Suskindblogging: The Sexism Story

The Anita Dunn story continues to dominate chatter about Confidence Men. It’s a little odd, because Ron Suskind collected so many quotes and stories  that read worse than this. It’s a little unsurprising, because of all the people Suskind got access to, Dunn is the one with the most PR battle scars. She knows what she’s doing.

But how much does the sexism charge, or the “boys club” charge, play into Suskind’s narrative? Quite a lot. Stories of unexpected sexism spring up like novelty jack-in-the-boxes at random points in the story. The stories that jar, and don’t really cohere into anything, have to do with Barack Obama himself – you know, the guy Dunn lets off the hook in the full version of her quote. At a 2007 meeting with economic advisers, Obama points to a problem with job creation in the health care industry. Many people, he says, view it as “women’s work.” The “room chewed over the non-PC phrase,” writes Suskin.

Later, he writes about Obama’s meeting with Romer on November 21, 2008.

Before exchanging hellos or even shaking hands, the president-elect delivered what seemed intended as a zinger.

“It’s clear monetary policy has shot its wad.”

It was a strange break from decorum for a man who had done so outsandingly well with women voters. The two had never met before, and this made the salty, sexual language hard to read. Later it would seem a foreshadowing of something that came to irk many of the West Wing’s women: the president didn’t have particulary strong “women skills.”

But is “shot its wad” actually a salty expression? The expression comes from a possible misuse of a musket; stuff the gun wrong, and there’ll be a spark, the wad will fall out, but no musket will fire. It’s more recently become sland for premature ejaculation, sure, but it’s used both ways. The more important part of this conversation was actually Romer’s belief that Obama was wrong. “There’s quite a bit we can still do monetarily,” she says, “even with the historically low interest rates.” But here, and throughout the book, Suskind draws out the idea that Obama and his team made some screw-ups because they didn’t listen enough to women.