I listened to Ms. Conway’s “Meet the Press” exchange with Chuck Todd at first with anger, and then a strange sense of memory – and compassion. I wish I could talk to her like my daughter (I admit I am biologically almost old enough).
“You can laugh at me all you want,” she said, a shadow briefly crossing her face as though she were about to cry. Mr. Todd had just chuckled at her evading his questions. But what shocked me was her describing the women who had filled the streets of Washington, and many other cities around the nation on Saturday, not as protesting Trump’s election, but as responding to the past 8 years of Obama’s administration. According to her, those years had left them in poverty, and their children stuck in schools where they can’t get an education.
What a travesty toward the millions of women, the enormous outpouring generated by Pantsuit Nation and so many other grass-roots women’s organizations! And yet exactly a year ago, Conway herself was standing up for women, saying that Trump was “offending his way to the nomination” and had “bulldozed over the little guy to get his way.”
My own memory, however, was of the guy in school who would laugh at the girl who got the math problem wrong. “You can laugh all you want,” she (I) would say, then search for some response that would stop him. Maybe just, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not true of course, but it protected some dignity. “You can laugh all you want,” said Kellyanne on Friday, and then: “I’ll just ignore it. I’m bigger than that. I’m a kind and gracious person.”
Ms. Conway did have the facts wrong – not alternative, but wrong. But she’s in an impossible situation. Rumor had it that she almost didn’t take this job, having been exhausted by the campaign and worried about time with her children. Now as “Special Counselor” (while a much younger man is “Senior Counselor”) she is strung up between the press on one hand and an autocrat on the other – a man who might say something like, “You go out there and make this story good for me.” The women’s march was the one thing that the new president didn’t dare to attack, but he needs it to be for him.
So this incredibly intelligent woman comes on national television saying what she absolutely knows not to be true. For this humiliating posture she’s sacrificing time with her four children? To be forced to invent lies and then be laughed at by the people you’re lying to?
But it’s a position that many women know all too well: covering up for a boss while your own self-esteem takes a dive.
If she were my daughter or younger sister, I would say to Kellyanne: A dozen years ago you wrote a book in cooperation with a Democratic woman colleague. The two of you pitched for the quiet, no-fanfare women’s movement that you saw revolutionizing American society. Great thoughts! – but the new president is not one you can count on to help make it happen. He wants you to do a makeover so that women will be for him.
There’s a four-letter word I’d also like to say. It begins with Q.