tv To the Contrary With Bonnie Erbe PBS October 10, 2010 9:30am-10:00am EDT
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>> this week is "to the contrary" an historic drop, there will be fewer women in congress after the fall elections and if so, how that will affect your life. then, thin women earn bigger bucks. behind the headlines, branding the first lady. >> hello, i'm bonnie erbe, welcome to to the contrary, a discussion of news and social friends from diverse perspectives. up first, women in congress. first lady michelle obama will be hitting the campaign trail to raise money and stoke support for embattled
congressional candidates as the white house reaches out to women and other des pont-- despondent progressive voters. the reason for the push is for the first time in three decades the number of women in congress could actually decline this year even though record numbers of new female candidates are running. women represent more than half the u.s. population, but hold a mere 17% of congressional seats. >> something seems fundamentally wrong when 523% of the u.s.-- 52% of the u.s. population is women but only 17% of the u.s. congress are, especially considering that we go into other countries and encourage 25% gender quotas in their governments. this is a standard we've never come close to achieving ourselves. and that suggests to women that the political system is not open to them. >> anti-incumbent sentiment, an unpopular democratic president, and the advent of tea party candidates have all created an unfavourable
political climate for female candidates. add the struggling economy which is expected to depress female voter turnout as well. historically, voters are less likely to elect women in tough economic times. historians say laws affecting women and families are more likely to pass when women are in office. >> the agenda looks different when we have more women in politic women are more likely to focus on issues like health care, education, pay equity, a woman's right to choose, than their male counterparts. party is still the best predictor of how a legislator will vote on any particular bill or issue. but gender really does play an important role in terms of what issues even make it on the legislative agenda. >> so irene natividad, how does it affect the average american if there are fewer women in congress? >> well, because half of the country's workers and a third of the the country's small-business owners will
have lesser representation on pocketbook issues that affect the lowest end of the economic ladder. >> i think we'll see a shift in the top legislative priorities. there will be more economic in nature and less education in the social issues. >> i really don't buy the fact that there are going to be less women in congress. i think that this is an economy and environment that might favor women more. but if we have fewer leaders i think it sends a bad signal to children, to see fewer women leading this country. >> i think the women who will be in congress come january are going to be so different than the ones that are there now that that is really going to be the driving change, not the composition of congress but who actually is in there. >> but patricia, you cover congress. everybody, all the polls, all the pundits are saying, all the women, the organizations that track women in congress are saying there are going to be fewer. why do you think we won't have fewer. >> i think we've seen so many surprises this election cycle, predictions don't seem to be holding up. everybody thought blanch lincoln would use the primary and wouldn't get to the general election. so i just don't know what to expect. i think since it will be, it
looks like a bad democratic year it is more likely we'll have fewer women legislators but i don't know. and a lot of the tea party candidates are women. so we have women obviously running in delaware without could pick up another seat for women. but we also for the first time have more women running against other women. and i think that's why you could see fewer women, if you look at a race like south dakota, you have two great women candidates and one of them going to get knocked out. so you don't know. you about i just don't buy the premise that is definitely going to be fewer women. >> well, just because there are more democratic women holding office, i think it is, and democrats are likely to lose seats, we are going to lose some democrats who happen to be women in congress. but i agree with you, it will be the composition. it will still be majority democratic female incumbents or new office holders. and it does impact, it does impact on policy. and it isn't social issues that women care about primarily. every poll says it's economic issue.
it has always been pocketbook issues but it's from their eyes, their per spec friv those who earned less do not have health care and are mostly in part-time, you know, jobs that don't have pensions and other benefits. >> but it was women in 1993 that pushed the national institutes of health to push more research in breast cancer. >> it was bernadine healy, first of all who has been a regular panelist here on the show for years. so it was a woman. >> there were many women in congress who sponsored a lot of bills saying you are only looking at the men. there were women there in the 90s saying don't ignore the women because we make up more than 50% of the country. so women in congress have been pushing these issues for a long time. >> will this new crop of tea party candidate, the countries teen o'donnells, would they do something like that or are they more, i have to say in her case anyway, religiously motivated. so she's going to vote like any right wing christian evangelical male would vote. >> if any of the tea party
candidates will be elected it will be hard for the republican party to control them. they believe in less government and they did not support things like the health-care bill. but with the party, the republican party trying to control them and tell them how they are going to vote, i think whoever whips those, the votes will have a hard time figuring out where they are because they are ideology, they are not party affiliated and that will change the dynamics in congress. >> but not many of them have been wing their primaries. and those who have won their primaries may not win the general. so i mean, it is a new crop but they may not be there as actual voices. there was a study done a few years ago that showed that whether it's republican or democrat, women in congress tend to be the drivers of issues that wouldn't be brought up otherwise. >> i agree. i tell you why i agree with that. if you look at somebody like kristen jill i brand from new york, the bill that she sponsored. >> and a conservative democrat, maybe she is getting a little more liberal. but the bills she sponsors are directly aim aimed and women and children and she
is the only one doing it. she is a young mother so she introduced bills about getting lead out of toys. about more food safety regulation, about having all kinds of safety in the home issues that i think women even in earlier generations didn't feel comfortable sponsoring because they didn't want to be women issues or only caring about soft social issues. so i think it makes a huge difference and if we have fewer women who are motivated by those issues obviously will you have fewer of those coming through. >> a lot of those soft issues are no longer considered soft. environmental issues that women tended to espouse, cleaner environment, greener this, that, are now everyone's issues. so it is the impact on americans is probably more than just affecting gender component. >> one of the things i take issue with in the segment was they said historically voters in a time of economic trouble don't vote with women because they vote-- that to me struck me as strange. i don't think that there is any historical comparison we can make to that because there are so many women running on tea party platforms. >> this is also a year of
the outsider and women are sort of the ultimate outside never politics. and women running this year are incredibly different by economic issues and are framing it in a way that makes sense to women voters and male voters to say the federal government can't balance its budget but i can balance mine and i will get in there and do it. >> are you one of those who-- of course the most prominent woman in american politics today house speaker nancy pelosi, you cover congress for politics daley, do you think the democrats are going to lose the house as is widely predicted? >> i don't know. all i can say si don't know. you cannot look at this election cycle and make predictions that hold up. >> i agree. i agree with her. >> so you think widespread, you know -- >> i think democrats. >> back on november 3rd. >> you can't be the party in charge when more than 60% of the country thinks the country is on the wrong track. are you to the going to hold on to seats, you are just not. a lot of these western seats and southern seats, those letters are very negatively,
they don't like nancy pelosi. they don't want their member of congress to be voting for nancy pelosi for speaker. the deck is stacked against them. are they going to lose the house. i don't know. >> yes, they are. >> don't be so fast because there is a principles that has held in every election and that is people like their member. incumbents -- >> not this year. not this year. >> well, we have had some incumbents knocked off in the primaries but in general they tend to like, especially somebody who has been there awhile. >> but the health care vote has changed all of that. if you look at any of the polls and any of the reporting on this in the past six months the health care debate was a changer. and for people like senator blanch lincoln who voted for it, people who voted for are thinking they don't want to did it against because of that vote. >> what she said about what happened in the primary with blanch lincoln, when people said she was not going to win it. anything can happen. this is a very volatile election cycle. >> and we are going to go to the next topic, on my way out, i want to say none of
you brought into the discussion the, what the impact of early voting. california started voting october 4th and so last minute ads, you know, binges and all those sorts of things and last minute developments are not going to be in as much play as they were. so anything could happen. >> yes. >> from politics to paychecks. >> does it pay to be thin? >> yes, according to a new study finding employers reward very thin women with higher pay while penalizing even average weight women with smaller paychecks. women who weighed 25 pounds less than the norm earned $15,000 more per year. but women who weighed 25 pounds above average earned about $14,000 less per year. while researchers suggest weight bias is a factor, the study points out that people who conform to other's ideas about the ideal body image may wield more influence and
perform better on the job. being overweight may diminish women's earnings but men earn more as they pack on the pounds. thin men earned about 8,000 less than average weight men. and men tend to reach their highest salary at around 207 pounds. >> nicky, i understand why overweight women would make less money in this society. what i don't understand is why overweight men would make more? >> i am very leery of equating corelation with causation. to me, i think that there is a difference, i think there are a lot of things going on. i think we are a vein society but at the same time i think that there is a self-esteem issue, there is a confidence issue. and i think that really, i think that plays a greater role than people consciously discriminate on the basis of weight. >> i think we also have to know more. are these heavier women coming off of maternity leave, they can'twork as many hours.
are these women not as healthy, they have to take more sick days. i don't think we can say -- >> but why doesn't that go for the men too. >> well, they don't have maternity leave to deal with for one thing. >> it all perception. if a man has a lot of girth, he looks like he's in a position of strength. but a scrawny man doesn't look like can actually handle a situation. and that, i asked a lot of-- . >> seriously what about a normal weight man. >> he's fit. >> first of all, i think men period, male employees get an advantage just because they're men. they earn, there is a pay gap in this society no matter what scale are you in. but i think perception as you said does matter. the minute you walk into a room an employer assesses immediately what you are, who you are, even before you say a word. and being attractive in this society, there was a study done, attractive people earn more overall than unattractive people. >> and tall people. >> this is about being heavier or less heavy.
>> but that -- >> i just have to say, i have never seen this in the workplace ever in my entire life. >> i am thinner than normal. i don't make a lot of money. i never have made more money than heavier women. i have never seen a man treated better because he is underweight or over. and in all my years working i have never seen this in practice. so i just need more information. i don't buy the whole thing. >> i think the methodology was something i was questioning when i was hearing this. i thought what did they do put people on a scale and ask what their salary was. i don't know how they came about this. >> do you make more money when you lose 20 pounds, do you get a raise. >> if are you in a workplace and you look at someone, if someone is overweight you think they are slower. >> you think they are slower. >> no, no, no. >> i don't think they are slower. >> the perception is -- >> what about a fat man. >> you think they are sloppier too. >> because they are not wearing suits they are wearing more stretchy clothing, from the larger women's stores. it is a perception issue in many, many weigh way,.
i have asked a lot of small-business owner was do you think of an overweight woman or man wednesday overweight women are perceived to be slow. >> you mean in terms of intelligence. >> no, slow in-- if are you heavier you carry more weight, slow. but what the people would not tell me was they are also going to cost you more on health care. studys have been done that an overweight woman will cost more in health care than an overweight man would. >> but the same, again, what doesn't play to me is i understand that, you know, these are real costs. these are the costs of doing business. why don't you apply it to the male employees the way it seems from the study it's being applied to the female. >> i agree with you on that. >> it is probably a man making a decision. >> it was probably a male-- it was probably a man who did this study in the first place. >> behind the headlines. the role of the first lady, as the wife of the leader of 9 free world the first lady is the most prominent nonelected federal government official. and this week "forbes"
magazine named michelle obama the most powerful woman in the world. des might her significance, the media tend to focus more on her wardrobe than on her politics. to the contrary spoke with the former chief of staff to first lady laura bush who believes mrs. obama and mrs. bush are more alike than people may think. she says first ladies have political clout, both at home and abroad. >> mrs. bush would always say and i think most first ladies would agree with this every single problem comes to the president's desk. but a first lady has the luxury to pick and choose issues that they want to get involved in. and because they can be so targetive, they can really have an enormous impact. >> mcbride says a first lady's platform should complement her husband's administration and allow the public to learn more about her. >> when the staff between the first lady staff and the president's staff are coordinated. and that they can have these discussions and really
decide upon how it would be best for the first lady to support an issue that is important to the administration it is a real collaboration between the east and west wing. and mrs. bush would be the first, you know, to say, she took time as well to engage in issues that she cared about. everything stemmed from education for her. and i think mrs. obama, you know, made it very clear she wanted to focus on life for their family. but also be involved in issues that help us support a family life. and the childhood obesity issue is perfect for her to support the administration's efforts on health care. this childhood obesity fits into the health care debate. and it is a piece of the debate that she can take and be a part of. and use her very visible role to talk about healthy kids. >> the current and former first ladies both have two
daughters. and they both chose to focus on issues affecting children. some may believe the similarities end there. while mrs. obama is depicted in the media as confident and outspoken, mrs. bush is seen in a quieter, more reserved light. but mcbride disagrees with that depiction. >> laura bush was no quiet first lady. and i went through the litany in the list of the things that were not traditional, including, you know, going to the border between burma and thighland to meet with hundreds of refugees that don't have an identity because of the brutal regime of their own country. i mean this not something a quiet person does. this is something a strong person does. that cares about human rights and you know, and cares about what our government does to support people in need. >> mcbride says the media can shape the public's impression of the first lady and says sometimes the media failed to focus on the important issues.
>> you know, enough with the clothes already. there is a lot more to the planning of these trips and what goes into putting together a series of events when a first lady travels overseas. we're very blessed to have an open and free and fair press in our country. and you try your best to get the message out. and to take reporters with you or have conversations with them. and share information about things that public figures are doing so that they can report it to the nation. but do i think maybe there was a little bit of a bias, maybe. but you know, you try your best in any way that you can to get the message out. >> so what does anita mcbride think of mrs. obama's job so far? >> i think it looks like she's enjoying her job, her role as first lady. i think that she has a very
good staff. she said right away what she wanted to do was focus on getting her family settled in the white house. she did that. take time to, you know, evaluate the work of agencies to the federal government with people and agencies of the federal government and really begin to define what it is that she wanted to engage in. >> i think, you know, all of our first ladies have shared this unique experience of having to manage life in the white house and protect a family life but also recognize their obligation as a public figure and move it in a way that can help, you know, move the needle on an issue they care about. >> anita mcbride said something patricia murphy that i want to run by you. she said she chose, michelle obama chose. done think she chose those issues. i think she may have chosen issues early in the campaign but when "the new yorker" cover came out with her address to the terrorists, i
think david axelrod stepped in and said you're going to be a housewife. >> i think there's no first lady especially since hillary clinton had her very, very unfortunate experience as first lady picking her own policy issues and running with them. i don't think we will see that again any time soon. an michelle obama i'm sure had ideas or suggestions but there was no way she was going to come in and announce her platform without it being focused group, coordinated with his policy i anybody tough. there was no way she could make those decisions on her own. i think what she ended up with childhood obesity and helping military families has been a great platform. she is doing it really well. >> i don't care who close it. i mean like you said, patricia, it works. and it's a very, very important issue in this country. >> it works but isn't that a sad commentary on america, americans just can't stand a first lady who does her own thing. that's too much for them. >> not only do you have to deal with the-- not stereotype, the model set by hillary clinton of a very strong first lady and that got, you know, booed out,
you also have the image that she was working against of a strong black woman that many americans still are unable to absorb. and so you know, she is strong now on an issue that frankly we should be addressing. this country is fat. and so we need to deal with it in terms of the kids. it a health issue that is really creating a lot of reverberations throughout our system. so i think, you know, i don't care who close it. she's doing day good job with that issue and she needs to continue espousing it. >> ever since the advent of hillary clinton as first lady people have said we didn't elect the first lady, we elected the president. and that's why there is always a negotiation behind the scenes among the first lady staff and the president's staff as to what that individual will do to complement her husband's agenda, never overshadow it and never seem like she's taking over. and that very specifically organize traded. >> you saw it in the bush administration. >> in the reagan administration too.
>> and also quite frankly, the first mrs. bush who was quoted in "the new york times" famously as saying i just go my own dumb-- she said dumb, way, and don't get involved in politics. >> and then and she's not dumb and she was very involved in politics. and after he left office she admitted she was pro-choice, as did her daughter-in-law. and when they come out later, i think a lot of women say to themselves, why did you wait. why didn't you do something on an issue that could have helped me in my life. >> it is not-- because the first lady is not elected, okay, you have to be very careful as to what she does espouse. but at the same time americans don't really want the first lady that is kniting in there. they want her to be visible, to look nice. nobody is screaming, you know, if anybody came out looking like a house frau, huh-uh, americans don't want that either.
>> no disney sweatshirts. >> no, no, no. >> please. >> i don't know if americans want their first lady's out politicking but we definitely saw laura bush do it and are seeing michelle obama doing it. they are getting on the campaign trail. their message is much softer. they aren't saying nasty things about the other party. they are out at fund-raisers and doing the politics. >> because they are more popular than their husbands. it a smart campaign tactic but they won't take harsh tactics because they can't be the bomb throwers. >> not much time left. >> i think who are the most popular first ladys in history. it has been women who have traditionally been softer, jackie o, it has been, you know -- >> what about eleanor roosevelt. she was popular and she started the united nations. >> no kidding. >> or was very heavily involved. i want to do an al gore i invented the internet about eleanor roosevelt but she was very involved in the founding of the united nations. >> you know, i think her role is to humanize the president. i think michelle obama has done a good job at that.
i think laura bush did a good job at that. >> i that is it for this edition of to the contrary. next week a half hour profile of house speaker nancy pelosi, the first female speaker in u.s. history at a time when many pollsters and pundits are predicting speaker pelosi may lose her historic title. please join us on the web for to the contrary extra whether your views are in agreement or to the contrary. please join us next time. >> funding for "to the contrary" provided by: