Sunday, December 27, 2009

The "Superlobbyist"

The New York Times Magazine features an annual yearend edition, covering profiles of individuals who have passed away over the previous year.  As the end of the year is traditionally a time of reflection and resolutions, I’ve come to look forward to this, as these profiles offer unique and inspiring insights into both ordinary and extraordinary people’s lives.  

Several standout women were included this year, all of which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I hadn’t known until I read their profiles.   Each provided inspiration, yet also made me pause for self-reflection.

Matt Bai wrote a fantastic piece on Anne Wexler, a former Democratic activist turned K Street “superlobbyist” during Reagan’s reign in D.C.   She started her own women led lobbyist firm in the 1980s, explaining “We’re going to be underestimated, and it’ll work every time.”  I smiled at her pluck, yet appreciated the honest critique of the arc of her career:  a young idealist, turned party insider, turned business woman (some would say “sellout”).   This line stuck out at me: 
As Wexler herself might have pointed out, she didn’t do anything her male contemporaries hadn’t done. She was simply better at it.
Two other profiles in this magazine that stuck out to me:

Crystal Lee Sutton was a woman who was willing to sacrifice her safety and her job for a future of better wages for the next generation.  Her work in unionizing the textile workers in a small, southern town was truly courageous.   I have a renewed appreciation for the work of unions and for the sacrifices made to secure these benefits. 

Peg Mullen was the “Cindy Sheehan” of the Vietnam War.  As a fellow war-protesting farm girl, I admired her resilience and resolve to find a powerful medium for her grief: using her deceased son’s death-benefit pay to buy an ad in the Des Moines Register, critiquing the war.   Her story was a powerful reminder of how the right message, in the right time, with the best messenger can truly bring change.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stupak: the Global Gag rule comes home

This is the argument made over and over again: If the repro rights activists would just stop agitating about the pro-life Dems, we could get majorities, and things would improve for women and men everywhere. I get that argument. Most days, I believe it. And then I wake up to a Democratic majority that will only pass progressive healthcare legislation if it includes antiabortion provisions. These trade-offs build on each other. Stupak did not happen in a vacuum. It's part of a larger cycle. Is this the moment to stand up and say "no"? How could I say it is, especially when I am all too aware that if pro-choice Democrats were to revolt over this issue, they would be vilified and further alienated from a party that already allows the erosion of reproductive rights? We choose to play nice, our party trades on our freedoms. We choose to object, our party resents and blames us for failure. It's not exactly a bright set of options for anyone who has gotten into this quandary simply because they fervently believe that the rights of half the population to control its own reproduction are fundamental to full and equal participation in our democracy. - Rebecca Traister

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The White House’s Grass Ceiling

First profiled by ESPN this summer, Obama’s penchant for all-male basketball games at the White House finally found some legs with a NYTimes profile on Sunday of Obama’s “guy’s guy” “frat house” culture at the White House.  Mark Leibovich pushes the point past just the regular games of hoops, and notices an uncomfortable trend: Obama not only enjoys more traditional macho pastimes, he also prefers an inner circle of macho men.

Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary in the Clinton administration whose sister, Betsy, served as the Obama campaign’s chief operating officer said in the NYT piece: “Women are Obama’s base, and they don’t seem to have enough people who look like the base inside of their own inner circle.”

This weekend in a clear damage control move, White House advisor Melody Barnes broke the “grass ceiling” and became the first woman to play a round of golf with President Obama. 

As Maureen Dowd points out in today’s column: the point isn’t if Obama is inherently sexist.  The real cause for concern is women being barred from another access point to the President.  Access = influence.  

(Above - Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who made her college basketball team at Trinity College in D.C., enjoys poking fun at Obama’s court skills on Jay Leno, October 7th.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Change I Can Believe In

I consider myself a Midwestern pragmatist. Hence, I never could quite buy the concept that "hope" is a governing strategy. But in an effort to get behind this “change” movement, I am committing to a regular post entitled Change I Can Believe In:

Date (Week#)
Pedometer Reading
Change Found
10/12/09 (30)
766 (+marathon)
10/5/09 (29)
0.07 €
0.01 €
0.00 €
0.01 €
0.00 €
1.13 €
9/28/09 (28)
0.00 €
0.31 €
0.00 €
0.06 €
9/21/09 (27)
9/14/09 (26)
9/7/09 (25)
8/31/09 (24)
* Approximately 2,000 steps = 1 mile

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

High Fashion in the High Court

Last week brought the debut Supreme Court appearances of Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The case before the court (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) has been closely watched, coincidentally centering on another national female leader, Hillary Rodham Clinton and the use of corporate funds in distributing a disparaging film about her during the 2008 Democratic primary presidential campaign.

Beyond the case, however, some (including me) were watching to see what the two new women on the Supreme Court scene were wearing.

There is no doubt that it is cliché and tired for women’s clothing or hair to be an item of note during substantive, important situations. However, both women clearly knew that their clothing would be noticed, so were admittedly thoughtful in their choices.

Kagan decided to challenge the tradition of the role of Solicitor General wearing morning jacket to court. Not only that – she went with a (gasp, shock!) pant suit. The law is so conservative, that a usually unspoken rule for women dressing for court is to wear a skirt suit.

Well done, Kagan. (See What Color Was Her Pantsuit? from Above the Law for another take on Kagan's outfit choice.)

For Justice Sotomayor, the only real question was what her judicial collar would look like. While described in the press as “more table-runner to Ginsburg's lacy doily,” it also was thoughtfully symbolic. (What does it say about society that Ginsburg’s is referred to as a grandmotherly doily?)

A gift from Justice Ginsburg, the collar was made in Quebec. Ginsburg enjoys pointing out that the Supreme Court of Canada has four women and a woman chief justice. I have no doubt that the symbolism in her choice for the gift to Sotomayor was intentional.

Photo is Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, the Supreme Court of Canada

The Old Boys' Club

Cross posted at by BackwardsinHeels, Sept. 15, 2009

What do you call a Red Sox pitcher, two Congressmen and an NBA team co-owner? In Massachusetts politics, you call it: The Old Boys' Club. As usual, The Old Boys' Club is in full force for this Senate election. Today’s news of Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca prepping for a run for is just the latest in this series.

Of particular note is this paragraph, outlining the team Pagliuca is putting together for his race:

Among those who are advising Pagliuca and who will probably be part of his campaign team if he decides to run are: Doug Rubin, Governor Deval Patrick’s former chief of staff and the architect of his 2006 campaign; Tad Devine, a Washington-based political consultant who was a top aide to Kennedy in Massachusetts and was a key strategist for US Senator John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign; and Joel Benenson, a New Jersey-based consultant who was President Obama’s chief pollster in last year’s presidential race.
Staff from Deval Patrick, John Kerry and President Obama’s campaigns? Is this a pattern or merely coincidence? In Massachusetts, I suspect the former.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A woman can’t win if a woman doesn’t run

Cross posted at by BackwardsinHeels, Sept. 14, 2009

The Hill had a great piece over the weekend, analyzing the challenges and yes, some advantages, Martha Coakley is facing as the lone female candidate in the race.
The challenges are real: cold winter election dates, a federal campaign account starting at $0, and a discouraging political history in Massachusetts of not electing qualified, female candidates.

However, as MA Congresswomen Niki Tsongas reminds us:

“…but a woman can’t win if a woman doesn’t run.”

Martha has come out strong in her first week and a half. Let’s keep the momentum going and help her beat the odds, shattering that MA Senate glass ceiling once and for all!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A seat at the table

Cross posted at by BackwardsinHeels, Sept. 12, 2009

Senator Kerry and Congressman Delahunt testifying at the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Election Laws, September 9, 2009

This Wednesday I attended a hearing of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. The Committee was hearing testimony to change a 2004 law giving Governor Patrick the power to appoint an interim Senator to fill the late Senator Kennedy’s seat ahead of the special election for the remaining term (go Martha!).

As I settled into my seat for the long afternoon, I was immediately struck by the almost entirely male committee. Out of the 17 members on the committee, only 2 were women (Sen. Joan Mernard and Rep. Willie Mae Allen). If that wasn’t enough, it took 2 hours before a woman even spoke during the hearing (the fabulous Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry).

With cameras flashing in a packed room and the critical 60th vote in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, the decision makers, as is all too common in Massachusetts politics, are overwhelmingly male.

I couldn’t think of a more potent reminder of why Martha’s victory is so critical.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I wear the pantsuits

Dear god. You’d think that Hillary just blew the chance for peace in the Middle East, the way that the blogs and news outlets are clamoring on about her response to a Congolese student Monday about what her husband thought about an international financial matter. (see video above)

I woke up to multiple posts about this little “outburst” yesterday, and by the time I actually watched the Youtube video, I was prepared for a wince inducing show. Instead, I watched, sat back, and smiled. THAT’S MY GIRL! Just like Barbara Boxer, she’s standing up for herself and demanding to be taken seriously.

The question (as translated) was indeed infuriating. As Justice Ginsburg has recently reminded us, even the most powerful women have their voices muted.

I find it incongruous that the news was also filled this past week with shock and outrage over the women-hating motivations of the shooter at the suburban gym in Pennsylvania. Male reporters were quick to offer self-congratulatory critiques on the misogyny still ever so present today.

Frankly, I don’t have enough women in leadership positions to use as a role model for those frustrating, every day sexist occurrences in the workplace. Men who refuse to learn my name, so just call me “sweetie” in meetings, or men who prefer to answer my questions directly to my (male) boss.

No, this isn’t a flashback to Mad Men times. This is life in politics and corporate America in the 21st century.

So, thank you, Hillary. Thank you for standing up for yourself, your smarts, and your job. You’ve inspired me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Thank you to the Senate for confirming Sonia Sotomayor as a United States Supreme Court Justice!

And thank you to all of the senators who informed this choice and the nomination process.

Ruth – you’re not alone any more!

Here’s to the message this sends to the women of America – old and young. As Ginsburg recently said about being the lone women at the court:

The "worst part," is the image of a single woman at the high court projects, particularly to young people visiting the court: "Young women are going to think, 'Can I really aspire to that kind of post?' "

(Couldn't resist this photo of Federica Lomoriello, 11, portraying retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor during a President’s Day and Women’s History Month celebration at Nativity School.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hail to the Chiefs

I loved seeing this invitation to an upcoming DC event honoring female chiefs of staff on the Hill.

While this group of senior congressional staff is still relatively small (I only count about 40 in all of Congress listed), it’s still nice to see this type of exposure to senior women staffers. I get particularly excited when I see women congresswomen hire female chiefs (go Niki!).

Politico tackled the topic of women Hill staffers in May, noting that “Even with a woman wielding the speaker's gavel, Washington can still feel like an old boys' club.”

While it’s nice to see some representation, the ladder up the power structure in DC remains very sticky for women. Even congresswomen have created mentoring and networking groups.

Predictably, this doesn’t apply only on the Hill. An analysis of the White House report to Congress on staff salaries, finds that while women make up about half of the White House staff, they are over-represented in the lower, entry level positions such as assistants, schedulers, and receptionists. The top positions remain male.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Elect more women

DANA PERINO, former White House Press Secretary for Pres. George W. Bush, on The Corner, offered her proposed solution to adultery by government officials. I don't often find myself agreeing with former Bush officials, but I think she brings a good idea to the table:

"While I am not able to explain, I do think I know the answer to all of this: Elect more women. No woman I know has the time for such trysts, nor do I know any who say they desire one. They’re too busy trying to keep all the plates spinning at home, at work, and at the gym to make sure none fall and break.

"Still, many of them are left with broken hearts. What a sad state of affairs."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Girls can't jump?

An interesting article this week online at on the "Power Game" (versus the "power lunch") in DC now - the invitation to play hoops at the White House.

Thankfully, Politico writer Lisa Lerer covered the high points (or low points) of this boy's club in a guest post on Double X: "Girls Can't Play White House Hoops?"

Obsessive White House watchers can't stop talking about an ESPN article on the political pecking order of presidential basketball games. Author Wright Thompson breaks down the sociology (and some of the psychology) of how power works in Washington.

"What's the hottest invite in Washington?" former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers asks in the article. "Yeah, it's great to go to White House state dinners or Stevie Wonder kinds of events. But what's the sine qua non? It's a pickup game with Obama. That's the inner, inner, inner sanctum."

All over town, people are playing hoops—in newly started leagues, in pickup games at private schools, even in Congress—as they try to work their way into games with Obama, or at least with his advisers. The piece is packed with insider anecdotes. But it also delivered another insight that I found far less entertaining: In the story, only one woman makes it onto the court.

This isn't the only evidence that the inner Obama circle might be just a little bit too male, despite the presence of some high-level female staffers like Valerie Jarrett and Anita Dunn. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus picked up on the same theme in a column on aide Ellen Moran's move in April from White House communications director to chief of staff at the Commerce Department.

Of course, politics tends to be male-dominated. Women still only represent 17 percent of members of Congress. But for an administration promising change, shouldn't we expect more than moving the boys' club from the golf course to the basketball court?
Yet again, another "inner inner" boy's club that Obama's change-promising administration is not only endorsing, but also promoting. Sigh.