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Kennedy Will Work Twice as Hard


December 26, 2008 — Today, NY Senatorial bidder, Caroline Kennedy, has stated in an AP interview that she knows she’ll have to work twice as hard in her job if appointed by Governor David Paterson, himself an appointee. Kennedy wants Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, which will be vacated when Clinton becomes Secretary of State after approval by Congress, which is when Paterson will “decide.” Kennedy might be listening to the escalating buzz in the State that she’s butting in line. (Hmm, sound familiar?) Others in the queue include: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, State Senator Liz Krueger, and US Representative Carolyn Maloney.

Let me qualify: I really don’t want to compound the woman bashing thing, because I’m ashamed and disgusted about how women treated other women in this election cycle, and how many women and outspoken feminists abandoned Hillary. Hmmm, like Caroline Kennedy, for example. I’m also a firm believer in and product of lifelong learning, and have had many careers. After all, I learned to blog at 60, didn’t I?! I also am a stand for factoring in people’s life experience, temperament, judgment, accomplishments in other fields, communication skills, and integrity, not just their diplomas or what is on paper.

I’ll definitely grant you that growing up in any household breeds some familiarity with the ins and outs and language of any kind of work, business, hobby, or way of doing things. For example, my dad was an orthopedic surgeon. When I was a little kid, I’d see photos of layers of tissue cut open, pinned back, as my dad referenced his medical books, sitting in his club chair after dinner. I’d go on hospital rounds with him, and as a teen, had summer jobs in his private practice’s office.

I didn’t become a doctor. I like to say “I’m not really a blood ‘n guts person.” I took the path of body-mind healing—whereas quite a few of my family and friends were inspired to become docs because of my dad. I was married for fourteen years to an auto mechanic. I’ve seen engines being rebuilt, and know much more about cars than most Jewish American Princess Baby Boomers. I can recognize different cars by the sound of their start up motors and and engines.

Actually, lately I’ve been reconsidering my career choices. and have decided that I want to be a surgeon. In fact, I’m going for the on-the-job training program. So, if I work twice as hard, will you let me operate on your broken leg? No wait, I think I’ll be a mechanic. Can I rebuild your engine? I think I can, I think I can. After all, reality TV, and this past year, have taught me that anybody can do just about anything they want to, and I mean that in every way. But I digress . . .

I’m curious: What did your parents do, or what was the family business that wasn’t your career path? What if you made a promise to work twice as hard? Would you be qualified to pick it up on the spot just by doing so? Or . . . what work do you or your partner do? Could someone pick it up instantly by working twice as hard? Do tell.

[cross-posted from Lady Boomer NYC]

Friday: Lucky is the man with the mute wife

May hit her target but left no discernable impression

May hit her target but left no discernable impression

It’s been a long time since I saw A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum but I seem to recall that one of the characters was a beautiful mute woman.  The man who won her hand was congratulated.  He was lucky to have such a beautiful wife and her value was immeasurable because she couldn’t speak.  The exact quote was funnier coming from the mouth of Zero Mostel but only because it was so obviously farcical.

What isn’t so obvious is this piece by Tunku Varadarajan at Forbes.com called In Praise of Laura Bush.  I don’t want to sound culturally insensitive but maybe Tunku’s heritage has something to do with his attitude towards women.   But he doesn’t chide her for failing to walk three paces behind George, which for Varadarajan must be an admirable show of restraint.  Nevertheless, we get a keen insight into the minds of the well-connected that is, well, downright first century:

For eight years, Mrs. Bush has come to represent quiet grace in a White House marked by gaudy bluster. She was a measured, succinct first lady in a presidency that came to symbolize frantic ambition–and frantic ideology. She has been an old-style first lady, never seeking to upstage her husband, and she has, in truth, been one of the very few bright spots of an invariably dysfunctional, and occasionally scary, administration.

Laura Bush was self-effacing by choice, and by an exquisite understanding of her role in the White House. She was only noticed when she wanted to be, and when such moments came she held our attention with a fragrant panache

There has never been any doubt, however, that she Stands By Her Man, and it might even be said that she has “mothered” him to a significant extent: by being patient, and fully aware of her (frat) boy’s tendency to over-exuberance; and by tamping down the tempests that surge within his breast. Somewhere along the line, she may even have saved his life.

Mrs. Bush is of a certain American type: wholesome, inclined to good works, a homemaker and mother, a supporter of the man she married, a smiling hostess. She is not flashy or colorful, overly intellectual or palpably shrewd, demonstrably independent or politically aggressive.

My, my, my, there is a certain unspoken something in Mr. Varadarajan’s commentary that resembles negative space.  It is the thing that is referred to by its absence.  Or should I say, the *she* that is referred to by her absence?

But put her aside for a moment.  I, for one, will be very happy to see Laura Bush leave the White House.  Mr. Varadarajan refers to her as a certain American type.  Indeed, Edith Wharton referred to Laura’s type when she wrote The Age of innocence.  Laura is very much in the model of the May Archer type.  She is a woman of no great curiousity and who lives a very constrained existence in the narrow field of vision granted to her by her tribe.  In her case, the tribe is wealthy and cloistered.  Her behavior and actions are dictated by those around her.  As long as she sticks to the convention and expectations of those who govern her actions, she will live in comfort and security.  Wharton called it a “hard bright blindness” that May Archer lived in.  She was not unaware of unpleasantness beyond her sphere.  She just chose to not acknowledge it.

I see Laura Bush as a complete and utter failure as a First Lady.  She lived in the White House for eight years and her presence, personality and will seem to have left no impression on her ceremonial office or her husband’s policies.  She is not remembered for any initiatives or interests.  Her literacy project was started with little fanfare and spluttered into nothingness over the years.  She stands out to me most notably as the person who unequivocally condemned stem cell research, as only a person untouched by personal medical tragedies could do.  It wasn’t heartlessness so much as her heart would not let itself be troubled by pain and misery.  I have no doubt that she has experienced such pain but her milieu has allowed her to put it behind her, to lock it away, to regard it as an artifact.

Her “certain American type” still exists in the country clubbed, blonde bobbed havens of the moneyed class and the middle class suburbanites who strive to the next step up.  I know people like her in my suburban wasteland who carefully monitor themselves and others so that they can glide through life relatively unscathed.  Their children are scheduled to an inch of their lives and grow up in a kind of hothouse atmosphere where the only children they are allowed to know are the children of their parents’ friends.  They are colorless and flavorless.

Mr. Varadarajan’s opinion of Mrs. Bush is laughable to me.  Since Hillary Clinton became first lady while I was still young and impressionable, *she* is my role model.  Working women want to see a woman in the White House who is everything that Mr. Varadarajan despises.  We want to see independence, intelligent, shrewdness and a certain amount of ambition.  What woman would come away from 8 years of experience without a certain amount of ambition?  How can a person not want to use what she has learned to change the world, unless the person in question is emotionally and intellectually dead?

Of course, following Laura Bush’s model will keep the nasty press off your back and if you really want to give it all up to become Mom-In-Chief, well, that’s your choice.  But I sincerely hope that Michelle Obama makes a point of saying that she is not a role model for the vast majority of working class women out here.  And by working class, I mean anyone not in Laura Bush’s social stratum.  If you have to work for a living, you’re working class, no matter what you do.  Most women in the country can’t give up their lives to stay home with the cookies and milk for two girls who do not require full time daycare anymore.  What Michelle Obama does between the hours of 9-3 is up to her but I really hope she doesn’t pretend she’s a housewife.

If the next First Lady doesn’t want to end up like the last one, she’ll speak up, show us how smart she is, get a little ambitious and tell Mr. Varadarajan to take a long hike off a very short pier.

It is hard for an empty suit to take a stand – or perhaps even to understand what it means to take a stand

[Cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri]

Richard Cohen’s sister is canceling her inauguration party because of President-elect Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to bless Mr. Obama’s taking the office of the Presidency of the United State. According to her brother’s column in the Washington Post, what made her do this is the way in which Mr. Obama’s choice to pick this pastor for this occasion serves as a special sort of condoning of Mr. Warren’s views about gays and lesbians. I agree with Richard Cohen, and apparently his sister, that these views should be regarded as totally unacceptable by anybody who has any sense of the importance of civil rights and indeed of human rights. I also agree with Richard Cohen’s view that as a somebody running for the office of President and who was at the time a U.S. Senator, Mr. Obama had a particular responsibility for denouncing his then-pastor’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ, for giving the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan a special award during the primary season. I find it troubling that neither Mr. Cohen nor apparently his sister have not been, as far as I can tell, overly concerned by President-Elect Obama’s equally eloquent silence and inaction regarding the sexism and misogyny directed at Senator Clinton and her supporters, particularly the sophomoric expression of these attitudes by Jon Favreau, the man writing President-elect Obama’s inaugural address. (I shudder to think what the reaction of the Cohen family would have been if Favreau had been found on YouTube horsing around calling somebody a “homo” – maybe then Richard Cohen’s sister would join us in our demand that the President-Elect fire this sophomoric bigot as his chief speech-writer. Whether a bigot is slick (Warren) or juvenile (Favreau), he is still a bigot.)

It is tempting to forget in this sort of dynamic who the real problem is. As is clear from what I have written so far, I wish Richard Cohen and his sister would be, respectively, writing about and canceling inauguration parties as much over Mr. Obama’s inaction in the face of sexism and misogyny as they are in the face of anti-Semitism and gay-bashing. And yes, I wish that Richard Cohen’s sister had paid attention to and given greater weight to the fact that she had the option to work to elect somebody who, both as a Senator and as a Presidential candidate, repeatedly marched in Pride parades and met with editors of gay newspapers across the country rather than working for somebody who would not even have his photograph taken with Gavin Newsome.

But I am not falling into the trap that lies that way. Just because people got it wrong before does not mean they cannot help matters now. People can learn. So despite the bit of complaining above, I am not going to point a finger at Richard Cohen’s sister (or, for that matter, at Katha Pollitt for decrying the misogyny involved in the Warren choice when Pollitt, like Richard Cohen’s sister, opted to support Mr. Obama for the presidency when it was already obvious that he was complacent, to say the least, about sexism and misogyny). I am just pleased that they are starting to pay attention now and apparently coming to understand better who they voted for. To quote Richard Cohen: “The real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama’s inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.”

Aye, there’s the rub. During the primary season and the general election a friend of mine who spent some considerable amount of time listening to me lament the Democratic Party’s poor judgment in making then-Senator Obama their poster-child, kept saying to me that the real problem with Mr. Obama is that he is an “empty suit”.

That term seemed to me too tepid back then. But I have come to see it as the essential problem behind the problem of Mr. Obama’s inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader, and possibly any kind of leader. To be a moral leader, to stand for something means that you have to fill out your suit, your office, your position. To be an “empty suit” is to be a person who cannot draw a line in the sand, precisely because you do not have an arm and hand within that suit to use to reach out and draw that line. To be an “empty suit” is to be devoid of the weightiness that real leadership requires, including the gravitas to admit to a mistake and change one’s position (drop the bigoted minister and lose the bigoted speechwriter; say you have been wrong to dig in your heels rather than listen to the concerns of so many of the people who worked so hard to elect you). To be an “empty suit” is to be a moral vacuum.

I refused to vote for John McCain for a number of reasons but among them was the fact that while I knew he had the capacity for moral leadership, I did not care for the directions toward which his moral commitments would lead my country. I refused to vote for Barack Obama because I knew he came up empty on the capacity for moral leadership.

In some ways, moral emptiness, especially in a President, is worse than moral wrong-headedness. The morally wrong-headed leader takes a stand, e.g. George W. Bush’s legitimization of torture, and one can rally people against the stand she or he takes. The morally empty leader takes no stand. Under these circumstances, her or his silences often allow people to forget that the blank that exists in lieu of a leader is the appropriate target of criticism. After all, it seems easier to go after people who actually do take stands (Rick Warren, for example) rather than the person who silently enables wrong-headed person to gain in stature. But this is sleight of hand. The real problem is the enabler, the person who allows the sophomoric sexist to put words in his mouth, the person who lets bigoted clerics and their churches affiliate with him.

So, to Richard Cohen’s sister and to Katha Pollitt, I say welcome to my party – the one that got lost in 2008, the one that expected moral leadership of a certain kind from a Democratic president. Now that you are here, I hope you can help me figure out what we are going to do with the empty suit about to occupy the Oval Office. If that empty suit thinks he can pick up sufficient evangelical money and votes in 2012, he is not going to listen to bloggers and op-ed columnists whose votes and followers he thinks he can replace with the support of the evangelicals, regardless of the detestable content of many of their views and some of their conduct. Personally, I do not think we can give the empty suit the backbone necessary to resist the lure of that support. If we cannot give this empty suit some backbone, we need, as I have written before, to start figuring out how we can have a better candidate on offer in 2012. So to the people who are canceling their celebrations, may I suggest that they use the time and effort saved to start solving that problem. We need to coalesce now around somebody who can fight for a nomination by a major Party – probably the the Party formerly recognizable as the Democratic one – who is what Obama’s supporters hoped he would be and what I fear he is not.