Today I had one of those mornings. You know the kind I'm talking about. I couldn't find my keys, then after finally making it out the door while already running late had to run back inside because I couldn't remember if I turned off my iron. Then I had to double check to make sure that I turned off my other iron, as in my curling iron. Then since I was already inside I ended up searching for an umbrella "just in case," and at that point decided I might as well change my shoes.
On mornings like these I am reminded of how in awe I am of the countless people who not only get themselves out the door every morning without a hiccup, but manage to get an army of little ones out the door too, and manage to do so with the precision of a military operation. Recently I found myself discussing this somewhat undervalued skill set with a group of moms. They noted that while Michele Bachmann has gotten a great deal of attention for being a foster parent to 23 children, and has been praised for what that choice seems to say about her generosity, they pointed out that her ability to effectively manage a household with so many children -- at one time while also juggling a demanding career -- also speaks to her organizational capabilities, something she hasn't gotten as much credit and praise for.
Did I mention that I was speaking with a group of progressive moms?
For the record, none of these women suggested that this skill set automatically makes Michele Bachmann qualified to hold the nation's highest office (and from a policy standpoint I know they don't consider her White House-worthy), but the conversation did get me thinking and wondering: Is the skill set required to effectively manage a home (emphasis on "effectively") all that different from the skill set required to be an effective manager in the workplace or in government? I'm certainly not suggesting that giving birth automatically makes someone an effective leader, but I am suggesting that the skills required to excel at managing one domain are transferable to another, yet we rarely treat them as such.
Before entering politics former House Majority leader Tom Delay worked in pest control -- earning him his nickname "The Exterminator" -- while his successor, Dennis "Denny" Hastert was a high school wrestling coach. I'm not insinuating that either position should have disqualified them from a career in politics (and in Delay's case the pest control thing lends itself to so many lobbyist jokes I don't even know where to begin). But I am wondering why it seems that experience like this is somehow perceived as more relevant to public service than the experience of successfully raising a family -- emphasis on successfully. After all, are the skills required to run a successful small business, such as a pest control company, really that different from the skills required to run a home? To succeed at either you have to effectively manage others, know how to budget and execute finely tuned schedules, to name just a few qualifications. (I have a feeling that some of the people I know who have small kids in multiple activities, tutoring, soccer, karate etc., could run circles around some of the professional campaign schedulers I know.)
This is not to assume that every parent or homemaker out there is good at his or her job. But this is to say that as a society we seem to do a pretty lousy job of providing any incentive for people to invest as much in those "jobs" as in others outside of the home. Often succeeding at the most important jobs -- such as being a good parent and a good person and raising children who will become good people too -- carries very little cache.
Meg Whitman vaulted to the front of the political line on the strength of her impressive professional accomplishments and even more impressive wallet -- like plenty of male candidates before her. Yet by multiple accounts her home life suffered (also like plenty of male candidates). My question is why is someone like her automatically deemed a more qualified candidate for office than a woman who may not have risen quite as far, as fast because she was busy investing in her children, and in the case of someone like Bachmann, other people's children too? (Click here to see the other women who like Bachmann, are politically powerful and are also mothers of large families.)
Before the tomato throwing begins, as I noted on MSNBC's "The Dylan Ratigan Show" I'm not arguing that Michele Bachmann is presidential material. But I will argue that if Herman Cain can be considered a serious contender for president based on a record of running several pizza joints, then why shouldn't a woman who not only worked as a lawyer, but managed a home that had at least eight children at a time in it (and over the years more than twenty), be considered a serious contender as well?
Yes, Michele Bachmann has inserted her foot in her mouth plenty of times. (Her John Wayne Gacy gaffe is possibly one of the most accidentally amusing in the history of American politics). But why is it that a male politician who made so many gaffes that they have filled multiple books -- literally -- and whose professional accomplishments before being elected to office included failing at multiple professions and owning a baseball team, was considered a serious candidate by the establishment but a female candidate with a law degree who managed a family the size of a baseball team, has been dismissed by much of the same establishment as a good-looking "flake?"
Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate, a fictional look at a black, Jewish candidate running for president which was recently designated a recommended summer selection by The Los Angeles Times. She is also a Contributing Editor for TheLoop21.com, where this piece originally appeared.