There’s no ‘this woman’ any­more

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BY MAR­GARET CARL­SON Mar­garet Carl­son writes a weekly col­umn for the Daily Beast.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) whomped Pres­i­dent Trump and then un­gra­ciously rubbed it in. At the State of the Union — which she had forced the pres­i­dent to resched­ule — she leaned over and clapped in his face.

Women run­ning for pres­i­dent, take note. No one is ask­ing if the speaker is lik­able. They don’t do that when you win. And now that there are five of you, enough to field a basketball team, you shouldn’t give it an­other thought. Lose the happy face un­less you feel like it, raise your voice, ar­gue a point, get called for charg­ing the bas­ket and, yes, per­sist. Each of you has poli­cies, for­eign and do­mes­tic, to at­tract sup­port — or not. There are funds to be raised, cam­paigns to be run, de­bates to crush and votes to get out. There are too many of you — more of you at the mo­ment than men — to clear a hur­dle men don’t have to. Your stan­dard male mem­ber of Congress is pre­sumed to be qual­i­fied with­out the added re­quire­ment he be lik­able. So are you.

As the Year of the Woman gives way to the Year of Many Women, the fe­male can­di­dates are woke to the ways in which they are re­quired to pass a test they shouldn’t have to take in the first place. How sex­ist to ham­mer away at Hil­lary Clin­ton’s voice, her wardrobe, her hair (as op­posed to the most bizarre pile of fur atop a head any­where). Al­ready, the last cam­paign is from an­other era: be­fore #MeToo and Time’s Up; be­fore mil­lions of women marched, or­ga­nized and voted; be­fore they knew the dam­age a misog­y­nis­tic pres­i­dent could do to women’s health, pay and re­pro­duc­tive rights. No one thought a U. S. pres­i­dent would or­phan chil­dren to make a point about his wall.

A USA To­day/Suf­folk poll pub­lished in Septem­ber found that the per­cent­age of vot­ers who would pre­fer to vote for a woman as an an­ti­dote to the mess we’re in was more than twice as high as the num­ber who would vote for a male can­di­date. Novem­ber fol­lowed and brought the largest midterm land­slide in 44 years, driven by women. More than 100 of them ar­rived in Congress, and, if you’ve been watch­ing, they’re not all that wor­ried about whether you like them.

One sign that the fe­male body politic is re­ject­ing the ad­di­tional bur­den is how Min­nesota Nice Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) re­sponded to the charge that she’s a mean boss. She may well be. They’re a dime a dozen on Capi­tol Hill, and they’re usu­ally called men. The crit­i­cism is partly based on a sur­vey of staff turnover from 2001 to 2016 that placed Klobuchar first on the top-10 list, which con­tained six other fe­male mem­bers. So when women com­posed less than a quar­ter of the cham­ber, they made up 70 per­cent of the “worst bosses.” Please.

That doesn’t mean Klobuchar shouldn’t have to an­swer valid crit­i­cism, just that she shouldn’t do it with her blue­berry muf­fin recipe. A dou­ble stan­dard doesn’t van­ish in a day. Sen. Ka­mala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the tough lawyer out of Oak­land, sent out a pic­ture of her home­made corn­bread on Thanks­giv­ing and a video of her chair-danc­ing to Cardi B. Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand (D-N.Y.), per­haps remembering that Clin­ton won New Hamp­shire af­ter tear­ing up in a cof­fee shop, choked up when telling the story of a young woman’s death to ex­plain her change of heart from an up­state New York gung-ho gun ad­vo­cate to a blue state gung-ho gun-con­trol ad­vo­cate. The most de­ter­mined L-fac­tor pre­but­tal came from Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.), who an­nounced she was an­nounc­ing with a video made in her kitchen, pop­ping a beer with her hus­band just a lit­tle too self­con­sciously for com­fort.

There are rea­sons not to sup­port War­ren for pres­i­dent — if you pre­fer cor­po­rate rights to con­sumer rights, for in­stance — but it shouldn’t be be­cause she wouldn’t win the Miss Con­ge­nial­ity por­tion of the con­test. No one’s ask­ing that of Sen. Cory Booker (D-N. J.) or for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den or Sen. Sher­rod Brown (D-Ohio). They don’t have to come across as cool, calm and con­fi­dent enough to be trusted with the nu­clear codes but beta enough not to threaten the male al­phas. On TV, Madame Sec­re­tary al­ways man­ages that hat trick. In real life, see Clin­ton, above.

In 2016, the non­par­ti­san Bar­bara Lee Fam­ily Foun­da­tion found that striv­ing to be lik­able is a zero-sum game; it doesn’t re­in­force the qual­i­ties that make you fit to sit be­hind the desk in the Oval Of­fice. The last ves­tige of it will fade when women chal­lenge each other on is­sues. When we watch Gil­li­brand take is­sue with War­ren on her plans to break up New York banks; when Harris, a for­mer Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral and Klobuchar, the for­mer district at­tor­ney of Hen­nepin County, com­pare crime bills; when War­ren and Harris go at it over their tax re­form.

One sure thing: No one can say this time “I’m fine with a woman be­ing pres­i­dent, there’s just some­thing not right about this woman be­ing pres­i­dent.” In this field, there’s no “this woman.” It’s these women. Count them. Get used to it, guys. And smile while you’re at it.


Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ka­mala D. Harris (D-Calif.) on Capi­tol Hill in Septem­ber 2018.

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