Nicolle Wallace Says For Women In Politics To Go Forward, We Must Look At Damage From 2008

Last night at the 92Y women came together to talk about the lack of women in politics. Amongst the speakers was Nicolle Wallace, who worked for former president George W. Bush and the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign. Wallace, said in order for women in politics to go forward and get them in the discussion we need to address the sexist media coverage of female politicians in the 2008 election and the damage that caused.

Wallace said some women were traumatized by seeing Hillary Clinton lose the Democratic primary and the resulting and extremely sexist media coverage that accompanied both Clinton and Sarah Palin at every moment throughout the campaign. She and the McCain campaign were “flabbergasted” by reporters who continually asked how the ex-governor could handle being a mother and a vice presidential candidate. She said she was so “scarred” by 2008,  that she made an imaginary world  in which a moderate female from California became president. These worlds our featured in her books, Eighteen Acres and It’s Classified.

Wallace feels that in order to move forward we need to discuss what happened then in order “to break that final glass ceiling.” Wallace says when she worked in the Bush White House, it was actually dominated by women, which she admits was unusual for politics. It wasn’t until she go to the McCain campaign that she felt like she was left on the sidelines. “We need to litigate what happened four years ago,” she said.

The talk, called ”"Running in Heels: Where Are the Women Candidates for 2012 — And How Can We Get More of Them?” was hosted by Glamour Magazine and was held at the 92Y in Manhattan. Chelsea Clinton moderated the panel that included Amy Holmes, who worked for former senator Bill Frist and former president George W. Bush, respectively, before becoming political commentators. Other participants were Abby Huntsman Livingston, the daughter of former Utah governor and recent presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, and Stephanie Schriock the president of EMILY’s List. Oh, and that woman Sandra Fluke. The Georgetown law student got a little bit of attention recently when she was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for her congressional testimony in favor of employer-funded contraception.

The women discussed the reasoning behind the disconnect why women have been outvoting men since 1969 and yet we are tied for women in high-ranking government positions with  Turkmenistan. Many of the women agreed that it is not only the policies in place like childcare and insurance that are holding the women back but women themselves. But Wallace, who was also featured in the new HBO film Game Change,  brought up the interesting point that though 2008 was a huge year for women in politics with Hillary Clinton running for President and Sarah Palin for Vice President, we have actually gone backwards since then. “Now we’re playing in a much smaller field,” Wallace said. “Might Mitt Romney, if he even makes a glimpse of the finish line, might he or might he not pick a woman? That is so far behind where we were four years ago. I don’t mean to be grim, but I think the reality is, we don’t go forward until we unpack and we litigate four years ago.”

Schriock countered Wallace’s view and said there were plenty of women running this year for public office. She named a number of candidates including marquis Democratic Senate contender Elizabeth Warren, and she pointed to Queens congressional candidate Grace Meng, who sat in the crowd. Wallace later also gave the International Business Times a short list of women she would like Mitt Romney, if nominated to face President Barack Obama in November, to mull over for the ticket.  “I’ve been out of politics now for four years, so I don’t know who all the rising stars are, but Nikki Haley is a tremendous surrogate for the Romney campaign,” Wallace said, referring to South Carolina’s governor. Other possibilities include Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, who, respectively, ran for California governor and the U.S. Senate and were chief executives of major technology companies. “They have been toughened by their own campaigns in California,” Wallace said. Fiorina lost to incumbent Barbara Boxer and Whitman to Jerry Brown in 2010. “There are women who are seasoned in the tough business of politics.

And Wallace agreed with Fluke that structural policies need to be put in place to encourage women that they can run but at the same time, we need to acknowledge that women are still morally different. She said how female and male politicians work from 7 am to 10 pm. But when the women come home they are making Halloween costumes and helping the kids and she didn’t see that as much with her male colleagues. “We need to look at the reality for women,” she said.

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    • Sarah

      While I agree that the media’s coverage of female political candidates is often degrading and condescending to our abilities to both work and care for our families. And it’s true, the traditional work structure – not just in politics, but in the majority of organizations – is not conducive to working full-time and fulfilling household responsibilities that really comprise a full-time job on their own. That being said, merely blaming an institutionalized structure will not bring about the change women are seeking. The best way for women to mitigate these biases is to demonstrate that it is possible.