Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich

(WOMENSENEWS)–The National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus endorsed Carol Moseley Braun for president yesterday, on the 83rd anniversary of U.S. women gaining the right to vote.

In so doing, activist women once again stood firmly in the “bully pulpit of their familiar” (to paraphrase author Alice Walker)–from which they continue to fight to push women out of the margins and into the center of the political arena.

This time, they are lending their clout to an accomplished former senator and former ambassador, who despite her considerable political stature, is being largely ignored by many influential onlookers. In media discussions, her name is too often omitted from the roster of candidates.

Commentary about the Democratic and Republican candidates’ “stud factor” and “alpha male” appeal appeared in the Washington Post on July 13, accompanied by caricatures of the men “flexing their muscles” in various stages of jock undress. An earlier Washington Post commentary on May 25 discussed the relative advantage of candidates’ “military record gaining a role in the 2004 Presidential Race.”

Moseley Braun was mentioned in neither piece of these gender-biased pieces. When she’s left out like this, it contributes to the sexist assumption that she cannot be a serious candidate since she isn’t visibly competing in this primarily male context.

Moseley Braun’s Campaign Called ‘Silly’

Moseley Braun has been dogged by allegations of improper money management. However, the truth is that after intense smear efforts by partisan detractors who charged her with IRS campaign reporting irregularities, it turned out that she owed the princely sum of $311.

This was such a small amount in the scheme of political campaigns that she was not even fined penalties or interest. Although she was fully investigated and found to be without guilt, baseless allegations continue to be dragged into assessments of her qualifications. The “politics of personal destruction” find an easy target in an overachieving and successful Black woman public official like Carol Moseley Braun. Yet, most white male politicians benefit from press’ amnesia. For example, George W. Bush not only presided over the demise of an oil business and a baseball team, but also spent many years immersed in an alcoholic haze, all of which facts are very rarely mentioned.

A male writer for a major East Coast daily recently called her candidacy “silly,” the same label he applied to the bid by Rev. Al Sharpton, the other African American in the field of nine Democratic contenders.

Given the degree to which stereotyping often drives the media’s perspectives, it is hard to discern whether that writer’s “silly” label for Moseley Braun’s candidacy was because of her gender, her race, or all of the above, as often is the experience of Black women. It was not based upon her qualifications.

Moseley Braun Has Years of Public Service

Moseley Braun has 25-plus years experience as an elected official at the local, state and national levels, giving her far more political experience than either Bill Clinton or, certainly, George W. Bush when they ran for office. She is a lawyer who was elected to the Illinois state legislature and also elected to countywide office in Cook County, Ill. She is the first African American woman elected to the U. S. Senate and only the second African American senator since the Civil War and Reconstruction. She recently completed service as the U. S. ambassador to New Zealand.

Carol Moseley-Braun

National opinion polls have affirmed that Carol Moseley Braun has a high approval rating among voters and is running respectably high in the otherwise all-male Democratic primary field. In an August poll of Democrats’ preferences in an Illinois presidential primary, she led with 22 percent support of those polled. Dick Gephardt followed with 16 percent. In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Braun placed fifth, ahead of John Edwards, Bob Graham, Rev. Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich.

A tendency exists to overlook her, which has bizarre and distracting consequences. At one highly partisan political action committee meeting last spring, a savvy African American activist who generously supports candidates of her choice, was asked to contribute to Carol Moseley Braun’s campaign. Her surprising response was that, while she would make an initial pledge, she really did not yet know the candidate’s platform. She asked: What does she stand for?

The planks of Moseley Braun’s platform have been public for the last 15 years and explicit since earlier this summer, when she announced her candidacy. For political players not to know about them suggests just how successfully the male-dominated media pack has belittled the only female candidate in the field.

Nonetheless, Moseley Braun is still standing, just as when she alone led the successful defeat of former Senator Jesse Helms’ determination to continue federal recognition of the discriminatory United Daughters of the Confederacy. She continues to challenge the status quo, aggressively advancing an institutional-change agenda. The two endorsements from politically powerful women’s advocacy organizations are based explicitly upon this tradition and her strong progressive record.

Moseley Braun’s Campaign Quantum Leap from Chisholm’s

Carol Moseley Braun’s campaign experiences are a quantum leap forward by contrast to those of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 was the first woman and the first African American to mount a fully orchestrated national presidential campaign. She was neither supported by Black elected officials’ organizations nor by most women’s groups.

Chisholm wrote once about an encounter with a male voter in Harlem who criticized her in a way that seems positively quaint today. “Young woman, what are you doing out here in this cold?” the man challenged her. “Did you get your husband’s breakfast this morning? Did you straighten up your house? What are you doing running for office? That is something for men!”

What Moseley Braun Needs to Win

The question is: What will overcome the appearance of a stealth candidacy by Carol Moseley Braun and force her determination to win into mainstream consideration and media coverage?

When asked this question, candidate Carol identifies three imperatives: The first two are to raise money and do well in some early primaries; the third–and what she describes as the most important–is for Americans to believe in her as a viable candidate who will govern effectively as president.

Well, women are showing that they believe in her and there are 9 million more registered women voters than men!

In additional to her new high-profile endorsements from women’s organizations, Moseley Braun’s supporters also include Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine; Dr. Dorothy I. Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women; Coretta Scott King, founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Non-Violent Social Change; Marie Wilson, founding president of The White House Project, which recruits women for public office and Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, former secretary of state, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, political power broker and chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women.

Let’s hope the support and energies of such high-profile women will help Moseley Braun achieve the respectful attention her candidacy deserves.

Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, Ph.D., is a consultant on national policy and civil rights issues and a senior faculty member at the National Labor College of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, located in the Washington, D.C. area.

Other Women’s eNews commentaries by Scruggs-Leftwich:

Aug 28, 2002 Court Nominee Shedd Is Hostile to Women’s Rights
Jan 30, 2002 King’s Dream of Economic Parity Eludes Black Women
Sep 19, 2001 Confronting Racism Would Enhance U.S. Security
Jul 04, 2001 Toward an Independence Day for All to Celebrate
Feb 28, 2001 Black Women Are Touching the Sky
Jan 15, 2001 Dr. Martin Luther King: ‘Give Us the Ballot’
Nov 15, 2000 Significance of Black Women’s Vote Ignored
Sep 27, 2000 Black, Latina Women Locked in Jailhouse, Poorhouse
Aug 24, 2000 Candidates: Don’t Underestimate Black Women