The historic election of 2008 may be over, but the discussion about its implications is clearly not, and that’s not an altogether bad thing. For those of us who supported either McCain-Palin or Hillary Clinton, we may find ourselves continuing to wonder what role, if any, sexism may have played in some of the media coverage of the women candidates and perhaps more importantly, what role that media coverage may have played in the result.
Now enters Leslie Sanchez, Republican strategist, former adviser to President George W. Bush and CNN contributor. Sanchez has just published a book, You’ve Come A Long Way, Maybe, analyzing the 2008 election and using it as a backdrop for looking at not only how Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain (to a somewhat lesser extent) were portrayed in the media but also what the election means for future women in politics who aspire to occupy the nation’s highest office.
I’ll freely admit that as a progressive, the Hillary-supporting Democrat part of me was apprehensive about the book, not because I doubted Sanchez handling of the topic but rather because re-living some of the lower points of the election might be a self-defeating exercise in frustration. That said, I’ll admit I was also curious about how Sanchez, a Republican strategist with an insider’s take on the media, viewed the candidacy of Clinton and Palin. It turns out that my curiosity won out, and Sanchez provided a compelling and nuanced look at just how far women have come in politics and just how far we have left to go.
Overall, I agreed with much of Sanchez’ analysis and in particular, with the common thread which wove its way throughout most of the book — her view that regardless of ideology or party affiliation, the fact that many men and women only seemed to get outraged when it was their candidate being skewered by the media in an arguably sexist way, was both shocking and frustrating. Sanchez recounts many instances of the media’s obsession with clothes and cleavage. She describes the very gendered references to Hillary Clinton’s “cackle” and “nagging” voice. As an example, Sachez describes a commentary from Mike Barnacle during an appearance on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ which I had actually forgotten about — Barnacle describes Hillary this way: “she reacts to [Senator Barack] Obama with just the look, the look toward him, looking like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” Nice.
One of the real strength’s of Long Way Maybe is Sanchez’ ability to be quite objective when analyzing the media coverage of all four of the women profiled, and she’s not afraid to criticize Republican pundits and media personalities along with their counterparts on the left. The effect of this is that it gives the book credibility, particularly at a time when rabid partisanship is the mainstay of political discourse.