Thursday, January 21, 2016

Spotlight Jane: Pantsuit Politics (Part 2)

This edition of Spotlight Jane is Part 2 of our interview with the two incredibly intelligent women  - Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers - who host the Pantsuit Politics podcast. If you didn't catch Part 1, stop slacking and click here.

Saera Jane: One of the most poignant and important ideas I’ve heard on Pantsuit Politics is the idea of intellectual laziness – the unwillingness of some folks to seek out the information they need in order to make an informed decision about their position on any given topic. The tangible absence of fact-based decision-making. How pervasive do you think the intellectual laziness is in this country and to what degree to you think it affects our elections?

Sarah Stewart Holland: Well, I hate to use the word "laziness" and I feel bad if we did. I would say, instead, that people are busy living their lives, and it doesn’t make you an inferior person if you aren’t interested in politics. I think politics does feel a little abstract until it begins to affect your everyday life, but that’s to be expected. It is a privilege to have the time and energy to engage the way Beth and I do, and I try to always remember that. 

Beth Silvers: I don’t think people are purposefully lazy. I think they trust institutions to work things out in a way that’s mostly okay. I think they’re doing laundry and getting groceries and putting the kids in bed, and there’s just not space for true research and deliberation on nuclear proliferation in North Korea. I get that. I’m part of that. I’m troubled, though, with this pervasive anger across the country; this sense that our institutions and leaders have failed us, but without any commitment to investigate how and why and to articulate a solution. So people are angry and they abdicate any real questioning or problem-solving to, say, talk radio hosts and similarly unproductive resources. 

SJ: That said, what’s so wrong with a person just saying “I don’t know” until he or she does know?

SSH: NOTHING. It’s empowering to say, “You know what? I don’t know how I feel about that,” and I highly encourage y’all to try it if you haven’t. 

BS: Absolutely nothing. I’d like to hear more “I don’t know” instead of “Rush Limbaugh says…” 

SJ: Beth, you’ve mentioned on occasion that sometimes the best way to approach a hot button political issue is to work backwards – to agree on the goal first and then tackle the methods. Why is that?

BS: I think it gets us out of "us vs. them."  When you talk outcomes, most of us across the spectrum agree on major principles. We want to reduce poverty. We want our children to receive world-class educations. We want reliable roads and bridges. With those outcomes in mind, then we can and should debate how to get there. I think today we only talk about how to get there. That leads us to demonize our opponents. We lose sight both of what we are trying to accomplish and the common ground that could help us accomplish it. 

SJ: You may be the most patient and empathetic ladies on Earth around topics that typically turn into a hot, wet mess. We need a little advice. How do you deal with discussing politics with people who hold locked-in, extremist (and sometimes downright rude) positions on any given political issue?

SSH: I call it "kindness shaming." I never, ever lose my cool, and I basically give someone no other choice but to acknowledge and accept my humanity. Of course, the only way to do really do that is to acknowledge and accept theirs, no matter how offensive I find their beliefs. I try to remember that I am more than my opinions and so is everyone else. 

BS: I took a writing class with Patti Digh, who is amazing in every way, and I learned a couple of things from her that will stick with me forever. One, if you hear something racist or sexist or otherwise unacceptable, don’t lecture the speaker. Say, “I don’t see truth in that.” I’ve used this phrase, and it actually gets people to talk about what lies beneath their comments. Two, “put down your clever and pick up your ordinary.” I interpret that to mean, don’t be cute. Don’t be rude. Don’t use humor that’s just a veiled insult. Show up being completely vulnerable and make space for others to do the same. Three, and this is my favorite, when you can’t say anything else, just say, “what an interesting perspective” (while thinking “bless your heart”). 

SJ: Hillary Clinton seems to be performing fairly well in the primaries. Do you think women need a more prevalent voice and role in American politics? 


BS: A thousand times, yes. As candidates, as strategists, as pundits, as voters. We’ll be a different nation when the process starts to reflect our actual demographics, and it will be a beautiful thing. 

SJ: What are some solid resources for our readers to check out if they want to learn more about politics and do it in a constructive, informed way?

SSH: I really, really love Vox and can’t recommend it highly enough.

BS: You mean besides, Pantsuit Politics? :) For quick reads, I like Politico and typically find it to be pretty unbiased. It can go a little inside baseball, but I enjoy it. If I want to really think through an issue and have time for that, I cross my fingers that The Atlantic has covered it. The writing in The Atlantic is superb. 

SJ: In our best Pantsuit Politics demeanor, we are going to push you a little here: Give us both of your predictions on the outcome of the primaries. 

SSH: I just don’t think Trump has the ground game and Cruz will most likely be the nominee. And - barring some unforeseen circumstances - I think my girl is finally going to break that glass ceiling!

BS: On the Republican side, I think that Trump will win Iowa with Cruz as a close second. And I think that will be the end of Huckabee, Santorum, possibly Fiorina. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think New Hampshire voters will coalesce around one of the governors (Christie, Kasich, or Bush). Cruz is too unlikeable to go anywhere. I think NH voters take this process and their role in it very seriously, and they’ll see the opportunity to decide who is going to take Trump on. My pick is Christie. From there, I honestly don’t know. Today, I think Trump would win the nomination. But if Christie could gain some momentum out of New Hampshire, he could be very formidable. 

On the Democrat side, I don’t think it’s going to be as easy for Hillary Clinton as it seems. Bernie Sanders is onto something. I think she’ll win, but I think it will be a real fight. 

SJ: Pantsuit Politics is amazingly constructive and positive around difficult topics, but I think some of my favorite (hilarious) moments are when Sarah’s incredulity peeks out – just a little. Have you ever thought about renaming the podcast “That’s Not How This Works, Y’all” or “REALLY???” 

SSH: HA! No, but I’m glad someone appreciates my incredulity. I try to remain calm but it’s hard sometimes. ;)

BS: I love it when Sarah goes all Julia Sugarbaker

SSH: That is basically the best compliment I have ever received. :) 

SJ: The vast majority of Unchained Jane subscribers are women – what do you think is the most valuable advice you could give them in assessing their own political stances and discussing them with others?

SSH: Go into a discussion trying to understand where the other person is coming from and nothing more. If someone says something that makes you feel the least bit surprised or thrown off kilter, don’t double down. Take a moment. Sit with that. It’s a good thing!

BS: Value your perspective. Don’t apologize or censor. Know that your voice is worth being heard. 

SJ: Give us the goods - Where can our readers find Pantsuit Politics, your blog, Facebook page, and Twitter handle? (Click the links here to find these amazing women straight away!)

Twitter: @pantsuitpolitic

Facebook: Pantsuit Politics

SJ: We are big on women supporting women around here. Any shout-outs you want to give to any women that have mentored or supported you along the way?

SSH: Oh, Lord, so, so many. Kim Miller, who was my Intro[duction] to Women Studies professor. She basically taught me about feminism and changed my life. My grandmother and mother who taught me to be independent and strong. All my amazing girlfriends who have made me a better person. This is not a comprehensive list.

BS: My mom, who has always pushed me to know what I’m talking about. My sister, who gives me confidence through her own. My friends, Cathy and Cheryl, who personify strength.

Thanks so much to Sarah and Beth for giving our readers a peek into what Pantsuit Politics is all about! We really do feel it should be required listening for everyone grappling with these tough political questions, and we genuinely love the idea of women informing themselves about the political landscape – from both the Democratic and Republican perspectives - and engaging each other around it.


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