The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

It’s always hard to watch when politicians and business people collide – and they almost always collide – because their frames of reference are so, well, far apart. Wall Street punishes to the maximum, as my friend Andy Kessler likes to remind us. And it usually does so quickly. In Washington, well, punishment is often meted out slowly, sometimes years after the initial offense. And politicians reinvent themselves all the time – without any ticker to display a record.

But whenever there’s a collision, there are winners and losers; the windshield, the bug and all that. It’s always sort of fun to sort the sides out. And, just for today, we’re going to leave President George Bush out of this. At this stage, reciting the faults of this administration isn’t just beating a dead horse, it’s kicking a long-dead nag to the glue factory with steel-tipped boots.

So let’s get started.

Big losers: Anyone who espouses “pay-as-you-go” as a mantra for sound fiscal management regardless of the undertaking. Most people who know – really know – how financial markets work know that the idea that businesses live strictly within their means – that they never, ever, ever spend more than they bring in – is a lot of nonsense.

Overnight borrowing – in one way or another – keeps things humming along and has for a while. No one really pays as they go – that’s why you and I borrow money to buy houses and cars. And it’s about time we all recognized this as a fact of economic life.

Loser: John McCain. He was supposed to call the Republican Party rank and file to a deal; getting the folks who wanted to disassociate themselves from President Bush. McCain didn’t get the job done. And oh, yeah, he blew off David Letterman. That’s worse than picking a fight with Murphy Brown. And would someone please call Katie Couric up and ask America’s perkiest interviewer what Sarah Palin said – or didn’t say – to call forth a look that can only be described as thinly disguised disgust on Couric’s face?

Really Big Loser: Chris Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission who’s had to acknowledged that lax regulation – again – by his agency contributed to Wall Street’s woes. If they’d been actually doing their jobs real disaster might have been avoided. Anyone working in Silicon Valley since the tech market crashed knows the commission hasn’t been up to its job in for the past 10 years but it was Cox – a big fan of minimal government regulation – to oversee it being proven without any ambiguity.

Sure to be Sore Losers: The TV business press. Covering the stock market as though it were a football game isn’t going to be as much fun – or as popular with shareholders – as covering a market that grows slowly. If you’re name is Jim Cramer you might wanna think about a new outlet for your energies.

Which brings us to winners.

Long-term Winner: The buy-and-hold crowd. That’s right, buying stock, holding on to it and watching it appreciate over oh, the life of your child, is coming back in a big way. Why do you think Warren Buffet’s on a shopping spree? A market where transactions are overseen by the government is one that will more more slowly, more deliberately. And yes, I do want to say I told you so.

Winning Politiician: Rep. Barney Frank gets big time points for his negotiating skills, so much so that’s probably a safe bet that he’ll be the next Senator from Massachusetts. Frank’s no diplomat – he’s got a hair-trigger temper, particularly at 2 a.m. which is when he once took my head off – but he’s determined, he’s smart and he’s been worried about the shadow banking system created on Wall Street since earlier this summer. He’ll lead the re-regulation of financial markets next year and it’ll be a set of hearings and investigations – and legislative drafting – worth watching.

Another winner: Barack Obama. A long career watching politics teaches that there are two things never worth second-guessing. One, the result of Supreme Court cases. Oral arguments are clues to what the justices may do but clues aren’t decisions. The other are the results – the final take away – that voters have of debates. On Friday, I thought it was tied. Today, it’s pretty clear that Obama’s stateliness and calm was more impressive than McCain’s short-hand Senate speak.

Possible huge winner: The U.S. Congress which, after eight years – and I’m being generous – of dithering, has finally grown a spine. They didn’t do everything the Bush Administration to fix the mess that’s Wall Street and they took their time about it. You might disagree with the outcome – this deal is taking way too long to get sorted out – but they’re moving. Which bodes well. The SEC isn’t the only thing that needs fixing (two words: health care) and now that Congress has got the hang of this decision-making stuff they’re supposed to do, well, we might actually have a government. You know, back and forth, balance of power and all that.

You get a sense Congress thinks so, too. Why? They’re pushing back. Go find the clip of Rep. Marcy Kaptur chastising a CNBC reporter as he accuse her of voting to bring down the U.S. economy: “You’re very anxious, I can hear your voice there,’ says Kaptur who gave one of the better speeches – as a Democrat – for why she voted against the Wall Street rescue plan. “For the sake of the country and even the sake of the markets I think you should operate prudently and with a little bit of calm in your voice today. What we want to do is be responsible not just for what happens on Wall Street but what happens to the American tax payer generations hence.”

Which is, in the end, what we pay them to do.

Sows’ Purses, Pigs’ Ears

This is a year where the sexist and racist stereotypes we all share are going to get folded, bent and mutilated in ways that will offend each and every one of us at one point or another. Americans discuss their differences in code and this may well be the year when the code get deciphered in some new ways for new audiences.

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Sarah Smile

But this year, even though there will be debates (assuming her name stays on the ticket) between the two veeps it doesn’t feel as though Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s been picked as a contrast with Sen. Joe Biden…No, it seems as though Sarah Palin is meant to provide a contrast to Michelle Obama.

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Thugs in the Newroom

A few weeks ago, I said that it was time that women in various professions – politics and journalism – start pointing out sexist behavior and demanding that it stop. Well, Jessica DaSilva, a young woman in Tampa, Florida, and Clark Hoyt, a man in New York City, have given me an excuse to do just that. If you want to know why there are few women writing solid opinion journalism a look at DaSilva and Hoyt is a pretty good snapshot.

A post on DaSilva’s personal blog detailing a recent staff meeting at the Tampa Tribune announcing – again – lay-offs was the talk of the web this slow news weekend mostly because of the reactions DaSilva got from her colleagues. They offer an insightful look at how the mostly male news establishment goes about silencing enthusiasm and optimism.

“Wow, you really are young and naive, aren’t you?” “Jamie” writes on DaSilva’s site. “Someone sent me the link to your blog, and I almost had to laugh, it was so ridiculous. I’m truly amazed that in one of your other posts, you can tell reporters to stop whining and do something about their situation. What, praytell, young lady, would you like them to do? Let’s say you were at the Trib for 10 years and had a family to support; what would you do if you were laid off? (By the way, it’s laid off, not layed off. If you can read this, thank a copy editor.)” Jamie – who doesn’t submit his last name – finishes with a flourish: “Unfortunately, I would say that if most of the Trib staff (or any other newspaper’s staff, for that matter) reads some of your posts, you will make some serious enemies. That’s something you don’t want to do in this business; it’s WAY too small, and with the climate as it is now, you don’t want people against you. Give that some serious thought.”

And this post wasn’t a one-time event. Jamie repeats his threats in another comment. He – or perhaps “Jamie” is a she, the charge of sexism still stands – has a fellow-traveler in “Michael”: “I’m an editor at a medium-sized paper and I’m sending your name around to everyone I know in the business to make sure that you are never hired anywhere.”

Why is this an example of sexism? There’s the use of the “praytell young lady” for starters. Then, there’s the assumption that DaSilva doesn’t have – and won’t expect to have – a family to support. It would be nice if DaSilva’s case were isolated. But every woman in every newsroom knows it’s not; this is just a case of the threat made overt. And it’s why there’s precious little opinion writing by women.

Which brings us to one of the few doing the job, Maureen Dowd, and comments made by New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt. Hoyt’s since retracted any sort of intention that he meant to tell Dowd to “tone it down.” But that’s exactly what he was doing. But he then fell for one of the oldest dodges on the planet practiced by a woman well-versed in the sort of nonsense that came DaSilva’s way.

When she started covered politics there was a lot of “how dare she?” around Dowd’s writing and what was described by the male political press corps as her “feminine” style of reporting. These days, she placates that crowd, indulging in cheap shots that meld pop culture and paperback psychology in columns that read like nonsense to you and me by play well with the working political press corps who are in on all the inside jokes.

And she gets away with it. Why? Because, as Hoyt notes somewhat ruefully as he fell for her line, Dowd’s got a good defense: she’s a girl she can’t – as someone suggested in regard to “Jamie” be sexist. She – or perhaps they – can say these things the boys can only think. And no one can lay a hand on them – they’re girls talking about girls. It’s a particularly cynical ploy on Dowd’s part but it’s masterfully executed.

But it’s hollow. When Dowd uses female gender images to talk about male candidates – as she does with Obama and did with Al Gore – she’s associating them with weakness. And just because no one’s complained – as she told Hoyt – doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. It is. That’s not playing with gender stereotyping, as Dowd maintains, it’s playing into gender stereotyping. Hoyt’s failure to think through his critique – from all sides – does as well. He treats Dowd with kid gloves and fails to examine one of her great failings as a columnist.

So you can see why it’s hard to know what will become of Jessica DaSilva, a young and clearly ambitious women. Perhaps, in 10 years or so, we’ll be able to read her observations about Chelsea Clinton’s presidential campaign and we’ll get insight, not cringe-inducing snipes about Daddy’s girlfriends and Mommy’s ambition that parade as the “woman’s” voice on politics. Maybe.

But maybe DaSilva will, instead, end up working for Michael and Jaime’s associates and this is the last we’ll hear of her clear, smart voice. Maybe she’ll figure if she has to spend half her time placating the boys on the bus just to have a little peace in the newsroom, she’ll quit or – despite her inclinations – content herself with soft features, not breaking news and strong opinion.

So next time you wonder why there aren’t any women writing opinion journalism or op-eds, consider Dowd and DaSilva and the obstructions – self-made and otherwise – that lie in front of both.

What Do Women Want?

If Hillary Rodham Clinton had given the speech she gave Saturday conceding the Democratic nomination to Sen. Barack Obama at any point in her campaign – an enthusiastic, honest talk that, finally, told us that she was indeed running to shatter the glass ceiling in American politics – I might have actually paid a lot more attention.

I might have even voted for her.

But Clinton and her campaign spent their time trying to play by rules set down by the men who run television news. And like most big American businesses, television has a basic precept when it comes to women: No matter what, do not complain about sexism because complaining about sexism means you’re a whiner who hates men. Whining is unattractive and hating men, well, that’s just dumb.

Clinton did the old “personal note” dodge (code for “I know this might make you uncomfortable….”) but her speech finally gave an authorative voice to what pretty much every woman working in and around politics knows: It’s a boy’s game. “I am a woman and like millions of women I know there are barriers and biases out there – often unconscious,” she said.

Ya think?

Now, let’s be clear, Clinton lost not because of sexism. She lost for many reasons, among them her husband’s mouthy showboating, her tin ear for racial politics, her lousy get-out-the-vote efforts and, above all, her failure to understand that this really was not the year when a female candidate could build a lawyerly case for her moving back into the White House.

There was and is a need for dramatic change in American politics today. And the Clintons missed it.

They missed in large part because they played a 1992 game and 1992 politics was dominated by television and other mass media outlets who have long barred women from talking about politics. In that environment, the dirty tricks and sex role stereotyping that the Clintons employed to discredit women like Gennifer Flowers worked effectively because they played to the sexism of those covering politics. But that day is fading away. And one of the frustrations that many women had about Hillary Clinton was her inability to see that sexual freedoms and feminism are fused in the minds of many young women.

That’s not a change that’s been reflected in the national conversation about politics, however.

Women working on-line have long been aware of this disconnect and frustrated by its effects. For the most part, “blogger” means “young white man”; they’ve been able to dominate political talk on-line because their popularity is supported and encouraged by Big Media producers, op-ed page editors and the political establishment. Meanwhile, we girls get Glam and “MommyBlogging” and Shine where the bad news is about calories and sexually transmitted diseases, not about economic discrimination against women or the lousy state of prenatal health care for most mothers.

In the past few months, the conversation about who – and how – political discourse is conducted in this country has moved past the “oh, interesting” stage and moved on to something more substantive. Just last month, the Washington Post’s omsbudsperson Deborah Howell noticed – gasp! – that her newspaper’s editorial pages are dominated by older white men. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof followed up with a blog post on the subject that’s generated more than 500 comments – five times more than anything else he’s done recently.

Right now, it’s just talk. Progress is going to be slow and painful. Take a look at MSNBC’s self-styled “liberal” Countdown’s lineup of “friends” and you’ll find two women, one of whom is charged with “covering” American Idol. This, of course, is cousin to the network that the Clintons – with reason – singled out for Chris Matthew’s inane questions and observations. (An aside: If Chris Matthews were a woman would she be on TV? With that hair?) CNN’s no better and you really don’t want to rehash Katie Couric’s status at CBS, do you? Me neither.

In issuing her “personal note” on the frustrations of being a working woman in American, Clinton has given voice – finally – to an enormous amount of frustration and outrage. She has, one can hope, set the stage for women to note the presence of discrimination in their workplace and in their profession. She has, one can hope, made it acceptable to ask men – and women, while we’re on the subject – to stop being satisfied with one voice representing the various points of view held by women in America today and to look past gender when hiring and recruiting. And she’s done so with a new tone – and 18 million people behind her.

Clinton’s most fervent supporters are and were right when they note that sexism is an acceptable part of our culture. But their comments about the patriarchy are dated notions of what constitutes acceptable behavior today. They are strident, they do whine and many, many of them do hate men. It keeps them from seeing the gains that have been made.

Clinton did a nice job of sending that sort of rhetoric on its way to the dust bin of history Saturday. Too bad it’s too late to put her in the White House.

The Bigger Loser

In the end, it’s hard to avoid a second conclusion, one that undercuts pretty much every statement Clinton’s made about her historic run for the White House. This isn’t about her. It’s about them.

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No More Bubbles

The preferred vehicle for savings in the U.S. moved from the nice little bank down the street to the brokerage outlet on the corner about 20 years ago. And for the past 10, it’s been pretty clear to anyone who looked closely that rules about how those stock-based outfits ran their business were long over-due. The problem is that no one noticed until things went really bad. Twice.

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Female Trouble

Instead, because of sensibilities of its editors or, even worse, what its editors (wrongly) think of as the delicate sensibility of its female readership, the Times had to twitter around like a bunch of high school cheerleaders, stepping all over a decent story about the role that lobbyist have played in the political career of a man who has sworn to opposed “special interests”.

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WayBack Politics

Clinton’s rush to Florida to stand in front of a rally clearly orchestrated to display a crowd of happy Democrats for the television news cameras is old school politics of the highest order. There’s the happy candidate, the enthusiastic crowd and the flat-out coded pandering. In other words, politics as we know it: scripted, televised, aimed mostly as press perceptions and inside baseball.

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Move On – Please

These days, the former first lady and her husband are doing a bang-up job of reminding me – since I’m old enough to remember – how annoyingly imperious the two of them are when someone stands in their way. Only these days, the craven campaigning isn’t being played out against a reasonably peaceful background of domestic policy issues. It’s a campaign for a job that really matters at a time when the stakes have not been higher, national and internationally.

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