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Amanda Wakes Up: Challenging Your Own Political Biases

shaking hands

shaking handsFrom time to time, I make recommendations about books on this blog which I think speak to some aspect of being a grown up .

Today’s pick is Alisyn Camerota’s Amanda Wakes Up, a fictional account of a journalist who gets a big career break when she’s promoted to be an anchor on television news, only to discover that her dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s a fun and funny whirlwind account of what it’s really like to work in TV news – leg bronzer and all – written by a consummate insider. (Camerota is a co-host of CNN’s New Day and previously worked at Fox News for many years. She is also – for the record – a friend of mine and while that is definitely why I bought the book, it is definitely not why I’m reviewing it.)

So why talk about this book on a blog about adulthood? Because in addition to treating the themes of news-as-entertainment, sexism in the workplace and office romance, the book also hits on a powerful challenge that we all face as we grow older: how to question our own political biases.

In the story, the title character Amanda is at times obliged by her bosses at the mythical FAIR news – whose motto: “True and Equal” may ring true (and equal?) – to go easy on some of her guests, instead of adopting a harder-hitting tone. She feels that this is beneath her dignity as a journalist and also threatens to make her look like a mouthpiece for a maverick political outsider who is taking voters by storm with his bold, if not always accurate, relationship to the truth during an election season. (Imagine!)

At other times, however, her job also forces her to talk to people on the other side of the political divide and to take their concerns seriously. She comes to appreciate that while she may appear to have nothing in common with gun rights supporters  in New Hampshire, for example, she really likes them as people and in talking to them, is able to appreciate them as more than just a cliché. Meanwhile, others around her – including her boyfriend – carry on living in their bubbles, as most of us do, because they aren’t forced to ever step outside of them.

The book reminded me of a period in my own life when I was working as a journalist for an online political magazine and both of my editors were openly pro-life, as were several of my colleagues. I think it was the first time that I’d been around that many pro-lifers in my adult life. I wrote the occasional piece about abortion and abortion rights for this outlet, and I always felt that I got a lot more push back on those stories than on other things that I wrote.

Initially, this frustrated me. How can they question that? I would think to myself, assuming that my take on the facts was not only correct, but manifest. But it wasn’t, to them anyway. And in giving those pieces a lot more scrutiny, my editors forced me to acknowledge how my own political biases were coloring my writing about those issues. Ultimately, I came to be really grateful that they’d put me through my paces because it enabled me to see things that I assumed were obvious (and were, to me) but which weren’t necessarily so for many others. And that, in turn, made me a better journalist.

While a plea to engage seriously with “the other” politically may sound like fairly well-trodden ground, it’s amazing how rarely it happens these days. Atul Gawande wrote a powerful piece in The New Yorker recently in which he recounts his conversations with regular Joes and Janes from his Ohio hometown about healthcare. He realizes how – despite appearing to be miles apart politically – all of these people are really fairly close to one another when it comes to their fundamental views about healthcare. And so, presumably, are the rest of us, if we could ever just sit down and have that conversation.

None of which is to say that you need to move to the political center in order to be a grown up. But particularly in today’s hyper-polarized political arena, it wouldn’t hurt to dip in and out of there now and again, if for no other reason than to check your own assumptions.

Image: Shaking Hands by Geralt via Pixabay

Five Things David Axelrod Taught Me About The 2016 Primaries

david axelrod

david axelrodOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction. I have a particular allergy to popular books about politics – especially biographies and auto-biographies – as I tend to find them hagiographic in the first instance and self-congratulatory in the second.

So when my 84-year-old mother – who *does* read everything – suggested that I read Believer by political consultant and strategist David Axelrod – I was dubious. A book entitled Believer, written by one of the chief architects of President Obama’s two successful White House campaigns? I didn’t think I’d learn very much I didn’t already know and – as someone whose literary tastes tend to run to the dark and dysfunctional – I was quite sure that I’d find it far too uplifting.

I was wrong. It is uplifting. But it’s also worth reading. And by serendipitously picking this book up right smack as the 2016 primary season got underway in early January, I actually learned a ton.

Here are five things David Axelrod taught me about the 2016 primaries:

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: David Axelrod via Wikimedia Commons

An American Goes to the Polls in the U.K.

UK voting booth

UK voting boothLONDON – I’m not quite sure what I expected when I showed up at my local polling station in London last Thursday morning to vote – for the very first time – as an ex-pat American in a British General Election. But it certainly wasn’t this: an “open air” voting booth, a single sheet of white paper perhaps seven inches long listing a bunch of political parties with a small box next to their names and – wait for it – a pencil – to fill out said ballot.

It gets better. At a certain point as you stood in line to vote, you were meant to split off into two separate lines based on the name of your street, with all streets in the district divided alphabetically. Fair enough, except that it turned out that most of the larger streets in my district were all clustered in the first half of the alphabet, so while about 18 of us stood waiting in the “Big Street” queue, two lucky souls sprinted ahead to the “Short Street” queue. (Call me crazy but had someone not thought to cross tabulate street size/population with alphabet when they devised this fairly straightforward time-saving device)?

I actually found myself feeling sorry for the volunteers at the “Short Street” queue” table when one person discovered that she actually belonged in the “Big Street” queue and had to rejoin our line. The poor souls looked absolutely heartbroken to have lost a potential customer.

When I finally made it up to the head of the line – which, to be fair, didn’t take very long given the microscopic length of the ballot – one volunteer took my last name, found it on a list and called out my voter registration number to a second individual who then assiduously checked me off a different list. Which was all well and good except that when I glanced down at the sheet of addresses I noticed that myself, my husband *and* the former owner of our house were all registered to vote at our address, even though he now lives in a very different part of the country.

While voter ID controversies here are nothing like they are in the U.S., the British Electoral Commission will be instituting a new law requiring photo ID for all voters starting in 2019, although that photo can come in the form of a free elections ID card. In the meantime, the whole thing was so quaint and – well – English, that I half expected some kindly old lady to rock up with a trolley full of tea and cakes and offer me some while I waited my turn.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why Did Kate Middleton’s Nurse Kill Herself?

It’s the million-dollar question, and not only here in the U.K. Jacintha Saldanha — one of the nurses taken in by the prank phone call to the hospital where Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, was being treated for acute morning sickness — killed herself early Friday. And we are all left scratching our heads. Why did she do it?

Of course, the first thing we all wonder is about her mental stability. We’d all desperately like to believe that this hard-working mother of two, who commuted 140 miles to her day job, often working double shifts so that she could spend more time with her family — must have some deep, dark secret to hide. Because then the rest of us could at least explain away an event that is, as the chairman of King Edward VII Hospital put it,  “tragic beyond words.”

But from what we know, there is no sign that Saldanha was suicidal, unstable or psychologically frail before she took her own life this week. Shy and nervous? Yes. But so depressed she was suicidal? Doesn’t sound right, at least according to those who knew Saldanha, who was described at work as “an excellent nurse, well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues.”

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People column...

 

Image: Kate Middleton by Nuwandalice via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Obama As Father Figure

As we careen towards the finish line in this tumultuous electoral season, President Obama is asking voters to renew his contract as a father figure. And with his new, 11th-hour message that this election is all about “trust,”I think the father-thing is going to resonate.

Without going all Carl Jung on you, presidential campaigns are often about archetypes. John McCain as warrior.  Paul Ryan as super-hero. Joe Biden as the loyal friend.

In 2008, with the whole “hope and change” narrative – not to mention his youthful good looks and energy – Obama was situated somewhere between Jesus Christ and Rock Star in our collective unconscious. But now look at him. After four sobering years of economic crisis and an Arab Spring that just won’t quit, that increasingly-visible graying of the hair above his ears is symbolic. The President has aged, matured, and  – like the rest of us parents – seems both wiser and wearier as a result.

It’s evident in the way that he speaks to us. As I’ve watch the presidential debates with my own kids, I’ve been struck by how parental he sounds. Particularly in the third and final debate, where the president could barely mask his disdain for Mitt Romney’s less-than-up-to-date grasp of our military, many pundits – including my colleague, Melinda Henneberger – saw his tone as patronizing, and wondered whether it wouldn’t alienate undecided women voters in particular.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

 

Image: Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign by namakota das via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Pro-Choice and Pro-Conscience in Grand Rapids

The first and only time I went to Grand Rapids, Mich., I was accosted in the zoo while walking with my then two year-old daughter by a grown woman dressed as a princess.  Assuming that I lived close by, the princess lady asked me if I would like to sign my daughter up for etiquette lessons.

That was six years ago and etiquette lessons were about as foreign to my M.O. as training to be a mechanic. And yet, the fact that some little girls in this city were clearly expected to grow up to be polite, pretty and perhaps not much else did make me wonder at the time whether there were other scripts available for females in Grand Rapids.

I’m pleased to say that there are. In an election year in which woman power may well decide the presidential election, an inter-generational group of 12 women has launched its own chapter of Stop the War On Women Grand Rapids. They range in age from 30 to 75. They are nurses, lawyers, artists, and social workers. Some are married. Some are not. Some are parents. Some are not. Some are gay. Some are straight.

They aren’t protesting etiquette training. Instead, as my longtime friend Kathleen Ley put it to me, they were initially motivated by the “stunning avalanche of disdain and distrust for women in Michigan and in the United States and the legislation at the state and federal levels intruding on women’s health care choices.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog…

 

Image: Got Women? by billb1961 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Should Fareed Zakaria Be Forgiven For Plagiarizing?

I’ve always thought that Fareed Zakaria was a bit too slick.

It’s not that I don’t like him. I share the pundit’s broadly liberal internationalist view towards world affairs. And unlike many wonks (the big exception here being the University of Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee), Zakaria’s actually got a sense of humor, which is always a plus.

But there was always something a bit too cute by half about this good-looking, well-spoken darling of the Center-Left with his million dollar smile.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when I learned that Zakaria had become embroiled in a plagiarism scandal that has – temporarily, at least – cost him two of his plum platforms: Time and CNN. On Friday, both news outlets suspended Zakaria while they investigated charges that he had lifted passages from an article by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore on gun control. He has since apologized to Lepore and taken full responsibility for the incident, which he described as a “serious lapse.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People website…

 

Image: Fareed Zakaria at the Newsweek Offices by barthjg via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

My First Google Plus Hangout

Hello, all.

I’ve got something a bit different in store for you today.

Yesterday, I participated in a new feature on The Washington Post’s She The People blog: our weekly Google Plus Hangout, where a subset of the women who blog for STP get together and chew over the stories of the week.

Confession: I hadn’t joined Google Plus until yesterday, and am now secretly obsessed with the concept of circles…)

Be that as it may, I think the whole thing came off very well.

Here we are, talking about Sarah Palin, the Veepstakes in the U.S. Presidential race and – natch – the London 2012 Olympics.

(Secret tip: stay tuned until the end where you’ll hear Patricia Murphy‘s surprising pic for top female athlete of the Olympics…)

Enjoy!

 

Image: Olympic 2012 by id513128 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Huma Abedin At Home

Was Michele Bachmann worried that Sarah Palin was stealing the GOP convention side-show? Bachmann wandered way off the reservation when she improbably accused Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin of trying to infiltrate the American government on behalf of the Muslim brotherhood.

Sen. John McCain and – oh, about half the country – have now leapt to Abedin’s defense.

But a tiny sliver of this publicity is Abedin’s own doing. ln a much-anticipated article that hits newsstands Friday, Abedin and her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, invited People Magazine into their home to do a profile of their family life.

You remember Rep. Weiner. He’s the guy who sent money shots of himself in his tightie-whities to a selection of ladies who were not his wife, prematurely ending his congressional career last summer.

The article isn’t out yet but from the many leaked tidbits I’ve read so far, the one that really has me shaking my head is Abedin’s assertion that “We’re just a normal family.”

Huma, with all due respect, I beg to differ. You and your husband are many things but I’m afraid that  “normal” ain’t one of them.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: wednesday-metro by azipaybarah via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tymoshenko Case May Disrupt Euro Cup

I’ve long admired former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for her fiery rhetoric and steely nerve. But even as she languishes in prison, Tymoshenko might be about to engineer her most significant political coup yet: a boycott of the upcoming Euro 2012 soccer tournament by European governments.

With the signature blond braid that sits – crown-like – above her head and her glamorous, almost regal bearing, one could easily mistake Tymoshenko for pure political window dressing. But that would seriously underestimate this woman’s power and influence. Tymoshenko played a major role – alongside her onetime ally Viktor Yushchenko – in spearheading Ukraine’s 2004 pro-Western Orange Revolution. Subsequently, she served as prime minister of the country from 2007 to 2010, when she narrowly lost an election to current president Viktor Yanukovich.

Tymoshenko’s fortunes changed last year when she was jailed for seven years over a controversial natural gas deal with Russia during her tenure as prime minister. Many – including Tymoshenko herself – viewed her arrest and imprisonment as a crackdown on political opposition in the Ukraine as well as retribution by Yanukovich against his main political rival.

Since April of this year, however, her situation has deteriorated significantly. She is now on a hunger strike following what she claims was a brutal beating April 20 by prison guards, who she maintains punched her and twisted her arms and legs while forcibly taking her to a hospital to be treated for chronic back pain. She has refused any medical treatment beyond pain killers to date, insisting that she must have her medical treatment abroad. German doctors who have examined her say that she is in “urgent need of specialized care” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly requested that the Ukrainian authorities send her to Germany for “proper treatment” of her ailments.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

Image: Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by European Parliament via Flickr under a Creative Commons license