Julia Pierson, ‘Political Correctness,’ and How We View Women in Power
If there’s one opinion that seems to garner bi-partisan support in Washington these days, it’s this: Secret Service Director Julia Pierson isn’t very good at her job.
The Secret Service has been under metaphorical fire from Republicans and Democrats alike this past week for a number of alarming incidents that most Americans previously assumed impossible in this day and age. A few weeks ago a man presumed mentally disturbed jumped the White House fence and made it all the way into the East Room before being stopped. The man, Iraq War vetran Omar Gonzalez, had a knife on him at the time.
During the investigation of how this was allowed to happen, incidents that were even more head-scratchingly troubling were revealed. For example, the Secret Service being ordered to stand down after a gunman fried four shots into the White House in 2011. It took the Secret Service four days to figure out that the shooting into the White House had even taken place. And even that pales in comparison to the revelation that just two weeks ago, the Secret Service let a man with both a gun and an extensive violent criminal record into an elevator with the President.
To make matters worse, politicians and reporters on both sides of the fence agree that when called by Congress to the woodshed, Pierson’s first priority was to cover her own ass. In the middle of the hearing, Democrat Stephan Lynch scathingly noted, “I wish to God you protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation today.”
In the light of all of this, two things seem clear to me.
The first is that Pierson has to go. In Washington, you can probably survive having a series of bad events happen under your watch, and you can probably survive looking terrible during an investigation. But you simply can’t survive both happening simultaneously.
The second is that the President is going to take some heat on this because Pierson was a person he directly appointed. Fair or not, being judged on the incompetency of direct appointees is a reality for all Presidents. (Even white ones!)
What seems less than clear, however, is this new meme I see popping up all over that Pierson is proof that incompetency is what you get when you hire a woman.
This week Fox anchor and talk radio host Laura Ingraham reviewed the situation at the Secret Service and found the real villain to be a lethal concoction of political correctness and the fairer sex:
The idea that this guy could get in, and then overpower an agent, who I guess was female — and there are a lot of female agents that are really strong and large But I mean, you do get the sense at some point that political correctness could have been a factor here, right? Because the new female director, who’s going to be questioned today, Julia Pierson, came in after that Colombia prostitute scandal with the Secret Service…
They brought in a woman, first female director — remember the Obama administration loves firsts. You get the sense at some point that it’s the first that’s more important than the common sense.
In quick order, Ingraham’s “that’s what you get for hiring a woman” logic suffered the fate all inane narratives at Fox News: It became Talking Point #1 on Fox & Friends.
The boys at MSNBC’s Morning Joe had similar concerns. Donny Deutsch connected the dots for his viewers like this:
We need to be careful that we are never, ever throwing the baby out with the bath water as far as the best person always has to get the job. As we kind of go through her resume, you go ‘Obviously, coming off the prostitute scandal, okay, yeah, women on top makes sense, good for the brand, if you will.’ But the brand doesn’t work if it’s not competent. In positions of national security, quota second, competency first.
Titular host Joe Scarborough agreed, adding that you can’t endanger the President for “politically correct reasons.” Indeed, this position seems to be quite common right now. I’m not only hearing some version of this argument on the political talk radio shows I listen to, I’m actually hearing it on sports talk radio.
When women talk about sexism in the workplace, this is what they are talking about.
In our society, it’s not enough to discover that Julia Pierson was a bad choice for the position of Director of the Secret Service. Rather, we demand that her poor job performance be an indictment of the very decision to hire a woman into a position of authority in the first place. Never mind that the person she replaced was a man who oversaw a prostitution scandal under his watch, and that his failure somehow magically failed to start a national conversation about whether or not we should re-evaluate men’s inherent competencies and leadership skills.
The truth is, both men and women can be terrible at their jobs. For example, just days before the brainless intelligencia over at Fox & Friends lamented the political correctness of hiring women, Fox Anchors and Fox & Friends panelists immediately segued from a condemnation of Obama’s holding coffee when saluting because “these people put their lives on the lines for us, so show them respect,” to joking about the UAE’s first female fighter pilot not being able to “back up” her jet and referring to her as “boobs on the ground.” I think everyone agreed that those comments were unprofessional, even by Eric Bolling standards. But to my knowledge, no one pivoted from that observation to a questioning of why men were even in the newsroom to begin with.
Or to take a more parallel example, consider FEMA director Michael Brown.
As I noted in a post back in March, political posturing aside, Brown might well be the ultimate poster boy for incompetence in a Presidential appointee:
As a later congressional investigation showed, while Katrina ‘s devastation mounted Brown began emailing his subordinates asking, “can I go home now,” and emailed a female friend asking her to “please come rescue me” because he found actual disaster relief boring.
Brown’s response to [an email requesting assistance from his own employees at the scene] was similar to almost every other report he received. He simply forwarded it to another staffer with the message “Can we use these people?” – four days later. When it became obvious to the rest of the country that FEMA’s management was ill-prepared to handle a natural disaster, Brown began to implement damage-control protocols, one of the biggest of which was — I swear I am not making this up — rolling up his sleeves “to look more hard working” in front of cameras.
And while President Bush took a huge political hit (and a mid-term shellacking) for his appointment of Brown, not once did Brown’s Three-Stooges level of incompetence transition into a qualitative analysis of males in the work force.
All of this dovetails into what Vikram wrote about Emma Watson and Scott Adams earlier this week, especially his noting that “when Kieran Snyder tried to actually investigate what types of things managers say about women and men, she found different results.”
I’m working on a post on corporate culture that will be up tomorrow, but much of what I will say there can be crystallized by our demands that the very idea of women in positions of power be represented by Pierson’s personal failings. Pass all the equal pay legislation you want — if you don’t change the very culture of how we collectively view woman in leadership positions in this country, whatever you pass will be a colossal failure.
So long as we view every individual woman’s failing as a reason to second guess all women, we’ll find a way to keep sexism alive and well in the workplace.