Margaret Carlson writes a weekly column for the Daily Beast.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) whomped President Trump and then ungraciously rubbed it in. At the State of the Union — which she had forced the president to reschedule — she leaned over and clapped in his face.
Women running for president, take note. No one is asking if the speaker is likable. They don’t do that when you win. And now that there are five of you, enough to field a basketball team, you shouldn’t give it another thought. Lose the happy face unless you feel like it, raise your voice, argue a point, get called for charging the basket and, yes, persist. Each of you has policies, foreign and domestic, to attract support — or not. There are funds to be raised, campaigns to be run, debates to crush and votes to get out. There are too many of you — more of you at the moment than men — to clear a hurdle men don’t have to. Your standard male member of Congress is presumed to be qualified without the added requirement he be likable. So are you.
As the Year of the Woman gives way to the Year of Many Women, the female candidates are woke to the ways in which they are required to pass a test they shouldn’t have to take in the first place. How sexist to hammer away at Hillary Clinton’s voice, her wardrobe, her hair (as opposed to the most bizarre pile of fur atop a head anywhere). Already, the last campaign is from another era: before #MeToo and Time’s Up; before millions of women marched, organized and voted; before they knew the damage a misogynistic president could do to women’s health, pay and reproductive rights. No one thought a U.S. president would orphan children to make a point about his wall.
A USA Today/Suffolk poll published in September found that the percentage of voters who would prefer to vote for a woman as an antidote to the mess we’re in was more than twice as high as the number who would vote for a male candidate. November followed and brought the largest midterm landslide in 44 years, driven by women. More than 100 of them arrived in Congress, and, if you’ve been watching, they’re not all that worried about whether you like them.
One sign that the female body politic is rejecting the additional burden is how Minnesota Nice Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) responded to the charge that she’s a mean boss. She may well be. They’re a dime a dozen on Capitol Hill, and they’re usually called men. The criticism is partly based on a survey of staff turnover from 2001 to 2016 that placed Klobuchar first on the top-10 list , which contained six other female members. So when women composed less than a quarter of the chamber, they made up 70 percent of the “worst bosses.” Please.
That doesn’t mean Klobuchar shouldn’t have to answer valid criticism, just that she shouldn’t do it with her blueberry muffin recipe. A double standard doesn’t vanish in a day. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the tough lawyer out of Oakland, sent out a picture of her homemade cornbread on Thanksgiving and a video of her chair-dancing to Cardi B. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), perhaps remembering that Clinton won New Hampshire after tearing up in a coffee shop, choked up when telling the story of a young woman’s death to explain her change of heart from an upstate New York gung-ho gun advocate to a blue state gung-ho gun-control advocate. The most determined L-factor prebuttal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who announced she was announcing with a video made in her kitchen, popping a beer with her husband just a little too self-consciously for comfort.
There are reasons not to support Warren for president — if you prefer corporate rights to consumer rights, for instance — but it shouldn’t be because she wouldn’t win the Miss Congeniality portion of the contest. No one’s asking that of Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) or former vice president Joe Biden or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). They don’t have to come across as cool, calm and confident enough to be trusted with the nuclear codes but beta enough not to threaten the male alphas. On TV, Madame Secretary always manages that hat trick. In real life, see Clinton, above.
In 2016, the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that striving to be likable is a zero-sum game; it doesn’t reinforce the qualities that make you fit to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. The last vestige of it will fade when women challenge each other on issues. When we watch Gillibrand take issue with Warren on her plans to break up New York banks; when Harris, a former California attorney general and Klobuchar, the former district attorney of Hennepin County, compare crime bills; when Warren and Harris go at it over their tax reform.
One sure thing: No one can say this time “I’m fine with a woman being president, there’s just something not right about this woman being president.” In this field, there’s no “this woman.” It’s these women. Count them. Get used to it, guys. And smile while you’re at it.