What's Wrong With Coakley's Brain?

I happened to see today's Scot Lehigh column late last night, when the Globe posted it, and my initial reaction was, "What the hell is wrong with Martha Coakley's brain?" But I decided not to post right then, because sometimes things make more sense after a little sleep, some coffee, and a couple of phone conversations about the subject.

Well, I've done those things, and I still don't know what the hell is wrong with Martha Coakley's brain.

Lehigh reports that, near the end of his interview with Coakley, he had the nerve to suggest that, as with most political candidates, her personal reasons for running for Senate are not the same as the reasons she talks about publicly. Specifically, she spouts the typical pablum about running because of her deep concerns about goodness and blah blah blah, when really she's running because, as with every ambitious pol ever, a Senate seat is the brass ring that everyone on the merry-go-round covets.

Granted, it's a little gauche for a journalist to ask about the truth, as opposed to the campaign rhetoric. (Must be Lehigh's Boston Phoenix roots showing.) But the correct response is "I think all the candidates who are running, or considered running, see a US Senate seat as not just the pinnacle of personal success but the greatest opportunity to serve the public and do the most good for the people of the Commonwealth and the USA."

Instead, Lehigh reports, Coakley said this:


“You know, that is a male approach to this thing,’’ the attorney general replies. “Men will play to fight and win. My experience is women get into causes and things they care about, that they want to make a difference.’’

Let's count the ways that this is a stupid thing to say:

1) It reinforces the perception that Martha Coakley's predominant campaign message is that people should vote for her because of her gender. The Coakley campaign, whether intentionally or not, seems unable to prevent itself from repeatedly pushing that perception.

2) She is saying this in the specter of the late, very much male, Ted Kennedy, which hovers over everything in this campaign. Ted Kennedy was ambitious. He played to fight and win. In fact, he fought hard to play and win. And he did it in pursuit of causes and things he cared about, and to make a difference, and to my knowledge was never once accused of being womanly.

3) It is a direct attack on her opponents, charging that characteristics of their gender make them less fit for the office -- ie, because they are men, Capuano et al probably don't actually care about causes and making a difference. Coakley's campaign has already been quick to charge implicit sexism in criticism of her -- the "courage" charge, for example -- which now looks ridiculous next to her explicit  invocation of gender to define the difference between her and men. If this "male approach" quote gets widely circulated, then from now on her campaign will have to sit and bite their tongues about implied sexism in the campaign -- even if it's real.

4) For example, it would be blatantly sexist of me to say that Coakley is whining like a schoolgirl about how tough and risky it is to run for Senate (for which she doesn't even have to give up her current gig). And it would be REALLY sexist of me to say that if Coakley had any balls she would be running against Deval Patrick for the job she is best suited for. But if -- in theory, just hypothetically -- I was to say or write something like that, what are they going to say about it now? She herself says that women don't fight to win.

5) Since everyone knows that Coakley is an ambitious pol -- which as far as I can tell nobody has ever held against her -- this whole exchange really does seem like a foray into "Preposterousville," to use Lehigh's marvelous term. That makes her seem more like just an ambitious pol, saying what she needs to get elected.

I'm sure I could keep going, but you get the point.

Mind you, I'm on record writing and talking repeatedly about the need for more women in public office, and about the challenges (and opportunities) relating to efforts to get more women elected. And, I've certainly been reasonably kind in my assessments of Coakley in the past. I've certainly never thought of her as a political dummy.

So again I ask, what the hell is wrong with Martha Coakley's brain?

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