WAGNER: More of a woman's touch needed in politics

May 19, 2012

Jennifer WagnerIs a political war on women under way?

Depends whom you ask.

Democrats point to legislative policies aimed at Planned Parenthood, contraceptives and women’s health as examples that the GOP is out of touch with gals across America.

Republicans, at least in Indiana, counter that their nomination of two female congressional candidates means women don’t face any hurdles within their party.

I’d like to assess the situation from both sides: We’d have to spend a lot less time fighting the war on women if we had more women running for or serving in office.

Veteran statesman Richard Lugar recently was defeated at the hands of a Tea Party candidate who made hay out of Lugar’s moderate stances in the U.S. Senate.

Blaming Lugar’s loss entirely on his reputation for compromise is unfair. As I wrote last month, his campaign was awful, and his political swerve to the far right shattered his middle-of-the-road brand.

Cause and effect aside, the headlines following Lugar’s loss were post-apocalyptic: Is this the end for moderates? Is the Tea Party the new GOP? No room in the middle?

The answer, of course, is no. There are moderates running and serving on both sides of the aisle, and they are frustrated by the gridlock in Washington.

But it’s worth noting that Richard Mourdock, the man who ousted Lugar from his seat, is not one of those moderates, stating after his primary win: “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.” Yikes.

For those of us who live our lives in the middle, an America governed by the extremes is useless.

How does strident partisanship—an unwillingness to even talk to those with whom I disagree or find out whether there are areas of common ground—help me build my small business or raise children?

If I told every new client their public relations strategy would be my way or the highway, I would have no clients.

If I told our daughter she should storm off and sulk instead of working through disagreements with classmates, she would grow up unable to function in our society.

Why, then, do we accept such behavior from our elected officials?

In what world is it acceptable to proclaim that the only way you’re going to play is if everyone comes around to your point of view?

As I ponder these questions, I wonder whether Washington would be a little less combative with a few more women around.

If you’ve ever watched 5-year-olds at play, you can immediately spot how styles of conflict resolution differ between the genders.

Little girls talk through their issues, ask questions and explore their feelings. Little boys hit each other and walk off.

The latter scenario is how modern politics often feels.

I’m not saying we need a Congress that sings folk songs around a campfire while meting out issues of international diplomacy and domestic policy, but it would be nice to see a little more thoughtfulness and a little less brute force.

It was an honor for me to meet House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Indiana Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Day dinner right before the primary election.

Republicans have viciously vilified Pelosi, the highest-ranking female elected official in American political history, on the Hill and in campaigns across the nation.

In person, she is tiny, soft-spoken and calm, a 72-year-old grandmother who’s devoted much of her life to public service.

There is no doubt she is tough, and there is no doubt she is partisan, but I walked away from our brief encounter thinking she would not scream at me for disagreeing with her.

That seems like an awfully low bar to set for public discourse, but it’s easy to wonder if it’s still attainable.

Call it a woman’s intuition, but I believe adding a few more gals in the ranks would help bring both sides back to the middle by facilitating a conversation instead of yelling at one another.•

• Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and founding principal of Mass Ave Public Relations, a local public relations and publicity firm. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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