A fellow who looked as if the adjective "seasoned" may have been invented for him approached me Tuesday, at the close of an AARP panel discussion about caregiving. That's today's catch-all word for looking after a frail or disabled relative or friend, often without pay and too often with difficulties that could be eased by enlightened public policies.
He didn't look happy.
I did a quick mental scan of the just-concluded program. What had I said to displease him? Perhaps it was my contention that Americans don't sufficiently value caregiving for either the young or the old because it was and often still is "women's work," and the work of women was and often still is undervalued.
I prepared myself to defend that notion. I need not have.
"You left out one important thing," he said. "We're never going to do more to help caregivers, or make the other changes you talked about, until we start electing more women."
Little did he know that that night, I would take part in a discussion at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs featuring journalist and author Marianne Schnall, in town to talk about her book, "What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations about Women, Leadership and Power." (Seal Press, 2013.)
I didn't get that good fellow's name. But I'm here to thank him for giving me a story I could relate a few hours later in response to the question posed in Schnall's title.
What it will take to elect a woman president, or governor, or to other government offices in numbers comparable to the female share of the population? For one thing, I allowed, it will take more voters — men and women — like this AARP volunteer. More voters will need to think that something good for themselves and their country can come from more gender integration of government.
Schnall agreed. "This is not a women's issue. This is a human issue. … Men also realize the benefits. This is about diversity. It's about having a reflective democracy. We're 50 percent of the population, and we need to be part of the decisionmaking and the stewardship of the planet. … There are a lot of problems in the world right now. We need all hands on deck."
Schnall was a good eight or nine minutes into her presentation before she even uttered the name Hillary Clinton. As moderator of a bipartisan event, I was keen not to turn it into a Hillary-for-president rally.
But the prospect that the former Democratic presidential candidate, secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady will be on the presidential ballot in 2016 hangs over every conversation this year about the gender-restricting glass ceiling in American politics — the one Clinton referenced as she exited the presidential race in 2008.
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it's got about 18 million cracks in it," she said on June 7, 2008, referring to the number of votes she had received in Democratic primaries that year.
The line lingers in memory because it may have been the only time that year that Clinton spoke about herself as a feminist pioneer. Her campaign took plenty of second-guessing for not being more explicit about what might be different if a woman were in the White House's Oval Office as well as its family quarters.
The good turnout to hear Schnall tells me that if Clinton gives it another go in 2016, she would do well to talk up those differences. The push for gender equity in America appears to be gaining traction again after a stalled decade or two. The Great Recession's rich-get-richer aftermath has left plenty of Americans more aware of gender disparities in wages, benefits and career advancement opportunities. A presidential candidate who plainly stands with working women — because she is one — looks to have stronger appeal today than in 2008.
The talking points for such a campaign? Selling Obamacare as good for women, as recommended this week by Brian Beutler in the New Republic, is an obvious one. A higher minimum wage and paid parenting and sick leaves for more workers are others. And, as AARP's Minnesota volunteers said Tuesday, caregivers could use some presidential attention.
An estimated 42 million Americans are informal caregivers for relatives or friends. A majority of them are female. Their loving work is a plus for all concerned, including caregivers' employers, whose tax burden is lighter because of what they do. If family caregivers were to be replaced by hired staff, the cost would run to an AARP-estimated $8.9 billion per year in Minnesota alone. Taxpayers would be tapped for a big share of those costs.
A presidential candidate would score points by proposing to outlaw workplace discrimination against caregivers — a too-common phenomenon, AARP says — and jawboning employers to make caregivers' lives a little easier. Employers would keep skilled older workers on the job longer if they did. An AARP report says that one in four retirees ended their careers earlier than planned because of caregiving demands.
Schnall's book asks, "Is America ready for a woman president?" If Americans see what my new AARP friend sees — that a woman president will care about matters like caregiving — chances are good that the answer is yes.
• • •
My shorthand reference last Sunday to the "questionable campaign falsehood charge" that ended both the legislative career of GOP Rep. Robert Pavlak and the 67-67 tie in the 1979 Minnesota House was found wanting by one of the players in that political drama, former DFL state Rep. Mike Sieben.
Sieben reminded me that the charge that Pavlak's campaign had distributed a falsehood was never in question. No lesser light than Chief Justice Robert Sheran called Pavlak's distribution of a St. Paul Dispatch editorial containing an error about his opponent's voting record to be "deliberate, serious and material" to the election's outcome, Sieben noted.
But Sheran also wrote that the high court could not determine whether Pavlak knew the editorial was wrong before he distributed it. He said that in his opinion, the House should not expel Pavlak if he had acted in good faith. The House decided he had not — on a party-line 67-66 vote, with Pavlak barred from voting. Whether Pavlak deserved expulsion is this episode's lingering question.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at email@example.com.