilia.  Don’t mention that, Laura.  Instead, let’s introduce one of my favorite techniques (employed by both sides of the debate, by the way) the…drumroll, please…the false comparison.  

“These girls can’t get their ears pierced, they can’t take an Advil at school without parental permission. Yet, they can go into a pharmacy in this Brave New World of women’s equality and — quote — reproductive health — and get a morning after pill…I think it empowers men who want to abuse women.”

Allow me to enlighten this debate by sharing that while girls can’t take an Advil at school without parental consent, they also can’t take the morning after pill at school with or without parental consent.  If and when girls CAN go into a pharmacy and buy the morning after pill without consent, so, too, can they buy Advil without consent.  I’m not sure Ingraham understands this, but a school is a different place from a pharmacy.  They operate differently and under different rules. It’s complicated, I know.

Here’s another little factoid for those fans of false comparisons.  Girls and women get their ears pierced and take Advil for different reasons than they might take the morning after pill.  So, for example, if a 38-year-old woman finds her birth control has failed, and for whatever completely legitimate reason she has (which, frankly, is none of your damn business) she is not likely to take Advil to prevent the potential pregnancy.  Neither will a 15-year-old rape victim, battered, bruised, in shock and traumatized decide the solution is to run to the mall to get her ears pierced so that she doesn’t become pregnant.  We take Advil when our back hurts from too much volleyball.  We get our ears pierced for fun and fashion.  We take the morning after pill to prevent a pregnancy for a variety of reasons (which, again, are none of your damn business.)

Furthermore, the concern Ingraham and the others at Fox News show that the availability of Plan B emergency contraception may “empower men who want to abuse women” is, shall we say, disingenuous.  If they were truly concerned about empowering men who abuse women, they’d be talking about the following things in today’s Rape Culture Round-up:

1.  The Anonymous hacker who helped expose the Steubenville rapists might get more jail time than the actual rapists.  Let’s hope not, but way to discourage disclosure and reporting of rape, justice system!

2.  Facebook’s misogyny problem.  Thanks to the highly publicized social media campaign that threatened to lose FB some big advertising dollars, Facebook is finally tiptoeing around the notion that pages entitled, “Raping your Friend Just For Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she Won’t Make you a Sandwich” might constitute hate speech, rather than humor.  Pictures of women who have been pushed down the stairs, with the caption “Next time, don’t get pregnant” might not be permissible free speech.  DON’T, however – DO NOT – post a picture on FB of a woman breastfeeding.  It will be taken down because it is “indecent.”

3.  At Microsoft’s conference last week, one of the producers of (surprise, surprise) an extremely violent video game saw fit to make a rape “joke.”  In front of thousands.  To a woman.  A woman he was absolutely destroying and pummeling in this violent video game.  Yes, friends, he told her she liked it.  She said she didn’t.  He said, “Just let it happen.  It’ll be over soon.”  Hm.  The one bright spot is that this joke was not well-received by the audience, and the producer was quickly called out for it on Twitter – by a fellow Microsoft producer, and a male one at that.  Yes, in this case, the fact that the fellow producer was male is significant.  Makes it more of a Sister Souljah moment.

4.  Lindy West, a feminist and a comedian, spent a few minutes on a show discussing why comedy is not the most welcoming place for women.  Please click on this and watch the short video of her reading the responses she’s gotten for this in a post entitled, If Comedy Has No Lady Problems, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?”  Please do it.  I will wait.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?

5.  Republicans in Congress continue to bring the crazy to the debate on abortion laws making exceptions for women who are victims of rape and incest.  Yes, Trent Franks.  You’re right.  Chances of getting pregnant from rape are practically non-existent!  My unicorn agrees with you.  Now excuse me while I run to the store to pick up my light saber that has been repaired.  Have to slay those dragons, you know!

Now, if any of you are hearing Fox News covering these stories in ways that demonstrate genuine concern for women and the appropriate derision towards rape culture, please let me know.  Somehow, though, I doubt I’ll be hearing from many of you racing to Fox’s defense.

I will leave you, though, with an absolutely brilliant response one woman had to her personal experience with rape culture.  She received a full frontal naked picture of a man wanting to date her.  She took screen shots of the picture and resulting conversation.  And sent them to his mother.  Please click on this to see it. Please do it.  I will wait.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?

So, this ends today’s Rape Culture Round-up, folks.  While I hope I’ll never have to do another one of these, I know I will.  For as long as our society downplays the threats to women and enables rape culture, while simultaneously and perversely denying women the means to cope with the aftermath and/or control their reproductive lives, there will be a need for columns like this one.

This post originally published on The Broad Side on June 14, 2013.

Image via iStockphoto/Marjan Apostolovic

The Plan B Pill: If It Were MY Daughter…

June 22, 2013 § 4 Comments

Plan B pill

…I’d want Plan B to be available over the counter.

I say this realizing there are great moral complexities involved here.  I’ve thought about it a lot regarding under-age girls seeking abortion.  When it comes to abortion, I ask myself, “Would I want to be notified if it were my daughter?  Would I want the doctor to insist on my consent if it were my daughter?  My husband’s consent?  If my daughter was 15?  What about if my daughter was 13? 12?”  Of course the answer to all of these questions is “Yes.”  While most parents I know would also answer “yes” to these questions, I realize there are girls who aren’t living in healthy families.

I also, however, have done everything I know how – used everything in my parental arsenal – to make it clear to my daughter (and sons) that when they are in trouble of ANY nature, we are their allies.  Not their crutches.  Not their protectors.  Not their enablers.  Not their shields from consequences.  Their allies.  We know more, we’ve lived longer, we have better access to resources, etc., etc., etc.  “We will ALWAYS be prouder of you for calling/telling us you’re (insert a stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) and you need help than we will be mad at you for having found/gotten yourself into (insert stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) to begin with.”

So far, this has served us fairly well.  We’re not delusional – we assume there are still plenty of stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situations they have not told us about, and will be in the future.  There have been times, however, when we’ve gotten calls from them.  And as strange as it sounds to say, I hope we continue to get those calls.  I’d rather get calls from them than from the police or the hospital.  This is what we have hammered home, and hopefully has set the tone for the basis of trust and confidence they have in us.

I hope this would extend, for my kids, to sex and unwanted pregnancies.  In an ideal world, they’d come to us first.  In a slightly less ideal world, they’d go to a doctor first.  In an even less ideal world, they’d have their friend drive them to a drugstore to buy Plan B, also known as the “morning after” pill.  But in a world I’d consider unacceptable, they would have no access to Plan B.  And then, once a pregnancy results, they’d have no access to Planned Parenthood.   Safe abortion would be hard to come by, and god forbid, they’d seek a back alley.

Just because I think I’ve done a good enough job making my own kids comfortable coming to us with their problems and mistakes, doesn’t mean they would.  Just because I wish all kids felt comfortable going to their parents doesn’t mean they do.

What of the kids whose parents aren’t there for them?  What of the girls who’ve been raped and whose parents would throw them out of the house for being a slut in their eyes?  What of the girls whose fathers are womanizers themselves, but would beat their daughters if they got pregnant?  What of the daughter of a prominent family that cares more about outward appearances than helping their kid?  Just because my daughter is not in one of those families doesn’t negate the fact that other daughters are.

Plan B (and even more medically significant, abortion) is something of which I hope my daughter wouldn’t avail herself without my knowledge. If, however, my daughter is in a situation where she is too afraid/embarrassed/shocked/traumatized to come to us first, all the MORE reason I would want safe emergency contraceptive (and safe prenatal care or abortion) available to her.  And if I want it for her, how can I not want it for those daughters who are less fortunate than she?


This post originally published at The Broad Side.

Image via The Moderate Voice

Briefcases and Banter: An Article That Will NEVER Appear in the ‘New York Times’

June 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

A gender re-imagined parody on the New York Times laughable article, “Purse Politics”:

Michael Steel, Speaker of the House John Boehner's Press Secretary, loves cashmere, according to Politico.

Michael Steel, Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Press Secretary, loves cashmere, according to Politico.

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), was sitting in his large, sunny office recently, riffling through the contents of his black leather briefcase.  After several moments, he laughed and produced a neon-pink earplug.

“Here’s an earplug from the helicopter,” he said, still searching through the briefcase he had bought from the Coach store in Tyson’s Corner, VA. “That is not a normal thing that a man might have in his briefcase. That is a military earplug from a Blackhawk.”

Mr. Nelson had just returned from a national security trip and was in the middle of what he jokingly said was a “post-recess-organize-the-briefcase-mode,” transferring the contents of a brown leather backpack that he had carried on his Middle East tour into his everyday carryall.

The Congress of yore might conjure images of spittoons and old male politicians with briefcases, but the 113th has ushered in a historic number of men — 83 in the Senate, and 362 in the House — and with them a historic number of briefcases. In some ways, the male legislator’s briefcase or bag has become one of the most outwardly physical manifestations of the nation’s changing deliberative body.

“What a man senator slings over his shoulder is the next tangible and Technicolor proof of how the esteemed body has changed and is changing,” said a Democratic strategist. “Today’s briefcases and bags are as new and interesting of a visual as the red power suit once was. They pop on the C-SPAN cameras, they serve a purpose and — intentionally or not — they make a statement.”

Or as one GOP staffer pointed out, “The cloakroom is no longer just for coats.”

David Cameron, the 80th male prime minister of Britain, wields his briefcase like a cudgel, a potent mix of masculinity and his famed iron will. To be “briefcased” by Mr. Cameron even became a verb, well-known to rivals, journalists and political bumblers alike who all found themselves ruthlessly dismissed by him when they displeased him. (In 2000, a black Salvatore Ferragamo bag of his sold at a London charity auction for roughly $130,000.)

But until recently, at least, Mr. Cameron’s ability to elevate his briefcase into an object of both fame and fear was the exception. For many male politicians, a briefcase was seen as more of a nuisance and even a possible sign of weakness; Dick Cheney, the 46th  male vice-presidential nominee for a major political party, garnered attention for the mere act of handing his briefcase to an aide before he took the podium.

“Historically, briefcases were, quite literally, unwanted baggage in the halls of Congress and Parliament,” Robb Young, the author of “Power Dressing: First Men, Male Politicians and Fashion,” wrote by e-mail.

On the HBO series “Veep,” the general absence of a purse is even a punch line: Julia Louis-Dreyfus instead relies on an aide, who carries around his own giant bag (nicknamed the Leviathan), so he is always ready with eye drops, lipstick or even a Fig Newton.

But Bill Clinton, who has been much scrutinized over the years for his pantsuits and his changing hairstyles, professed his love of a great briefcase in a 2011 interview with Harper’s Bazaar.

“I have this Ferragamo hot-pink briefcase that I adore,” he told the magazine. “I mean, how can you be unhappy if you pick up a big pink briefcase?”

Many male politicians, though, would prefer to tout practicality over labels.

“Frankly, my briefcase selection is more about utilitarian than how it looks,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, explaining that his bags are always “big enough to carry one or two iPads, an Air book, a Hotspot, and a little bit of extra reading for irritating times I have to turn off my devices when we take off and land.”

“I think most of us, while we may look at the cute little briefcases, our lives don’t fit a cute little purse,” he said. “Our lives fit something that is in between a purse and a briefcase, and that’s what I carry.”

Their bag, male lawmakers said, might help add a splash of fun and fashion to what can be a tedious daily routine. But it must befit a member of Congress. Meaning: appropriately modest. Even the classic Birkin, for instance, would likely draw unwanted attention to its owner because of its five-figure price tag.

“There’s no magic formula, because looking glamorous or elegant for some political men in certain circumstances can be an advantage, while looking more demure, matronly or even dowdy can be an advantage for others,” said Mr. Young, the author. The one universal rule, he said, is “being able to anticipate what a broad base of his constituents find appropriate and authoritative while still looking distinctive.”

“What that looks like as a briefcase,” he said, “is probably going to be a very different thing if you’re a grass-roots congressman from rural Missouri or if you’re representing city dwellers in New England.”

Still, some basic trends have emerged on Capitol Hill.

Clutches are frowned upon. “It has to go over my shoulder, so my hands are free,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, toting a very sensible-looking black briefcase while waiting for the subway recently.

Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, said he has upgraded his briefcase size three times so far, ending up with a green-and-blue checked Franco Sarto, in order to fit all of his Congressional needs into one bag: a pager, two phones (“my official and my personal”), a voting card, a spiral-bound briefing book, white notecards with a summary of coming bills and how he plans to vote, and makeup for unexpected television appearances. “I have to have concealer, I have to have the powder, I have to have the lipstick,” Mr. Roskam said.

Mr. McConnell owns both a bright orange and a bright green briefcase.“It’s a little daunting sometimes how discouraging you get about making real progress on problems you care about, so I’m always like maybe just subconsciously looking for a little dose of cheer,” he said.

Perhaps no model of briefcase, however, can signify status as much as having someone willing to carry it.

When Orrin Hatch, a Republican, represented Utah in the Senate, he had his briefcase trotted through the Capitol by a rotating cadre of young male aides, to some raised eyebrows.

But now some version of the so-called “briefcase boy” is almost commonplace.

On the first day of this session, a young male aide to Representative Nick Rahall, the West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, juggled the coats of male members as he tried to snap a group photo. And on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, Representative Ken Calvert, Republican of California, was trailed through Statuary Hall by a male staff member holding his bag.

After expertly picking his way through the crowd, Mr. Calvert turned to his aide and asked, “Do you have all of my stuff?”

He did.

This comically re-imagined take on the New York Times article Purse Politics: Tote and Vote was written to prove once and for all just how silly articles like these are, and how no one would ever write or care about such things if we were talking about male politicians.  It was originally published at The Broad Side.


Image via POLITICO

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