Maybe a Woman Can’t Handle It

A review of What Sex is a Republican? Stories from the Front Lines in American Politics and How You Can Change the Way Things Are Terri McCormick, M.A., former Wisconsin state congresswoman.  Published by The Capital Press. 

Everybody knows that politics is broken and filled with corruption.  Everybody wants to change the way things are.  Terri McCormick entered the world of politics with the intent to do just that. 

Ms. McCormick started her political career by working to get a charter school law passed in Wisconsin, working against a great deal of opposition from teachers’ unions and other groups dedicated to the status quo.  She tells several harrowing tales about the resistance she faced from those who wanted to retain the status quo.  Particularly disturbing is a tale about her daughter, apparently because of her mother’s activism, had her desk moved to the back corner of the classroom and filled with boxes, presumably at the hands of a teacher who wanted to single her out.  On another occasion, an anonymous phone call warned her to check under her car before strapping the kids in.

Although these incidents are striking and legitimately disturbing, most of the rest of Ms. McCormick’s war stories fall flat.  Ms. McCormick presents virtually every case of opposition against her candidacy or her propositions as if it as well were a personal and unfair attack against her.  One incident, for example, involves her publically disagreeing with the Joint Finance Chair’s criticism of the governor.  Although she presents this issue as if she faced some sort of harsh and unfair retribution for daring to speak out, the story culminates with nothing more than a couple of her party members being critical of her.  Similarly, when describing her visit to Washington in an attempt to run for a national seat, Ms. McCormick spends a great deal of time decrying one sitting senator’s unethical behavior, which turns out to amount to nothing more than him telling her that he would be supporting her opponent.  Her outrage at the party and its treatment of her simply does not ring true, and is difficult to sympathize with, leaving me to wonder whether her lack of success was the result of her own weaknesses and thin skin, rather than any unfair outside forces. 

Throughout the book, Ms. McCormick presents herself as a populist, and asserts the values of grassroots-based populism.  However, in stark contrast to her expressed love of “the people,” Ms. McCormick makes numerous attacks on the credibility of bloggers, always speaking in broad generalities with no specific examples.  She ignores the extraordinary number of times that the “elite” media has mislead its viewers, and makes a case for us to trust the media based only on its alleged credibility.  In my mind, this reads as if Ms. McCormick has a chip on her shoulder about bloggers and is somewhat disingenuous about her love of populism. This, when combined with the stories above, lead the reader to question whether her biases are only based around those that have supported her verses those who have not. 

Indeed, the title of this book is perhaps most misleading.  Although she occasionally pays lip service to ideas involving sex and gender, and sometimes, when describing so failure of support, she throws out the question (without an answer) “Was it about sex?”, she never once gives a credible reason to believe that any of the actions against her were based on her gender.  In this way, her assertions appear no different from Obama supporters asserting that opposition to his policies are founded in racism.  From a description of the book provided by the publisher, some opponents of the GOP may hope that this book will reveal some hidden sexism that pervades its ranks.  They will be sorely disappointed. 

Approximately the first three quarters of the book are largely devoted to Ms. McCormick’s stories from the front lines of politics.  The remainder, however, is devoted to explanations and guidelines devoted to the second promise, how we can change the way things are.  Although many of the examples given are generalized and somewhat uninspired (“get involved!” “vote!”), she also provides a great deal of explanation as to how a political campaign is actually run. She encourages all who are interested to get involved and run for office at the local level.  She encourages people who want to make changes and solve problems to run for local office based on grassroots efforts.  Where all of that encouragement would be nice but somewhat banal, she separates this book by actually providing an action plan that describes, from start to finish, how such a campaign can be run and won.  Additionally, she provides examples and instructions involving how bills can be written and passed in order to allow her readers to take action.  These instructions and examples, things that I have always been curious about but do not believe to be widely available, could make this book unusually valuable to those who are interested in making a difference.  This may make up for the book’s other weaknesses.

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4 Responses

  1. Nice review. I’m not sure I understand the title “maybe a woman can’t handle it” though.

    • Thanks, Steve. You know, I wrestled with the title, and maybe I shouldn’t have used it. I was going for the idea that she made a big deal about being a woman but seemed to have such a thin skin over some very minor things (not the 2 things about her kids, but the later things about people not supporting her ideas), so she wasn’t making a very good case for the “women power” meme that she seemed to want to push. In other words, maybe *this* woman can’t handle it.

      Now I wish that I had let it sit a bit longer before I sent it to my editor. Oh well, what’s done is done.

  2. Your title is a total mischaracterization of your review. Overall, your review was mixed, but the title is misleading. You admit that McCormick makes good points and that a wide range of people would find value from reading her book. In actuality, your review is one of the most negative I have seen. Perhaps it is based on your own political biases. After all, you admit what your career is, and you may be one of the aspiring bureaucrats takes on in her book. Clearly this is a must read!

  3. My review was mixed, but it was also one of the most negative that you have seen? Of this book, or of anything?

    Honestly, I struggled with the negativity; this is my first book review and I wanted it to be positive. But I couldn’t ignore some of the weaknesses in the book, and I felt like they were important. Would you prefer that I reviewed the book dishonestly? I explained the title in my comment to steve; I can see how it wouldn’t have been clear, but I don’t think that it was a “mischaractorization” as you put it. Perhaps you could explain that better?

    As for my “career,” may I ask what you are talking about? I am actually pretty proud of my career; I worked hard and sacrificed a lot in law school, and my acheivements reflect that, not that, I’m sure, you would know anything about what that’s like. Judges are very selective in choosing judicial clerks; it’s an honor to have been offered this position. I’m not a bureaucrat, and I have no idea where you would have gotten the idea that I aspire to be one, nor my review discuss bureacrats in any way, so again, what are you talking about?

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