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OPED: Conway criticizes gendered attacks she perpetuates
It was ironic that Kellyanne Conway chose this past weekend's Family Leadership Summit in Iowa as a venue to allege a pattern of sexism against her — as she continues to defend her boss, the president, against multiple degradations of women. That she did so at an event sponsored by an evangelical right-wing organization that has worked hard to strip women of choices strained credibility that much more.
"So much of the criticism of me is so gender-based," Conway complained to Family Leader President Bob Vander Plaats in a moderated 40-minute question-and-answer. "I saw some of it this morning. If they're going to criticize policy, that's one thing. But criticizing how I look or what I wear or how I speak. ... It totally undercuts modern feminism."
Those are valid points, and I don't doubt Conway has faced sexism, though I wish she'd offered examples to help inform people of how it can manifest itself. Instead, she quipped demurely, "I'd use examples but this is a family audience." And Vander Plaats didn't press.
Most powerful women face some gender bias. Just ask Hillary Clinton. What undercuts Conway's righteousness, however, is that she has been one of Clinton's chief savagers — and in exactly the ways Conway said people shouldn't be. "If you want to disagree on policy ... then say that," she said several times at the summit. Her main beef was that her critics vilify her in irrelevant ways.
But when Conway attacked Clinton as "the most joyless candidate in presidential political history," or said she should be locked up, was that policy-related and therefore fair game? And since she said in a Fox News interview last year that Clinton had a "corruption and an ethics problem," and tweeted, "Most honest people I know are not under FBI investigation, let alone two," does she not have an obligation to acknowledge the same of her boss, now also under FBI investigation?
The Conway who said of Clinton on Bill Maher's show, "I can't support somebody who lies for a living," was the same Conway who coined the term "alternative facts" to defend Sean Spicer's claims that Trump's inauguration crowd was the largest to date.
"Don't be so overly dramatic here, Chuck," she told "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, who said, "Alternative facts aren't facts, they are falsehoods."
She chided, "Your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary and our president. That's not your job." And she threatened: "Chuck, if you're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those terms, we're going to have to rethink our relationship."
This was the Conway who on Saturday talked of making politics more civil by advising, "Be the bigger person." To which some might say, "Right back atcha."
Conway is a smart, accomplished woman, having graduated magna cum laude from Trinity College, attended Oxford University and gotten a law degree from George Washington University. She's the first woman to have led a U.S. presidential campaign to victory, succeeding Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort as Trump campaign managers.
So one would hope she'd be out there championing other women, not tearing them down for political expediency. She can't expect her sensitivity to sexism to sound very credible when she has consistently pushed back at other women's allegations of sexual assaults or crude behavior by Trump. A variety of women have accused him of doing some version of what he boasted on tape of: grabbing the privates of strangers and planting kisses on their unsuspecting mouths.
He has called women "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs" and "disgusting animals" and mocked the looks of Heidi Cruz and Carly Fiorina. His gendered broadsides at TV hosts Megyn Kelly and Mika Brzezinski are also well documented.
But when a 17-year-old girl over the weekend asked Conway how she could rationalize working for a man accused of sexual assault, she likened the question to what she claimed were "anti-woman" attack ads used by Clinton's campaign. "For you to use sexual assault to try to make news here I think is unfortunate," Conway said.
If Conway chooses loyalty to her boss over truth, civility or solidarity with women and groups he has maligned, that's her choice. But she can't expect to look credible trying to have it both ways: dishing it out but then crying foul when it comes her way. Now that she has called out sexism in one circumstance, we'll be looking for her to do it in every circumstance she's asked about — no matter who the victim or offender was.
— Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.