Rothman At-Large

Nancy Pelosi vs. Female Misogynists?

January 31, 2019

In a scenic mountain town in Trump country, a professional woman in her 50s scanned the front page of the local daily.


She read a headline about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump—at odds over the partial government shutdown and The Wall.


America’s oldest kindergartner had vowed to hold federal workers hostage until funding came for his monument to bigotry. FBI agents, air traffic controllers and others in crucial jobs could not do their work without worrying about getting paid. Clerks with cancer wondered where the money would come for their chemotherapy.


But guess who the professional woman sided with?


“Can you believe this?” the woman told a friend nearby. “She won’t let him give the State of the Union speech? How petty. I don’t like her.”


The friend, anti-Trump just like the newspaper reader, agreed.


Well, as it happened, Nancy Pelosi was more savvy than petty. She knew that as part of her powers, she could prevent Donald Trump from addressing the House of Representatives. And so she did—forcing Trump to reopen the government, at least temporarily. If this is “petty,” let’s see more of it. And now a question—the main one I’m addressing here: Just why do the two women and so many others hate Nancy Pelosi almost as much as they loathe Donald Trump?


No mystery about many men’s hostility toward her. They find such a powerful woman emasculating.


But what about women? The political junky who overheard the Nancy-hating in the mountain town marvels to me: “Here is a woman who has helped engineer landmark legislation, who has no scandals, who is highly successful at her job, who embraces her role as mother and grandmother, yet she is reviled by many. So she has money—I’d say most of the people in Congress do. We’re fine electing women to serve our country, but when they rise to the top of the power platform, that’s going too far. It’s too much of a threat. To get there, she must be catty, back-stabbing, bossy and bitchy, because as many women believe, that’s what you have to do to rise in your profession. So she must be that way, many think.”


Two words, in my own opinion, sum up much of the problem. Selective misogyny. The adjective is a “must” in many instances. Women can be perfectly enlightened on gender-related issues on the whole but still apparently show a touch of gender self-hatred or at least doubt in certain contexts. The newspaper reader mentioned at the start of this commentary supports the Equal Rights Amendment. What’s more, she is a career woman, a hardworking, well-regarded professional. So we’re not talking about a 19th-century level of conservatism here. Still, the misogyny factor is why, in my previous column in the Georgetown Dish, I said the Democrats cannot win in 2020 with a female at the top of the ticket. As a VP candidate? Very possibly, I’d hope. But not at the top, given the composition of the Electoral College, favoring conservative rural states. I cited research showing that ambitious, power-seeking men did well but that people often resented similar traits in women. Not just males but also females.


My own theory is that the main cause is cultural. So many women, even highly intelligent ones, at times put their brains on autopilot and often let others, especially the men in their lives, do the thinking. That’s what their mothers were expected to do, so why not? They see Nancy Pelosi as a disruptive threat to their core beliefs.


The fact that Pelosi is from the West Coast greatly compounds the perceived crime. Never mind that she grew up in Baltimore. Her mostly liberal politics, her age and her interest in power don’t help. Remember, a lot of people felt this older woman should step aside for someone younger. Would they have been so vehement if Nancy Pelosi had been a man? Hard to say. I myself worry that the Democrats have not opened up enough opportunity for younger people, but I would apply this concern to men as well as women. Still, we’re endlessly lucky in Pelosi’s case that experience triumphed; could rivals for the speakership have fared so well against Trump? Score one for the Speaker and consider anew whether her gender, not just her 78 years, got in her way when she was vying for her old job.


A redeeming trait in some people’s minds might be Nancy Pelosi’s ability to be very female in her outspokenness. She is the mother of five and is perfectly capable of scolding Trump as if he is an out-of-line preschooler. As reported in the Washington Post, she “told colleagues she was ‘trying to be the mom’ in the room when she and Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were at the White House to discuss the wall with the Trump. When the occasion calls for this, she can be subtle about it in a female way. Her daughter Alexandra has said: “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding. That’s all you need to know about her.”


Permanent relief from the shutdown isn’t assured, but if Nancy Pelosi wins, this will be another reminder of the dangers of misogyny and the related dissing of women. As CEOs and as investors, women have done better than men. And if Pelosi is typical, then, in the wake of the electoral victories of so many new female politicians, we might be a better country.

That’s my take on such matters. It’s all very much in the realm of opinion, and I’d love to hear from others even if they think I’m full of malarkey. How do you feel—especially in regard to why so many women, not just men, hate Nancy Pelosi?

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Love Elizabeth Warren's Ideas - But Fear For America If She's The Democratic Presidential Candidate

January 6, 2019

Elizabeth Warren, in so many ways, is catnip for progressives as fed up with the status quo as I am.

“How did we get here?” she asked in a New Republic interview. “Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie, and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice. They crippled unions so no one could stop them, dismantled the financial rules meant to keep us safe after the Great Depression, and cut their own taxes so they paid less than their secretaries and janitors.”

I love Sen. Warren’s policy recommendations, such as requiring major corporate boards to include some representatives of workers. Her philosophy is the same as mine. Let’s keep capitalism alive by making it fairer.

Sen. Warren’s character appears sterling. She went overboard in playing up her tiny speck of Native American blood, but in the larger context of her life, this is simply an unfortunate aberration. Here is a self-made woman who came out of Oklahoma City to become a Harvard law professor in time, then a U.S. senator—after undergoing the same travails that millions of cash-strapped Americans still suffer. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, her major legacy, is a work of policymaking and legislative art.

Why, then, do I fear for the Democrats and even the country as a whole if the party runs her for president? Because, unfairly, so many voters in blue states will see Elizabeth Warren as Hillary Clinton II and perhaps open the way for the reelection of Donald Trump if our aspiring dictator is able to seek a second term. Just 30 percent of participants in one national poll regarded her favorably, while 37 percent were unfavorable. Another poll shows her far behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in Iowa.

No mystery here. Sen. Warren’s very positives, especially her passion and intelligence, could be the biggest political negatives for a woman in states more conservative than her own  Massachusetts. She could win a popular majority just as Clinton did. But unless Democrats can miraculously will away the existence of the Electoral College, which tilts in favor of heavily rural states full of misogynists and too many women who defer to them, the barriers most likely could be insurmountable in a general election.

Unfair! I’m a huge believer in Senator Warren not only as a high-level thinker but also as a populist orator. Her economic message will resonate with so many voters in economically besieged places like Appalachia and rusty factory towns. But she likely will still lose out to the misogynists and their trusting wives and girlfriends. Almost three-fifths of Republicans everywhere—forget just the conservatives states—don’t want a female president even though most Americans are open to the idea. What’s more, the Atlantic tells of a disturbing study where the subjects reacted to made-up biographies of male and female state senators described as “ambitious” and having a “strong will to power.” Both sexes regarded those traits as positives for the men, negatives for the women.

Remember, this apparently wasn’t a geographically specific study. Now add in the traditional Southern and rural attitudes toward gender, and factor in the evangelical influences in conservative states. Evangelicals aren’t all alike. But more than a few believe that men, not women, are biblically destined to be the leaders. In fairness to the South and rural states, I also need to add that woman-haters are everywhere, Manhattan included. But in conservative red states, the misogynists are much larger in number and carry far more influence.

One counter argument might be that most of the misogynists wouldn’t vote anyway for Bernie Sanders or other male alternatives to Sen. Warren. But remember, there are degrees of misogyny. And this could matter in battleground states where just a few votes could tip the scales.

Paradoxically, then, with the stakes so high for foes of sexism and with the Electoral College counting so much, women would be better off with a male Democratic candidate in 2020.

Forever? Of course not. We just need to wait for enough of the old-fashioned misogynists to die off.

Alas, the same concerns may apply to two other impressive female Senators from coastal states, California’s Kamala Harris and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, if they run. Sen.  Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota may be an easier sell to heartland voters, but even she would face tough headwinds—her state is still far more progressive than, say, Kansas.

Next consider the math of the Electoral College.

A voter in predominantly rural Wyoming counts several times more than one in heavily urban California. That’s why Donald Trump won the election. He received 61,336,159 votes compared to 62,568,373 for Hillary Clinton, but 306 members of the Electoral College chose him and only 206 favored Clinton. A huge gap. Even a female candidate more likeable than Clinton could be in trouble.

I endlessly admire Elizabeth Warren and think her campaign will be useful in popularizing a much-need vision for America. I just don’t want her to win the nomination. Better that she use leverage from her campaigning—assuming she does better than she is now in Iowa—to convince a more viable candidate to appoint her to a cabinet post where she can work toward her admirable policy goals. Please, Sen. Warren. Cherish your ideas more than any political office, however high.

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De-Trumping America: A Few Lessons From My Ride With Muhammad

December 12, 2018

The Uber driver—let’s call him Muhammad—was from Afghanistan.


“So,” I asked, “how do you feel about Donald Trump?”


I wasn’t going to take anything for granted.


The Aryan in the White House might not like Muhammad’s skin color and his probable Muslim faith. But earlier I’d run across a religious African immigrant who cherished Trump for—gasp—the President’s professions of piety.


“I love him,” Muhammad said of Trump without the least irony. “He plays by the rules. He’s President, he’s strong and he puts America first.”


“Do you know about Trump’s days in New York?” I asked. “He stiffed a lot of working people. Craftsmen, carpenters, painters, others. He just didn’t pay them.” So allege countless lawsuits, at least. In fact, as shown by the filing of at least sixty suits as of two years ago, the problem has gone far beyond New York. Trump at times has even refused to pay his lawyers. See USA Today.



“No,” Muhammad said.


“Where do get your news?” I asked


“Fox,” he said.


“Where else?”




“You don’t read the newspapers?”


Muhammad said he didn’t.


I gently suggested that Muhammad read the Washington Post and at least consider tuning in MSNBC. CNN-watching might also help.


Now—here’s the kicker. Muhammad is no dummy. He says he’s an IT student at a Maryland university. And guess what he did for U.S. forces in Afghanistan? He analyzed news stories in the local media.


“You don’t have to believe the Post and MSNBC automatically,” I said. “Just try comparing different news sources against the others and seeing who’s right. Pretend you’re back in Afghanistan analyzing stories there.”


Likewise frustrating is that Muhammad isn’t isolated in a rural hamlet. He lives in a Maryland suburb.


As if that isn’t enough, Trump’s record on immigration from Afghanistan is hardly sterling, even in regard to locals like Muhammad who helped the U.S.


Perhaps Muhammad thought I was a well-connected Trumpist or at least one with ICE friends. But that explanation seems rather far-fetched.


So what can Democrats and others learn from my ride with Muhammad?


1. Yes, non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in America by mid-century, but one should never take demographics for granted. Muhammad’s political views certainly didn’t fit the stereotypes.


Democrats shouldn’t just make nice noises about diversity. 


Campaigning, they should try harder in immigrant communities while remembering that although ethnic identity is important, it is far from the only show—whether the immigrants are Afghans or otherwise.


Running for re-election in Texas, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz carried more Hispanic voters than expected, and likely not just because Cruz’s father came from Cuba. Many Hispanics are socially conservative and may hate abortion enough for such sentiments to count even more than immigration matters do.


The Democrats shouldn’t sell out on issues like abortion just to appeal to immigrants and others, but again and again, they can emphasize how anti-family are Trump and the Republicans—on matters ranging from healthcare to childhood nutrition, maternal leave and minimum wages and tax policies.


Even more important, they can come up with better alternatives. This approach worked well in the last election in regard to healthcare. It needs to be expanded.


2. Encourage immigrants and others to watch, listen to and read major media outlets without Fox-style ideological agendas—and otherwise gain a better understanding of the issues.


Civics education in K-12 is a praiseworthy cause but can go only so far. Muhammad is already a voting-age U.S. citizen.


Meaningful U.S. history courses should be required of IT and other technical students like Muhammad, even in college. Let’s think of tech types as citizens, too, not just future workers. Just like liberal arts majors, many will vote.


3. Regardless of advice to the contrary, Democrats can zero in on Donald Trump’s flaws as an individual—in germane ways. Notice how Muhammad thought Trump played by the rules? Muhammad didn’t even know Trump had stiffed carpenters and painters. You won’t hear news like that on right-wing outlets as often as elsewhere. Generalities will go only so far, but specifics could help—including facts about Trump’s use of immigrants without proper papers on his private properties.


Note: I’ve changed minor details here and there to protect Muhammad’s identity.

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