Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tsk tsk, those Democrats in Congress are getting touchy.

A very interesting exchange occurred on the Dom Giordano Show, a Pittsburgh radio station, 1210 AM, between Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Spector and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann. It was a worthy matchup, almost guaranteed to spark fireworks: Spector is old-line-liberal regardless of which party he calls home, while Bachmann is a feisty young Republican upstart.

For me, it brings up memories of Madeline Albright, President Bubba’s Secretary of State, known primarily for her amusingly revealing mini-skirts that made many an Arab head of State gasp, not to mention the fact that she claimed she never knew she was Jewish.

But first, here’s what happened on the talk radio show (you can hear the exchange itself at Real Clear Politics)

Michelle Bachmann spoke first when Spector interrupted her. Then she interrupted him, so Spector told Bachmann to “Stop interrupting”, adding, “I didn’t interrupt you.”

"Now, wait a minute, I'll stop and you can talk," Spector said. "I'll treat you like a lady. Now act like one."

"Well, I am a lady," Bachmann responded, sounding almost amused.

They go at it again, talking over each other. Then Spector repeats the “lady” thing again, telling Bachmann she should "act like a lady."

Specter responds, "I think you are too, that's why I'm treating you like one. But just don't interrupt me."

The program continues for a moment, then erupts again. Specter complains that Bachmann, who insisted she voted for "prosperity" when Specter asked her about a specific vote, is "talking from talking points.” Spector again repeats his line, “"Now, wait a minute, I'll stop and you can talk. I'll treat you like a lady. Now act like one."

So. Is anyone out there offended? That Sen. Spector pulled the “act like a lady” thing on a female member of the US House of Representatives? A woman elected to her office just as he is elected to his?

Personally, I’m virtually impossible to offend – if someone is crude or insulting, I tend not to take offense so much as I question the sanity of the person who said it. So for me, I can’t read “offended” into this, but in that I seem to be alone. Most of the commentary – especially from women – is that Spector was profoundly “offensive”.

As for the politics of interrupting, that’s a different story. This is where Madeline Albright comes into the picture.

Back in the days when I was a CSPAN junkie, I very clearly remember an interview with Mrs. Albright when she was Secretary of State. The interviewer asked her what her advice would be to young women who wanted to get into politics. “I would advise them to interrupt,” Albright said. “Women should not wait to ask permission to speak.”

That struck me as interesting – like most children of my generation, girls and boys both – I was taught not to interrupt. Breaking into someone else’s speech was rude, we were told – not to mention counterproductive. You only get respect when respect is given, was the line of thought.

This was mindboggling. Here was the United States Secretary of State telling women that it was their obligation to interrupt! That they needed to be aggressive in making their presence known if they want to get ahead.

Recently, Mrs. Albright repeated that advice on a Women’s Media forum:

“I tell women to act in a more confident manner. You need to learn to interrupt. Ask questions when they occur to you and don’t wait to ask. Also, you don’t need to ask permission to ask a question. Be a risk taker; business appreciates risk takers. This trait is desirable in prospective leaders.”

Today two elected officials battled it out. Each interrupted the other, not once but several times. Then the male of the pair, the much-embattled Sen. Spector – who in his own race for reelection is trailing Republican Pat Toomey 49 percent to 40 percent – played the gender card: “Act like a lady.”

So here’s the question: if a woman interrupts, is she not a “lady”?

Maybe this is just a variation on an old joke. Madeline Albright counsels women to interrupt. Sen. Spector says that when they do, they aren’t “ladies”.

Maybe Madeline Albright isn’t a lady -- “That ain’t no lady. That’s the Secretary of State”

Maybe the Congresswoman from Minnesota isn’t a lady either. Maybe she doesn’t need to be.

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