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The Pence Policy

So, this became a thing:

The Washington Post ran a profile of Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, on Wednesday. The piece talks about the closeness of the Pences’ relationship, and cites something Pence told The Hill in 2002: Unless his wife is there, he never eats alone with another woman or attends an event where alcohol is being served. (It’s unclear whether, 15 years later, this remains Pence’s practice.) It’s not in the Post piece, but here’s the original quote from 2002: “‘If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,’ Pence said.”

Some folks—mostly journalists and entertainers on Twitter—have reacted with surprise, anger, and sarcasm to the Pence family rule. Socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence’s practice as misogynistic or bizarre. For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise. The dust-up shows how radically notions of gender divide American culture.

This kicked up quite a bit of dirt on Twitter and elsewhere. People who run or have run in Christian circles say it’s really not unusual, but a lot of people have spent a lot of time searching for something wrong with it. A lot of the the criticisms involve the belief that such a policy mentally reduces women to something second-class. If you do this, it must be because you believe that women only exist in a sexual context. If you viewed women as equals, you wouldn’t do this! The counterargument to this is that it is something Pence is doing for a woman. Specifically, his wife. Last year, it came out that National Review contributor David French’s wife did not socialize with men in particular ways. This was criticized as a manner of male control over women. I don’t think anyone took it as an indication that men were second class citizens who didn’t exist outside of a sexual capacity.

Another set of criticism involved the notion that you shouldn’t have to do anything like that to not cheat. Indeed, most of us don’t! That’s true, though it’s not a bad strategy to avoid temptation where you can even if you don’t think anything will come of it. One thing cannot lead to another if you don’t do the thing. A lot of affairs start with rather innocuous things that become more serious. If you can avoid it entirely, maybe you should? That’s what Ta-Nehisi Coates does. It’s also something we often do in other aspects of our lives. If we don’t have to deal with a temptation, it’s often best to simply avoid it altogether.

Because of all of this, I don’t really have much of a problem with the dynamics of Pence’s marriage. It’s not what I would choose to do, but in addition to Original Sin and all of that, in the political world it makes even more sense. Andrew Exum puts it well:

I’m not sure when Americans stopped being so clear-eyed about man’s sinful nature, but it surely wasn’t too long ago that we could all agree that men and women are frail creatures who, when left to their own devices, often fail to do the right thing morally.

The dim view of man’s nature that informs Mike Pence’s rules for himself would have been as familiar to Enlightenment philosophers such as David Hume as they would have been to John Calvin or Martin Luther. Based on the outrage among progressives that Mike Pence’s rule sparked, I’m guessing Hume’s own influence on Alexander Hamilton in this regard—which greatly informed the decisions Hamilton and other founding fathers made as they created America’s national institutions—did not make it into the Lin-Manuel Miranda version of Hamilton’s life.

In addition, speaking as a married man, I am very reluctant to cast judgment on whatever measures a couple take to protect the sanctity of their marriage. I am married to a wonderful woman, and marriage is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It’s also the hardest thing I have ever done, including parenting two small boys and making three combat deployments. Marriage is hard work, and when I see stories in the news about men and women who have strayed from their marriage vows, my first instinct is not to point and laugh but to instead be deeply saddened and reflect: There go I but for the grace of God.

The strongest argument against what Pence is doing has absolutely nothing to do with his marriage or the state thereof. Rather, it has a lot more to do with female colleagues, associates, and employees. That argument resonated with me because it would be a lot more difficult for my wife to do her job if men refused to dine alone with her. She often bounces ideas off colleagues male and female. For a while, her tag-team partner was male and they would often meet over lunch to strategize and hash things out. On the other hand, over my entire career I’ve rarely been in a situation where I needed to meet one-on-one with anybody over a meal. It’s simply going to vary from place to place. One would think that politics is an area where such things would happen more frequently than with IT or medicine. Politics is a social occupation.

The concern here is that if female employees don’t have the same access to supervisors, colleagues, and networking contacts as male employees, they are at a rather substantial disadvantage in the workplace. If my wife’s colleague wouldn’t have met her, and would have met with a male colleague, she is suddenly less useful in her job than a male colleague would be. Granted, life is never fair. As a smoker, I have benefited from the access that the smoking dock gave me to higher-ups and colleagues. Of course, a non-smoker can hang out with smokers more easily than a woman can become a man, but you get the idea. With gender, though, it can become something of a systemic problem.

That said, it’s not a problem that can’t be overcome. And in the case of Pence, it’s not clear that it’s actually a problem at all. First, the wording within the article is actually ambiguous. “Alone” can mean “alone at a time” or “alone at a venue.” If meeting someone over a meal at a public restaurant doesn’t count, that opens a lot of doors. Second, a couple people have said that Pence doesn’t really meet with men in those kinds of circumstances, either. Which, if he simply doesn’t do those kinds of meetings, there’s no gender asymmetry. And some have suggested that if he does this that means he can’t put women in important positions, but he already has. It’s possible that beneath some of these hires still exists a pattern, but it doesn’t appear to be making a difference.

Either way, it’s important to be aware of the way such possibly-benign policies can have a negative impact. Likewise, we should be aware if such things are really our objection. It’s pretty clear that some of the people complaining about women career externalities are offended mostly by the notion of the Pence policy, or just offended by the man himself. It also seems likely that there would be a fair amount of shuffling on each side if we were talking about the Obamas, or if the underlying faith behind the policy were Islam rather than Christianity. And some of it is just a squeamishness at the idea of prudery, even when there might be a rationale behind it.

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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141 thoughts on “The Pence Policy

  1. Judging by Twitter, I’m the only person who found the “no solo events with alcohol” part weirder than the meals.


    • I don’t find it odd. I think that’s a marker that divides between “business” and “social”. Only going to a social events with your spouse is a way to protect the relationship. Not everyone does it, and that’s ok. Relationships/marriages don’t all follow the same script.


      • Most jobs I’ve had have had events with alcohol (indeed, just this afternoon we had one at work); on the social side, I grew up a Wisconsin Catholic, so lots of events that offer no chance to ruin one’s marriage included the option (and frequently the expectation) of having a drink. It’s not objectionable, just a bit strange.


    • RE the alcohol thing – was discussing this online and someone pointed out that if you’ve had a history with alcoholism in your family or a previous relationship, this may feel different to you. This really resonated with me. Alcohol has some different associations for some of us – negative ones. People losing control, acting badly…and there are people in the world who love to encourage drinkers and set people up to overindulge. Those are just ordinary everyday jerks, not even those who have a vested interest in seeing a politician embarrass themselves.

      Having experience living in a home where binge drinking, if not full blown alcoholism was a factor, even though it wasn’t a spoken policy (we never talked about it) it was just a given that if the person in question was in a situation where they’d be drinking publicly, they needed supervision. To avoid embarrassment, not because they were a crazed rapist or anything.

      Now, I’m not saying that Pence is prone to this himself, but if he or his wife grew up in a family where this was an issue, it makes sense to me that this policy may feel like a good idea to them.


      • That did occur to me as a case where the rule makes a lot of sense. It’s also just a reasonable precaution as a public person, since you don’t want to be in the news as “the Republican who got drunk and did BAD_THING”.


  2. With gender, though, it can become something of a systemic problem.

    That said, it’s not a problem that can’t be overcome. And in the case of Pence, it’s not clear that it’s actually a problem at all.

    That would carry more weight for me if I saw more (any?) photos of Trump/Pence teams going over policy/strategy that included women — including for items that are clearly thought of by women as women’s issues.. It’s hard to look at the all-male sea that are in those released photos and think, “yeah, but he’s probably including women just as much as men.”

    I think you and I differ, Will, because those two things seem less unrelated to me.


    • I’ll cosign with Tod and add that the way we interact with folks communicates what we think of them. Pence having different rules for interacting with men and women in this particular manner communicates that he may have a perception of women that problematically informs how he makes policy decisions and governs.

      ETA: So it matters more/differently that an elected official does this than does some regular Joe.


    • Ivanka’s in the room, people complain. Ivanka’s *not* in the room, people complain.

      (I’ll bet one internet fake dollar that it’s Dina Powell behind the thought to go after the House Freedom Caucus)

      (Note also how there’s a nationally funded campaign to prevent a woman from winning the GA 6 seat vacated by Price, but of course, that’s a good thing in that case, I guess)


      • The Trump family is kind of a special case because it means all of the corruption/emoluments issues start crowding in. There is no good way for Ivanka to be involved with policy or not because Trump has not done anything to deal with the potentially compromising aspects of his business.


      • Has Trump been in a photo op without Melania or Ivanka?

        Has Trump been in a photo op *with* Melania?

        She appears to have totally ceased to exist in relation to Trump after the election.

        And, yes, I know she lives in a different city, but flying to different cities is something Trump is doing almost every weekend, so you’d think either he’d sometimes go to New York, or she would go to Washington, or they’d both go to Mar-a-lago. The entire theory is that Barron is attending school in New York, but, uh, they don’t have school on the weekends…and Trump still owns a private jet he can fly Melinia and Barron around on, even if he can’t fly on it himself.

        It is possible this is happening and the media is just not covering it. But I can’t figure out why they wouldn’t. I know she’s not doing the duties of First Lady, but she’s not someone the press should be treating as *off-limits*, like minor children are treated. And even WRT children, information like ‘Barron Trump visited his father this weekend at the White House’ would perfectly fine to report. Off-limits doesn’t mean ‘absolutely no fluff information ever given’, it means not including the children in political arguments, or attacking them.

        In fact, a quick googling shows Melenia and Barron are going to move into the White House in June, which means the papers are fine with reporting that sort of thing. The fact they have failed to mention any visits before this point is rather implying that to me that those visits haven’t been happening…but maybe I just missed them.

        But, anyway, Trump being alone with either Melania or Ivanka would not present any hypothetical problems. The question is if he is willing to be alone with women who *aren’t* his wife or daughter…which I am pretty sure the answer is yes. (And there’s a lot of things I could say right there, but none of them are very relevant to this specific discussion.)

        This is why we’re talking about *Pence*, who apparently is not willing.


  3. I think you got all the relevant dynamics. Other than the possible affect on the ability of women to meet with men at work this is a tempest in a teapot that shows off people cluelessness. It’s true the liberal side is just knee jerking a negative reaction over something that is common in some groups and not really anything more than a personal preference. The right side is equally as clueless about how men and women can be good friends without all oinkin and boinkin. But for a pol to have a rule like this, as squaresville at it is to me personally, is far better then being the newest Carlos Danger or hiking the Appalachian Trail. The liberal complainers need to find some space to just be content with someone being prudent and safe however different that is to how we do things.


    • One thing that seems to be lost in this discussion is that Pence actually has women working for him in prominent positions. Or at least, as prominent as the office of the Vice Presidency will allow. I haven’t done the research, but he seems to also have had women in meaningful and substantive roles on his teams when he served in Congress and in his administration as Governor of Indiana.

      The issue here is that there is a lot of extracurricular career boosting that happens over shared meals or social events, and this personal policy might exclude women from those opportunities. Women may not have the same opportunities to advance while on the Pence team as men. That’s an issue, but it can’t be seen as a black-and-white “he’s a sexist pig for this” because the evidence indicates that women do get opportunities working with and around Mike Pence.

      And it’s not hard to see how there might be workarounds inclusive of women looking to get some extracurricular career assistance from Pence-as-mentor: Karen Pence attends the dinner or the social event along with him is the easiest one. (A politician’s spouse, even one uninterested in politics, knows that she’s going to have to endure some of those things from time to time.) Or, Pence has a dinner with multiple staffers or colleagues or other people. This has the collateral advantage of presenting a veneer of less corruption, as well: if Pence were to have dinner with a lobbyist and third parties, it’s a lot harder for the lobbyist to make an improper offer.

      Now, if/when Pence must assume the office of President, this becomes a bit more problematic, as being President may well require one-on-one briefings. But he’ll have to cross that bridge after Trump stops being President.


      • I agree with all that. Pence needs to make sure the women under him ( so to speak) have all the same opportunities as the men. That can be done and wouldn’t even likely to be that hard. One on one briefings in the office on work time should not be an issue. If they are an issue for him then his personal prudishness is very much an issue.


  4. Consider also that public figures like Pence are targets. If Pence is seen at a fine restaurant with a woman not his wife assume that someone will grab a photo and it will be published, along with all manner of speculation. At an “event with alcohol”, which is to say, “a party”, all sorts of embarrassing things can happen and be photographed, reported or just rumored. As a man who is known for his faith, Pence is especially exposed to pranksters looking to manufacture embarrassment.

    Personally I’ve been coached for years by company lawyers to never be alone with female staff or co-workers in the evening or while on business travel for fear of harassment claims or even rumors. I cannot imagine that Pence has not heard similar advice.


    • GA Dean,
      You have very little experience with Washington, I take it.
      Going to a crack party in Washington is blackmail material.
      There will be no embarrassment. I promise.
      Merely someone who’s got a string attached to you now.

      Pence has (to the extent that he has managed this) managed it because he wasn’t in Washington. (Or, alternatively, because someone’s managed to blackmail him with something else).

      And there’s a difference between “I can’t do my job” issues, and “hey, why don’t we meet at the hotel bar and discuss, rather than in my hotel room”


  5. The defenses of Pence would resonate a lot more with me if Pence hadn’t built a careers on judging other people’s relationships. He did this in ways that have considerably more teeth than people making fun of you on Twitter, and based on theories about externalities vastly more tenuous than the ones offered by Pence’s critics.

    Ordinarily I’d shrug and say, “Some people juggle geese.”

    But not for Mike Pence.


    • It’s fine to criticize his actions especially his ones that hurt others. His personal prudishness seems off the point. It’s attacking the least important thing about him. There are liberals who are personally prudish but their actions don’t hurt others. He can be as prudish as he wants and needs. Depending on the guy that might be really wise of him. Read the TNC quote; for some people staying far away from even the outer limits of temptation is good.


      • It’s attacking the least important thing about him.

        If you believe that it’s unconnected with the more overtly offensive things about him, sure.

        Many of the people going after him, though, don’t believe that. If he wanted to live in a world where he wasn’t criticized for his morality or lack of same on the basis of his personal life, he should have lived a life that was very, very different.


        • Read the piece by TNC Will linked. Good stuff as always. It’s possible to have this kind of prudish behavior with very different political beliefs.

          Even just as a practical matter of changing minds, picking at this behavior will not sway anyone on the conservative side since the actual behavior is aimed at avoiding trouble. Talk about the many harmful things he has done or the ultra white and male groups that sign off on womens issues. But realize there are plenty of conservative women who might be swayed on some issues who will think Pence’s behavior is good.


          • Read the piece by TNC Will linked. Good stuff as always. It’s possible to have this kind of prudish behavior with very different political beliefs.

            Similar behaviors can have different motives. Pence has spent his whole adult life working furiously to demolish any reason to extend him the benefit of the doubt.

            Even just as a practical matter of changing minds, picking at this behavior will not sway anyone on the conservative side since the actual behavior is aimed at avoiding trouble.

            I’m sure it won’t. But it’s fun.


          • Look, this isn’t rocket science. Mike Pence is a very bad man. Ergo anything he does that is different from things I do is very bad, and further evidence that he’s a very bad man.


            • I think it’s entirely fair to mock Mike Pence based on exactly the same sort of standards that he’s devoted his life to having the government impose on others.

              So yeah, pretty much.


              • Oh, so the other’s sides efforts to do the same thing but on different subjects is entirely correct? If I do a search on your posts on this side I won’t find any criticism of right doing something like to to the left will I?


                • Oh, so the other’s sides efforts to do the same thing but on different subjects is entirely correct?

                  Correct? Eh.

                  Difficult to defend against effectively? Absolutely.

                  If I do a search on your posts on this side I won’t find any criticism of right doing something like to to the left will I?

                  I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if you did.

                  Of course if you find something and say it’s the same, maybe I’ll think it isn’t. Then there would probably be bunch of accusations of hair-splitting and goalpost-shifting and all the rest, and we’d have a grand old and/or very annoying time of things.

                  Then again, maybe you’d have me bang to rights. It’s happened before.


    • Sam Wilkinson has written about this, Pillsy. E.g., here. If I’m interpreting his view aright, a person’s hypocrisy can be used against him.

      To me, it follows that a person’s fidelity to his stated values can be used “for” him, or at least should be immune to criticism of the sort that “he’s a horrible guy.” I’m making the following assumptions:

      1. Mr. Pence doesn’t commit adultery.
      2. Mr. Pence, by taking these precautions, is trying to minimize the chances he might commit adultery.*

      To me, that’s admirable. Or if “admirable” is too much, it’s innocuous and a personal matter. Or, it could also be true that Mr. Pence is engaging in some sort of signaling exercise, reinforcing the notion, referred to elsewhere in this thread, that men are inherently sex maniacs and cannot be trusted. If it can be shown he’s doing that as a cynical exercise on his part, with full (or mostly full) intention to lather up the base, then I’d say that’s at least worthy of an eye roll, or perhaps even criticism.

      By the way, in mentioning Sam’s posts, I don’t mean to imply I agree with them. I largely do not. I also don’t mean to imply you agree with them. I am suggesting that if someone happens to agree with the argument he seems (to me) to lay out there, then that agreement is an argument for tempering criticism of Mr. Pence on this issue. In short, I’m using a comment addressed to you in order to invoke Sam’s ad hominem argument.

      *I don’t make a third assumption–that his practices don’t disadvantage women–because I’ll leave that discussion for another subthread. (It might so disadvantage them, and if so that’s bad or at least something that needs addressing. But your criticism seems focused on something else.)


      • If I’m interpreting his view aright, a person’s hypocrisy can be used against him.

        Repression projection. Freud talked about this. :)

        Add: Which strikes me as a pretty good short take on Trump, fwiw.


      • My issue with the defenses of Pence–including this one–isn’t that they’re right or wrong, but rather that they’re a complete repudiation of Pence’s own values. I happen to think many of the defenses are at least right-ish, setting aside the issues around how this impacts the women he has to work with (which maybe he manages successfully).

        Pence rejects the principle you are advancing in his defense: that the details of one’s marriage and sex
        life are a private and personal matter. Indeed, I at times wonder if he thinks anything should be a private and personal matter, given his insistence on having the state peek into people’s undies to make they have the ‘right’ set of genitals.

        And it’s not like he rejects this idea in the face of profound, obvious dangers. It’s ugly fantasies about trans people assaulting kids in bathrooms and incredibly nebulous arguments that if straight people see gay people getting married they’ll have more illegitimate kids. If people make uncharitable assumptions about his motives and closely parse the signals involved in his marriage… well, no wonder.

        Pence is trying to knock down down all the bedroom walls and bathroom stalls in America to get at the Devil, and now the Devil is making fun of him on Twitter. It’s in no way a big deal (Twitter!) but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny.


        • I don’t think I agree (except the part about it not being as big a deal as some are making it), but I also don’t really have an answer to what you’re saying. I’ll just have to note that I see the issue differently from the way you do and live with that.


  6. Well, you have shown me the reason all these memes are hitting my social media. Thanks for that.

    I kind of believe in guard rails, too. I don’t know that they need to be quite so stringent, or that the public needs to know about them. This smells a bit of public virtue, which I care little for. There’s only one person who cares about whether or how you keep your marriage vows. Well, maybe your children, too.

    This is the least of my issues with Mike Pence. Some slightly odd details about his marriage are really kind of nothing. The lack of female faces in all the pictures of the administration is not nothing.


  7. I think this is another example of where Jaybird’s matters of taste v. matters of morality argument falls apart. In theory, this is something where neutrality should resign and everyone should let each other be.

    In practice and reality, Mike Pence and a lot of other religious conservatives spent a lot of time lecturing liberals on how we are all doing it wrong. The worst of them seem to think that they can turn back time to when cohabitation and sex before marriage was only done by a few bohemians* and Griswold and subsequent cases never happened. So Pence’s rules become fair game especially because many liberals think that the whole wait until marriage thing for sex is very silly and abstinence only doesn’t work as a sex ed policy.

    There seems to be something strong that divides what liberals and conservatives believe people have agency and willpower over. I agree that a lot of affairs can start from innocuous situations but for whatever reason, most of my friendships have always been with women. My girlfriend trusts that I can hang out with women and not cheat on her. And I trust that she can do the same with her guy friends.

    Affairs are a real thing and they hurt people. It is commendable that Pence does not want to hurt his spouse and admits he could be the one tempted to do so. However, a big part of rape culture debates is about women getting blamed for sexual assault for going out drunk and/or what they were and feminists correctly point out that women should have just as much freedom to go out and get drunk and wear what they want. I can see how it can be seen that women are still to blame even though Pence is saying he doesn’t always trust himself. I think the liberal view is that people should be able to control their own desires and/or the action is what is bad, not the thought.**

    Also the notion of human sinfulness mentioned above is very Protestant-Calvinist (Exum admits he is a Calvinist in the article) and there are a lot of people in the United States that are not Protestant or even Christian of any sort. Why should I be forced to take Exum’s view just because he is a Calvinist?

    *Which I honestly doubt as true. In Albion’s Seed, David Hackett Fisher wrote that the Puritans in the Northeast were lax about premarital sex once an engagement was announced and it was pretty common for marriages to happen with the wife pregnant at the altar. In the novel Mrs. Bridge, there is a section where the title character and her children go to a cousin’s wedding. The cousin is very pregnant at her wedding. Mrs. Bridge tries to play it off as not-pregnancy but her kids know what is up. Mrs. Bridge was published in the 1950s and the action takes place among an upper-middle class Kansas City family in the 1920s-1940s.

    **The really extreme people would argue that people are not meant to be monogamous and we should all embrace polyamory but I disagree here as well. There was an interesting debate on LGM a few weeks ago where one woman argued that sex ed should be students watching a film of a woman with multiple friends with benefits relationships and also doing some spiritually fulfilling work like running a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. I had to point out that I grew up in a really liberal area where the parents dismissed abstinence-only education but that would be a bridge too far for them. Others pointed out that the video would have made them just as miserable as an abstinence only sex education.


    • Pence’s behavior is personal. I’d rather liberals not spend much time going after purely personal behavior that affects no one else. There should be obvious reasons for this. Go after him hard for his policies which deserve criticism. There are plenty of those.

      Yeah rape culture is a thing. But in religious conservative circles men are often seen as barely contained sex maniacs. As much as that culture builds up men in some ways there are also some very negative views of them.


      • in religious conservative circles men are often seen as barely contained sex maniacs

        Very much this. The conclusion frequently reached is that therefore it is women’s responsibility to make themselves unappealing and unavailable–hence “modest attire” frequently only applying to women. (Note that this dynamic is interfaith, common to the conservative versions of many religions.) The Pence policy has the virtue of assigning some responsibility to men, but there is still the underlying assumption that should a man find himself alone with a women, sex will follow–or at least there is a significant likelihood of it following.

        Also worth noting is that the woman’s consent or its absence is not part of this discussion.


    • Oh, so *THIS* is where the (pardon me, *MY*) whole “matters of taste” vs. “matters of morality” argument falls apart?

      When Mike Pence doesn’t go out to eat with a woman not his wife?

      I guess I can’t argue with that.


      • There are many reasons. I should have said one iteration.

        The “none of my business” cultures as far as I can tell used decades of education in schools and other forms of “social engineering” to get that to be part of their cultures and countries. You seem to think it can be easily done with five seconds of thought. I think you are wrong on this one. A “none of my business” attitude needs to be taught and needs to be taught over generations but that is a problem for you because it took government intervention from liberal “elites” to get there so you ignore it and just wish think.


        • Um, Saul? Pence doesn’t go out to eat with women who aren’t his wife because of the “this totally is my business!” culture that would see Mike Pence eating with a woman who was not his wife and find it reason to start speculating.

          Right? You acknowledge that, right?


    • Saul, I kind of believe in a principle I call “let the Thing be the Thing”. If I’m ok with same-sex marriage (which I am) and Pence isn’t (which he isn’t), then we let that be the thing we disagree on.

      If I think that premarital sex or cohabitation is ok (and I do), and Mike Pence doesn’t (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t), then we let that be the thing we disagree on.

      If I think that the ability to have a working relationship with a person who occupies the category of my desire (in my case, a woman) is a useful thing (and I do), and Mike Pence doesn’t (I have no idea whether he does), then we can let that be the thing we disagree on. I don’t think it’s that hard to have business meetings with three people in the room, though. I’ve been to a lot of them. That might be less true if you’re an attorney, but he isn’t. I think asking how he copes with that, and what the impact is on his working relationships with women is fair.

      I don’t think we should fight this war by proxy, there’s too much collateral damage, for one thing. And it risks blurring our point, for another.

      I don’t think that whatever arrangements he has with his wife/spouse/partner/whatever is a suitable place to have a proxy fight over it.


    • For that video, I think it is telling that she choose a woman to be a protagonist of the video but not necessarily for the reasons she believed. The poster would argue that she selected a woman to break the sex negative culture and show people that a woman could have a lot of sex with different people and still be a very moral and ethical person. Another reason, and one that wouldn’t be admitted, is that it is, on average, going to be easier for an average heterosexual female to get into a friends with benefit situation than an average heterosexual male. At least from what I gather from communicating with people in allegedly polyamorous relationships, the woman seems to be involved with more people than the male usually.


      • he poster would argue that she selected a woman to break the sex negative culture and show people that a woman could have a lot of sex with different people and still be a very moral and ethical person.

        This is completely illogical. Just because you do lots of moral things afterwards doesn’t mean that the first thing you did was ok.It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t either, but one thing has nothing to do with the other.


        • I don’t think the suggestion was intended as a way of presenting a logical argument.

          Whether it would be otherwise convincing, or for that matter appropriate, is a separate issue.


      • I don’t know who you’re talking to…but let me assure you that, at least in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country, women in poly relationships are not usually involved with any more partners than are men.

        Women may have more opportunities — as in there may be more men actively seeking poly partners than women actively seeking poly partners, and there seem to be a larger group of men who would like to have poly partners but haven’t been able to manage it, so it probably seems like women are the ones with all of the partners. So, a lot of guys standing along the wall at the gym with no one to dance with.

        But when you’re talking about actual working poly relationships, the ratio seems to even out in terms of number of partners had by either sex. (Sorry, off-track, but I’m committed to busting poly myths.)


    • For premarital sex, the answer it depends on a lot of groups. In Anglophone cultures, the standard was generally you can start having sex as soon as you are engaged. Other cultures tended to be stricter with the no sex before the wedding thing. The way historians determine this is to look to how soon the first kid was born after the marriage ceremony even though that isn’t the most reliable method. Jews as a whole seemed to have obeyed the no sex before marriage thing before the Sexual Revolution even if they were not Orthodox. Orthodox Judaism generally didn’t have the bend about engagement that Anglophone cultures and some other European cultures were willing to deal with.


      • Orthodox Jews simply had sex that was less likely to make babies before the wedding. (This was, actually, as a result of wives having more status to deny their husbands sex).


    • Saul Degraw: There was an interesting debate on LGM a few weeks ago where one woman argued that sex ed should be students watching a film of a woman with multiple friends with benefits relationships and also doing some spiritually fulfilling work like running a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

      Do you have a link? This sounds too perfect to be true.


  8. Two days from now:

    “Remember when Twitter was en fuego over Mike Pence’s misogynistic personal conduct policy?”

    “Yeah, I do. But was it really only two days ago? It seems like forever… What was the issue again?”


    • In a few days we may be talking more about being In Like Flynn. As in an immunity deal so he testifies. That will be more fun if it happens then this little….ummmm…..dalliance.


    • Seriously. Is there anything less consequential than people being outraged on twitter? I sometimes wonder if all media figures shouldn’t be banned* from twitter and tumblr just to get them to have from fishing perspective.

      As for Pence? I have plenty of reasons to not like him but this particular reason? Not a reason to dislike him at all. I would, myself, be a grand hypocrite if I denounced Pence for having the gall to live up to his wacky Christian standards in this area.

      And while the “women would be disadvantaged in advancing their careers with him because of this” is substantive I’d like to remind everyone that we’re talking about the Vice President. What the hell is he good for? Cleaning silverware at the White House?

      *By who, I dunno, the Grand Dux of Media or something? Jebus of the movable type?


  9. Every one of us, I’d wager, has been in a situation with a co-worker that started out sociable and got at least a little bit confusing. If Pence as a public figure and a husband wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, I’d count that in his favor.


    • Boom. End of story. In fact, that’s The Last Thing You Ever Need to Read About Mike Pence’s Personal Conduct Policy.

      And to be honest, I have that policy in my own life. I generally try to avoid spending alone time with women who aren’t my wife. Especially if they’re married, but especially if they aren’t.


      • Over the past months and years, I’ve had several solo business meetings and calls with women. All were married to somebody other than me, and all were people I’ve known for quite some time. My wife knows the women involved, and doesn’t have a problem. She would rather not be part of these meetings, they bore her.

        I think guard rails can be a good idea, and if I, or they, ever started having feelings, we might have to work out something else. But as it stands, we don’t need that. My guard rails are more things like what topics are discussed, and not discussed. With one woman, we tell each other about our kids a lot. That seems to reinforce the boundary.


        • I was suggesting a more general approach, not a hard and fast rule, which is something like Pence’s Policy: when you weigh out the cost-benefit of getting close to women who aren’t your wife, the downside is pretty damn high. And not merely because I’m trying to save myself from myself, if you know what I mean. There’re husbands involved, the social circle’s perceptions, the other’s feelings, etc, etc. It doesn’t have to get messy, and it certainly doesn’t always get messy, but when it does get messy it’s really hard to clean up.


        • Re the guard rail idea –

          By the time someone is developing feelings, it’s too late for the guard rail, isn’t it?

          Even under the best of circumstances, something new feels funner and more exciting than something that’s, for lack of a better word, old. And if the circumstances were NOT the best, if it was two people in a relationship with problems trying to work some stuff out and stay together, it would be so easy to see the new thing as a meaningful connection even though it may be way less real than the old thing. It’s just human nature and thus makes some sense to take precautions.


          • I think that depends on how self-aware you are. If you are not so self-aware, then things may run too far.

            I’ve had the experience of doing martial arts with women partners. I’m not talking about karate, either, but judo/jujitsu (not BJJ), where there’s a lot of touching. It’s intimate, in a non-sexual sense. But when you do them with a partner who is a potential sexual partner, certain autonomic reactions happen. I’m pretty sure they happen to women, too.

            You can observe that, and respect the very strong boundaries enforced by the space which dictate no sexual activity or chatter within it, and everything will be fine. The feelings exist, but they get no oxygen. And it’s also the case that I know several long-term couples who met while working out together.

            But all that requires being aware of what’s going on in your body and in your “gut”. Which is, in fact, part of the curriculum. Someone who isn’t aware is going to get ambushed by these feelings.


    • When I worked for the state legislature, I was warned about the legislative liaison from the Dept of Labor. The warning, from one of the women on the budget staff with me, was roughly, “She’s very pretty. She’s well-endowed. She wears tight clothes that fit well. When she talks to you, she’ll put her hand on your arm and wiggle at you. I don’t think she realizes that she does it. She’s a very nice woman, happily married. She’s kept my kids when there were late-session crises.” Given the warning, there was never any confusion. But it would have been easy to misinterpret.


      • And it’s the only realistic thing that’s ever happened on a sitcom: if you go out to eat with this co-worker, everyone you’ve ever met will walk by the table. And they’ll all give you the same look, the one that says “do you want me to leave the two of you alone?”.


    • Nope, not me. And I don’t even wear a wedding ring. (I do make somewhat of a point to mention my husband at some natural point, so that people don’t get ideas.)


    • appearance of impropriety

      This is the key phrase here. The Post doesn’t provide the original quote, the Atlantic doesn’t give the quote for the part about eating alone with a woman, and I couldn’t find the original story, but people are reading an awful lot into this, if they’re not getting some information I can find. I haven’t actually seen a direct quote from him that this is about avoiding temptation, and as far as I can tell that part is based entirely on speculation

      But 2002 was not long after Bill Clinton’s troubles, and right in the middle of Gary Condit’s. It was, and remains, prudent for high-level politicians to avoid the appearance of impropriety, even if they’re 100% confident in their ability to withstand temptation.


  10. The first scandal that ever followed from a man not doing things with a woman that is not his wife.

    I’ma gonna guess that this particular scandal will play very well in most of the states that voted for Hillary Clinton. Less well in the other ones.


  11. The obsession of my side over Pence’s personal choices is perplexing. I wouldn’t do what Pence does but not allowing a lot of mixing between the genders is the norm in many religious societies. Lots of Muslim groups adhere by the rule and if one of the more militant atheists would make fun of a prominent Muslim politician for something similar than it would be the militant atheist who got a thrashing by liberals. I’d file this under politics is tribal. When these sorts of rules are done by Christians it is bad because Christians are coded one way, when done by Muslims, cultural sensitivity is called for, and Jews it depends on a lot of other factors.


  12. “‘If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,’ Pence said.””

    FWIW, if this is all he said, I don’t know how we got from there to here.


  13. I also think about my wife working in a male-dominated field. Usually she’s the only woman on the team. If she had to follow the “Pence rule” it would be awkward and possibly career limiting. If her boss had a rule like that, it might mean spending more time bonding with her other colleagues than with her. I’m not bothered by the fact that she eats out with male colleagues (often alone) because I’m not the jealous type and we have a very high level of trust. It would work the other way as well if I wasn’t in the same male-dominated field.

    But I might be singing a different tune if my wife was an A-list Hollywood star or top-ten pop singer. And my wife might think differently if I was a famous political operator with a bunch of authority rather than an average schmuck. Those people deal with temptation that we don’t. That doesn’t necessarily excuse cheating, but it makes it easier to understand. When Tiger Woods got caught cheating, a lot of people pretended they couldn’t fathom how it could happen. How it happened is that Tiger Woods was a healthy man with normal desires who, being an in-shape zillionaire world-famous superstar, had a line of women a mile long offering to hook up with him. He needed to say no to that 24×7, every time, or become a guy who cheats on his wife.

    Mike Pence may not be Tiger Woods, but he’s the VP, so he may be dealing with the Tiger Woods problem more than I am, which makes me inclined to cut him a little bit of slack. By the same token, being a powerful man gives him responsibilities to treat people he affects fairly, so he has a responsibility to make sure he’s even handed when doling out access. If he doesn’t do business over lunches one-on-one, that’s fine–it’s personal and I get why he’s doing it. But if he does, I think he has a higher responsibility to his office and it’s time to make some personal concessions.


    • My wife and I both work fields that are “female dominated.” Or more accurately, our fields are less male dominated than most fields, so that women tend to predominate numerically at least up to the higher echelons of middle management and even further. Our fields are also “bureaucratic” so that the prospect for gaining advantages and influence by the “business lunch” is quite limited. Like every workplace ever, there is scheming and advantage mongering and petty politics, but “access” and extramural socializing don’t seem to be the prime vectors for it.

      With that context, I’ll say that my wife and I have a non-binding, mostly unofficial policy of not dining alone with members of the opposite sex in the evening. Lunch is okay. At that time, she might dine alone with a male coworker. (I don’t eat with anyone because I have really big hangups about eating, and it’s very difficult for me to eat with other people. Also, you never know when you’ll have a coworker who’s rude to the wait staff.) Even with that “policy,” I’d feel weird eating alone with a woman for lunch, even if “alone” means only “alone at a public restaurant where everyone can see you and nothing fishy is going on.”


  14. “Unless his wife is there, he never eats alone with another woman or attends an event where alcohol is being served.”

    So long as he is not excluding an otherwise competent woman from working with him, as a stalwart lefty I have no problem with his decision. I may think that his politics are repulsive but attacking him for this decision is just wrong. It’s personal between him and his wife.


  15. Here’s the dealeo….

    I work in an industry that basically says “never say/write/publish/do” anything you would have a problem with being written about on the front page of the Washington Post. I never consumed alcohol in mixed groups (like xmas parties) and was never alone or isolated from my male coworkers with women. Never provide an appearance of impropriety. You want to see my companies foreign travel security questionnaire for uncleared employees?

    And I didn’t socialize with women alone when I was married either. Before that policy was implemented, I recall a convo I had with the wife when I told her I was going out to dinner with an ex boss. Her response was this: “you’re going out to dinner with the woman who was your old boss, ALONE?” Her tone told me she had a problem with this. I found another co worker, who new my old boss, and invited her too. Appearances people.

    And I’m about as sexually tolerant/liberal as they get. That’s frickin irrelevant. What’s your spouse think? That’s important. And in a job, like politics, where folks will 1) try to maneuver you to gain an advance, or screw you over for the same, it’s a damn safe policy to have. Honeypots people. Everyone has agency.


    • Also, business meetings don’t have to be had in restaurants over meals. If you’ve got to have a long meeting that’s going to eat into your meal times get take out. This wining and dining to seal business deals seems quasi corrupt. There are boardrooms, offices and interview rooms. Use them.


      • This wining and dining to seal business deals seems quasi corrupt. There are boardrooms, offices and interview rooms. Use them.

        In my experience, the boardrooms, offices, and interview rooms are used, and that’s where the serious work gets done. The food and drink are there also for other legitimate reasons.

        The principal legitimate reason is that sharing food and relaxing together while discussing something other than work is a way to build trust and rapport between people, and it’s exceedingly difficult to do business in an atmosphere devoid of trust. I can more easily accept your assurance that “We’re going to do [X] with [Y] term in this deal because [Z] is our objective,” when I trust you. Alcohol is not strictly necessary for this trust to be built, but it can and often does catalyze it.

        Another reason, related to the first, is you get a judge of someone’s character by observing them in different settings. When I see colleagues treat a server in a restaurant like wallpaper or worse, as an object of abuse, now my trust and willingness to engage with them is diminished. On the other hand, if I see that colleagues treat a server with respect and courtesy, that makes me more willing to deal substantive with them.

        Finally, it’s a way of using reciprocity to facilitate transactions. Reciprocity is a pretty fundamental human impulse, one which seems to transcend nearly every culture. I give you a gift, and then at some point in the future, you will give me a gift of similar value. This shows respect, it shows appreciation of common humanity, and it deepens our relationship and friendship. Negotiators, dealmakers, influencers, persuaders, and salespeople have been using reciprocity as a tool in their transactions for generations now. I pick up the tab for dinner, you now feel indebted to me so we at least have to go out to dinner again so that this time you can pick up the tab.

        None of this directly influences the deal points we’re negotiating up in the boardroom. But they’re substantial parts of the transaction anyway: trust, confidence, and respect make doing business a whole lot easier than their opposites or even their absences.

        Now, that’s not to say there can’t be more corrupt or sinister ways pricey meals and booze can be used. And there are cultures in which this sort of indirect relationship may well supersede the substantive points of a deal, which may be taking it a bit too far. But not all business dinners are kompromat.


    • While I like my alcohol, I keep my at-work-related-social-events consumption to a minimum and usually don’t partake at all. If I have one drink, it’s way too easy for me to have 3 more without thinking about it. And while I don’t think I act inappropriately when I’ve imbibed, it’s also entirely possibly I’m not the best judge of that. At any rate, I don’t want to take the risk.


      • Bingo.

        Especially since my work has been usually an hour from my home.

        Fun fact: A former coworker attended a xmas party one. I had already left, but he was EXCEEDINGLY drunk and sat down at a table with his manager, his manager’s manager, and his manager’s manager’s director and proceeded to explain his interpretation of the company’s organization chart and what he thought of it. When he came in the next day about noon there was some serious ribbing. Fortunately for him, he was liked well enough and everyone took it in good fun. He’s lucky though. Some folks I’ve worked with would have fired him.


        • Everyone is different, but I have never had a problem figuring out how to stop after two. Even in my ill-spent youth, when I was perfectly capable of getting stinking drunk, I only did it in contexts that were appropriate, to the extent that such contexts exist. Society for Creative Anachronism camping events were great for this: no driving, any one person’s drunkenness would hardly stand out, and a general culture of watching out for each other (e.g. stop you from falling into the fire, walk you to your tent, etc.). Even then, in a different context I would stop at two, having no more than the usual likelihood of embarrassing myself.


          • Some workplaces have a culture or a jackass that encourage(s), shame(s), or even trick(s) people (the person who spikes the punch, or the guy with a flask who sneaks around topping other people’s drinks as a joke) into drinking too much. People are expected to be able to hold their liquor and it’s kind of a test of one’s intestinal fortitude to be able to drink quite a lot.

            To me it makes some sense to have a person who actually cares about you, as your wingman in situations like this. Even if for no other reason than so you don’t get behind the wheel of a car. And having a policy of “I only drink when my wife lets me” can be played off as a joke, but it would be a huge protection for this type of situation.


              • One would think, but some careers are rife with it. It’s everywhere, not only in a specific workplace, but in the culture of the job itself. Everybody goes out after their shift for a couple, there are get togethers on Fri and Sat and every holiday. If you don’t drink, you’re seen as a fuddy duddy and you’re definitely out of the inner circle. If you want to work that type of job anywhere you have to be up for that.


    • Damon,
      I have a lot more tolerance for an entire industry saying “here’s how we play this” — as that makes it into a cultural thing, and then everyone’s going to have adjusted to the new playing field.


  16. I don’t usually say this, but I really liked that Ta-Neihis Coates article. I’m not going to say that “guardrails” are always good. It’s possible that sometimes one ought to face temptation. At least I’m not going to reject the idea out of hand, even though I can’t think of a case right now where that would apply. But I think Coates is mostly right, and I try to heed his advice.


  17. Does Pence not have close female friends? I certainly do! I couldn’t imagine not being able to grab a drink or a bite with them.


    • Do you have reporters following you looking for dirt?
      Do you have political opponents looking for dirt?
      Do you have foreign intelligence agents looking to compromise you?


      • John McCain was smeared on the basis of pretty typical professional contact because it happened to involve an attractive young woman.

        Heck, more than a few people responded to this saying “I’ll bet it’s because Pence boinked someone in the past,” which ironically does more to show that there might be wisdom in Pence’s policy.

        So all that I sort of do understand, given the particulars of the situation. It’s just that the particulars of the situation also make it exceptionally critical that women are not excluded by the policy, because we’re talking about the halls of power.


        • First rules of politics: protect your ass.

          I really don’t think this is much of an issue. If it was me, I’d be doing similar to Pence. I’d also not be having quiet “intimate” dinners with men who are known to be gay..for the same exact reasons. And it’s likely that I’d not be having “intimate” dinners with anyone. Conduct your b’ness at the office.


          • Damon,
            You don’t know jack about politics then.
            First rule of politics is keep the donors happy.
            And first thing they’ll do when they have you in Washington is get blackmail on you. Just In Case, ya know?

            When your donors ask you to come to a celebration party on their dime, are you really going to offend them by saying no? Particularly if you try to, and they give you the hard sell??


            • How is that not protecting your ass?

              Then you bring your wife or such.

              Of course, I’d never be in politics. I lack the narcissist trait and I don’t desire to hold power of others.


              • Damon,
                Bringing your wife doesn’t protect you against blackmail. It just makes her part of it, probably. (The general rule is “drug fueled party” and just having been there in the same room guilts you by association)


        • The McCain example is a bit much. The primary concern was the lobbyist cozying up to McCain for her clients. The adultery thing was a sidebar. If Pence said he never meets with lobbyists, I don’t think anyone would decry him (except for lobbyists). Second, how could anyone think that someone who previously cheated on his hospitalized wife and was a member of the Keating Five would be either a) too cozy with a lobbyist whose clients he had advocated for to the FCC and whose plane he flew on or b) potentially having an affair? Note that the verifiable facts, that the FCC chair rebuked McCain’s meddling in their deliberations, do not make McCain look wholly innocent.


            • Pinky,
              Sure, and that’s fair game (slightly sadly). But the inside baseball was that the Reagans hated him, and that’s a far more interesting thing than whether or not he was cheating at that very moment.


            • I was generally sticking to Blue enclaves back then, and I remember the story being treated as a (salacious, to be fair) joke much more than something serious.


        • It seems like one of the best ways to address this is to normalize platonic co-ed relationships and take the media to task for inaccurate portrayals of the innocuous (including/especially so-called liberal outlets).


          • Kazzy,

            I realize you’re addressing the larger issues and not Coates’s argument, but I’d like to recall that argument. The money quote (not about his larger point violence, but about his minor point about infidelity) in that article is

            I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

            To me, he’s arguing that what you propose isn’t the solution in toto, but only part of the solution. (And of course, you said, “one of the best ways” and not “the one sure way that will fix things once and for all.”) Coates, who I agree with here, is suggesting prudence a la Pence “policy” as an additional solution to the problem. And I suggest that for some people, who know themselves well (or perhaps especially for those people who don’t know themselves well), “guardrails” are an important part of the solution, at least in some cases.


  18. America does not work the way Pence wants it to work. He is privileged enough to rearrange things to benefit himself at the cost of others.

    If he had this policy in the Middle East, people would say, Of Course, because that is normal there. NOTHING gets done in person in the Middle East. People walk up, shake hands, and make the deal they’ve been discussing via e-mail for the past few months.


    • I suspect much of the gap is generational in addition to cultural. Prior probabilities about the innocence of such a meeting with a member of the opposite sex have shifted for many reasons, and that’s one of them.

      This isn’t going to stop me from mocking Pence because he sucks, though.


      • There are ways the risk of mutual attraction could be greatly reduced. Say, if the woman were dressed in something non-alluring like a shapeless black bag that covered her head to toe, and her punishment for any infidelity were made swift and certain


  19. I may have stumbled across a solution to all this.

    If you have a hot young underling who wants to go to dinner with you, or a hot boss or supervisor who wants the same, but you’re aware of the potential risks and you think they might try to take advantage of the situation. Send me instead!

    I will take one for the team.

    You’re welcome.


  20. Why is it that the virtue of fidelity weights more heavily here than other virtues? Are there no other forms of temptation the Vice President might want to avoid while dining alone with someone? Nobody, male or female, seeking to curry favor or spread of misinformation? Nobody seeking regulatory change? Why does the potential temptation by women weigh more than other temptations that might arise when a public figure dines alone with someone else?


  21. I think this tweet puts an end to it.

    Didn’t realize your career advancement required so many boozy private dinners with your opposite sex boss. Mine required literally zero.

    — Mollie (@MZHemingway) April 1, 2017


  22. Reportedly Pence’s rule stems from Billy Graham who in 1948 walked into a hotel room and found a naked woman. (He suspected other evangelists payed the woman to create a scandal) Of course now that Pence has secret service protection (and had protection from Indiana State Police as governor) it would be easy to have one of his protective detail sit in, and they are trained to be discreet. Does he have the open door to office rule as well. I.E. never be alone in an office with closed doors with a woman not your spouse? (That is the bigger issue and one that if Bill Clinton had followed would not have gotten in the trouble he got into.)
    BTW I wonder if that rule extends to his mother and daughters?


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