If things are bad, the natural reaction is to seek change. But that ignores a truism, that things can always get worse. In 1994, Newt Gingrich and the Republicans pulled off a paradigm shift with the Contract With America. Then there was the Tea Party in 2009. Did they achieve what they promised? Anything? The answer will shift based on expectations, but one thing is clear. America wasn’t “fixed” as far as its national debt is concerned.
The midterm elections of 2018 offer another shift, this time motivated progressives, a very significant number of whom are women, have decided to run for office. One of the complaints was the lack of female elected officials, until someone pointed out that you need to run for office to be elected. If women didn’t run, they had no one to blame but themselves.
So this year, they’re running. That’s good. It’s always good to expand the universe of candidates from which to elect the people who best reflect what we seek in an elected official. But as much as you can’t win if you don’t run, that’s only the first step in the process.
Once someone is crazy enough to subject themselves to the rigors of a campaign, all for the great joy of holding an office where people yell at you for not giving them everything they believe they deserve and you’re constantly frustrated by being unable to achieve anything useful, only to turn around hours after victory to beg for donations for the next campaign which is around the corner, they need to have a platform. They need to know what they’re talking about. They need to understand law, Constitution and governance.
Who are these women willing to subject themselves to popular vote? Moms.
Several Democratic candidates tell wrenching stories of their sick children, explaining that the prospect of losing their health insurance had prompted the candidates to run for office.
People seem to struggle with the concept of health insurance, particularly those with chronic illness. Insurance provides a safety net for unanticipated events, whether injury or illness, and it would be of great value if it served that purpose. Obamacare, with its $14,600 family deductible and copays, falls short for most people. They pay premiums, but even if they have a health care need, lack the resources to meet the threshold.
But candidates with “wrenching stories of their sick children” aren’t getting insurance. They’re getting transfer payments. Their need isn’t unanticipated, but known. They have recurring medical expenses and they want to know someone will pay for them. Fair enough. But if they don’t grasp that it’s not insurance, but basic medicaid, are they qualified to hold office?
At least two women running for governor, in Wisconsin and Maryland, introduced themselves to voters with scenes of them breast-feeding. And Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who on Monday became the first senator to give birth while in office, has been pressing to change a Senate prohibition on bringing children onto the floor, which could impede a breast-feeding mother’s voting.
Women, as a matter of biology even if people want to pretend otherwise, bear children. It’s not a matter of fault, but fact. If they want to be in office, it will take time away from nurturing their children. Breast-feeding is a wonderful thing, and why anyone would find it unsavory is incomprehensible. But as a proxy for the fact that there will be aspects of motherhood, of parenting, that will be affected, there will be issues.
Tammy Duckworth has a good point, that her breast-feeding shouldn’t make her ability to vote in the Senate problematic. At the same time, will crying infants, or a couple years later, energetic toddlers, be disruptive? Of course they will, just as they are otherwise.
A few women with very young children have decided to run, despite research suggesting that voters can be uneasy about how female candidates with young children will juggle public and private duties. Instead, these candidates are proclaiming that their expertise with multitasking equips them to cut through gridlock.
Multitasking is one of those marketing words that makes the inability to focus on a single task, to do it well and to completion, sound not so bad. People who multitask want to believe they have a superpower that allows them to do varied things at the same time. People who rely on people who multitask realize they’re just unfocused mediocre performers. They may rationalize that it’s good enough, and it may be according to the value of the task, but it’s never as good as it would be if they put their mind to getting one task done well.
The reason voters are “uneasy” about women with children in office is that they don’t trust them to put their duty to the public ahead of their family responsibilities. Why they would think that about women, but not about men who also have children, families, and science fairs, little league games, school choir performances to attend is unclear. But there are choices that will have to be made, because physics says you can’t be in two places at the same time.
There is no reason why women will be any less dedicated to public service than men. But if you believe they shouldn’t have to be, that the job of being an elected official can be juggled with hug time with the kids, then there will be disappointment all around. The demands of an elected official won’t wait until the kids are asleep, and there will be dissatisfaction.
Several candidates who are mothers cite fears for their children as the root of their support or opposition to gun control. Kelda Roys, who is running in a crowded primary for governor of Wisconsin, described picking up her daughter at preschool and hearing about how she had to hide and be very quiet. Her 3-year-old was describing an active-shooter drill.
Of all the reasons to run for office, this is the scariest. School drills have been around since the Cold War, when we were told to squat next to our desk, put our head between our legs and kiss our…well, you know. Fear is easy. Solutions are hard. Good solutions are even harder, and the right solution may well be impossible.
Does Kelda Roys think she has the answer? Some folks believe that it’s good enough to have more women involved in politics, that gender equity is a worthy goal in itself. For others, there remains the belief that mother knows best. Maybe mother does. Maybe not. And then, should mom be elected to office, there will be the problem of serving. I sincerely hope for the best for everyone, regardless of how this pans out.