Running the Political Table: Clinton, Rice, and the New Crop of Women Legislators

In 2012, political women everywhere "suited up," joined the game, stepped-up to bat, and hit the ball out of the park. We are now in the major political leagues. (Say, running for U.S. Senate and House seats.) We are in the political rooms. We are at the table in those rooms. Now, the question is: how to run that table?

Girlfriends: Now that we have the president back, is it time to turn off the computer and cool-out? Nope. Not a chance, after this week’s reading.

The first article up was: “‘Family fight:’ 3 friends vie for (congressional) seat,” in the Chicago Sun-Times. The article is an account of a prospective political family feud among three women running in the Democratic primary to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in the U.S. House of Representatives. No relaxation in contemplating that prospect. Not even when the candidates claim that: “We’ll put the family back together again once this is all over.” Nope. They will be duking it out. They  have to, in a crowded field of political pros. They will be fighting as hard as they possibly can, since the seat is a safe one for Democrats. Odds are, whoever is elected will easily be reelected, (even if misbehaving). That kind of gig doesn’t come along very often!

The second article I read was in the Washington Post. Entitled: “Rice needs Clinton, but it’s not mutual,” I thought: how cold is that! Then, I thought: how true is that! In the article, author Aaron Blake discusses reasons why Hillary Clinton’s prospective run for the presidency doesn’t require being big pals with Susan Rice. For starters, Clinton’s got a way bigger and better brand. The president needs her more (so, she has more latitude to do what she wants/or doesn’t want.) She’s more likable than the next girl. (Who thought that would ever happen!) Voters admire and like her a lot. And the kicker: where’s the big payoff in being a big pal of the girlfriend who forsook you? (Rice forsook Clinton for Obama early in the 2008 presidential.) The upshot: here is Clinton on Rice, after days of saying nothing about criticism of Rice by John McCain and other senators: “Susan Rice has done a great job as our ambassador to the United Nations.” “Tepid,” says Blake. I’ll say. Tepid for days.

The bottom line is, it’s hardball time for American girls political. Whether in D.C. and on the world stage; in Chicago; or, say, in Kentucky, where actress Ashley Judd is contemplating a U.S. senate race (even though she hasn’t lived there for years). Wherever you look, the girls are running the bases. No time to cool out. Time to take stock and figure out how to win the next political games for the girls’ team.

But, first, a reminder of how we got to this place.

In case you slept through November (even with such high stakes in the presidential race, only six in ten eligible voters turned out), American women won big. In fact, we won the battle we’ve fought for years to become political powers. Hands’ down. Here’s proof: 20 women will be in the U.S. Senate come inauguration day January 2013. (That’s 20 percent of the U.S. Senate, when women were less than 5 percent 20 years ago.) That same day, 78 women will enter the U.S. House of Representatives, the highest number ever. As to the state legislatures, 23.7 percent, of state legislators are now women, according to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics.

In 2012, political women everywhere “suited up” (as Senator Mikulski suggests we do); joined the game; stepped-up to bat; and hit the ball out of the park. We are now in the major political leagues. (Say, running for U.S. Senate and House seats.)  We are in the political rooms. We are at the table in those rooms. Now, the question is: how to run that table?

How to run it? It’s Hillary Clinton’s rules one more time. (It’s also back to Clinton and Rice.)

Keep score. Take the (constant) measure of your purported friends. Yet always be ready to be supportive, if not enthusiastic, so no one can say you turned your back on a friend. (“Tepid” will suffice.) Be ready to put the family back together again, or at least say that you are, if that will further your career; no matter what kind of dog fight you engage in meanwhile. As the Post pointed out “… nobody keeps score like the Clintons.” Hillary just as much as Bill. That’s because she wants to run the table, not bask in some ceremonial chair while others do the heavy lifting that gets you the table all to yourself. (That table would be the one in the Oval Office.)

I think Debbie Halvorson, Robin Kelly and Toi Hutchinson, the three women contenders for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat, know they must apply Clinton’s rule. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have the guts to run in such a complicated race. That’s also why they’re saying they will remain friends, even while preparing to fight against each other, no holds barred. (Said Halvorson: “… you just have to expect anything being thrown at you. Hey, this is politics.”) Watch: each will be keeping score, her girlfriends’, as well as her own, as she racks up endorsements and money and precinct workers, while steadily proclaiming her colleague has done “a great job.”

Even if none of the three wins the race to replace Jackson, each will be better schooled to try to run the table again. Count on it. These women –like every political woman everywhere these days—know politics ain’t beanbag. Hardball it is. Off to the game; er, the races.