A FIRST LADY IN THE CLOSET

In a televised interview last night, Laura Bush helpfully told a CNN reporter that she took Michelle Obama around the White House and, “showed her the closets. I showed her all the things that women are interested in.” Well, I guess that’s an insight into why, for eight wretched years, two wars, thousands of American sons and daughters killed and injured, not to mention innocent Iraqis, and more dismal reverses for our country and the world than can be chronicled here, Laura Bush has been a shadow. Our current First Lady thinks women are most captivated by — closets.

Considering the myriad national traumas during her tenure in the White House, Laura Bush rates right down there with her husband as a miserable failure of a First Lady. Now we know why she’s had such minimal involvement in national or international affairs,  and maintained a tight-lipped refusal to use her pastel pulpit. She’s been cleaning, rearranging, or perhaps just hiding in all those grand White House closets.

Closets are not just what Laura Bush, and her political party, believe are women’s main interests, they are a metaphor for the contraints Republicans have traditionally put on women’s roles. Notwithstanding the desperation that foisted Sarah Palin on the national stage, and led Republican conventioneers to cheer the idea of women being mothers, wives and career women capable of the most unlikely job promotions, Laura Bush has spoken the pre-Palin Republican orthodoxy. A woman’s place is in the home. Better yet, cleaning the closets.

If you think the Republican party has really changed, spend some time on the Focus on the Family website.

Or how about the Eagle Forum?

Or just check out how many Republicans sign on or vote for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensuring women equal pay with their male counterparts at work when it comes up next year.

I’m guessing Michelle Obama has interests far beyond closets. I’m guessing she’s a civic-minded, patriotic American who understands that  the grand, privileged and powerful opportunity to be First Lady comes with a duty to help and heal the nation. And you can’t do that from inside a closet.

VISIT MY WEBSITE: www.robingerber.com

WHAT IF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HAD RUN FOR PRESIDENT?

A NEW WAVE OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Sarah Palin got a near perfect score for her Olympian dive off the heights of the Republican convention and onto the national stage as John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate. Her performance since then and the positive reaction to it by conservative women sent a hurricane-sized wave at the women’s movement. For those of us still paddling toward the promise of second-wave feminism (post Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”) the water has gotten suddenly rough.

Conservative female voters who came to a Palin rally in Virginia had finally found a brand of feminism, although they would be loathe to call it that, that they could embrace. Palin is with them on social issues like opposing the right to choose an abortion or providing sex education other than promoting abstinence. She wants to put creationism into school curriculums and keep gays from marrying. But she also stands for being a working mother and wife. She’s a woman with five children whose life stands for the idea that mothers can be successful in the working world, even more successful than men. She’s all about “shattering the glass ceiling,” as she put it, breast pump in one hand and hammer in the other.  As Republican pollster and mother of three Kellyanne Conway put it, “(Palin) strongly conveys to women today that you don’t have to choose between a successful career and motherhood. You do have to make sacrifices, but you can have it all.”

Evidently, while us second-wave feminists were focused on extending and enforcing legislative victories for equal gender treatment in the workplace and in schools, the powerful idea that women deserve equal rights began to seep into conservative thinking –maybe men could take on more home responsibility, maybe it is unfairly limiting and destructive to assign women roles that constrict their ambition, creativity and dreams.

The hypocrisy of conservative leaders embracing these feminist ideas when it comes to Palin, from jabberers like O’Reilly and Limbaugh to movement leaders like Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and James Dobson of Focus on the Family is thick as sewer sludge, but it’s also a distraction.  Those Americans who care about ensuring and expanding the promise of equality for women need to think about how Palin can forward the feminist agenda. We also have to be wary of a Palinesque pseudo-feminism full of inherent contradictions.

The McCain/Palin ticket opposes pay equity for women, but extols the virtues of Palin’s husband Todd helping out at home, a circumstance unaffordable for most couples.  With women’s wages still lagging behind those of men, the dream of shared parental responsibility is just that.  When it comes to pregnancy, women who make the difficult and deeply personal decision to have an abortion aren’t looking to be told they can have it all, they just want to be left alone. And while conservative women rejoice that Palin rejects the promise of science in stem cell research and the importance of scientific discovery represented by the teaching of evolution, they also see her opening the door to their aspirations. But Palin’s stubborn adherence to discredited ideas offers little hope that she will attack the kind of continuing sexism in the workplace that limits women’s pay and opportunities. A  woman who can’t agree that equality dictates that anyone should be able to marry whomever they love isn’t likely to undertake the fight for equality that will give women full rights in every part of American life.

Still, Palin has created a new wave in the womens’ movement. But it’s a riptide certain to pull us back from gains we have made and progress we look to achieve if we don’t respond with respect and savvy.  I don’t agree on social issues with most Republican women, but I do believe they suffer from sexism as I have. They are caught  in the cultural imperative that tells them they must be everything to everyone and, therefore, leaves little time or energy for them to follow their passion and dreams. They are populating workplaces where a double standard for leadership holds them back and a double-dose of negative stereotypes about their ability to take charge, rather than just take care, leaves them frustrated and often insecure.

Sarah Palin’s given feminists the opportunity to talk about women’s equality again and get the country, and Republican women, listening. Like Democratic women, more of them than ever are in the workplace, living the experience of continued inequality. Where we stand apart on social issues, we can stand together on getting our fair share and fair chance. It’s a place, at least, to start a conversation.

VISIT MY WEBSITE: WWW.ROBINGERBER.COM

DODGING THE DEBATE

DODGING THE DEBATE

Senator Barack Obama has been compared to former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. Both from the prairie state. Both capable of rhetorical music that sends the heartstrings of highly-educated liberals into harmonic rapture. Both young, relatively inexperienced politicians exalting high-minded ideals over the ruts of the low-road. And in 1952, Stevenson, like Obama today, faced a debate dilemma against his rival in the general election, Dwight D. Eisenhower that was critical to the campaign.

In the general election of 1952, two major networks offered the candidates for President free air time for what would have been the first nationally televised debate. The networks had, for the first time, covered both parties contested conventions that summer and the audience response had been tremendous. CBS, who had created the “anchor” position for Walter Cronkite’s convention coverage, and NBC were anxious to continue the experiment with election-related television.

Eisenhower had wrested the nomination for the Republicans from Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who thought he had it in the bag going into the convention. The Democrats drafted Stevenson at the convention after the delegates deadlocked over choosing among the nominees who had, unlike Stevenson, run in the primaries. It was the last brokered convention for the Democratic Party, although that may change this year.

The Republicans dreaded the idea of Eisenhower debating Stevenson whose soaring, fluid rhetoric electrified audiences. They didn’t have to worry. Stevenson declined to debate, saying that it would not be fair for him to take advantage of General Eisenhower’s well-deserved war-time fame by forcing him to share a nationally televised stage. It was a high-minded decision, typical of Stevenson, and that’s where the Obama-Stevenson comparison falls apart.

Rather than declining to debate, as Stevenson did for the best of reasons, Obama is dodging a debate with Clinton for the worst of reasons – rank political self-interest. He tanked at the last debate on the stage in Pennsylvania, petty and irrelevant questions from the moderators notwithstanding. Where he had the opportunity to rise above and soar, he slipped, wallowed and soured. Stevenson-esque it was not.

Now Clinton has suggested the kind of debate Stevenson would have relished. No moderators needed or allowed, just one-on-one in the tradition of the great Illinois Senate debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. She’s given Obama another chance to rise to the challenge. But Obama is flatly refusing to debate between now and the Indiana primary on May 6th. He claims that twenty-one debates are enough, as if the quantity of encounters mattered more than their quality and context. He also claims that a debate would interfere with talking to voters and taking their questions, proving that Obama is as capable of making an absurd argument as the next politician.

Ten million people watched the last debate. A no-holds barred, Lincoln-Douglas type format could easily double that number. Obama would have a supreme chance to talk to voters, and as to taking questions, perhaps they could be limited to voters from the upcoming primary states to allay Obama’s concerns.

Of course, Obama knows his history and Stevenson ended up the loser in 1952. Political calculation calls for Obama to stay away from any stage with Clinton on it. Rather than going mano-a-mano, he wants to just go mono.

Obama’s great on the stage by himself, a speaker of rare gifts enjoying questions from adoring fans and riffing off shouts of “I love you” from the crowd. But Presidents have to be able to argue, confront, ask tough questions and, yes, debate about the tough issues on a daily basis. They aren’t just “deciders,” as Bush likes to refer to himself, they are leaders who must have a vision and the skills to bring others around to their view so that change can ultimately be made. Watching Obama in a debate, especially the kind Clinton has proposed, would give voters a chance to see if he is more than an inspirational speaker. Such a debate would be a chance to judge leadership skills. Obama should end the dodge and take the challenge.

MISSING MY BLOG

Hello World! Tomorrow I turn in the manuscript for the biography of the founder of Mattel Toy company and the creator of Barbie: Ruth Handler. She has kept me away from my blog this last month, but it’s been a fun writing trip to create “Ruth and Barbie: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.”

Ruth has an amazing story. The tenth and last child of Polish/Jewish immigrants, she was an entreprenuerial and marketing genius. Her husband Elliot was the shy, retiring designer and she was the corporate dynamo. The company was already making millions before she came up with Barbie, and contrary to what feminists (including myself ) thought about the doll’s creation, Ruth’s idea was to give little girl’s a grown-up toy so they could fantasize about being grown-up women. Unfortunately, the model she found was a German sex toy, but you’ll have to read the book (out from Harper/Collins next year on Barbie’s fiftieth birthday) to get that story. Ruth also lost a breast to cancer and her company to a federal fraud charge, but rehabilitated herself (ala but better than Martha Stewart) by creating a line of breast prostheses that made her a hero to breast cancer survivors.

Why don’t more people know about Ruth Handler? She built a $300 million dollar company and created one of the most recognizable icons in the world, but she was a woman. No one bothered to write her biography, and the press refers to her as a “co-founder,” at best, of Mattel. I assure you, without Ruth, her husband would have been designing light fixtures or toys for Louis Marx, who was the big toy company back then.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the election news and will be writing for Politics Magazine (formerly Campaigns & Elections), Huffington Post, Women’s Voices for Change, and of course, right here. Thanks for your comments, especially about my novel “Eleanor vs. Ike” which is still timely reading!!

ELEANOR AND HILLARY’S PARALLEL CAMPAIGNS

For the first time in American history, a woman is the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States. This might happen in 2008, but in my novel, Eleanor vs. Ike, it happens in 1952. And the woman is Eleanor Roosevelt. Welcome to my fantasy: a thinly disguised parable about Hillary Clinton and the challenges a woman would face running for President – then or now.

In Eleanor vs. Ike, Eleanor is drafted to run after Adlai Stevenson suffers a fatal heart attack as he’s about to give his acceptance speech. The party turns to her as a sacrificial lamb who can at least keep the New Deal flame alive during the campaign. Even Stevenson had seemed a poor bet against the hero of WWII, General Dwight David Eisenhower. Certainly a woman wouldn’t have a chance against this great military man.

But Eleanor is in it to win it, as a certain other woman presidential candidate today would say. She aims to transcend gender through emphasizing her experience. Sound familiar? As First Lady, Eleanor had traveled all over the world and met with many heads of state. As a United Nations delegate she chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta of our time.

Eleanor had introduced programs, lobbied in Congress and federal agencies for her domestic agenda and pressured the President on issues like a federal anti-lynching law. Military leaders respected her, much as they do you know who. She helped wounded troops in WWI and visited troops all over the world in WWII. She supported President Truman’s decision to drop the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to fire General MacArthur during the Korean War despite the public outrage.

Eleanor was also politically savvy. She had been through four political campaigns with FDR before he ran for President, two statewide in New York and one national when he ran for Vice-President. FDR was the political master, like a certain other ex-Democratic President/candidate’s husband today. That’s why Eleanor pushes for the first nationally televised debate, knowing she can best Eisenhower, and hoping that he might make a fatal mistake. Eleanor learned from FDR that in politics anything can happen. You never give up or give in. In the book, she is the happy and indefatigable political warrior, yes, like Hillary Clinton.

Of course, in the book, an attempt is made on Eleanor’s life by the Ku Klux Klan. I wouldn’t suggest this as a way for Hillary Clinton to show courage or get sympathy, but she can still get in touch with her Eleanorean side. There are times when Clinton shows Eleanor’s innate ability to empathize with people, her deep humanity. When Clinton gets her eyes off her notes (Eleanor never used them) we see the candidate who is running for all the right reasons, and who would make Eleanor proud.

In truth, (and I’m not channeling her) I’m sure Eleanor would already be proud. Clinton had shown courage, restraint, toughness and resilience before this campaign, but in unfortunate and too well-known contexts that weren’t those of leadership. Now, as a candidate, she has shown all those traits and more. She can take charge, be dominant, set the agenda, take criticism and respond with strength– all leadership qualities we look for in a President. Whether she wins or not, no one will ever doubt a woman’s ability to be a credible candidate for President. More broadly, and more difficult to gauge, is the overall effect on women’s leadership, but I suspect it will be great. No matter how many of Clinton’s critics want to paint her as some strange, singular creature who doesn’t represent women, they won’t succeed. Women are responding so strongly to Clinton because they see themselves in her struggles, her determination and her ambition to lead.

READ MORE AT HILLBUZZ! 

CHECK OUT “ELEANOR VS. IKE” HERE!

OBAMA’S FREE PASS AND CLINTON’S NEVER-FREE PASS

My biggest frustration with Sen. Barack Obama’s minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is not with the reverend or Obama. It’s with the press.I first paid attention to Wright after an op-ed by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post on Jan. 15 revealed that Wright had made Louis Farrakhan the recipient of the “Trumpeter award” in 2007, an honor named for Trinity United Church of Christ’s in-house magazine and awarded to a man who “truly epitomized greatness.”

Cohen’s piece was titled “Obama’s Farrakhan Test,” but the real test came in the weeks and now months after the piece ran…READ THE REST AT WOMEN’S VOICES FOR CHANGE.

READ ABOUT “ELEANOR VS. IKE” THE NEW NOVEL ABOUT ELEANOR ROOSEVELT RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!

WHY WOMEN KEEP OUR PANTS ON

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer is the last data point I need on my mental graph of 1)men, 2)women, 3)keeping it in their pants, and 4)keeping our pants on. I’m ready to claim moral superiority, or at least the high ground on smarts. Women are either less willing to cheat on their spouse, abuse young interns and cross the double-yellow line of sexual indiscretion, or we’re much better at hiding it…READ THE REST AT HUFFINGTON POST

READ ABOUT ELEANOR ROOSEVELT’S RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN THE NEW NOVEL “ELEANOR VS. IKE!”



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