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Katha Pollitt | The Nation

Katha Pollitt

Author Bios

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Columnist

Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her "Subject to Debate" column, which debuted in 1995 and which the Washington Post called "the best place to go for original thinking on the left," appears every other week in The Nation; it is frequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. In 2003, "Subject to Debate" won the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Pollitt has been contributing to The Nation since 1980. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, "Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me..." won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she won a Whiting Foundation Writing Award the same year. In 1993 her essay "Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?" won the Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Many of Pollitt's contributions to The Nation are compiled in three books: Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Knopf); Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (Modern Library); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (Random House). In 2007 Random House published her collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories. Two pieces from this book, "Learning to Drive" and its followup, "Webstalker," originally appeared in The New Yorker. "Learning to Drive" is anthologized in Best American Essays 2003.

Pollitt has also written essays and book reviews for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Harper's, Ms., Glamour, Mother Jones, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. She has appeared on NPR's Fresh Air and All Things Considered, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, CNN, Dateline NBC and the BBC. Her work has been republished in many anthologies and is taught in many university classes.

For her poetry, Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her 1982 book Antarctic Traveller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been published in many magazines and are reprinted in many anthologies, most recently The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006).  Her second collection, The Mind-Body Problem, came out from Random House in 2009.

Born in New York City, she was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brooklyn College, UCLA, the University of Mississippi and Cornell. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Barnard and the 92nd Street Y, and women's studies at the New School University.

Articles

News and Features

Our drug laws, like those concerning voting, reveal bias and backward thinking.

Was it only a few short weeks ago that I turned on the TV in my hotel room to hear conservative commentator Tucker Carlson explain to Don Imus that Gore would win the Floridian chadfight because Republicans were too nice, polite, modest and fair to get down and dirty like the Democrats? That was before a small army of rowdy Republicans descended on Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties and successfully intimidated election officials while turning themselves into a media spectacle halfway between a fraternity brawl and an ancient Roman mob. Like the false announcement of a Bush victory on election night--courtesy, we now know, of a Fox TV reporter who is a cousin of George W. Bush--the demonstrators helped produce the mistaken but widespread impression that Bush had won an election that Gore was trying to undo, when in fact the election, as I write, is still undecided. According to the Wall Street Journal and other papers, the demonstrators, originally portrayed as John Q. Publics following their hearts to Florida, are GOP operatives and Congressional staffers financed by the Bush campaign, which is putting them up in Hilton hotels and entertained them on Thanksgiving with turkey and a performance by Wayne Newton.

Al Gore's position is that there should be an accurate count of the Florida vote--the fraudulent nature of which becomes daily more obvious. What's wrong with that? Outrageous, say the Republicans; boring, say the media, which from the start urged "closure," like a prosecutor urging a quick lethal injection so that grieving survivors can start "the healing process." Flip a coin, advised Ralph Nader, fliply.

And what of Nader? Campaigners have been quick to put a brave face on his unimpressive 2.7 percent--unmentioned now is the magic 5 percent that would bring the Greens federal funds and that they themselves had made a central rationale for a Nader vote. "We accomplished what we set out to do," Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato told me. "We helped the Greens, we raised issues, we got new people into the political process. The Greens are now the leading third party, the only viable third party. I'm positive, I'm upbeat, I'm not depressed in any way." Longtime Green activist and former member of the town council of Princeton, New Jersey, Carl Mayer was even cheerier, telling me that Nader had mobilized 150,000 volunteers and 50,000 donors and sparked the formation of some 500 local Green organizations and 900 campus groups, and crediting him with "changing the tenor of the whole race" by pushing Gore to take populist stands against the drug and oil industries. Mayer even argued that it was because of Nader that President Clinton declared wilderness areas national monuments in several Western states and that the FDA approved RU-486. Unlike virtually every other Nader supporter in America, Mayer not only accepted the mainstream analysis that Nader votes had cost Gore the election (assuming Bush wins), but said it didn't bother him a bit.

One hesitates to inject a discouraging word, but 2.7 percent of the vote is not a lot. It puts him in the company of conscience candidates like Barry Commoner, but behind most major third-party challengers in recent memory. Even John Anderson--who?--and his National Union Party--what?--eked out 6.6 percent in 1980. Sure, you can spin these gloomy stats--Nader got more votes than any progressive third-party candidate since 1948! Nader would have gotten lots more votes but for the closeness of the Bush-Gore contest, which kept Dems in the fold! Third-party runs aren't about votes, they're about changing the discourse! But when I think about how many furious letters and e-mails I got for writing skeptically in this space about the possibility of a meaningful third party, especially a progressive one, I have to say events have borne me out. I said that in the end most voters would stick with the two parties because the differences that seem small to Naderites are concrete and significant to them, because the two-party system is the way civic favors and services are distributed and because people understand that the winner-take-all system insures that a left-leaning third party throws elections to the Republicans--as the Republicans understood when they ran Nader's attacks on Gore as ads for Bush.

Commentators will be analyzing the Nader vote for months, and no doubt the campaign could have done some things better or not at all: the invisible and tokenistic vice presidential candidacy of Winona LaDuke, the waffling over whether to go for votes in toss-up states, the attacks on "frightened liberals." But even a perfect campaign would run up against the structural obstacles that have rendered marginal every modern attempt to build a strong and lasting third-party alternative to the two- party "duopoly."

Future elections will be even tougher. Whoever wins the presidency, people now know every vote counts--the frightened liberals are really frightened now. If Bush wins, the energy left of center will go into re-electing Democrats--any Democrat. Meanwhile, the small Nader vote--only 2 percent of Democratic voters chose him, while 11 percent chose Bush--means that the Democratic Party will move, if anywhere, rightward. The Greens may move that way also; after all, they failed to dislodge the old progressive voting blocs--feminists, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, labor. The typical Nader voter was a young white man, college educated but income poor. Nader did well among students, independents and Perot voters; outside a few left strongholds--Madison, Portland, Berkeley, western Massachusetts--his best counties were rural, his best state Alaska (10 percent), of all places. None of this sounds like a recipe for a powerful progressive voting bloc. In an interesting post-mortem on the Newsforchange website, Micah Sifry argues that the Greens may be too far left for the actually existing electorate and that the future lies in the "radical middle," from which sprang Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot. In other words, for leftists to achieve even the momentary electoral prominence of the now-moribund Reform Party, they have to be more, well, conservative.

While partisans debate whether a victorious George W. Bush would nominate Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe v.


Divorce, American Style

New York City

In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Judith Wallerstein argues that the consequences of parental divorce for children are typically harmful and long-lasting. Katha Pollitt disagrees ["Subject to Debate," Oct. 23], charging that Wallerstein's study cannot be trusted because her sample is too small and because the families she studied suffer from multiple problems, not just divorce. Wallerstein's anti-anti-divorce critics have been making these charges for years, but fortunately we now have independent evidence to show who is getting it right. The two most important quantitative studies based on representative samples seeking to distinguish the effects of parental divorce from the effects of pre-divorce family problems are A Generation at Risk (1997), by Paul Amato and Allan Booth, and a study by Andrew Cherlin and colleagues published in the American Sociological Review in 1998. Both studies broadly support Wallerstein's main findings and offer little or no support to her critics. Which is why your readers aren't likely to hear about these studies from Katha Pollitt, even as she improbably appoints herself guardian of the scientific method on this topic.

DAVID BLANKENHORN
Institute for American Values


Belvedere, Calif.

In her strident column, Katha Pollitt attacks my book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, with a plethora of misstatements. I reply to the most egregious. I state categorically several times in my book that I am not against divorce: "I am not against divorce. How could I be? I've probably seen more examples of wretched, demeaning, and abusive marriages than most of my colleagues." And further: "I don't know of any research, mine included, that says divorce is universally detrimental to children."

What I do say throughout my book, which Pollitt chooses to ignore, is that when people decide to divorce, it has a short-term and long-term traumatic effect upon the children that makes their subsequent life journey more difficult and that society, including the courts and their parents, must recognize this and take steps to mitigate this impact. They can come out well, as I demonstrate. It is simply harder.

Pollitt attacks my work as "pseudoscience." My method, the case-study method of qualitative research, is well established in biological and social science. It is a major method in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and anthropology. It depends on intensive interviewing to learn the internal landscape of the person and is the chief source of hypothesis formation and knowledge generation. The twentieth-century contributions of Piaget, Freud, Erikson and Bowlby were based on this method. Quantitative survey research cannot tap inner life experience.

About controls, Pollitt is again wrong. At the twenty-five-year mark, when I was elaborating the life experience of these children from childhood into adulthood, I assembled a comparison group of youngsters in the same neighborhoods with parents in comparable social and economic circumstances. They were matched (as a group, as do most sociological studies) along major parameters that I found relevant to my study. It is not clear what more Pollitt, who is not a behavioral scientist, could have in mind. This group was not solicited earlier because I was starting in a new area--no one had studied the impact of divorce on children before me--and I could not have known then what to control.

Pollitt asserts that mine is a skewed sample consisting of "crazy" divorcing parents, primarily responding to an offer of treatment. Certainly, people who are divorcing are distressed at the time and can exhibit very disturbed behaviors, including violence, which did not characterize the prior relationship until its downhill course brought the couple to the divorce decision. Certainly, people who divorce--across the board, not just in my sample--are people who have failed at a central relationship and therefore may have more psychic disturbances than those who maintain successful marriages.

It is shocking to call my sample "crazy" and therefore not representative of a divorcing population. I was working for divorce under the best of circumstances and was happy to have such a relatively affluent and well-educated sample. It is altogether untrue that they came as "sixty disastrous families, featuring crazy parents, economic insecurity [and] trapped wives." As for the 131 children of the sixty couples, they were screened to be developmentally on course, without significant school, home or play disturbances prior to the breakup.

Pollitt states that our world has changed significantly since my study began in 1971. Fathers are now more actively involved with their children, mothers are now better placed economically, etc. It remains to be seen how much difference this makes. In my study, a significant number of the women had professional degrees and careers, and that has not made the post-divorce relationships of their children significantly better than the others in the cohort. And it remains to be seen, when 50 percent of divorces occur with children under 6, and 75 percent of the divorced fathers remarry, how many fathers can maintain their parenting in the first marriage, while living with the requirements of the second marriage and new children.

My main point is that although I was the first to call attention to the traumatic impact of the divorce experience, during the early seventies, there have by now been many corroborating studies--done in our contemporary climate--that uphold my findings, and what seemed to many to be an alarmist view then is now conventional wisdom. I trust that my current findings of the long-term impact of parental divorce that crescendos as these children face the issue of man-woman relationships in adulthood may be similarly concurred in as further studies are carried out by others.

JUDITH S. WALLERSTEIN


POLLITT REPLIES

New York City

It is true that Judith Wallerstein says in her latest book that she is not "against divorce." But what does that mean? She writes, "I think you should seriously consider staying together for the sake of your children," and she praises parents who stay in unhappy or dead marriages "with grace and without anger" but not those who leave such marriages and still put parenting first, something she seems to think is nearly impossible ("parenting erodes almost inevitably at the breakup and does not get restored for years, if ever"). Everyone who has written about her research takes it to argue that divorce is a great evil, to be avoided if at all possible--certainly that is what David Blankenhorn thinks she is saying. If Wallerstein is not "against divorce" why does she sit on the Council on Families of Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values, which has an explicit antidivorce agenda, opposing no-fault divorce, favoring "covenant marriage," waiting periods and mandatory counseling?

Wallerstein compares her methods to those of illustrious modern psychologists. It's odd to see Freud, who has been widely criticized for massaging his data when he didn't make it up, invoked as a model practitioner, but in any case, none of these men co-wrote their books with popular journalists (in Wallerstein's case, Sandra Blakeslee), used composite characters or presented as interviews done by themselves interviews that were conducted by other people. Case studies are all very well, perhaps even when written up with an obvious eye to mass-market advertising and media soundbites, but interviewing people for a few hours every five years (or listening to the tapes of such interviews by others) is not "intensive interviewing"--it's a conversation, a visit, a tête-à-tête. Nor is a group of high school classmates of one's original subjects assembled twenty-five years into one's research a valid scientific control. Besides, as she herself notes, the comparison group parents were much better educated and wealthier.

As a sample of children whose parents are divorced, Wallerstein's 131 subjects leave much to be desired. For one thing, she didn't follow up on the ones who dropped out--thirty-eight people, almost 30 percent of the original group! If, as is likely, the ones who stayed were the ones with more problems, and the ones who left were the ones who adjusted well to divorce and moved on with their lives, then failing to do "case studies" of the dropouts leaves her with a sample biased toward gloomy findings. (That Wallerstein's continuing subjects came disproportionately from families that had a hard time coping with divorce is suggested by the fact that 32 percent of their mothers had only a high school diploma or less versus 24 percent of the mothers in the original group.) It is disturbing that Wallerstein seems incurious about the melting away of so many of her original subjects, and the result is that she not only cannot say how representative her interviewees are of "children of divorce" in general, she can't even say how representative they are of her own sample!

As she has done many times in recent years, Wallerstein fudges the fact that she recruited her group--and skewed her sample--by offering free therapy, as she herself clearly acknowledged in her first report on her study "Surviving the Breakup." Similarly, although she professes herself shocked by the word "crazy," it was she who, in the same book, described her sample as consisting largely of people who were mentally or emotionally troubled. According to her own words, only one-third of the parents in her sample were "those whose functioning overall during the life history of the marriage was generally adequate or better." Roughly 50 percent were "moderately disturbed"--nor does she suggest in the earlier book that this is a temporary aberration caused by the stress of divorce, as she now claims. On the contrary, she speaks of addictions, suicidal tendencies, chronic depression, "severe neurotic difficulties," "handicaps in relating to another person" and "longstanding problems in controlling their rage or sexual impulses." This is half the parents. The remainder--15 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women--were "severely troubled during their marriages, perhaps throughout their lives," with "histories of mental illness, including paranoid thinking, bizarre behavior, manic-depressive illnesses, and generally fragile or unsuccessful attempts to cope with the demands of life, marriage and family." Divorce or no divorce, the offspring of such people are not likely to reach adulthood unscathed.

Wallerstein labels her subjects "children of divorce." The very process of participating in her study may have encouraged her subjects to embrace that self-definition, as "children of alcoholics" often view their lives through the lens of parental drinking, which is taken to explain every possible deviation from the ideal. Another researcher might label them "children of the emotionally or mentally ill." Perhaps, as Wallerstein seems to believe, two disturbed parents are better than one. But that tells us little about what the effects of divorce are for the children of parents who are nonviolent, sane, stable and capable of loving and responsible relationships. Paradoxically, these parents, the ones most likely to raise healthy kids after divorce, are the ones most likely to heed Wallerstein's advice to remain in bad marriages.

KATHA POLLITT


SISTERHOOD WAS SOURFUL

Brooklyn, N.Y.

In "When Women Spied on Women" [Sept. 4/11], the piece excerpted from Ruth Rosen's book regarding women spying on and infiltrating the women's movement, contained a reference to Seattle that I wish to clarify. Rosen repeats Betty Friedan's contention that the FBI had infiltrated a number of women's organizations and manipulated the gay-straight split. She cites Friedan's charge that when she was invited to speak in Seattle, she was met with protesters. Friedan told Rosen that she thought "the Seattle thing was [the result] of agents."

I was active in the left and women's liberation movement in Seattle, am writing a book about the women's liberation movement in Seattle, helped organize the protests against Friedan--and I know I wasn't an agent. The protest against Friedan was organized mainly by individuals and groups like the University YWCA, the University of Washington Women's Commission and the Seattle Gay Women's Alliance, who were disturbed by Friedan's homophobia. One of the main organizers of that protest was Mary Aiken Rothschild, now a professor of women's studies at the University of Arizona, then a PhD candidate in history and acting director of the University of Washington women's studies program. In an interview with Pandora, a local feminist newsletter, Rothschild challenged "Friedan's idea of what a feminist movement is about.... Mary defined herself as a straight woman, a mother, a professional who supported her lesbian sisters. Gay and straight women work together in Seattle and that is why we are getting somewhere. We didn't need big name leaders from the outside coming in to disrupt our movement."

Those of us involved in organizing the protest were very proud of our activities. We had attempted to convince Friedan to share a platform with an activist in the lesbian movement. She refused. We tried to meet with her and discuss her political point of view. She refused. So, we confronted her at a cocktail party and then at her public meeting at the University of Washington. This was not the first time that the radical women's liberation movement publicly confronted movement "leaders." In the fall of 1972, largely through the efforts of the University of Washington Women's Commission, we met with and publicly demonstrated against Gloria Steinem. The women were particularly critical of her support for the Democratic Party and her role in voting down the pro-choice plank at the 1972 Democratic convention.

As Rosen demonstrates, many women were hardly "sisterly." Others, to their discredit, accused women of being agents, provocateurs or male-identified as a way to dismiss their ideas or persona. As historians, especially as historians of our own movement, we have an obligation not to leave these charges unanswered.

BARBARA WINSLOW


Brooklyn, N.Y.

I can verify that the FBI continued its surveillance of the women's movement long after the late sixties and early seventies. Three months after my book Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody was published, in 1986, the FBI convened the first grand jury in the history of our country to question an American citizen, me, about the whereabouts of a missing mother and her "allegedly" sexually abused daughter, who had fled "underground" when a court awarded custody of the girl to the "alleged" paternal incest-abuser. Had I been granted immunity to testify before the Buffalo grand jury and failed to do so, I might have sat in jail for a long time.

What terrified me was the possibility that few feminists understood that my silence was a political act. At the time (long before TV began to air docudramas about a Mother's Underground) virtually none of the liberal feminist organizations with whom I had worked on other issues--NOW, NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Center for Women and Family Law, Ms. magazine and Foundation--were institutionally or ideologically ready to face this kind of danger. Lawyer Margy Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights was, and the center stood by me. A few days before the grand jury was to take place, I received a call from the FBI telling me that they "had captured the felon" and that my testimony was no longer needed. Meanwhile, feminist and lesbian networks were disbanded, a number of feminist and lesbian lawyers were harassed, and one lost her license to practice law in Mississippi because she dared to represent a mother in a similar circumstance. The FBI successfully hunted down and jailed a number of runaway mothers.

PHYLLIS CHESLER

If Gore loses the White House--and some of you reading this will know whether or not he did--he'll have no one but himself to blame. Readers of this page know I've been something of a Naderskeptic all along (I'm planning a tactical vote for him here in Gore-solid New York, but if I lived in a toss-up state I'd vote Democratic and hope you would--or did--too). Still, it's not Nader's fault that huge numbers of voters don't care if Bush is a reactionary moron and find his Christian frat boy act appealing. Ralph didn't tell Gore to go after the dithering undecideds and to forget about energizing his base and reaching out to suburban and working women. Remember when abortion and gun control were going to be key issues? When the Million Moms were going to sway the election? Ralph didn't make Gore distance himself so far from Clinton--a genius campaigner with a 60 percent approval rating--that he couldn't plausibly claim the "good" economy as his own, even as he also wasn't willing to acknowledge the millions who have been victimized by Clinton's policies on prisons, welfare, drugs, civil liberties, privacy. Who was stopping Gore from announcing that on second thought, sending a $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package to Colombia was a terrible idea? Wouldn't that have been a better way to prove he was his "own man," not Clinton's, than spouting sanctimonious pieties about faith and family?

Or take capital punishment: When the issue came up in the debates, Gore and Bush both said they were for the death penalty. Gore could easily have said that, like Republican Governor Ryan of Illinois, he supported the death penalty but was troubled by studies showing an alarming number of false convictions in capital cases, and so he also supported a moratorium on executions. Sure, some of the undecideds would have peeled off to Bush--you can imagine the campaign ads in which relatives retell ghastly murders of loved ones and accuse the Vice President of denying them "closure." But then Gore could have run ads highlighting Bush's appalling record as death-penalty king of Texas, and his lazy and frivolous approach to the whole issue, which troubles some conservatives and has even become a standard laugh line for David Letterman. By taking a political risk--in a righteous cause--Gore would have been able to counteract the popular view of him as calculating and expedient, which is doing him more harm than his actual positions, which voters tell pollsters they like.

The same could be said of Gore's problems to his left. If Gore wants to defuse Nader, why doesn't he fire back on a whole range of substantive issues instead of acting like Nader has stolen votes that somehow belong to Gore by right? Gore has a record as Vice President, and he presumably believes in the positions that drive Naderites wild--for NAFTA, for military interventions around the globe, for welfare reform, for ladling vast sums of money into the Pentagon. He could take the trouble to explain why he is right and Nader is wrong on the issues that divide them, or why he is being wrongly blamed for policies that were actually the work of a Republican Congress, or why he is the best person to undo the damage Nader has identified.

Nader's not perfect, after all--Gore could ask why he doesn't belong to the party whose ticket he heads, why he told Outside magazine he would prefer a win for Bush (readers will remember he told me the opposite), why he has so little support among the people--minorities, women, blue-collar workers--whose interests he claims to represent. He could point out that while four years of Republicanism may move a few to the left, it may also drive far more people to embrace the Democrats, any Democrats, so the whole Nader phenomenon contains the seeds of its own destruction, in which case why not cut to the chase and vote for the Democrat now? He could make plenty of hay out of Nader's ill-informed and self-serving insistence that a Bush win will not endanger reproductive rights--most recently, Nader told Sam Donaldson that even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, "it just reverts it back to the states." Just! As if there aren't at least fourteen states ready to criminalize abortion the minute they get the go-ahead. As if there aren't already more than 300 restrictions on abortion already on the books! At one time Gore's ferocity as a debater was going to be his decisive strength. It may have backfired with the feel-good nincompoop Bush, but Gore could always try getting down off his high horse and asking Ralph how he would feel about letting other freedoms lose their constitutional protection. Should fifty state legislatures decide every year how much freedom of speech Ralph Nader is going to have?

It's perfectly fair to attack Nader. It's even fair to attack him in nasty, personal ways, the way Naderites attack Gore--by, for example, spreading the right-wing disinformation that Gore said he invented the Internet and was the model for Love Story. But it's absurd and kind of pathetic for Toby Moffett and the "Nader's Raiders for Gore" to wring their hands and beg Nader to step aside for the good of the country--it would make more sense to beg Gore to address the concerns of Nader voters. It would even make more sense for them to address--since Gore isn't doing the job--the fence-sitters who are moving toward Bush: pro-choice women, for instance, who think Bush isn't serious about working to limit abortion (an illusion not shared by the Christian Coalition, one might add), and union men who are having trouble choosing between their guns and their job protection.

According to a group of seven academic political forecasters, Gore is supposed to win because the man and the campaign and the issues are unimportant: Whether the incumbent party stays in the White House all depends on the state of the economy, both actual and perceived. This alone can explain the outcome of every election since 1948. If Gore loses despite his tremendous structural advantages, what can you say except he screwed up monumentally? Clinton triangulated against the left, but Gore acted as if the left didn't exist. You can't blame the left if it came back to bite him on the behind.

I keep reading that the election turns on women's votes. Yet apart from the issue of abortion, women seem curiously invisible this election season--except of course for the endlessly focus-grouped, interviewed and psychoanalyzed women of Ohio and other toss-up states, who can't decide whether to vote for Gore because he kissed his wife or for Bush because they like his mother. Are these ninnies really representative, or is their prominence more a symptom of the emptiness of political reporting, which has cast the race as a personality contest between a Fibber and a Dope? What, for example, do women tell pollsters is their most important issue? Hint: It's not whether Al Gore or George W. would be more fun on a date or make a better babysitter. It's pay equity.

Yes, women are apparently unpersuaded that they earn 71 cents on the male dollar because, as the Independent Women's Forum insists, they choose low-paid jobs in order to have lots of time and energy for childcare and housecleaning. Yet when Bernard Shaw asked Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman about pay equity in their Veep debate, the two men quickly turned to the marvels of their respective tax proposals. Shaw let them--what's pay equity to him? Even issues that are on the table are discussed as if they have no gendered aspects--affirmative action, for instance, or proposals to privatize all or part of Social Security, which will affect women much more than men: Not only do women on average live longer, they make up the large majority of retirees and dependents who survive on Social Security alone. Violence against women has gone unmentioned--as opposed to media violence and smut, a major theme and supposed woman-pleaser--ditto insurance coverage for contraception (Viagra's already covered, but you knew that), high-quality daycare, the near-impossibility of collecting court-ordered child support from an ex-husband who doesn't want to pay it (there's a middle-class issue for you) and dozens of other problems facing real-life women. There are a number of women running for national office, but you don't hear much about them. From the media point of view, the continuing scandal of women's underrepresentation in government is as musty as the ERA. Women had their year back in 1992.

There's only one woman on the political scene who seems to evoke any kind of passion--and that's Hillary Clinton, or "Hillary." But most of the passion is negative: She's like a Rorschach test of feminine evil. Through direct mail aimed at Hillary-haters across the land, the Conservative Leadership Political Action Committee has raised almost $2 million for her Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, a hyperaggressive nobody whose wife boasts that she cleans her own house--I suppose that's the contemporary equivalent of Pat Nixon's good Republican cloth coat. The First Lady, a supporter of the death penalty, welfare reform and interventionist foreign policy, is depicted as an "angry woman who is abusive to White House staff and obsessed with imposing her radical left vision on the rest of America." How hated is Hillary? Eighteen percent of Democratic primary voters pulled the lever for her totally obscure challenger, a doctor who subsequently revealed himself to be a Lazio supporter. Maureen Dowd has completely lost herself in an ecstasy of psychological projection--her Hillary is like Joan Crawford in an old weepie: While the Gores and Liebermans bill and coo, she rattles around in her empty new house, loveless and lonely, and excluded from society as "Manhattan's dread extra woman." On the Drudge Report, Juanita Broaddrick accused Hillary of threatening her at a political function two weeks after her alleged rape: The threat was conveyed by thanking Broaddrick effusively--too effusively--for her support.

Disapproval of Hillary for sticking with her marriage cuts across party lines--Jimmy Breslin and George Will together at last with all those suburban harpies happy to knife a woman who steps out of the box. But her devotion to Bill has brought her an odd defender, Linda Waite, author with right-wing columnist Maggie Gallagher of a book-length soundbite called The Case for Marriage. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Waite castigates conservatives like Will for taking opportunistic potshots at Hillary's decision to stay married: After all, Hillary is honoring the institution of marriage and making the choice conservatives--although presumably not Will, who is divorced--think people should make when faced with marital trouble. "Staying in an imperfect marriage is a perfectly reasonable choice for many women," writes Waite, not to mention good for society. Interestingly, Waite seems to have forgotten her own potshot at Hillary: In their book, Waite and Gallagher torment a remark of Mrs. Clinton's that seems clearly aimed at gossips and Nosy Parkers ("I learned a long time ago that the only two people who count in any marriage are the two that are in it") to portray her as a standard-bearer for the idea that marriage is a private contract with no social significance. In fact, as they should know, Mrs. Clinton is quite a conservative on marital matters; she supported the Republican-authored Personal Responsibility Act, which begins by stating that "marriage is the foundation of a successful society"; in It Takes a Village, she wrote favorably of making divorce harder to get.

If you want to see a woman politician boldly standing up for the right to privacy--or anything else--you have to go to the movies. In The Contender, a swell political thriller, Joan Allen plays Laine Hanson, a Republican-turned-Democrat senator who is nominated to fill out a dead Vice President's term and finds herself under withering attack for supposedly participating in a fraternity sexfest as a college freshman. The movie, which is dedicated to "our daughters," is one long prayer for the abolition of the double standard--which it then, in typical Hollywood fashion, endorses. Laine is so pure and idealistic that she survives only because Jeff Bridges, as the wily Clintonesque President, stoops to tactics that would never even occur to her. In other words, in order to be in politics, a woman has to be too good for politics.

Every five years the psychologist Judith Wallerstein updates her ongoing
study of 131 children whose parents were going through divorce in Marin
County, California, in 1971, and every five years her warnings about the
dire effects of divorce on children make the headlines, the covers and
the talk shows. Her new book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,
ups the ante: She now believes that parents should grit their teeth and
stay together, so traumatized were her interviewees even into their 20s,
contending with drugs and drink, bad boy-friends, unsatisfactory jobs,
low self-esteem and lack of trust in relationships. Before you young
cynics out there say welcome to the club, remember: This is not a
moralistic sermon dreamed up by Dr. Laura, the Pope, your relatives or
even Judith Wallerstein. This is science.

But what if it isn't? Scholars have long been critical of Wallerstein's
methods: She had no control group--kids just like the ones in her study
but whose unhappily married parents stayed together. (In her new book
she has attempted to get around this flaw by interviewing a "comparison
sample" of people from intact families who went to high school with her
subjects, but the two groups are not carefully matched.) She generalizes
too quickly: Can sixty Marin County families really stand in for all
America? Are the seventies us? Doesn't it make a difference that fathers
today are more involved with their kids both before and after divorce,
that mothers are better educated and better able to support themselves,
that divorce is no longer a badge of immorality and failure? It never
occurs to Wallerstein, either, that the very process of being
interviewed and reinterviewed about the effects of parental divorce for
a quarter-century by a warm, empathetic and kindly professional would
encourage her subjects to see their lives through that lens. "Karen" may
really believe divorce explains why she spent her early 20s living with
a layabout--blaming your parents is never a hard sell in America--but
that doesn't mean it's true.

The media tend to treat such objections rather lightly. Wallerstein's
critics "don't want to hear the bad news," wrote Walter Kirn in
Time's recent cover story. The real bad news, though, is the way
Wallerstein has come to omit from her writings crucial information she
herself presented in her first book about her research, Surviving the
Breakup
, published in 1980.

How did Wallerstein find her divorcing couples, and what sort of people
were they? In her new book, she writes that they were referred by their
lawyers "on the basis of their willingness to participate." Surviving
the Breakup
gives quite a different picture: "The sixty families who
participated in this study came initially for a six-week divorce
counseling service. The service was conceptualized and advertised as a
preventive program and was offered free of charge to all families in the
midst of divorce. Parents learned of the service through attorneys,
school teachers, counselors, social agencies, ministers, friends, and
newspaper articles." In other words, Wallerstein was not just offering
people a chance to advance the cause of knowledge, she was offering free
therapy--something she today vehemently denies ("Naturally I wanted to
be sure that any problem we saw did not predate the divorce. Neither
they [the kids] nor their parents were ever my patients"). Obviously,
people who sign up for therapy, not to mention volunteering their kids
for continuing contact, have problems; by choosing only therapy-seekers,
Wallerstein essentially excluded divorcing couples who were coping well.

Today, Wallerstein provides no information about the psychological
well-being of the parents before divorce, but in her 1980 book, she is
very clear about how troubled they were. Only one-third displayed
"generally adequate psychological functioning." Fifty percent of the men
and almost as many women were "moderately troubled"--"chronically
depressed, sometimes suicidal individuals...with severe neurotic
difficulties or with handicaps in relating to another person, or those
with longstanding problems in controlling their rage or sexual
impulses." Fifteen percent of the men and 20 percent of the women "had
histories of mental illness, including paranoid thinking, bizarre
behavior, manic-depressive illnesses, and generally fragile or
unsuccessful attempts to cope with the demands of life, marriage, and
family." Some underwent "hospitalization for severe mental illness,
suicide attempts, severe psychosomatic illnesses, work histories ridden
with unsatisfactory performance, or arrests for assault." It's not for
me to say whether a sample in which two-thirds of the participants range
from chronically depressed to outright insane represents the general
public--but attributing all their children's struggles to divorce is
patently absurd.

The way Wallerstein describes her sample has changed also. In a table in
her 1980 book, she places 28 percent of the families in the two lowest
of five social-class rankings, as defined by the Hollingshead index, and
23 percent in the highest. In the new book, these figures are mentioned
in passing, but at the same time she calls all the families "middle
class"--including a famous wife-beating TV executive and his former
spouse, a wealthy travel agent who spent her life globe-trotting. All
are now "educated," as well, including the substantial percentage of
parents (24 percent of the mothers and 18 percent of the fathers at
initial contact in 1971) who hadn't been to college. Gone too are such
relevant facts from the earlier book as that one-third of the couples
had "rushed into a precipitous marriage because of an unplanned
pregnancy" and that half the wives, "because of their age and lack of
job experience, were viewed realistically as unemployable."

In short, what we have here are not generic white suburbanites who threw
away workable marriages in order to actualize their human potential in a
Marin County hot tub. We have sixty disastrous families, featuring crazy
parents, economic insecurity, trapped wives and, as Wallerstein does
discuss, lots of violence (one-quarter of the fathers beat their wives;
out of the 131 children, thirty-two had witnessed such attacks). How on
earth can she claim that divorce is what made her young people's lives
difficult? The wonder is that they are doing as well as they are.

I still think third-party politics is mostly a crock, but then, so is two-party politics.

"The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from
religion," Senator Joseph Lieberman told a rapturous audience at a black
church a few Sundays ago, just after being chosen as

Since 1988, when it became available in France, American women have been waiting for mifepristone.

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