Rewire conducted a Q & A with former Michigan Governor and host of Current TV’s ‘The War Room’ Jennifer Granholm on how Republicans want to treat women like children, why women should be leading this country, and why a Sarah Palin just won’t do.
Rewire: Your legacy as Governor of Michigan (2003-2011) was job creation and clean energy, but you are also staunchly pro-choice. How important is it to have women political leaders who care about women’s rights, but those issues define their political record?
Granholm: Women cannot be singularly focused, because they need to be elected by both women and men. But there are a lot of states right now where we need women to run for office, if for no other reason than to play a full throttle defense on women’s rights offenses.
Rewire: You’re an advocate for more women in politics. But defined broadly, wouldn’t getting Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman elected then be a good thing? What’s the caveat?
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Granholm: It is potentially dangerous for women’s rights to assume that any woman in office will be good for women. I would so much prefer to have progressive-minded men in office than women who would take away the rights we’ve been fighting for decades. At the same time, for our daughters, there is a symbolic value of seeing women in office. I wouldn’t discount that – you cannot be what you cannot see. It is important to see women in power, but that’s why I want pro-choice or democratic women in power.
Rewire: What is your take on what’s happening now in the US – where women are facing “sexual McCarthyism,” as you put it?
Granholm: The Right to Life has a big agenda in this country and they want to see these bills passed in every state. They’re not absurd to many, and they do intend to pass them. Women can see what would happen if the levers of control all went to the Republicans: they would be treated as children, they would need the government to make the decisions for them.
When politicians are in the cellar of American esteem, it’s time for women to step up. Women need to be asked to run for office, because often don’t want to put their toes in the piranhic waters of politics, lest they be bitten off. It is an ugly business. But I say it’s not about you, it’s about the changes you want to make in the world. We have a duty. If women don’t run, we don’t have our voices in the world. We have [anti-choice] bills like the ones we’re seeing.
But in our pro-choice discussion, we can’t dismiss the sensitivity of the issue of abortion. I’m a Catholic, I know how tough this issue is – for people in my family, and in my community – and I understand that, but that’s the whole issue of choice. People can disagree severely on this issue, but there’s choice.
Rewire: Your show on Current TV is called “The War Room.” What’s behind that?
Granholm: It’s called the “war room” because every political campaign has a war room. And there are a lot of wars going on. A war on women, a war for the presidency, and battles in every state and every kitchen table. It’s a metaphor, a small “w” war is raging everywhere, and war is an ugly business. But it’s also related to the term “occupation.” The Occupy movement has spawned an opportunity, which is for those who care about these issues to help occupy the majority. That occupation has to happen in order for this [anti-choice momentum] to stop. November is a great opportunity to occupy, but it’s not going to happen unless women vote.
Rewire: What do you say to women considering the “ugly business” of politics?
Granholm: I think it’s important for women to serve, whether it’s leadership in their community or political office – women have to be at the table. It’s important call, but it’s not easy. Because it’s hard, because times are ugly. My perspective as former Governor is that the most impactful people in the Legislature, and the people who really got stuff done, were women. Women are workhorses, not show horses and our nation needs really good public service at this time.
Rewire: Your successor as Governor of Michigan is Republican (Rick Snyder), and there have been several anti-choice bills floating around. How far this will go in Michigan?
Granholm: In Michigan, I had a Republican House, Senate, Court, everything… I was the lone statewide official democrat. Now that Republicans are in full control of statewide offices, I fear that that defense is threatened. Governor Snyder is not an ideologue, he’s a pragmatist, and I don’t think he wants to deal with these issues, but there’s a pent-up demand in the Michigan Legislature for pro-life legislation.
If I could give him advice, and I’m respectful of my successor, but just from a purely political point of view, with legislators that are chomping at the bit, and in the context of a presidential campaign: if they don’t want to see backlash from women across the country, they should let it go, they should not let this percolate.
Rewire: What advice do you have for young women leaders or women considering political life?
Granholm: I would say to young women: marry well. That is, choose a partner that celebrates you and is willing to make decisions about who is the primary caretaker based not upon your plumbing but on your competencies. In a way, I think the LGBTQ community is better prepared for this because they make rational decisions not based on gender. We need to get to a place like that with our gender dynamics in this country. Women are not represented to the extent of their percentage in the population. Ninety percent of the time, I was the only woman in the room, but at least I was in the room. Yes it’s hard, being the lone ranger, but once the glass ceiling is broken, it’s broken forever and you have to reach down and pull people up through the hole.
“The War Room” (9PM ET on Current TV with a re-air at midnight ET). This is excerpted from the full interview, conducted by Jessica Mack on March 26, 2012.