Ted Cruz’s Elusive “Moment”

The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

My son is at that age where popularity and coolness have entered his consciousness. As much as I try to instill what’s important, it’s almost impossible to insulate yourself from the desire to be liked by as many of your peers as possible in the third grade. And so I see him trying: his hair is gelled into a perfectly coiffed faux-hawk. He can’t resist jumping on every opportunity to be the funny kid in class. And when a joke lands, he can’t keep from repeating it, until that dead horse is laying on his Air Jordan high-tops. He doesn’t have the life experience or maturity to know that cool happens when you stop trying (so they tell me) and that the more you try to contrive a funny moment, the less it is. To quote the movie Mean Girls, “Stop trying to make [it] happen.”

Our political superstars have risen up through the ranks in reality show-type peaks of popularity, in moments that have caught the public’s attention in just the right way, at the exact moment we were ready for it. Barack Obama’s poignant speech at the DNC in 2004 was a welcome break from the blandness of the candidates who had been presented in front of us, making them look old, boring and unintelligent by comparison. It was the platform from which he would later rise to the highest office in the country. Sarah Palin had her moment at the RNC four years later when she was thrust onto the world’s stage as John McCain’s running mate. Despite the fact that it would later be proven that she had a casual relationship with honesty and intelligence, she was a welcome diversion from the uptight white men who dominated the right. It was so powerful that she still commands huge audiences on speaking tours and on Fox News.

You’ve likely only heard of Wendy Davis of Texas since she famously filibustered the Senate in order to stave off crippling anti-choice laws in Texas. She drew ire from Governor Rick Perry and failed in her effort to stem the tide of anti-abortion legislation in her state, but that doesn’t matter. Because her stand against the vaginal-probe wielding Texas legislature captured the voice of the zeitgeist at the moment women’s rights abuses all over the country, but especially in Texas, were coming to a head. Davis’s filibuster, in her Mizuno Wave rider pink sneakers, was the moment a political star was born. She will likely use this momentum to run for higher office, and will be afforded newspaper column inches and prime time news show minutes for the foreseeable future. The political world is hers to lose.

So it makes sense why ambitious young politicians would attempt to skip the whole put-your-time-in-and-see-how-this-government-thing-works in favor of creating their own political superstar moments and rising to fame. This is a political culture brought to you by American Idol and other reality-show based fame contests. The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and  Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

Ted CruzThese freshman politicians keep trying to find shortcuts by having their “moments.” You could see how badly Marco Rubio wants it. You could smell it on Rand Paul.

Case in point: Ted Cruz. Yesterday, Texas Senator Cruz threw his hat into the ring for super-stardom by staging a filibuster to defund the Affordable Care Act. Hey! If it worked for Wendy Davis, why wouldn’t it work for Cruz? Unfortunately for him, he sought to answer this question on the Senate floor, and not in his own head. And not by staying on topic and waging a legitimate filibuster, but by reading Dr. Seuss and his twitter feed in what wasn’t even a real filibuster. He was actually talking to hear himself speak, and to see himself on television screens and in column inches. But he’s become not the newly discovered darling of the Republican party that he’d hoped, but largely a joke who proved that he doesn’t understand how the government works or what a filibuster actually is. Even though he spoke for twenty-one hours, there was no way his “filibuster” could impact the Senate vote on the government funding bill. And so it was an empty grab for attention.

And that’s what I have tried to get across to my kid. You can’t force a moment to happen. You can’t contrive it. You can’t chase it. You have to put your head down and do your work. Because the harder you try, the more desperate you’ll seem.

And desperate never won a popularity contest.

 

 

 

Lean In, Breathe Out

Two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the feminist movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?”

While I hate to be the harbinger of good news on the Republican side, there have been some moments of clarity on the right that need mentioning. The instances where several key Republicans have come forward in support of gay marriage, the dinner meeting with the President to speak actual words that might result in actual progress, and the culmination of Rand Paul’s filibuster that sought to ask an important question about President Obama’s drone policy, all deserve credit. And while I hate to pause my disdain for anything Rand Paul, and I could pick up the gauntlet laid by the left in mocking him with the two sentence answer Paul received (in a word, nope, won’t attack Americans here) or focus on the potty break that stopped him from coming close to Strom Thurmond’s epic filibuster (“In the end, Rand Paul did not hate U.S.-citizen-targeted drone strikes as much as Strom Thurmond hated the idea of black people voting.”) I won’t. Because pointed questions, from anyone, are a good thing. And sometimes more important than the answers themselves.

So while the Republicans regroup and do some soul searching, I turn my eyes to the feminist movement, which has gained momentum after a rabid election year that saw attacks on Roe. v. Wade, too many disparaging definitions of the word “rape,” the vote of 138 Republicans against the Violence Against Women Act, and the ERA coming back into the conversation.  It seemed that women put the “Mommy Wars” on hold to unite under a shared cause that was strong, smart, and timely.

Yet, two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?” According to Sandberg, in her memoir/advice book that answer is yes, if they are willing to “Lean In.” Where women juggle the emotional minefield of childrearing and career management, Sandberg advises confidence above all, and the stretching of one’s belief in herself to know that she can accomplish what the men before and beside her have. There are sacrifices and weak moments of self-doubt, but nothing that can’t be worked through. As the COO of Facebook, she know from what she speaks.

At the same time, another high profile woman executive has made headlines by banning telecommuting in her company. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, issued what some women are interpreting as a stunning blow to mothers. By limiting her own maternity leave to a harsh two weeks post partum, Mayer has invited scathing criticism from women.  Yet Mayer brings up an important topic: if women want to be treated the same as men, should they be subject to the same limitations?  I could bring up the fact that women and men bring different, albeit equal, qualifications to the table and that historically men have unfairly benefitted from this patriarchal system. To take away the things that make possible women to balance work and family life moves the progress of women in the workforce backwards, not forward. This isn’t an equalizer as much as a destabilizer.

But I won’t.

What I will discuss is the way in which thoughtful, savvy women have brought insightful critique to these two women and have felt the result of a backlash of their very own. This backlash against those who are taking up pens to defend Mayer and Sandberg is creating a splintered movement much like the shattered remains of the GOP. Which begs the question: Are women the new Republican party?  Where once there was a cohesive group of thinking women, there is a degeneration into intolerance and  obstructionist douche-baggery normally reserved for the GOP.

Time Magazine gives prime placement to the debate, featuring Sandberg on the cover framed by the headline, “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful.”  The New York Times Book Review this Sunday gave “Lean In” the cover treatment as well, fanning the flames of conflict by assigning Anne-Marie Slaughter to write the review. Slaughter earned her own place in the (patronizingly termed) Mommy Wars with her Atlantic piece in 2012 entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” placing her at opposing ends of Sandberg, leading to gossip that the two were enemies.  The enemy trope turns out to be a bit hyperbolic, however, as Slaughter concedes many points to Sandberg. While she still maintains that women might not necessarily be able to overcome work/life obstacles just by sheer ambition, she’s thoughtful. Respectful. Calm.

Would that I could say the same for Anna Holmes, whose New Yorker piece summarily finds and rips apart critiques of Sandberg’s book one by one, accusing most of the writers of pieces critical of Sandberg of “not having cracked open the book.” She takes Jodi Kantor and Maureen Dowd to task for publishing an unfinished quote by Sandberg that made her seem arrogant.  The partial quote, taken from a PBS documentary “Makers: Women who make America” provided the fodder from which column inches were inked: “I always thought I would run a social movement,” she was reported to have said. The rest “-which basically meant work at a non-profit. I never thought I’d work in the corporate sector” – provides a context that makes Sandberg sound less self-important and more likable. The damage, according to Holmes, had already been done, by causing women to take up their pens as swords to tear down Sandberg. As such, Holmes responds in kind, calling out every mainstream critique of Sandberg, as a “galling” “pile-on.”

All this makes me yearn for a time that seemed almost quaint, when Hilary Rosen’s glib comment last April that Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” opened up the proverbial can of worms, causing countless moms everywhere to look up from Fifty Shades of Grey on their iPhones to consider, again, just how to quantify the work of the stay-at-home mother. What makes these debates endless and unresolved is simply because they are unresolvable. With women making up the majority of the population, stretching across the socio-economic stratosphere, with roots laid down in the North or the South, in urban sprawls or flat country, there will be more differences among us than similarities. There will be language gaps, and ideological gaps, physical gaps, and yes, little overlapping where ambition is concerned, even in defining just what ambition is and how it manifests itself in the interests and abilities of different women all across this land.

But what pushes the progression and evolution of all of us as human beings are the questions we raise. Often more important than whatever the answers might be. We’d do well to remember that, and to take a cue from the indignant scrambling and infighting of the Republican party: that divided, we fail. We have far bigger threats than each other.