Friday, May 30, 2008

Why Don't Women Run for Elected Office? Ambition Gap or Responsiblity Overload?

The latest report from the Brookings Institution's Issues in Governance Studies series underscores what many of us have known for a good long time: more women aren't running for elected office because the daily circumstances of their lives just don't make room for it. In short, the traditional social supports that encourage men's political ambitions have not yet been extended to women in quite the same way.

Things aren't all bad. As illustrated by Hillary Clinton, the country in many ways has generally accepted the notion of voting for women as candidates and politicians, and when women run they generally do pretty much as well as their male counterparts. Yes, there is still sexism -- the coverage of Hillary clearly shows that -- but this study shows that the acceptance levels of women politicians is supposedly better than we thought -- to the extent this is true, this is the good news.

Women's underrepresentation, say authors and political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, "is not because of discrimination against women candidates. In fact, women perform as well as men when they do run for office. In terms of fundraising and vote totals, the consensus among researchers is the complete absence of overt gender bias." I'm not sure I buy the idea of a complete absence of gender bias -- I suppose the key word here is overt. Plus, I'll keep in mind that this survey was done in 2001, prior to this seemingly endless primary campaign.

The researchers did find something interesting in terms of women's political candidacy: something they're calling an ambition gap. Specifically, the researchers believe that the "fundamental reason for women's underrepresentation is that they do not run for office. There is a substantial gender gap in political ambition; men tend to have it, and women don't." Huh.

The researchers came to this rather interesting conclusion based on a survey conducted with thousands of educators, business leaders, and political types. They found "compelling evidence that women, even those in the highest tiers of professional accomplishment, are substantially less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to seek elected office." Apparently these outcomes were consistent regardless of age, income, partisan affiliation and occupation.

The number of women seeking political office grew steadily during the 1980s, surged in the early 1990s courtesy of the Year of the Woman, and has since leveled off. Today, women account for fewer than a quarter of elected statewide officials, one in six members of Congress, and most relevant to the road to White House -- eight of 50 governors. So, this ambition gap has apparently not changed much over the years, despite women's expanded opportunities.

I have a completely different take on the situation than the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, who penned an op-ed on the study and seemed to think that women were our own worst enemies. "Sometimes the hardest glass ceilings are the ones women impose, whether knowingly or unconsciously, on ourselves," wrote Marcus.

Whoa. Hold on, there, Ruth. Your own op-ed and the study itself lays out quite nicely the tangible reasons why women have fewer political ambitions than men -- and they certainly don't seem to be about self-imposed barriers to me. Let's consider the issues the study raised that seem to impede women from harboring political ambitions.
According to Lawless and Fox, women are:
  1. Less likely than men to have the freedom to reconcile work and family obligations with a political career. In other words, traditional family dynamics persist -- so a woman my dream of running for office, but dollars to donuts she's going to raise her family first. That's just the reality. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a great example of this phenomenon -- she didn't run until her kids were all in high school or older. Interestingly, the career women in the Brookings' survey were much less likely to be married or have children than the men, and those that did were responsible for the majority of child care: 60 percent of the women, compared with just 4 percent of the men. Given that arrangement, which person in those marriages do you think had the time to seek elected office?
  2. Less likely than men to be willing to endure the rigors of a political campaign. Gee, do you think that has anything to do with number 1, above? I don't read this reluctance as being anything about physical limitations, but rather about concerns related to being apart from family, as well as the infringement on privacy that comes along with today's campaigns.
  3. Less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. Also related to number 1. Think about the PR challenges of running a woman candidate with small kids at home, and the questions she would get -- "who's taking care of your kids?" -- that a similarly situated man never has to field. Everyone would just assume his wife was minding the homefront. A woman candidate doesn't have that luxury.
  4. Less likely than men to think they're 'qualified' to run for office. Now this is fascinating but not at all a surprise -- the cockiness gap has been documented, ladies. According to the study, about one-third of men but just one in five women rated themselves as "very qualified" to hold elected office, while twice as many women (12 percent) as their male counterparts (6 percent) considered themselves "not at all qualified." Men were more likely to try for federal office, women for the local school board (hmmm...perhaps because it keeps them close to home and the campaigns are more manageable?). Now, women do need to own our part for this particular one, if self-esteem is getting in the way of our running for political office -- but truthfully, I think number 1-3 are much bigger barriers than this one.
So where does this leave us? For those of us lucky to have made it close to the roof, it seems like we're in much the same place knocking on whatever glass or marble ceiling we may be contemplating. No matter how far women have come, these fundamental truths remain self-evident and inescapable: women are the caretakers -- of our children, our partners, our parents, our communities. And despite the personal satisfaction we may take in these roles, despite the economic necessity of our performing these roles, women are consistently penalized rather than rewarded because of these roles. We are penalized in our professional lives in a society that has yet to adapt its corporate culture to value caretaking and support families, or evolved gender roles to allow women to relinquish a substantial portion (half!) of our caretaker responsibilities to the men in our lives -- many of whom would be happy to take on some of the caretaking if only they, too, would not be punished for doing so.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan's "Revelations" Just the Tip of the Unsavory Iceberg

Republican swift boats are armed and already firing at former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, whose tell-all book -- What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception -- isn't scheduled for release until June 2 but is already making the scandal rounds in our nation's capital. Given that Congress is out enjoying its Memorial Day Recess, this has definitely been the talk of the town.

McClellan, who resigned just two years ago after an Administration shake up, has written a book that by all reports is likely an early and -- my guess -- fairly tame precursor to the nasty offal that will be uncovered about this most destructive of Administrations; the tip of the unsavory, unconstitutional iceberg yet to come as investigations come to light and other former employees step forward with diarrhea of the mouth.

While there does not appear to be a whole lot of new "news" here -- the Bush Administration shaded the truth about Iraq prior to the invasion? Duh. The West Wing ran an all-out, Iraq War PR campaign aided by a complicit White House Press Corps? Gee, ya think? Cheney's a devious mastermind who manages to cover his tracks by polluting the Constitution at every turn? Um, yeah, we got that -- he's Darth Vader, except there's no good left in him whatsoever. Karl Rove lied about outting Valerie Plame to the planet? That news is older than John McCain. Bush is an out of touch leader incapable of admitting he's made a mistake? Holy smokes, Batman -- McClellan's on fire.

To me, it is the fact that this not-so-new news is being bandied about by a former Bush Administration insider, someone who was part of the circle for more than a decade, that is so striking. And it is the fact that McClellan did not wait until after his former boss had left office to write such a critical tell-all piece -- as is customary -- that is so notable. Bush prizes loyalty above just about everything, and McClellan just gave him the finger. Interesting. It makes me wonder just how many other Bush insiders are also disgusted by the excesses of this Administration and are chafing at the bit for the right opportunity to reveal juicier secrets and share their own unflattering opinions.

"What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary," McClellan reportedly writes in the book. Boy Howdy, Scott. You do have a gift for understatement. But don't think this let's you off the hook. Don't think this book somehow absolves you. You are still complicit. While it took some stones to write this book when you did, it would have been infinitely better if you'd grown a pair and and actually spoken up at the time.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nation's Capital Suffers a Blow to the Heart: Liberal Lion has Cancer

Last weekend, one of the true fixtures of Capitol Hill -- and indisputably the best legislator of his generation -- reminded us all that even the Liberal Lion is, well, mortal. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the senior-most member of the Senate second only to the perpetual Robert Byrd (D-WV), had a seizure -- and the most powerful city in the world paused.

The denizens of the nation's capital, Republican and Democrat alike -- indeed, people across the nation -- waited anxiously for word, knowing that Teddy's 76 now and it was likely to be more serious than not. And we were right -- a malignant brain tumor in the area of the brain that controls speech. Imagine, Ted Kennedy without a voice. Heartbreaking. Imagine, the Senate and the American people without Ted Kennedy speaking out for the common man, for the people who cannot speak for themselves -- simply unthinkable. Yet suddenly, the idea that Kennedy -- baby brother to Jack and Bobby -- might be silenced sooner rather than later, was forced upon us.

"JFK brought charm and wit to government," said Ronald Steel, a historian and author of a book on Robert Kennedy, "and Bobby is remembered for what might have been, but Ted should be thought of as someone who showed how government could be made to serve the people." Damn straight. Let me just count the laws...well, there is not enough room here, but suffice it to say that every major civil rights, health care, women's rights and education measure of the last four decades has had his fingerprints.

By all reports, Sen. Kennedy is in good spirits. He's a fighter, known for thundering away from his desk -- his brother's desk that he's made all his own -- in the back row of the Senate. He says he'll be back to Capitol Hill soon despite possible radiation and chemotherapy treatments in his future. DC literally held its collective breath this week when the diagnosis came over the wire, and there were honest tears from the crustiest, most conservative men in the Senate. It's not just that action on some critical issues has ground to a stop with his absence -- it's that his very presence reassures the entire institution that compromise and progress is possible.

Compromise, you say? Teddy Kennedy, Mr. Liberal himself? You betcha. If you want a guy to figure it out, to come to a resolution, everyone knows you go to Kennedy. He not only has the agile mind and the brilliant staff to figure out solutions, but he has the political acumen to bring people of all stripes together and do the right thing.

"On numerous occasions," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), "I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate . . . because he remains the single most effective member . . . if you want to get results."

I'm not exaggerating when I say that reports of his illness caused the world to tilt on its axis for many of us in DC, and I fear the tilt is permanent. The rose-colored blinders are off. I expect him to fight this cancer with his usual tenacity, and I expect him to continue to put his indelible mark on the battles to maintain and advance the civil rights that make this nation great for as long as he is able. But there's no escaping the fact that I've now been forcibly reminded that Ted Kennedy can't be the Liberal Lion forever. And I'm shaken, too, by the realization that while his shoes could never be filled, I don't see anyone even close to Ted Kennedy's measure trailing along behind in his wake.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Please Stick a Fork in Lieberman: Isn't He Done Yet?

President Truman's old adage that there are no friends in politics has been put on vivid display this election season. Even in CampClinton, long time allegiances don't seem to hold water anymore. And, just as we did four years ago, we had the Democratic presidential nominee (John Kerry, for those of you who've blocked it out) diss his former running mate (my guy, John Edwards) and endorse someone else -- the junior senator from Illinois.

Which, of course, brings to mind my personal fav, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who turned his back on Democrats (again) when he endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for president. Never mind that Independent Joe caucuses with the Democrats or that it's our majority which provides him with the committee chairmanship (aka, bully pulpit) that he loves so much. It seems sadly appropriate that Joe gave the Dems the cold shoulder from the frozen tundra of New Hampshire.

Joe's really a piece of work when you think about it. Let's not forget that good ol' Joe lent his weighty support to McCain instead of home state Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), as is traditional -- yeah, remember, Joe, when Dodd was the only senator who endorsed your wannabe, also-ran candidacy back in 2004, when you had your own delusions of grandeur about the Oval Office having your name on it?

Now, I know Dodd endorsed Ned LaMont, Joe, after he beat you in Connecticut's Democratic primary -- as did the rest of the Democratic party. You lost the party's nomination fair and square and for good reason, Joe. Dodd was just playing by the rules. But paybacks are hell, huh? I guess you learned about that when your former running mate Al Gore endorsed Gov. Howard Dean over your two-faced self four years ago. Bet that stung.

What's next, Joe? A McCain-Lieberman ticket? Hmmm.... well, you share bylines, write legislation in tandem, why not crisscross the country together in a vain attempt to show your mutual obsession with a failed war policy really ain't so bad after all? While you say you have no ambitions to be VP (sure, Joe, 'cause your politics over the past few years haven't demonstrated an ounce of personal ambition), Sen. McCain credits good ol' Joe's endorsement with helping him out in New Hampshire, putting the wheels back on the Straight Talk Express.

So, he owes you, right Joe? Especially if you keep honing your skills at playing the gratuitous hitman role against the Dem's presumptive nominee, Barack Obama. The lastest bit about Obama being Hamas' candidate of choice was inspired -- and you even said it with a straight face. Way to memorize those talking points, Joe. I mean, hey, if you can show the Maverick up front that you're willing to be his lap, um, I mean, attack dog, he'll have to move you to the top of his Veep list, right?

Well, don't bet on it, Joe...there are no friends in politics, as you've amply demonstrated. Don't count on being rewarded for this latest sucker punch, Joe. I wasn't shocked by your endorsement/defection to Team McCain. And I wasn't shocked when you lumped your former party's frontrunner in with militant extremists. In fact, you're becoming depressingly consistent. It's no wonder you endorsed John McCain -- none of the other Democratic candidates asked for your support, and who could blame them?

I just wish Majority Leader Harry Reid would get a clue, and boot you out of the Democratic caucus once and for all. Becasue for you, Joe, I really hope that what goes around really does come back 'round again -- and slaps you upside the head. At the very least, Reid should take your chairmanship away and give it to a senator who will actually vote Blue in November, as he recently hinted.

But the sad fact is, for now, we still need your sorry ass to keep the Dems in power. But that won't be the case next year, Joe. The Democrats are looking good to take back some prime Senate seats, and hopefully that means your double agent days are numbered. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Schlafly and Washington University: Academic Freedom or Insult to Women?

Most of you have probably heard by now that Washington University of St. Louis has decided to honor Phyllis Schlafly, a native St. Louisan and two-time Wash U. graduate, with an honorary doctorate of humane letters. This unanimous decision by the university's Board of Trustees has caused a furor, and rightly so.

Over the years, Schlafly has done it all. She's well known for her successful efforts to defeat the ERA because it was "dangerous." Folks can argue the relative merits of the ERA, but really -- it's anything but dangerous. Schlafly, a lawyer by training, also said there should be bans on women holding certain non-traditional jobs -- like firefighting or construction. And, in controversial statements that have been recirculated since the Wash U. story broke, Schlafly has apparently even doubted whether a wife could really be raped by her husband. Worthy of an honorary degree? Um, not so much.

The school's web site calls Schlafly "a national leader of the conservative movement." A true statement, and in and of itself not a disqualifier for an honorary degree. I wish they had also mentioned, though, that she is the leading anti-feminist of the second wave of the women's movement, who continues to put forward opinions that are anti-theticial to the very lives the women graduates of Wash U. aspire to lead. I don't know about you, but I always thought it was the height of hypocrisy that Schlafly has always been a vocal advocate of the full-time housewife -- while she herself was traveling the country, making speeches, founding and running the Eagle Forum, writing more than 20 books, doing radio and newspaper commentaries, etc. Who was home raising HER children, I wonder??

Not surprisingly, the Wash U. community is fighting back, and the Internet has proven fertile ground to voice their protests. Students have set up a Facebook group, "No Honorary Doctorate for Anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly." At last count, the group has attracted close to 2000 members since the controversy hit the airwaves. Interestingly, parents, students and alumni alike are threatening to hit the university where it hurts -- its pocketbook -- and withhold those sought-after alumni donations in response to the Board's poor judgement. Professors apparently aren't much happier than the alumni and students -- and seriously, there's not a whole lot of things scarier in academia than a pissed off tenured professor.

I think Mary Ann Dzuback, the director of women's and gender studies at Wash U. as well as an associate professor of education and history, hit the nail on the head when she made it clear that she wouldn't be against Schlafly being invited to lecture at the school -- I wouldn't be either. To me, that represents the best in academic freedom, in discourse and debate and differing opinions. But, as Dzuback says, recognizing Schlafly with something as important as an honorary degree is something quite different:

"This tells the world that this administration thinks so highly of the honoree that they give her the highest degrees the university can give, the highest degree of respect. And that is deeply troubling...This is a woman who has spent her whole career arguing against full rights for women."
It certainly seems an odd commencement message to send the women -- and men -- of Wash U. off into the world with -- new graduates, full of hope and excitement, whose choices would be immediately curtailed by a woman who believes that women don't deserve the same opportunities and rights as men, and that the men don't deserve full, accomplished partners who've pursued the full lives they've dreamed of -- whether that is to stay home and raise kids or climb the career ladder or some some combination in between.

The key here, the point here, is that feminism has always been about choices -- opening doors and breaking down barriers so that people can make the choices that are best for them, freely and without restrictions based on their gender. Schlafly would unilaterally take fundamental choices away from women -- and that is not honorable. It is disturbing that Washington University of St. Louis has not only forgotten this history, but that it is also willing to so dishonor the futures of its graduates that it would bestow an honorary degree on Phyllis Schlafly.

Feeling feisty? Send the Chancellor of Wash U. an email or personal note, or heck, give him a call -- the more people he hears from, the better.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

McCainCare: Bad Medicine for Consumers and an Ailing Economy

Last week was "Cover the Uninsured Week." Ironically enough, presidential wannabe John McCain spent the week pushing his new health care plan -- a plan that would actually make it harder to get health insurance. Go, Maverick!

Enjoy this guest blog on the topic, written by my learned friend Hygeia, the Goddess of Health.

McCain’s health care plan is a disaster waiting to happen. It would not only hurt America’s working families, but also would lead to huge cuts in critical employer-based health benefits -- benefits workers have earned and count on to make ends meet. McCainCare is a lethal combination of bad policies and poor judgment, highlighting a stunning lack of comprehension about how to solve our nation’s health care crisis. This is truly alarming coming from a man who wants the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Right out of the box, McCainCare fails the litmus test for any serious health care reform proposal: a central focus on strategies that improve the health of the American people -- not just shortsighted strategies aimed at only cutting costs. Let’s look at why this matters.

Chronic diseases -- such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis -- affect the quality of life for 133 million Americans. These chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of every ten deaths in the U.S., killing more than 1.7 million Americans every year. Chronic diseases are also the primary driver of our nation’s health care costs, accounting for more than 75 cents of every health care dollar (as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005); this amounted to a staggering $1.5 trillion of the $2 trillion spent on health care. The good news is that these diseases are also among the most preventable.

It is important to realize that improving health requires a broad perspective that also includes the environments in which people work, live and play. A person’s health is a result of both individual actions and the context or environment within which those actions are taken. Adopting healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active, achieving optimal weight, and avoiding tobacco use can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. We also can avoid or reduce the costs associated with these preventable conditions by offering coverage for—and promoting the use of—clinical preventive services including immunizations, screening for chronic diseases, and providing behavioral counseling. These services can help the public prevent and detect diseases when they are the most treatable and least expensive.

However, McCain’s plan overemphasizes actions that individuals can take -- also known as “personal responsibility.” While Americans should be personally responsible for the choices they make, policy makers also must support prevention programs that foster healthy behaviors. For instance, people can’t eat nutritious foods if they don’t have access to grocery stores that offer fresh fruits and vegetables; and people won’t exercise if the communities in which they live aren’t safe or don’t have connecting streets and sidewalks.

What’s also at issue in McCain’s plan is who’s paying for health care in this country. Under his plan --We the People – are going to be paying even more for our health care. According to a recent report from the Commonwealth Foundation, U.S. consumers already spend $45 billion a year on health care and insurance. We are increasingly footing the bill for health care because employers are failing to provide full-time workers with health insurance.

McCainCare would all but ensure the further erosion of employer-sponsored health coverage by offering consumers ridiculously small tax credits ($2500 for individuals and $5000 for families) to off-set the cost of buying health insurance. These tax credits don’t come close to matching the $11,000 year (average cost) most employers spend on an employee’s health insurance policy. Employers have been trying to find a way out of paying for employee health care expenses, and McCain just gave them a great exit strategy. Most experts agree that employers will use the tax credits provided to working families as an excuse to drop worker health insurance coverage altogether – and it’s workers who will pay.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to understand what this mockery of a health care plan will do to our country. As employer-sponsored health insurance becomes a distant memory, corporate America will get rich and the cost burden will increase on taxpayers, public health insurance programs, and workers themselves. As far as I’m concerned, McCain’s already failed a critical test of any presidential candidate – caring more for the nation’s people than for business’s bottom line.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Another Tuesday, Another Primary: Election Fatigue Sets In

Another Tuesday, another election. The never-ending Democratic primary rolls on, seemingly without resolution or an end in sight. Oh, I know, if worse comes to worse, it will all get settled with a showdown in Denver. But damn, I'm tired -- and I love politics. I really do. But get on with it already! And really, this is not to diss West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, or South Dakota, or any of the other few remaining primary states and territories -- I know you want to vote as well. But really, this needs to be decided once and for all. For pity's sake!

So now what? Well, it seems that it's all up to Hillary. For someone who is not actually leading the race, she sure seems to be in the driver's seat at the moment. So far, Clinton appears to be impervious to any calls to back out of the race -- hell, such calls seem to make her more determined to stubbornly press on than ever (not a bad trait, I'll give you that -- would be very useful in a Senate Majority Leader, don't ya think?).

And, that much desired cabal of party elders has not emerged to wrestle the race back onto the rails and get the party unified behind one banner. It's just ugly, getting uglier, and -- to use a term my mom won't like, but my brother taught me -- it's verging on a clusterfuck. It's really not looking like the end is near, because in her speech after the Indiana primary on Tuesday, Clinton said: "I need your help to continue our journey." And then urged people to go contribute at her website. MSNBC's Chris Matthews called her address "charming."

The pundits have said all that can be said, ad nauseum, and employed just about every canned phrase more times that I can count -- though I gotta give it to Matthews, that was the first time I'd heard "charming." We've had distractions, distortions, and missteps. We've had smear tactics and empty rhetoric and outright pandering. We've had must-win, do or die contests, and unsuspecting superdelegates that have been stalked within an inch of their lives. Unfortunately, we've not had so much emphasis on actual issues and policy solutions. I have missed that -- call me crazy.

So, I guess we keep grinding along. Or do we? But I am tired, fatigued. I want closure, resolution, before primary-related PTSD sets in. I want to be clearheaded enough to focus on the real adversary -- the Maverick and his DoubleTalk Express. And I'd like it to happen without ripping apart the Democratic Party -- and our eventual nominee -- in the process.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.