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August 29, 2007

Why I Turned Down Good Morning America

This morning I received a phone call from a friendly producer named Kevin at Good Morning America. Kevin said he had been following the controversy here on Silicon Valley Moms blog based on a snarky, tongue-in-cheek post I put up a few days ago, that I assumed would receive the typical readership my posts receive: about 10 people, but instead was ultimately read by thousands and linked to on several well-trafficked blogs. A pretty startling response, given I had spent a whole 3 minutes writing the thing (an obvious fact, I thought, from reading it).

My original point was to say that in the past, Elizabeth Edwards has criticized Hillary Clinton on her personal choices, and, Hillary being my candidate of choice, now was my opportunity to criticize Elizabeth . While Elizabeth had criticized Hillary for working too much to the neglect of her child (not in those words, but that was the perception made by many), I was criticizing Elizabeth for using her children to the advantage of her husband's campaign for presidency. This could lead to an interesting discussion.  Or so I thought.

But, in part because I had worded my post so strongly, people responded to my vitriol with a great outpouring of support for Elizabeth, stating that the woman is on her last days, and shouldn't she be entitled to do what she wants?  There were also many descriptions of me being a "sanctimommy" and inspiring "mommy wars" because I criticized another mother.  Worst of all was the incorrect assumption that I was telling Elizabeth that she shouldn't work -- what I was saying is that she shouldn't force her children to be used as accessories in her husband's presidential bid if, in fact, doing so is not in the best interest of the children.  Ultimately, I admitted that I really don't know what is best for her children.  That said, that my original point remains:  it is unseemly when a candidate uses his or her children as accessories to help get them elected.  And I thought that a woman who had dished it out in the past would be prepared to take criticism in return.

Anyway, this is the conversation that I was hoping would take place, but, due to my own overly emotional post, which trust me, I'm trying my darnednest not to delete altogether at this point, the debate became totally twisted.

And given this backdrop, I'm supposed to speak to Good Morning America?   Although Kevin probably is a great guy and great producer, and he almost certainly was not responsible for mommy-bashing segments in the past, I have found that GMA, or television media in general, is probably not the best forum to explore complicated issues about campaigns, and finger-pointing, and difficult choices that mothers make.  Remember what happened to Melissa Summers?  Without the benefit of PR spin doctors and media advisors that celebrities, and, yes, politicians, enjoy, the poor woman was hung out to dry because of similar sort of writing to mine -- writing that is meant to be funny, snarky and taken with a grain of salt.

Why do I write in such a tone if it leads to people going off the deep end and missing my point altogether?  Well, usually I manage to walk just that fine line -- being acerbic without pissing people off TOO much.  Usually there are just a couple people who miss the point -- like the fact that I really, truly, don't actually think that Baby Einstein is so powerful it can make babies stupid.  (Sheesh!)

Specifically, I utilize sarcasm and hyperbole (and sometimes, hopefully, humor) for the following reasons: (1) because I am good at it; and more importantly (2) because it gets people to read.  I know that many of you that have posted disagree with me on this one, but a whole lot of you who haven't posted agree with me strongly - I keep hearing it over email privately, or in person, even from people I don't really know. 

What I have been told in private is that there are a lot of people who are afraid to criticize Elizabeth Edwards, even though she is very much a public figure, because she has cancer.  They tell me that they agree that it would be wrong to use children as pawns in an election, and maybe the children would be happier having a more consistent life.  They say that they too were upset when Elizabeth criticized Hillary Clinton, and they thanked me for being pretty much the only person they know who felt brave enough to question whether her actions were truly motivated by the reasons she points to, rather than perhaps motivated by something else.  All of these questions are very valid questions.

And here is another valid question, a quiet question that lies secretly beneath the surface of all of this:  When a highly competent educated woman, a woman who in a different world possibly could herself be considered a top contender for president, in a world where girls grow up thinking they too can be president some day -- when that sort of woman, a woman like Elizabeth Edwards, puts her career on hold (either temporarily or permanently) in favor of her husband's career (or for any other family reason), why is that woman by definition considered a hero?   As people who know me know about me, I am a seriously old-fashioned kind of feminist, not a new fangled "post" one, and I want to know:  why don't we all ask ourselves, her unfair state of health notwithstanding, why don't we live in a world where Elizabeth, and not her husband, would be the one we could vote for?  A world where Elizabeth would be a hero for dedicating herself to public service by running for the presidential office, not by defending the fact that her husband, his textbook-traditional nuclear family notwithstanding, is a social progressive.

What was proven by the vitriolic response to my post, which continues even as I type, is that the general media and many people are not able to handle these types of questions.  So why should I even bother attempting to raise the issue in a forum that is even more certain that this formerly friendly one to discuss the kinds of issues we usually are content to pick apart for days on end?  We all struggle with what it means to be a good parent. Because Elizabeth is the Moral Lead of Team Edwards for President, continuing on in the face of illness and young children on the road, despite poor polling and with a lot of money in the bank, it's fair game to wonder why she would be so certain.  Or perhaps it is her husband making the decisions.  I am sad that he is left out of this discussion.  After all, it's his campaign.

Ultimately, I decided that I probably would do the same thing as Elizabeth.   But it wasn't the personal attacks (on me) that got me there - it's despite them. And, as I have written very often in the past, I never really view myself as a good mother.  I'm a never-there-as-much-as-I-wish-I-could-be mother, and it kills me. 

Go ahead and bash me.  Tear this post apart.  But remember:  I am not your enemy.  I am just a U.S. citizen, worker bee and mom, doing what  feels natural : participating in the Democratic process and trying to make the world a better place.   And I invite anyone who wants to join me to return to the larger problems at hand.  I'll be the one over there, not over here, for a while.