I've never met Debbie Wasserman Schultz, though I hope to when she visits David Axelrod's Institute of Politics next month. Nevertheless, I feel like I know her.
That's because she's been everywhere for candidates and issues I care about for many years. And because for a long time she was the designated (TV) hitter for making President Obama's and the Democrats' case for whatever was the high-stakes issue of the moment. Mostly, I've liked her take. Always, I've liked her feistiness.
Wasserman Schultz willingly speaks frankly, fights hard for a job she knows she can do, and plays ball with men she knows will make every day difficult for her (because she's in charge, and they are not).
I wrote admiringly about Wasserman Schultz in my book, Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. I pointed out she is a great role model for one of my book's "six easy rules" for succeeding in politics. That one would be: "never say die."
Since I'm an unabashed promoter of pro-choice, progressive women attaining political power, I was upset to read Politico's recent reporting on Wasserman Schultz: "Democrats turn on Debbie Wasserman Schultz." The story was: She's going down.
As Nia-Malika Henderson rightly writes in the Washington Post, the Politico story was "devastating."
But, let's consider the "devastating" comments of the "three dozen current and former DNC staffers, committee officers, elected officials, state party leaders and top Democratic operatives" interviewed for the story, though only four for attribution. (Those four were presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, or someone speaking for her; "White House spokesman Eric Schultz"; Wasserman Schultz staffer Tracie Pough; and Wasserman Schultz donor, John Morgan [with friends like this...].) Summing up, they find she's:
- a self-promoter
- helps colleagues who can help her
- speaks frankly (!) to mobilize voters
- seeks proximity to the seat of power
- leverages institutional agendas to build beneficial personal relationships
- makes inappropriate budget requests
- secretly talks to the other guy's campaign
- asks her boss to hire her donor's family members
Okay, political girlfriends: This is a test. Any successful political big boys you know fit this bill of particulars? I bet you could name a dozen in a minute. I know I could. Any, probably among those dozens of unnamed sources? I even bet you've been in private rooms with such male officials where other male electeds have read them the riot act. But not the riot act about how not to be pushy.The riot act about how to avoid seeming so.
For the fact is, you can't win in electoral politics unless you do what Wasserman Schultz is criticized for doing. You just have to look like you're not doing those things. Everyone in politics knows that.
Political operatives recommend these tactics to their candidates all the time. Go here (the head of the big boy's rope line), don't go there (to talk to a nobody just because he's a nice guy and worked hard for you); say this half-truth, don't say that total truth; curry favor with this rich donor, not that person with no cash, albeit a big heart; etc., etc. It's always the audacity of hubris taken to the nth degree.
This is exactly the reason why so many people find politics distasteful. The no-self-doubt, constantly-pushing-to-the-front-of-the-line, treating-rich-people-better-than-the-rest-of-us dynamic is one most voters were taught when children was rude. As adults, most find it distasteful. Oh well, this is what works. Self-effacing doesn't cut it.
The Post's Henderson also notes that gender played a role in Wasserman Schultz's rise. When Wasserman Schultz was elected to the post of DNC chair (the first woman to hold the position ever elected to it), the DNC and the president desperately needed a woman to mobilize the female voters who would get President Obama re-elected. Wasserman Schultz got picked. Wasserman Schultz delivered. Now, that mission is accomplished. Wouldn't it be so much more pleasant to have a less-pushy woman; so what, this pushy one made it happen for us.
Been there. Experienced that. Sick of it.
Wasserman Schultz has seemingly made some dumb moves, but they're not dumb wars. Why couldn't those dozens of insiders have taken their complaints to Wasserman Schultz (only) inside? Or, if they already have, and she didn't listen, well, they could try again.
Mind you, I'm not asking here for any special treatment or affirmative action. I am suggesting that I've rarely seen such a take down of a peer when, according to Politico:
"...without a doubt, the Florida congresswoman has had plenty of successes. [For instance] she has overseen the integration of key elements of the Obama campaigns....After being left with $25 million in bills from the Obama campaign, the DNC enters the  fall with the debt cleared and over $7 million on hand."
(I'm guessing any one of the big boys who anonymously criticized Wasserman Schultz would be happy to run on that platform and feel entitled to pictures with the president, whenever he wants.)
As I wrote at the outset, I feel the congresswoman's pain. I will tell her that when I meet her. Girlfriends: When you see her, you should, too.That's because notwithstanding mistakes Wasserman Schultz has made (and who hasn't in such a high pressure job), she persists as a great example of why pro-choice women should hold high public office. She gets the job done for us, our daughters, mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts and women colleagues. Thank you, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz.