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I just finished reading an article about Mitt Romney’s Woman Problem, and it got me to thinking about my instinctive “ish” reaction to the man. Logically there’s no reason for it. He’s handsome. He’s well-groomed. He’s wealthy. In short, he should have those of us who like such men drooling into our salads, right? So why is it that my first instinct upon seeing his image is “ish,” and the second is a cutting remark? Mother Corn had her own opinions about this (and I’d suggest you go read her article), but speaking for myself, I think it’s a combination of factors.

Before I start I should say that, though I lean Librul these days, I am somewhat troubled by my instinctive responses to Mr. Romney. I don’t believe our guts should be electing our presidents. I think it’s important to sort this out–to understand where the response is coming from, so I can better judge its validity. So–bear with me–this is probably going to say more about me than it does about Mr. Romney–but then again, it could be that I’m not alone in needing to understand this a bit better.

So, why does Mitt Romney have a woman problem at my house?

1. He reminds me of the men in the fundamentalist religion in which I grew up. In those years, our church shared a good many of the cultural values of the Mormons–women were seen as distinctly inferior, and their roles were in many ways very limited. Men were our spiritual, social, cultural, and professional superiors. As late as the late 1980’s my mother advised me against pursuing my Ph.D. because “men don’t like women who are smarter than they are.” It would be easy to dismiss this as the opinion of one woman, had it not been for all of the church-produced books girls were given explaining their “place,” and how to attract and keep a man. Those books absolutely agreed with my mother–men didn’t like women who challenged them socially, intellectually, culturally, or spiritually.

The men–and boys–I knew growing up were shaped by that in profound ways. Many were good, kind, men–who simply assumed that women were support staff, so to speak. We were to defer to them, to accept subordinate positions and lower salaries–even if our real responsibilities qualified us for much more–and be “protected” from the more challenging–and more rewarding–roles in life. We were to be kept safe at home, tucked up in cotton wool, and referred to as “the girls,” or “the ladies.” We might be cute, in the way that a poodle is cute–but we were never, ever equal, and while the good, kind men might listen to us and take our wishes into account, that was because they were good, kind men, not because our opinions and intelligence deserved equal weight.

There were the good, kind men. And then there were the others, the men for whom keeping women “in their place” wasn’t just a cultural issue, but a deep, driving need. They were the men who used women–to keep their houses clean, their children safe and occupied, their laundry done, and their sexual needs met. They were the men who believed that women as a gender were to blame for all the evils of the world, and that if a woman was unhappy, well, hadn’t God said that they would bear their children in sorrow? For them, a man stood in the place of God, and one of his rights was not protecting women, but seeing to it that they paid, and paid, and paid.

These were the men who raped women and then belittled and shamed them, who laughed and bragged about their sexual conquests even while they insisted on virginity from their brides, who spoke often about how women should “keep silent in church,” about how a man might listen to the arguments put forth by his spouse and girl children, but in the end, all power, and all decisions, rested with him.

When I look at Mitt Romney, I see a man who grew up in a church that fosters a culture very much like that, and I wonder how deep those values go with him. What makes all this harder is that the examples he puts forward to demonstrate how very much he can understand and relate to people like me only serve to drive the wedge deeper.

Take, for example, the umbrage he took at the suggestion that his wife, Ann, “hadn’t worked a day in her life.” This was spun as a slur against stay-at-home moms everywhere. The reality is that while Ann Romney may well have responsibilities, they are very different from the responsibilities of stay-at-home moms–or even go-to-work moms–who don’t have the wealth to hire housekeeping and childcare help, if they want them. Whether or not Mrs. Romney chooses to avail herself of that help is beside the point; the truth is that the “work” she does is work she has chosen. For many of us, work is not an option–it is a daily necessity, and it must be done in addition to child nurturing. Most of us are forced to work both outside and inside our homes, raise our children, and, if we are in a relationship, nurture that as well. The work Mrs. Romney does, she does by choice.

And good for her–it must be nice to be in that position. Or maybe not–I’m sure Mrs. Romney struggles with her own challenges. But it’s just plain silly for the Romneys to pretend that Mrs. Romney’s challenges can be equated with the challenges less affluent women face. On the day that someone reveals that Mrs. Romney does all of the cleaning, cooking, carpool, errands, childtending, shopping, and bookkeeping for her family singlehandedly–and on a strict, limited budget–on that day the Romney’s can compare her “work” with that of the vast majority of stay-at-home moms. It’s simply not the same, and asserting that it is makes the Romneys look like spoiled children who have no clue how the rest of us really live.

The pathetic story of the young Romneys forced to struggle through college on nothing but a trust fund and stock sales is another case in point. To refer to themselves as “starving students,” as Ann Romney does, is insulting to those of us who survived college on summer wages, winter jobs, limited parental aid, student loans, and ramen. They were not “starving students.” It’s time for them to acknowledge that, give thanks for it, and open their eyes to the fact that their privileged experience is in no way comparable to that of most of us.

I hesitate to start listing “gaffes”–let me only say that many of them only serve to reinforce the central truth not that the Romneys are very wealthy, but that their good fortune has created a safe, privileged bubble in which they have lived their life. And good for them. I think that if you asked them honestly, they’d probably say the same thing. They have lived their life in a world of privilege, and have shown no sign of wanting to change that–or of moving out of their world far enough to understand the realities those not born into privilege face daily. It’s insulting and disingenuous for them to now try to “have their cake and eat it” by pretending that their cushioned existence is comparable to the average American’s life.

And I think that’s the crux of the matter for me–I don’t expect a presidential candidate to be “like me”–I would actually hope that he or she would have a broader, more encompassing grasp of a great many things than I do. The fact that the Romneys are wealthy isn’t the issue, either–most of our Presidents have been wealthy. I think, for me, the issue is that Mr. Romney’s continued efforts to reveal how very much “like me” he is only serve to underscore the differences between us–and reinforce the idea that Mr. Romney neither sees nor understands them.

Perhaps most telling is that he repeatedly overlooks the human cost of “good business.” For Mr. Romney, the ultimate measuring stick is the bottom line–in his work for Bain Capital that was right and appropriate, to a point. He was tasked with earning returns for investors. The fact that many of the policies he instituted might have hurt a lot of people was just collateral damage in the pursuit of that goal. His remarks that he “likes firing people,” that “corporations are people,” and the list goes on and on, only serve to underscore this.

It’s not that I’m against progress–I believe companies need to operate efficiently, and that often they don’t. I understand that some business changes are going to adversely affect some people. But when people are put out of work so investors can reap obscenely large rewards, I have to wonder about the value system that makes that all right. I have to wonder how much thought is being given to helping the workers being put out of work to find other ways of supporting their families.

I suspect not much–because, after all, in Mr. Romney’s world, we all have trust funds, and stocks we can sell. We all have parents who have, if not millions, at least enough to be able to spot us the start-up money for a new business without dipping into their retirement. We all have household and child care staff to tend our multiple homes, if we want it. Why should he worry? And that, I think, is Mr. Romney’s biggest woman problem in my house.

It’s not that he’s wealthy–it’s that he can’t understand that the rest of us aren’t.

 

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Okay, I think that we’ve officially entered the Silly Season. First we have the sad story of Mitt Romney’s pooch, who was crated, strapped on top of the car, and taken on vacation. There are a lot of ways to spin this. the ASPCA roundly condemns the practice of strapping one’s dog–however crated–to the car roof and zooming off for a fun-filled vacation. Not surprisingly, many agree. Also not surprisingly, the Romneys are holding fast to their “he liked it, and it was better than a kennel” position. I am unconvinced that the car roof was the only alternative to a kennel for the vacationing Romneys–possibly Seamus could have stayed in one of their numerous homes–but to be perfectly honest, in the absence of a weigh-in by Seamus himself I am prepared to give the Romneys a pass on the whole dog on the car roof thing.

I’m willing to concede that Seamus may indeed have “loved it”–Irish Setters are famously beautiful but dumb. Maybe Seamus did love the prospect of an eighteen-wheeler roaring toward him. Maybe he did love the endless, incessant, inescapable buffeting of the wind driving him ever back, back, back against the back wall of the crate. Maybe he did love the way the crate rocked and shook as the car raced toward Ontario. Maybe he did love bugs in his teeth. Maybe the Romneys strapped the crate on sideways. Maybe it was indeed an ill-advised turkey, rather than terror, that caused Seamus’ sudden attack of diarrhea. Who knows? So–in the absence of any sort of word from Seamus, I’m willing to file this under “things that make me go ‘huh?'” and move on.

What is bothering me more these days is the GOP’s answer to the Seamus-on-the-roof story, and that’s their “revelation” from Dreams of My Father, President Obama’s memoir about, in part, his childhood in Indonesia, that in his childhood Barry Obama ate dog meat. The implication is that but for the eagle eye of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh the First Family would be barbecuing Bo in the Rose Garden. Apparently the plan is to use the story about child Obama eating dog meat in Indonesia as some kind of answer to Seamus-on-the-roof.

It would be funny, if it didn’t reveal how very insular, smug, and dim-witted the spinmeisters at the GOP believe us to be. In the first place, equating an action taken by a grown man, married, with children, and presumably in his right mind, with the action of a child, arguably still at the “eat-what’s-set-before-you” stage of life, is ridiculous. The two things simply aren’t equivalent. No matter what one thinks of Seamus’ car trip, there’s simply no way to equate the fact that the adult Mitt chose to strap his dog to the roof of the car with the fact that a young child ate a piece of meat he was given by a caretaker. None.

What’s more troubling, though, is what the “You ate dog” response says about the insularity and bigotry that we are being asked to embrace. Let me say right here that I do not eat dog. I have no plans to try. But I recognize that this is because of a powerful cultural bias, not because dog meat is inherently inedible. Biases are powerful things, and food biases are some of the most powerful of all.

Andrew Zimmern’s show, Bizarre Foods, regularly invites viewers to confront their biases by exploring how people around the world  meet the nutritional demands of their bodies. I watch. And sometimes I wince. But the show carries a profound message–one important enough that I used it as the basis for a writing class I teach. The message is this: Humans all have certain nutritional needs, and how we meet those needs is driven by where we live, what foods are available, and yes, our cultural and religious taboos. Understanding and respecting that fact is the first step toward understanding that humanity is truly all one family–we eat what is around us, and for millions in third-world countries–like Indonesia–that has prompted the acceptance of a much wider variety of protein sources than we, who live in a far wealthier world, are accustomed to. Like privileged children who turn up their noses at bread crusts, in the context of the world population we are picky eaters. We can afford to be. We’re rich.

To build a political “smear” on a simple fact of life–Barry Obama was living in a part of the world where the consumption of dog meat was acceptable, and one of his caregivers gave him some–says more about those who have crafted the smear than it says about President Obama, who no longer lives in Indonesia, who can make his own protein choices now, and who, judging by Bo’s continued happy existence, does not appear to number dog meat among those choices. It says that the crafters of that particular bit of propaganda live smug, safe, sheltered lives, lives in which they can afford to pick and choose what they will eat, rather than eating what they must, the way that much of the world does. It says that they can see no difference between the biases that govern all of our food choices and morality–possibly even religion. It says that they are willing to convict someone for being different, for having a broader, more inclusive cultural experience. At worst, it says that they are willing to condemn those who live in other parts of the world, who use other proteins, fruits, vegetables, and starches to fill out their food pyramid to either ostracism or malnutrition. Mostly, it says that they simply have no concept of or respect for the exigencies under which most of the world lives. It makes me wonder how much they understand about how the less privileged in America live, and the dietary choices being made in smaller, humbler homes just down the street.

That smear reeks of snobbism, self-congratulation, narrow-mindedness, and insularity. It is beneath us. And if you doubt me, reflect for a moment on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans partake of beef in myriad forms, while half a world away there is a nation that holds cattle sacred–and that is probably as appalled by our addiction to McDonald’s as we are by the idea of eating dog meat.

At its root, this smear comes back to the same tired meme that stained so much of the last election. It is an appeal to the lowest human instincts, to racism and xenophobia. The smear is designed to remind us all that President Obama is different, other, and quite possibly dangerous. It is a return to the canard that “he is not like us.”

So here’s the question: Who is “us?” If the measure of “us-ness” is buying into this bit of ugliness, I hope to all gods that he is not “like us.” And I hope I’m not like “us,” either.

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I just paid a visit to Gryphen at The Immoral Minority, one of my favorite blogs. He’s one of the Alaskan bloggers I stumbled upon back during the 2008 presidential campaign, and though my faithfulness has waned a bit in the years since the election the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself curious to see what’s up by him. He’s an unabashed liberal, and I lean that way, so I often find him entertaining, even if sometimes he does make me wince a bit.

Anyhow, today’s post was a response a response someone made to a post earlier today (Gryphen is clearly more devoted to his blog than I am to this one; as far as I can remember, this is the first time ever I’ve posted twice in one day). It was a little confusing, but basically here’s what I’ve pieced together. Gryphen came across a picture of President Obama with a crowd. In the foreground is a little African American girl. Her face bears tribal paint. She is saluting.

It’s a lovely picture, and Gryphen says so under the heading, “Leaders Should Inspire. Clearly This One Does.” He speaks of pride, and inspiration, and how this picture expresses those feelings for him, and invites readers to comment on their own response to the photo. Go read his post; you really should.

As I noted, Gryphen is an unabashed liberal blogger from Alaska who achieved a certain level of name recognition in the last election. Along with that recognition he also acquired a number of followers who are clearly Not Admirers of President Obama or his good pal Gryphen, but of Sarah Palin. And one of those followers was apparently up and angry at 3am this morning. Gryphen’s post went up at 3. By five minutes after three there was an scorching response informing Gryphen that if he were more open-minded it would remind him of Ms. Palin–I believe the word “adore” was thrown around. Apparently there was a picture attached, because in his follow-up post Gryphen posts a response to the angry blogger, along with the picture he or she provided. Here it is:

To me, both pictures show a politician interacting with a crowd. The Obama crowd seems happy. The girl who is saluting sums up something important for many of us.

To me, the Palin photo also shows a happy, perhaps somewhat raucous, crowd. The little girl seems a bit shy, but overall the subject matter seems more similar than different.

So while I don’t necessarily see the same thing in this photo that the folks at The Immoral Minority seem to see, I am left with Gryphen’s headline: “Leaders Should Inspire…”

And I find myself thinking of the post I wrote on Inauguration Day in 2009, on my now-pretty-much-defunct political blog. I posted it just before I wrote this one, so it’s right here. It’s sort of long, mostly about how I spent the day fighting with an abusive collection agency on behalf of my neighbor lady, but here’s the guts of it:

… there is something incredibly beautiful and moving about a nation devoted to equality, to respect, to dreams. There is something powerful about the sweep and bounty of it, the scope of a vision that spans a continent, and a hodgepodge of peoples who when it comes down to it all want the same things: to realize their dreams, to feed their families, and to live with some degree of dignity and freedom.  There is something about the phrase, “…amber waves of grain…”

That lump in my throat has been an embarrassment to me not because I thought the idea of America was foolish, but because I came of age in an era marred by a series of unjust wars, corrupt governance, and cynical, avaricious, money-grubbing politics. I was embarrassed because the gap between what we could be, and what we were as a nation was so great. We had lost our vision. The man I see smiling down at his wife has given it back.

Gryphen’s headline, and the reader’s angry response, brings something into focus for me. Leaders inspire. Like Candidate Obama, Vice-Presidential Candidate Palin also inspired. The difference lies in what they inspire. President Obama inspired hope, inclusivity, civility, and a dream of a better America. Sarah Palin inspired angry mobs.

Three battered years later, President Obama still inspires me to believe that an America where everyone has a fighting chance to succeed is still possible, where the prosperous among us understand that prosperity is a gift to be both accepted with gratitude and shared, where we can express our differences respectfully, where we are all necessary, all valued–and all responsible for each other. He inspires me to believe that the American Dream is for all of us, for me, for you, and for the strangers within our gates. He inspires me to believe that America’s best self is still worth fighting for.  President Obama inspires me to be my best self–and to share that best self with the people in my home and community.

But the issue is broader than that. After all, President Obama is, well, the President. Sarah Palin has chosen not to run for office. A fairer comparison these days might be between what the two parties seem to be offering at the moment. Who inspires conversation? Who inspires their followers to listen? Who inspires compromise? Who reminds America that we truly do succeed or fail as a nation, and that as Americans we have taken pride in the fact that we are all created equal, and that every child born in America is entitled to tools to carve out his or her own success? And who is dedicated to dividing us, into perpetuating their power by rendering us powerless? At their most fundamental level, they are pursuing a policy of division–Democrats vs. Republicans, union vs. non-union, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, conservatives vs. liberals, Wall Street vs. Main Street, country vs. city, Christian vs. everyone else, those who “belong” vs. immigrants.

Who is willing to compromise? And who is holding the nation hostage, hoping for national failure to improve their chances of seizing power? And who is not even taking the trouble to conceal their basic priority? Does that inspire you? If so, how?

What it comes down to for me is simple. It’s not just a matter of which leader inspires me–what’s more important is what a leader inspires me to do. I will vote for President Obama again not because I have profited financially from his administration–hamstrung as Congress has been by Republican intransigence I have come to believe that simply limiting the harm they have been able to inflict is a worthy achievement. It’s not even because I think he believes like I do on policy. I will vote for him because he inspires me to be a better person.

 

 

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This morning, as I pulled out of the driveway to take The Boy to school, I swung by the mailbox to see what, if anything, my friendly neighborhood mailman had left for me. Turns out he left me a Mike Sinatra CD (no, that’s not a typo–I just discovered the guy on YouTube. He does wonderful re-purposings of old favorites; they’re too nice to be called “covers.” I bought a CD. So. Mike Sinatra was sitting in my mailbox.) But there was also a big yellow envelope. The Boy tore off the wrapping, apparently believing it might be something for him, but it turned out to be a book I had ordered for me.

It’s about Sarah Palin.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be writing those words any time soon. While she was running for VP I wrote about her a lot–I had a lot to say, most of it worried. But then she and Mr. McCain (I almost wrote “Magoo”–sorry, Senator) lost the election and I breathed a sigh of relief. As I watched subsequent events the possibility that la Palin might actually play a significant role in politics came to see increasingly remote, and continuing coverage increasingly irrelevant.

I wouldn’t have purchased this book at all, if it hadn’t been for Joe McGinnis. The authors of the book I bought, Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, by former inner circle member Frank Bailey, with Ken Morris and Jeanne Devon (creator of The Mudflats, an amazing blog that was daily reading for me back in the day, and still an excellent insiders’ view of Alaskan politics), were writing at the same time as Mr. McGinnis was lurking next door to the Family Palin, and working on his own book. I don’t want to open myself up to charges of slander, but skullduggery happened, and Mr. Bailey & Co.’s book saw the light of day prematurely, and the midwife was Mr. McGinnis. The upshot of this was that Mr. Bailey’s book, having been released for free, saw its potential sales value tank before it had even found a publisher.

Had Mr. Bailey’s book failed because it was badly written, that would have been one thing, but to have been torpedoed before it had even seen the light of day by another author’s self-serving actions made me angry. And so I bought a book. I bought Mr. Bailey’s book, even though it’s about Sarah Palin, and even though I take serious issue with some of Mr. Bailey’s political views. Furthermore, I will not be buying Mr. McGinnis’ book, a position I am happy to announce I had taken even before I read the reviews indicating that, not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. McGinnis has written a stinker.

So anyhow, against all odds, I found myself sitting down to breakfast this morning with the unlikeliest of companions, Sarah Palin, and her campaign staff. By the time I had finished my omelette (cheese, with sourdough toast and Diet Pepsi) I had dug a pen out of my purse and started underlining, and making notes to myself in the margin. And I found myself composing blog posts.

Mr. Bailey’s book is written by an unlikely team–it includes the politically conservative and the politically liberal, as well as Mr. Bailey himself, who was, for quite some time, a Palin True Believer, but who apparently loses his faith at some point in the book I have yet to reach.

Here’s the thing: had this been a hatchet job, I would not be writing this. Had this been a hymn to Sarah Palin I would not be writing this. But this book is something else entirely–I found myself understanding Sarah Palin better as a  person. I found myself thinking about the person Bailey portrays in the beginning of her campaign for governor, the source of her appeal for Alaskans, her commitment to serving the people. I felt sad as he chronicles how that person, and that team of volunteers, lost their vision, and got caught up in the very things they swore to oppose in the beginning.

This is a book worth reading, not only because Mr. Bailey has a unique perspective, but because his observations beg discussion not only for what they say about Sarah Palin and her team of core supporters, but because of what they say about the rest of us. I’m going to be blogging about this for a few days–I hope you enjoy it; and I do suggest you buy the book. You can get it here.

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