Silver Lining

Albany, N.Y.

Katha Pollitt’s contention that New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made rape charges against a senior staff member “go away” is untrue [“Subject to Debate,” May 4]. When an Assembly staffer came to the Assembly in 2001 with allegations that she had been the victim of a sexual assault by a senior staff member, we urged her to file a criminal complaint with the Albany Police Department or the Albany County district attorney. She declined to bring her complaint to law enforcement, and therefore charges were never filed.

Speaker Silver is dedicated to ensuring that every woman in this state feels safe, and he has devoted much of his career to protecting the rights of victims of sexual abuse, strengthening laws against rape and sexual violence, and providing resources for the treatment of survivors.

DAN WEILLER, press secretary to the Speaker
New York State Assembly

Pollitt Replies

New York City

I wrote that Sheldon Silver made rape charges against Michael Boxley go away “according to the alleged victim,” Elizabeth Crothers. That is indeed what she said. Dan Weiller makes it sound as if Crothers’s choice not to go to the police tied Silver’s hands, but in fact her remarks were about Silver’s role in the Assembly’s internal investigation. According to the New York Times, a lawsuit filed by Boxley’s second victim, “Jane Doe,” asserts that Crothers asked Silver to appoint an independent investigator to look into the case; Silver declined. Instead he assigned the case to a lawyer who was subordinate to Boxley, interrupted that lawyer’s interview with Crothers several times by phone and, before the investigation was concluded, released a public statement expressing his “utmost personal confidence in Boxley.” (The investigation was inconclusive, and Boxley stayed on Silver’s staff until led away in handcuffs after the second rape charge.) Also according to the Times, “In 2006, Mr. Silver and the Assembly leadership agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Jane Doe accusing Mr. Silver of failing to properly investigate the Crothers case and of tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly.”


Michelle, Ma Belle

Beaverton, Ore.

Re “Mad About Michelle“: Go, Katha Pollitt! [“Subject to Debate,” April 20]


Chelsea, Mich.

Thank you for telling it like it is about Michelle Obama. Her mother and brother are terrific, too.


Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Katha Pollitt states exactly how Michelle Obama should be appreciated: she’s a great role model for all women–young, middle-aged and old.

And bless her beautiful arms, too!


Brooklyn, N.Y.

Katha Pollitt’s creaky gender war-era polemics offer younger readers a valuable window into why men and women in their 50s and 60s seem so miserable. Having grown up with working mothers and grandmothers, we find Pollitt’s idea that women might venture out into the world and find jobs of their own–and even pursue their “wilder dreams”–refreshingly quaint. Next thing you know, women will be playing rock music onstage, wearing jeans and having orgasms, just like men.

The pursuit of personal happiness by ordinary men and women who must work to balance the demands of careers, kids and spouses in an imperfect but more gender-equal world may not excite the passions of shellshocked ideologues who are wont to relive the glorious battles of first-generation feminists with Norman Mailer. Guess what? Mailer is dead. It is a startling fact of contemporary post-gender war America that even people with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law–male and female alike–might prefer to find a workable balance in their lives rather than subscribe to dated prescriptions about gender equality that bear a suspicious resemblance to the one-dimensional he-man ethos they were supposed to combat.

Michelle Obama is an example of a successful, educated woman with degrees from Princeton and Harvard who has achieved an obvious degree of personal happiness by pursuing multiple roles as a mother, lawyer and wife, rather than choosing to sacrifice her life with her kids and her husband to the goal of making partner at a big-name law firm. So what? Are the facts of Michelle Obama’s life really so threatening that Pollitt has to turn them into a plot against women, led by me and Christopher Hitchens? Other women in Michelle Obama’s position make different choices, just as men do. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

As for Michelle Obama’s vaunted salary of $273,618, to which Pollitt refers: it seems worth pointing out that the job in question was as a lobbyist for the University of Chicago Hospitals after her husband was elected to the Senate in 2004–a nice little kicker, to be sure. But that’s not the salary that Michelle Obama earned while she was raising her kids and working the modest, practical professional jobs to which I referred in my modest squib for New York magazine. Her salary during those years ranged between $50,343 and $121,910. While that seems like a lot of money to me, it hardly puts her in the top 75 percent of her graduating class at Princeton–let alone Harvard Law School.


Pollitt Replies

New York City

Surely David Samuels isn’t really arguing that I’m old and miserable? Predate blue jeans, rock music and orgasms? Obsess about, of all people, Norman Mailer? No, this is bluster, intended to distract attention from what he actually wrote in New York: “There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness.”

As readers can see, Samuels did not use the life of Michelle Obama to promote work/family balance for “male and female alike,” an idea I have taken quill in bony hand many times to promote. He specifically advised “young women” that modest ambition and the enabling of a “husband’s wilder dreams” was the path to happiness. There is no suggestion here that young men might also consider such a life, or that both partners in a marriage might figure out a way to accommodate each other’s desire for family time and achievement. I guess that would be one of those dreaded “dated prescriptions about gender equality.”

As for Hillary Clinton, whom Samuels sets up as the negative example, how different were her choices from Michelle Obama’s? She worked at a career she cared about, she raised a child, she accommodated her husband’s wilder dreams. It’s curious that she has become a symbol for relentless female ambition, because her life could equally be read as an inspiring attempt at work/family balance–or as a warning against putting your wilder dreams on hold for someone else’s.

Regarding Michelle Obama’s salary, Samuels cherry-picks the years when she made less; I prefer the years when she made more. As a Nation writer, I naturally tend to resist the notion that salary is a reliable guide to the value of someone’s work or the effort they put into it. The larger point, though, is that Samuels seems curiously keen to diminish her accomplishments, right down to her college grades. In his description she comes across as nice but not very interesting or smart or committed to anything larger than her family. Usually when someone describes another as avoiding “too much intellectual heavy lifting,” it’s not a compliment. The lawyers and health policy experts I’ve met who have worked with Michelle Obama have a much higher opinion of her, and so do I.


Bolivitana? Montanivia?

In Chesa Boudin’s May 11 “Mining Bolivia’s Past,” the country’s population and its physical size were conflated in a comparison of Bolivia and Montana. For the record, Bolivia’s population is 10 million (about ten times Montana’s); its area is almost three times that of Montana.