A Campaign of Ones Own

Connie Schultz talks about her column, feminism, endorsing Hillary, and her lovely husband, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown

Chelsea Ross

Connie Schultz: 'The privileged already have their advocates. They don't need me.'

Con­nie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning colum­nist at the Cleve­land Plain Deal­er, an out­spo­ken fem­i­nist and human­ist, the moth­er of two chil­dren and two stepchil­dren, and the wife of Ohio’s junior sen­a­tor Sher­rod Brown. It’s this last title that she grap­ples with in her< recent book … and His Love­ly Wife: A Mem­oir From the Woman Beside the Man, in which she recounts her expe­ri­ence on her love­ly husband’s cam­paign trail.

What you won’t find in her bio is that, at 50, Schultz embraces her age with a youth­ful vibran­cy, and while she is com­mand­ing, she is also warm and boasts a deep, full laugh.

Two days before her son’s wed­ding, Schultz spoke with In These Times over the phone about, among oth­er things, grow­ing up a mem­ber of the work­ing-class in Ashtab­u­la, Ohio, her love for the late Grace Paley, and why it both­ers her that women can be so catty.

In a recent col­umn, you remem­bered Grace Paley, who was inci­den­tal­ly a long-time In These Times sub­scriber and donor. You wrote that her writ­ing helped you real­ize the uni­ver­sal lan­guage” of class.

Paley was this New York Jew­ish writer, writ­ing about New York Jew­ish women. When I read her as a teenag­er, I real­ized that the women around me had way more in com­mon with the women in Paley’s sto­ries than with the [wealth­i­er] women across the riv­er. If you are grow­ing up and don’t have the priv­i­leges afford­ed to oth­ers, your life could turn out very dif­fer­ent­ly sim­ply because of that.

A cou­ple of years ago, an edi­tor who was frus­trat­ed with some of my writ­ing said to me, Con­nie, you are not work­ing class. You are an intel­lec­tu­al.” And I looked at him and I said, Well, if that’s true, then I’m an intel­lec­tu­al from the work­ing class. We have smart peo­ple too.” 

I real­ized then, wow, this con­scious­ness that I have, it has nev­er left me. Had I not had the chance to go to col­lege, I could still be liv­ing and work­ing in Ashtab­u­la, per­haps in one of the jobs that one of my rel­a­tives has. I don’t see how I could be advo­cat­ing any oth­er way. As I say all the time, The priv­i­leged already have their advo­cates, they don’t need me!”

John Edwards has been get­ting a lot of sim­i­lar flack recent­ly – advo­cat­ing for the work­ing class from the cush­ion of his big house and bank account. 

A part of you, no mat­ter where you’re at, always feels more com­fort­able with folks who are from where you’re from. There are times when I can feel like, Wow, I am so out of my ele­ment.’ Not only because I don’t have what a lot of these peo­ple want, but I don’t ever want it. We’re always going to speak a dif­fer­ent lan­guage to a cer­tain extent. 

You have crit­i­cized female jour­nal­ists for attack­ing oth­er women. In one recent col­umn you wrote, A male reporter glee­ful­ly lobbed this hand grenade recent­ly: You can stop wor­ry­ing about us guys under­min­ing your gen­der. … You ladies are doing a fine job of it all by yourselves.’”

Some women have said, You know, you’re try­ing to hold us to a high­er stan­dard than male jour­nal­ists.” Well, yeah, but that’s not going to be much of a reach. We should uphold a high­er stan­dard because it took us a long time to get these posi­tions of pow­er and I don’t want us to waste them, espe­cial­ly by under­min­ing oth­er women. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t crit­i­cize women on pol­i­cy, it means that we ele­vate the lev­el of con­ver­sa­tion. We don’t make it about cleav­age. We don’t make it about this hor­ri­ble notion of a tro­phy wife. 

This whole Hillary Clin­ton cleav­age thing was just ridicu­lous. I wrote in my col­umn that if when I turn 60, any­body is talk­ing about my cleav­age, I’ll throw a par­ty and wear a granny thong! (Laughs). And Robin Givhan [of the Wash­ing­ton Post] is not absolved because she’s a fash­ion writer. I will not accept that. 

I find that it’s not just in jour­nal­ism, but all areas of life. Women seem to be most com­pet­i­tive with each oth­er, even when mutu­al sup­port would be more advan­ta­geous. Maybe it’s exact­ly because we have to work so much hard­er to get where we want to go. 

It’s dis­heart­en­ing to hear you say that because you’re so much younger than me, but I know it’s true. We absolute­ly have to car­ry as we climb. As I often say to audi­ences of women my age and old­er when I’m asked what we could be doing to help young women, Look, we don’t have their midriff, they don’t have our wisdom.”

You put your career on hold to join your hus­band on the 2006 Sen­ate cam­paign trail. You write in …and His Love­ly Wife how that was a dif­fi­cult deci­sion. How did it feel get­ting back to the column?

It’s so nice to see things hap­pen­ing in the news and not feel that con­stant frus­tra­tion I felt dur­ing the cam­paign of not being able to weigh in on them. That was so hard some­times. But I’m not com­plain­ing. My edi­tor at Ran­dom House has a great mot­to: No whin­ing on the yacht.”

You touch on a lot of per­son­al issues in your col­umn, but in the book you seemed to take it to anoth­er lev­el. Was that a con­scious decision?

It need­ed to be open and per­son­al. I want­ed an hon­est book because I was try­ing to make the point that this is hard, but it’s still worth doing. I want to encour­age oth­er women to be involved in pol­i­tics. I’m not gonna run for office. I’m a jour­nal­ist, that’s what I’m meant to do. But I also know that when more women are elect­ed, we have more leg­is­la­tion on fam­i­ly issues, on health­care, on edu­ca­tion. We need more women in elect­ed bodies. 

I was going to wait till the end of the inter­view to ask you this, but since we’re already on the top­ic of women in pol­i­tics, are you endors­ing Hillary?

I am.

I’m asked that a lot. I’ve wait­ed a long time for this moment in his­to­ry. Do I think she’s a per­fect can­di­date? No. But here’s the thing: I’ve been vot­ing since I was 18, and I’ve vot­ed for an awful lot of men, none of them were per­fect. Some of them were real bozos, but they were the best that was offered. I don’t need Hillary to be per­fect. I have a lot of con­fi­dence in her and lot of faith in her abil­i­ty to lead this coun­try. When I watch her at debates, she is the smartest per­son in the room. She’s the most expe­ri­enced per­son in the room. Does that mean that I don’t think Oba­ma or Edwards are viable can­di­dates? Of course not. We’re talk­ing about an abun­dance of rich­es for the Democ­rats. But I’m there with Hillary. 

Is there any­thing that con­cerns you about her?

I wish her vote had been dif­fer­ent on the war, of course. But I like how she’s grow­ing as a can­di­date. And I do like her per­son­al­ly. I don’t know her well, but I trust her.

In the July issue of The Nation, Lak­sh­mi Chaudhry looked at why so many women have an issue with Hillary, and she wrote, Let’s be clear: Hillary has a fem­i­nist prob­lem,’ and more so with those who lean left.” 

What do they want from her? How can she be what they all want and still get elect­ed? I know she’s a fem­i­nist. On elec­tion night, she called Sher­rod and con­grat­u­lat­ed him, and you know what she said? Tell Con­nie not to give up her career. Tell Con­nie not to let any­one tell her that she can’t do this any­more.” That is a fem­i­nist. And that is some­body who real­ly knew my deep­est fear with­out my ever hav­ing to say it to her.

Do you find your job affects you social­ly when you’re in Washington?

Only in Wash­ing­ton, my dear, only in Wash­ing­ton. (Laughs). Any­where else in the coun­try, I am first and fore­most a colum­nist and book author. In Wash­ing­ton, I am first and fore­most a senator’s wife. Which is why I’m talk­ing to you from Cleveland. 

Do you have any­thing to say about the recent exo­dus of White House staffers? 

Hal­lelu­jah! The hap­py feet dance you’re hear­ing is mine. 

The dam­age that this admin­is­tra­tion has done to this coun­try is just unre­al. But I’m opti­mistic. And one rea­son is the increas­ing involve­ment of women, espe­cial­ly old­er women, in pol­i­tics and at the grass­roots level.

If there is a sil­ver lin­ing to this admin­is­tra­tion it is that it has got­ten peo­ple engaged and involved again. Out­rage is a very pow­er­ful moti­vat­ing force. My mom is a per­fect example.

Women at my age in this cul­ture, we are sup­posed to become invis­i­ble because we’re no longer young. Well, the hell with that. Old­er women all over the coun­try are say­ing, I will be heard.” 

It always makes me think of that quote by Mag­gie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Pan­thers, Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” I say this quote and see women tear up because too often we’re so afraid of how we’ll sound, instead of just being heard.

You are known for lend­ing a cer­tain humor to very seri­ous issues. It seems like it comes nat­u­ral­ly, does it?

Well, here’s how it works. My boss, the best edi­tor I’ve ever had, says, When you’re the most angry, you should be your most fun­ny.” Nobody wants to hear blind rage. If you can laugh at your­self, or can get peo­ple to laugh along with you, you’ll make them hear the mes­sage with­out them even real­iz­ing it. 

I have to ask. In the book you wrote that you were the last per­son in the world who want­ed Sher­rod to run for Sen­ate. How would you feel about being the wife of a pres­i­den­tial candidate?

I’m going to come to Chica­go and wres­tle you to the ground now. (Laughs.) Uh, no. I would not want to be the wife of a pres­i­den­tial candidate. 

Sher­rod has said he’s not run­ning. Sher­rod says – oh, I feel like a cam­paign wife again with all this Sher­rod says” – but Sher­rod says you can’t be a great sen­a­tor if you always have one eye on the White House. He wants be a great sen­a­tor, and I sup­port him whole­heart­ed­ly in that endeavor.

Chelsea Ross is a Chica­go-based free­lance writer, pho­tog­ra­ph­er and graph­ic designer.
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