President Obama’s visit to Israel was nothing less than inspiring. He met with many people, enjoyed Israeli music, was inspired by Israeli innovative high-tech technology, and made an inspirational, heartwarming speech in front of young students who applauded his every word. If any of us doubted Obama’s obligation to Israel in the past couple of years, our doubts dissolved over the past few days.
But as perfect as his visit was, one thing bothered me: Where was Michelle Obama? A few weeks ago, it was reported that the First Lady would probably join her husband on this historic visit. But when President Obama stepped down from his plane and waved to the crowd, I noticed that the woman by his side, well, wasn’t… When asked, he replied that Michelle wanted to come but felt obligated to stay with their daughters.
Of course eyebrows were raised at the First Lady’s absence. Some argued that it was not important because it was Obama’s presence in Israel, not Michelle’s, was all that mattered. I disagree. She was needed here, right by her husband’s side.
Last night’s Foreign Policy debate was all about swing — the candidates taking final swings at each other and aiming for the hearts and minds of swing voters. And conventional polling wisdom tells us who the most important “swing voters” are, particularly for the President: that’s right, the women.
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation’s best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama’s best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s a reason for that: Nate Silver noted this week that a particularly pronounced “gender gap” has emerged this year: “if only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election [but] if only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney.”
After watching two long debates in which the only “women’s issue” raised was in the context of two men’s faith, I had little hope going into last night’s town hall.
And wow, was I surprised. The evening felt like all women, all the time.
A strong, enthusiastic and even charming Barack Obama emerged out of whatever metaphysical funk was keeping him down last time (maybe he had some of what Joe Biden was having?). Of his own volition, he referred to his support of — and his opponents’ threatened cuts to — Planned Parenthood not once, twice or three times, but four times at least. As I jokingly tweeted, no one would have ever suspected “Planned Parenthood” to be the reference that got viewers engaged in a debate drinking game sloshed!
And Obama also got passionate talking about the women’s issue nearest to his heart, women’s pay equity, describing the women in his family working hard and the glass ceiling his grandmother hit. In fact, by framing everything from contraception and abortion to the pay gap in terms of the economy and family values, he was as animated speaking about reproductive rights as I’ve ever heard him.
I’m going to be honest here, I watch the Presidential Debates for pure amusement. And as Erin Gloria Ryan said over at Jezebel, last night’s debate may go down in history as the most boring 90 minutes ever aired on national television. This may be true but it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I enjoyed watching the President’s smirk when Romney spoke; I loved watching Romney’s bizarre, plastered on smile when the President spoke but my mind is already made up. I know who I’m voting for and no 90 minute debate is going to change my mind. I didn’t go to a debate party and I didn’t print out any of those drinking games. Instead I hunkered down in front of the television armed with my computer and a beer.
Before I went to bed, I flipped over to MSNBC to watch the anchors duke it out, complaining that the President was too weak and declaring Romney the victor in last night’s toe-to-toe battle. But let’s be real-there was no battle. My personal opinion is that the President wasn’t allowing himself to be baited by Romney who seemed more like a petulant child trying to screaming louder (over Poor Jim Lehrer) to have his point heard-but that’s just me. They both said a lot without saying much of anything and for those voters in the middle, there are more debates in our future-hopefully both sides will give us a better look at the issues at hand.
Sandra Fluke — she of the Limbaugh slut-shaming and the Jewish boyfriend — gave a strong speech about contraception and women’s health at the DNC last night. Bumped up to primetime, the young activist got the crowd excited and did an admirable job hitting the Republican candidates hard over their party’s series of legislative attempts against reproductive rights and health care that are now known as “The War on Women.” She enumerated the worst aspects of that war quite clearly:
It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don’t want and our doctors say we don’t need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don’t.
Fluke’s rapid rise to prominence is an interesting story. She was an agitator for birth control coverage at Georgetown chosen to testify at a House hearing on birth control coverage — from which she was eventually excluded. Then she got called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh, and because so many people recognized that such a sexually-degrading word is commonly used to silence women everywhere, they identified with her plight. She also became an exemplar of how the mere thought of a sexually active young woman gets elements of the ultra right wing absolutely apoplectic. In fact, those elements have remained apoplectic. As Think Progress’s Tara Culp-Ressler documented, the nasty and sexist tweets about Fluke peaked during her speech, as though the lessons from Limbaugh’s caddish behavior — which almost got him fired and vaulted Fluke into heroine status — were the opposite of what they really were. Culp-Ressler notes, “Aside from misrepresenting Fluke’s point that women should not have to pay more than men do for essential preventative health services…these smears degrade Fluke as a woman.”
I’m a sucker for a good montage. I’ve been known to reach for the tissues before the Academy Awards even starts pulling out all of the schmaltzy stops. (I’m not even talking about the montage of people who died; I tear up during the “magic of the movies” opener.) But pageantry? Please. Watching on TV, I never fall for people who look emotional and choked-up behind the podium.
This week, I headed to the Democratic National Convention with a hardened gaze, endeavoring to take an even-handed look at all the pageantry and politicking, and to exercise some shrewd insight over the hullaballoo. Because what are the speeches and presentations of the evening if not the world’s largest infomercial, the commercial cousin to the montage? And isn’t politics just Hollywood for ugly people, anyway?
As I took my seat, journalistic objectivity and heartstrings of steel were my watchwords, and at first, it was easy. I watched. I took noted. I occasionally scoffed. But when the Democratic women of the U.S. House of Representatives took the stage, I started listening harder. These women, in a rainbow of backgrounds, constituencies, and pantsuits, were talking about issues, but not in some abstract, fade-to-music way. They were telling their stories and fights with rhetorical flair, and I found myself genuinely thrilled to hear about the legislation they passed for military families, victims of domestic violence, and fair pay for women. I watched presentations onscreen about families who could finally afford to take care of a sick little girl under the Affordable Care Act. I watched Tammy Duckworth and Nancy Keenan and Lilly Ledbetter and I felt something kick to life in me, an unbidden inspiration.
The recent controversy surrounding Madonna and the Kabbalah Center’s charity work in Malawi seems to not have had any lasting effect on her relationship with the organization. The singer was spotted taking her kids to the Kabbalah Center in New York to observe the days of repentance according to Ynet.
Zehavit Cohen, who is one of the most powerful businesswomen in Israel and was a frequent target of the social protest movement, has temporarily stepped down from her role as Chairperson of Tnuva Food industries, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Mother Jones reports that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the leading breast cancer foundation in the United States, is denying a link between BPAs – a chemical compound found in some plastics that studies have determined as cancer-causing – and breast cancer. Critics say Komen receives large donations from companies who continue to use BPAs.
There’s nothing more unsettling than the public discussion of money, and how much or little of it one makes. Not long ago, competitive salary analysis among urban professionals was a brutal sport. The fangs of the once-well-paid have retracted in these tough times, though, as the employed are simply ecstatic to have a place to call work.
Still, July 1st must have been a bit awkward for White House staffers who learned the exact amount that each of their fellow colleagues delivered to the bank. The Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff Salaries is of voyeuristic interest to myriad wonks in Washington, and even to us civilians in other cities. The range is significant and surprising to many, as the prestige of working in the West Wing is more important then the amount of bacon one brings (many of these people could probably have lucrative success in the private sector)—the lowest paid employees make 30K, and the highest more than 170K.
Bless you, Ariel, from the Feministing Community Blog for making known a startling distinction that the report failed to provide, that on average, women working in the White House earn less than men. Nearly $9,500 less. Jobs in the White House are evenly split (of the 487 staffers surveyed, 49.7% are women) but women fill more lower level positions: secretaries, assistants, and otherwise, meaning that fewer of them are found on the senior staff. Ariel’s meticulous spread sheet breaks down these numbers and color codes the West Wingers by gender.
Less attention has been paid to the gender wage gap since President Obama’s well-photographed and heavily documented first legislative act. He signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was drawn to facilitate lawsuits for discriminations experienced years earlier. This act applies not only to women, but to anyone who has been discriminated against in their place of employment.
The pay equity issue also affects Jewish communal organizations, which Debra Nussbaum Cohen has written about in this very space, but sadly, the topic has nearly disappeared from the conversation in recent months. In Mr. Obama’s White House, women are paid 10 cents more on the dollar than the U.S. Census Bureau estimated last year, but they are still earn 12 cents per dollar less than male colleagues in the most recognizable office building in the land. The salary debate is not over, and in light of this new data, we should begin discussing again how to close the salary gap between men and women.