Nancy Pelosi and motherhood identity politics
Dana Goldstein has an interesting article in the American Prospect about female politicians who front their motherhood as a political credential.
In 1996 Hillary Clinton reminded us that "it takes a village" to raise a child. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi keeps reminding Americans that she's a grandmother from San Francisco.
Dana wonders whether all this maternal symbolism is good for women:
It was a new articulation of the mommy mantra -- the idea that what qualifies women for politics isn't their intelligence, their experience, their policy proposals, or even their character, but rather their inherent identities as feminine caretakers.
On a gut level, I'm not crazy about the mommy schtick. Yet, as a feminist and a partisan Democrat, I'm not going to complain. As Amanda argued several week ago, Nancy Pelosi's in-your-face parenthood seems to be reaching a lot of women who might otherwise feel alienated by Democrats.
Electoral politics is about symbolism, not syllogism. It's like the Village People. Everyone needs a character.
Veterans don't necessarily make better legislators. Nobody said that John Kerry should have been president because he was a decorated Vietnam vet. On the other hand, his service was a powerful symbol of his patriotism and evidence of his leadership abilities. That's why Karl Rove hit so hard with the Swiftboat Liars.
Motherhood is a powerful political metaphor, too. Good mothers are absolutely committed, loyal, caring, and not afraid to get tough when necessary. Even conservatives pay lip service to the romantic idea that women are morally superior to men and that mothers are the guardians of moral values.
Nobody would say that Nancy Pelosi deserves to be Speaker of the House because she's a mom. On the other hand, if she can use her life experiences to sell her very real talents and accomplishments, I don't have a problem with it.
Life experiences can also tell you something about a person's character, even if they aren't directly relevant to the job they're seeking. Candidates who have significant accomplishments outside of politics deserve some credit. Maybe decorated-war-hero skills aren't directly transferrable to balancing the budget, but it still says good things about the person.
Successful child-rearing is an achievement. If you've raised kids, that's an important part of your life's work. A sexist society devalues important jobs just because women do them.
If it's acceptable to run as a cowboy, or an entrepreneur, or soldier, why not as a Mom?