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Wed08152018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

We live in a time when the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is being targeted by his own party (via the Republican Principles PAC) with a depressingly accurate TV advertisement that quotes the various derogatory expressions Donald Trump has used over the years to describe women.

It’s also a time when a Lane Bryant ad featuring “plus size” woman resulted in a backlash—including two major networks, ABC and NBC, refusing to run it.

This means it’s time to address an age-old issue: the objectification of women, and its resulting impact on women in particular, and society in general.

Sure, there are lots of examples of how badly some nations around the world treat half of the population—horrors like genital mutilation/female circumcision; burning women alive who are suspected of violating cultural norms like having extra-marital sex (including having been raped); the sex trafficking of young girls; and practices like arranged marriages of minor females, a lack of access to birth control, culturally accepted “domestic” violence, not allowing women to start businesses or work outside of their homes, a lack of education for girls, etc. etc. etc. While practices such as these make us wring our hands with a sense of outrage and frustration at not knowing how to begin to fix it all, we tend to overlook the objectification of women right here at home—and its impact as a violation of American principles of equality and dignity.

Issues like a lack of equal pay for equal work, and women being denied positions of power in major industries, are all too often met with sound-bites about women taking time off to have children (in an industrialized nation that still offers no mandated paid leave), or choosing careers that are about taking care of others rather than pursuing big money. We also often here how much progress has already been made, with claims that we can’t change too fast, or that women are surpassing men in getting higher education, so we’ll see much more of a payoff in the future.

I, for one, am tired of waiting. Women are still fighting sexism, objectification based on appearance and sexuality, and disparate standards for judging performance. (“She’s too pushy/loud/strident,” some say about Hillary Clinton, while when a male politician acts similarly, they say: “He’s a strong leader.”) I was someone who raised these issues more than 40 years ago, and it’s disheartening to see young women—assuming that equality would await them out in the “real world”—realizing that, in fact, little has really changed.

Let’s start with the networks turning down the ad from Lane Bryant, a women’s clothing retailer specifically catering to “plus size” women. The ad features a range of women of various sizes celebrating the female form. Each shares what makes her proud about her body, with tag lines like: “This body was made for being bold and powerful”; “This body proves them wrong”; “This body is made for life”; and a new mother saying, “This body was made for love,” while breastfeeding her infant.

NBC claimed the ad violated a “broadcast indecency guideline” standard. The Federal Communications Commission says indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium (my emphasis), sexual or excretory organs or activities.” According to TMZ, a 2010 ad from Lane Bryant was also turned down by ABC and Fox.

By comparison, networks have no problem with showing promos for the Victoria’s Secret annual “fashion show,” or beer ads featuring scantily clad women. We see women’s bodies used to sell everything from cars to tools to food. We have dolls in leather miniskirts with feather boas and thigh-high boots marketed specifically to girls, and thong panties for little girls with slogans like “eye candy.” We see Victoria’s Secret models dressed like angels strutting down the runway on primetime TV.

But we seldom see women’s bodies as they really are. According to WebMD, the average American woman today wears a size 14 and weighs between 140 and 150 pounds. By comparison, over the past 20 years, fashion model sizes have dropped from size 8 to size 0.

A new campaign, Stand Up, is specifically focusing on the way girls are constantly encouraged to be body-conscious, resort to elective plastic surgery, and flaunt themselves as if equality includes risking being labeled a slut. (Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.) The campaign launched an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures from people all over the world, and features men also “standing up” for the women in their lives—mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.

In part, the petition says: “Every day women are bombarded with advertisements aimed at making them feel insecure about their bodies, in the hope that they will spend money on products that will supposedly make them happier and more beautiful. All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty. It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”

Victoria’s Secret, which took heat for their “The Perfect Body” ad featuring typically skinny models, responded to the backlash by changing their tag line to “A Body for Everybody”—but they didn’t change the visual image.

The American Psychological Association released a report in 2007 addressing the “sexualization of girls in the media,” and the result was that women and girls are not seen as fully functioning individuals, but rather judged primarily as sexual objects. This has an impact on boys and how they see girls, and on men and how they view women in society. The APA report says, “The findings proved girls are portrayed in a sexual manner … that implies sexual readiness. … With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.”

According to the APA, “Sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men.” Objectifying girls and women, and even sex itself, has become integral to definitions of masculinity, and “these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.” This applies also to how men see women in the professional world.

A joke currently making the rounds is that Caitlin Jenner is the only person clamoring to be woman over the age of 50—a clear reference to the fact that women “of a certain age” are no longer considered desirable. Ray Moore, head of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament held in Indian Wells, publicly apologized and then resigned after saying the women of professional tennis are “very, very lucky” they “don’t make any decisions,” and should thank men for their success, despite all their years of hard work and outstanding athleticism. He describes these powerful women as “physically attractive and competitively attractive”—implying their looks are an integral element in their success on the court.

Which brings me to Donald Trump’s descriptions of women as quoted by the Republican Principles PAC ad. Trump’s actual quotes include his disparaging characterization of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (“Who would vote for that face?”); comments about Rosie O’Donnell (“a fat pig” and “a dog”); his ongoing animosity toward Fox broadcaster Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her … wherever” and “a bimbo”), and general comments like: “For a person who is flat-chested, it’s hard to be a 10”; “It doesn’t matter what they write (about you) as long as you’ve got a beautiful piece of ass”; and my personal favorite, said to a contestant on The Apprentice, “That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

Trump’s response to CNN when asked about all this? “Some of my words are just show business … Nobody respects women more than I do.”

Yeah, and some of my best friends are (fill in the blank). This man could very well become president—proving that women will continue to be objectified until we all, women and men, speak out and stand up.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

In the course of a normal life, we meet people—yet seldom do we meet someone who impresses us immediately, someone we know will make a difference in our lives. I was lucky enough to have such a meeting a couple of years ago—and sadly, there was not enough time to wring everything I could out of the relationship.

I met Cathy Greenblat in connection with a showing of her extraordinary pictures of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and I wrote about her in January 2014. She and her husband, John Gagnon, were then fairly new residents in Palm Springs—both retired academics who were trying to get settled in and establish lives here after several years living in France.

The first time I met John was when I was invited to their home for dinner. I knew he had retired as a professional academic, but had no clue what he had achieved during that career. I was, however, struck by a quality that I have found in very, very few people: John had a highly disciplined mind, and he knew how to listen. During a discussion during our first evening together, during which different opinions and ideas were being thrown around, he sat back quietly and silently. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was really “present”—it was almost as if he were somewhere far inside his head, and had tuned out the conversation.

After much back-and-forth among the others at the table, John all of a sudden sat up in his chair and began to talk. He had a slow, mellow voice that made it clear he had heard and internalized all points of view. He then cogently identified the gist of the discussion and came forward with a clear statement that moved everything forward with remarkable insight. He didn’t pontificate; rather, he was “dazzlingly brilliant, especially in spontaneous extemporaneous settings … sardonically funny, and intellectually generous,” in the words of an old friend and collaborator, Cathy told me. For me, it was an astonishing performance, indicative of the kind of mental discipline one seldom encounters.

After learning about John’s background, I had even more reason to be impressed. He was a distinguished professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a lifetime fellow at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. He had academic appointments in psychology and psychiatry, but his primary achievements were in sociology, specifically studies regarding sexuality. John spent several years at the Kinsey Institute and is particularly remembered for his book with co-author William Simon in 1973, Sexual Conduct, which introduced the “social constructionist model” for understanding sexual identity. The American Sociological Association annually presents a Gagnon and Simon Award.

John was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, among many other academic honors.

John’s work was described by Glasgow’s Dr. Pamela Gillies as “groundbreaking” in that it was pivotal to helping those in public health craft appropriate prevention responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic: “John consistently reminds us all of the need to dig deep into our humanity and sense of ourselves to drive the debate of the still hugely important global health challenge presented by HIV/AIDS, in a more coherent, compassionate and intellectually articulate direction.”

Gillies also said of John: “Conversations with John Gagnon are like exciting conspiracies. They allow us to ask all of those difficult questions of life and ourselves that seem almost too strange, too disruptive, or too uncomfortable to explore … Blessed with a beautiful vocal tone, he is also a pleasure to listen to, but he has the gift of listening.”

My experience exactly.

John was an avid reader with a vast knowledge of art, history, literature and psychology. According to Cathy, he knew where every famous painting was housed, when it was painted, and what made it special. Yet he came from humble beginnings: His father was a miner, his mother a hotel maid. After moves across country amid Depression-era poverty, John by the age of 10, had not only discovered the library, but had already read his way through the entire children’s section. In 1990, he wrote, “Books, particularly books that were not true, became and remain the most important source of knowledge in my life.”

After his father’s death, John was on a trip across country, and at the age of 14, he saw the University of Chicago and announced: “I’m going to go to that university.” Although he scored in the top three on the entrance exams for Stanford, John did end up at the University of Chicago, including graduate work that led to his doctorate in 1969.

John’s design in the late 1980s of the first comprehensive survey of sexual behavior since the 1948 and 1953 Kinsey reports provided reliable statistical information and an in-depth assessment of sex in America, including gay male behaviors that were critical to a better understanding of how to structure and implement health interventions regarding HIV/AIDS. He also found that most married Americans were monogamous and not very adventurous about sex.

In a New York Times interview in 1994, John said, “We have had the myth that everybody was out there having lots of sex of all kinds. That’s had two consequences. It has enraged the conservatives. And it has created anxiety and unhappiness among those who weren’t having it, who thought, ‘If I’m not getting any, I must be a defective person.’ Good sense should have told us that most people don’t have the time and energy to manage an affair, a job, a family and the Long Island Rail Road.”

John died Feb. 11, at home with Cathy, his wife of 38 years, by his side. He knew of my work on end-of-life choices, and spoke to me privately about his fears and feelings. I truly regret I will not have the chance to experience that mind again.

John Gagnon made a difference for me, even in the short time he was a part of my life, through his ability to articulate about what really matters: “The critical posture to maintain is that the future will not be better or worse, only different.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

When I moved to Palm Springs full-time in 1985, vacationers strolled downtown during “the season.” I shopped in the chic stores at the mall—at least until they closed down each summer. Spring Break was our biggest attraction (although local residents generally stayed home that week), but that did not last much longer: After years of laissez-faire treatment of young partiers, there was the riot of 1986, and then-Mayor Sonny Bono decided to shut down Spring Break.

In the years that followed, the International Film Festival was born, in 1989. The downtown mall closed. Downtown became dreary and sad.

Thankfully, Palm Springs has experienced a turn-around—as has the Coachella Valley in general—by hosting events and encouraging tourism that brings more diverse groups and revenues to the area. Now that downtown Palm Springs is finally heading toward progress at replacing the empty mall behemoth with shops, walkways, living spaces, arts installations, hotels and entertainment venues, you might wonder how the city has encouraged so many new people to visit—people who often return or even resettle here.

Enter Mary Jo Ginther, who serves as the director of tourism and marketing for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. Ginther doesn’t actually work for the city: She and her staff are employed by SMG, a company she describes as “the largest manager of convention centers in the world,” with which the city of Palm Springs contracts to provide their tourism marketing services.

Working within the city’s budget allocations, Ginther and her group employ every method imaginable to attract visitors from across the globe, who will visit and thus generate transient occupancy taxes (TOT) and sales taxes.

“Palm Springs has developed an amazing reputation over the past 10 years,” she says, “as well as more than doubled its TOT revenues.”

Visitors may stay in large name hotels, small boutique inns or private guest homes. They come for gambling, events, conventions, the film festival, weddings, get-away weekends or as snowbirds escaping cruel winters in the Midwest and East. They come for family celebrations, school reunions, business meetings and themed special events. They drive down from Los Angeles, jet in from Canada or fly in to enjoy their long European summer holidays.

Ginther, 60, is a Palm Springs resident originally from East Chicago, Indiana. She started her professional life as a middle-school teacher, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in education at Indiana University Bloomington. She subsequently gained experience in the hotel industry, serving for many years as a banquet manager, and spending 22 years with the Hyatt organization. She was transferred to the Palm Springs area, where she worked as a general manager with the Hyatt, and as club manager at the Mission Hills Country Club. However, she had also visited here as a child.

“We used to come out every Christmas on the train to see my grandmother, who had retired to Pomona, and my aunt in Claremont. I know we came to Palm Springs, but I was too young to remember,” Ginther said.

Ginther has been in her current position for almost 10 years, and is a past-president of the Palm Springs Hotel and Hospitality Association.

The Bureau of Tourism not only focuses on generating tourism dollars for the city; it also oversees the Welwood Murray Library, the historical site that will house a show-business collection in downtown Palm Springs, and the Palm Springs Visitor Center. The staff coordinates efforts with the convention center, hotels, businesses and event planners.

“Our job is to help promote the city,” Ginther says, “so we try to bring all interests together.”

They also work with the Agua Caliente regarding casino visitation. “Once they have plans finalized for the downtown property,” she says, “I think we’ll all be amazed, because they have the springs, which is another attraction to bring people to Palm Springs.”

Ginther sees her biggest challenge as identifying and reaching people who are not necessarily vacationers or visitors coming for specific events, and enticing them to visit.

“We need the people who can come in on mid-week days, when hotels have more vacancies, and we have to expand beyond seasonality,” she says. “We have partners in the United Kingdom and Germany, among the places we do specific outreach, and the challenge is to put together attractive travel packages that include vouchers for hotels and cars and activities. And it’s so easy to get around here. The farthest anyone ever has to drive is about six minutes. That’s also a plus.”

Another challenge: “Although Palm Springs is known around the world, people always say, ‘But what is there to do?’ We need to be able to answer that for increasingly diverse groups of people.”

For example, outreach efforts are needed to expand the image of Palm Springs in LGBT communities; currently, there are 23 gay men’s resorts—but only one specifically appealing to lesbian women.

“We need to have other events to promote beyond ‘The Dinah,’” Ginther says, referring to the golf tournament originally named for late singer/actress Dinah Shore, which has now morphed into what is billed as “the largest lesbian event and music festival in the world,” slated to be held this year March 30 to April 3.

Additional efforts to promote Palm Springs are made by Bureau of Tourism staff members attending travel trade shows, representing the city at travel industry conventions, and via advertising.

“We have our own advertising budget and marketing schemes,” Ginther says, “but our job is really to bring together all interested parties, not duplicate efforts made by others, and get people to come to town, stay locally and discover Palm Springs.”

With a focus on Palm Springs being a place to “Stay–Play–Dine–Shop,” the street life downtown once again feels stimulating and chic, and the prospects for the future are encouraging. Thanks in part to hard-working people like Mary Jo Ginther and her associates, the world is getting the word about Palm Springs being the place that is “like no place else.”

But those of us who live here already know that.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s difficult to find the right word to describe coming together to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade becoming the law of the land.

Celebrate? That doesn’t feel right, because even pro-choice individuals don’t think abortion should be “celebrated.” Commemorate? Yes, we do remember and memorialize the decision that affirmed women have a right to privacy regarding when and whether to bear a child. But perhaps there’s an even better word.

Solemnize? To dignify with events or ceremonies?

That works for me.

Recently, a group of local women and men gathered to solemnize the 43rd year since the Supreme Court validated women’s sovereignty regarding their own bodies, on Jan. 22, 1973. How’s the legal decision working these many years later?

The total number of abortions performed legally in the United States has steadily been declining, particularly among teenagers, largely as a result of the use of birth control, sex education and fear of disease. That’s the good news.

The bad news is a record number of restrictive anti-abortion laws and regulations passed in recent years by state legislatures, justified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s statement in Roe that although the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester, the states also have an “important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life” (however that is variously interpreted).

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the leading compiler of accurate abortion information, in about 87 percent of U.S. counties, there is no provider; 35 percent of women age 15-44 live in those counties. Some state laws require waiting periods, ultrasounds with forced viewing of results, and “counseling”—often with misleading or outright false information, designed to discourage the decision to abort.

With such limited access to providers, some women must be able to travel more than 100 miles, take time off from work, arrange child care and find a way to stay or return again to satisfy waiting periods. It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of all women will have an abortion by the age of 45, and based on Roe, it should at least be safe, legal and accessible.

In Texas, where very restrictive laws passed last year, more than 100,000 Texas women between 18 and 49 have either tried to end a pregnancy themselves, or have sought help in Mexico. (The Supreme Court has accepted a case this term to decide whether Texas created an “undue burden” on women.)

The local event, co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Democrats of the Desert (DOD) and Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD), featured the film Vessel, a documentary chronicling the work of Women on Waves (WoW). The Dutch organization, a pro-choice nonprofit created in 1999 by physician Rebecca Gomperts, estimates that almost 50,000 women a year worldwide die from self-induced abortions.

“Reproductive freedom should be seen as a fundamental human right, not as a benefit or privilege only available to some, but not all, women around the world,” said DWD President Amalia Deaztlan, a resident of Bermuda Dunes.

WoW took advantage of the fact that when a ship is in international waters, at least 12 miles offshore, the laws of the nation under which that ship is licensed prevail. Dutch law allows unrestricted medication abortions up to the 6 1/2th week of pregnancy. In 2002, to assist women in countries where abortion is not legally allowed, WoW raised money to charter a ship and set up a complete portable clinic. The organization got permission from the Dutch health minister, staffed the ship with medical professionals and volunteers, and set out to provide services to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The intention was to land, let women know the nonsurgical procedure could be provided, take appointments to bring women on board, and sail into international waters, where Dutch law would prevail.  

The first stop was Ireland, followed over the course of several years by Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Poland. In some locations, they were not even allowed to dock the ship: Loud groups of protesters, mostly men, often threatened them, but the protests and resulting publicity led to hotlines being established and, ultimately, to changes in some laws. At the very least, women became aware that there were nonsurgical means they could obtain and safely take on their own, regardless of the legality of abortion or the willingness of doctors.

According to Guttmacher, in 2008, medication abortion accounted for more than 25 percent of all U.S. abortions performed prior to nine weeks of gestation. Says the World Health Organization (WHO): “In countries where induced abortion is legally highly restricted and/or unavailable, safe abortion has frequently become the privilege of the rich, while poor women have little choice but to resort to unsafe providers, causing deaths … that become the social and financial responsibility of the public health system. Laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed.” WHO has placed the drugs used in medical abortions on its List of Essential Medicines since 2005.

Since ships cannot reach all of the countries where women need access to safe abortions, WoW launched safe-abortion hotlines in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Poland and Morocco. WoW trains volunteers who can staff local hotlines to give women information about how to obtain and use the drugs. They have even resorted to graffiti-tagging “Safe Abortion” with a local phone number on streets and walls so women can get the information they seek.

Seeing Vessel was a moving and inspiring experience, especially for those who often forget that what we may freely access in California is heavily restricted in places like North Dakota, and totally unavailable in places like Tanzania.

La Quinta resident Marlene Levine had a visceral reaction to some of the scenes in the film.

“I see big groups of angry men yelling at women who are trying to help each other,” she said about the film. “I keep wondering who in those gangs of protesters has ever sat up all night with their own sick child, or picked up a bottle to feed his baby, or changed even one dirty diaper. Do they even really care about a real baby? Or are they just out to show those women who is boss and let them know that their women must do as they say?”

We came together to solemnize the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, dignifying it by remembering that women all over the world deserve the human right to make decisions in their own best interest, acknowledging their sovereignty over their own bodies.

Some things should never be taken for granted.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Words have meanings.

In the hyped-up atmosphere of the presidential campaign season, words are being used as political weapons—apparently assuming the audience is ignorant.

I want to change that, particularly with regard to words like “sexist” and “feminist” and “enabler” and “abuse.”

If a wife defends a philandering husband, is she an enabler? Not necessarily. If a man is a womanizer, is he therefore an abuser? Not necessarily. Can someone be a feminist AND be sexist? Unfortunately, yes, and that can describe either men or women. These words are not interchangeable.

Sexism is an attitude based on traditional stereotypical gender roles. (All definitions used are consistent with both dictionary.com and Webster’s Dictionary.) When someone, male or female, judges another on the basis of the role they’re supposed to play, they’re being sexist. Donald Trump is sexist when he denigrates a female candidate’s appearance based on the stereotypical assumption that women are supposed to be, first and foremost, attractive. Criticizing a woman for her tone of voice not being soft and sweet is sexist. A woman is sexist if she believes that the husband in a relationship should be the breadwinner, and the wife should fulfill the role of mother and homemaker.

Feminism is the advocacy of social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men. A woman who believes in equal pay for equal work (feminism) can simultaneously believe that women should stay home (sexism); they expect fair treatment out in the world, but they still hold sexist attitudes about what goes on inside a relationship.

A philanderer, or womanizer, is a man who has relationships, often of a sexual nature, where he cannot or has no intention of having a lasting relationship—a man who carries on flirtations regardless of his marital status. A womanizer is the guy almost every woman knows, from junior high school on, who has the compulsion to pursue every woman as a potential sexual conquest. They can be married or single; they flirt with every woman they meet. Some are insecure; others just like women. They’re not necessarily sexist and may be feminists.

When a woman acts in that same manner, constantly flirting whether married or not, she is called a slut or a nymphomaniac—a woman with unquenchable, even “abnormal” sexual desires. Where a man is described as a shameless flirt, a woman with identical behavior is considered abnormal; after all, “boys will be boys.” Sexism is evident in these definitions.

During the 1970s sexual revolution, I knew a couple who believed in open marriage, in which each partner was allowed to have sexual relations with others; they drew the line if the outside relationship included dinner. For them, the sexual act was purely physical, but dinner implied a relationship, an intimacy that would threaten their marriage. One of my friends recently dated a man who was quite happy to periodically “service” the wife of one of his old friends, a man who had become ill and could no longer satisfy his wife sexually. The woman’s husband knew of and was not threatened by his wife’s “affair.”

There are couples who stay together for financial reasons, or who stay married but live separately. Some couples no longer relate to each other with sex as an essential part of their intimacy. There are couples who, despite their partner’s flirtations or affairs, stay together “for the children,” or for financial reasons, or because they love each other in ways that those outside the relationship cannot understand. Some spouses don’t want to know what their partner is up to, evidently believing that “ignorance is bliss”—if they knew, they’d have to do something about it, and they don’t want to change the status quo.

I respect people who have figured out their own relationships and seem satisfied with their arrangements. How they work it out is their business—and shouldn’t be part of a political campaign.

We live in a time when 1950s rules no longer apply in the workplace. Harassing is persistently disturbing, bothering or pestering. What at one time seemed acceptable, or was tolerated, is now sexual harassment—meaning unwelcome sexual advances, especially if compliance is a condition of continued employment or advancement.

“A ha!” you might say. “That means Bill Clinton was a harasser. After all, Monica Lewinsky was a subordinate working in the White House.” But the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship was consensual, not unwelcome, and she was an adult. Did he act inappropriately? Of course he did, and I can’t forgive him for the public humiliation of his wife. Yet his wife seemed willing to forgive him, and they worked out their marriage in their own way, so who am I to judge?

“What about all the other women with whom Clinton was involved?” It’s clear he was a philanderer, but however inappropriate, his extramarital activities were consensual with adult women. (A claim of rape has never been substantiated.)

A good case can be made that Bill Clinton is a feminist and is not sexist. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Donald Trump, who does judge women differently that he judges men, based on stereotypical assumptions. Trump would probably not want to be labeled a feminist, but by touting equal treatment for women, he’s a shining example of how one can be both feminist and sexist at the same time.

Trump says Hillary “enabled” (condoned or facilitated) her husband’s extramarital affairs and thus cannot stand up for women. Wrong. Accepting and even defending a spouse’s infidelity does not mean one is not still a feminist regarding public policy.

Hillary accurately described some of Donald Trump’s boorish statements as indicating a “penchant for sexism.” Trump responded with, “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband (on the campaign trail), with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!”

In an editorial responding to Trump, The New York Times said that Trump’s aim is clearly “to dredge up an ancient scandal and tar Mrs. Clinton with it in a clearly sexist fashion.” In other words, holding a wife complicit in her husband’s behavior is based on the underlying belief that if a man strays somehow, his wife is at fault. Her role is to keep him satisfied. According to Trump on Fox News, “She’s not a victim. She was an enabler.” Enabling would mean Hillary facilitated her husband’s behavior, rather than merely tolerating or forgiving it.

How does the general public see all of this? A Fox News poll indicates that voters see Bill Clinton as more respectful of women than Donald Trump—50 percent for Clinton, and only 37 percent for Trump, so Trump’s play may backfire. We’re not ignorant.

Spouse attacks were tried against Sen. Dianne Feinstein and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro based on their husbands’ business dealings, and against John McCain for his wife’s alleged drug use. All of this is nothing more than dirty politics—an attempt to put an opponent on the defensive and dominate the news cycle.

We should not reward such sleazy attacks.

Words have meanings.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to articulate our intentions about how we plan to be better human beings in the coming year.

Resolutions imply that we have to stop doing something, or give up something—which assumes we’re not already perfect.

Plan to exercise more? What’s stopped you so far? Think that’ll change?

Resolve to eat smarter or exercise? Why not start today?

Commit to repair your relationship with someone? What are you waiting for—an engraved invitation?

The older I get, the faster time seems to go by, and there’s not much life left to get “me” right. With all of our daily responsibilities—kids, deadlines, bills to pay, family and friends with issues that inexorably involve me in some way—focusing on myself and becoming a better person seems hopelessly counterproductive.

Besides, I’m not sure I need to figure out how to get better. I have a good friend who says, “I’m perfect … and improving!” I think maybe I’m as good as I’m ever going to get. However, I do expect to keep making new mistakes; heaven knows I should by now have learned enough from the old ones.

When 2015 began, I thought it was going to be a good year. All the bad stuff from 2014—a major downsizing move, my car dying—was behind me. Think again. Side effects from a supposedly simple surgery took a few months of recovery. The implant to replace my front tooth took more than eight months to get right; a false tooth that kept coming loose and made it difficult to eat, let alone smile. The man in my life went through his father’s death, gone more than he’s been here. Major illnesses afflicting several people important to me have kept me on edge for their survival. Financial problems complicated everything.

George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So first, it’s important to list those things I know I won’t change. I’ll push the speed limit up to 10 mph over what’s posted—I know it’s technically breaking the law, but they don’t seem to stop you if you don’t go over that. I’ll keep smoking as long as my lungs seem to be OK; I know it’s not healthy, but I’ve been doing it for more than 60 years, so promises to stop are basically useless. I’ll occasionally eat things that make me happy, but may not make my body feel good: crispy chicken skin, hot salsa, crisp bacon, and popcorn with that buttery stuff and lots of salt. I’ll continue to give myself permission to cancel appointments. I’ll limit talking to a particular relative who is so critical about my kids that every conversation feels like I have to defend myself.

Life is too short to keep butting your head against a stone wall. Some things, no matter how much you know they might be good for you, aren’t worth the stress of actually doing them.

Now, my resolutions for this coming year?

I resolve to remind myself that I already have all the time there is. There will be no getting frustrated because traffic ahead of me is slowed; no need to dart from lane to lane to get somewhere two minutes earlier. No point in cursing out another driver when that idiot can’t hear me anyway. No need to keep looking at my watch in line at the post office. Although “patience is a virtue,” I feel no need to be virtuous; I just refuse to feel anxious about things over which I have no control.

I resolve to accomplish at least one constructive thing every day. It may be doing the laundry or sweeping the patio. I could decide to walk to the market instead of driving two blocks—if my 93-year old neighbor can do it, so can I. It could be to finally drop off those clothes I’ve been putting in a bag for the past six months so someone who needs them can actually get them. I resolve never to go to bed without acknowledging that I’ve accomplished at least one thing that day—beyond watching old shows on TV, that is. 

I resolve to “pay it forward” daily. Of course, this means I have to pay attention to the little things others do for me, like letting me go first at the market when I have fewer items in my basket, or giving me the parking place for which I’ve been patiently waiting, or letting me pull pennies from the stash when I’m only a couple of coins short. Whatever it may be, I will notice whenever it happens, and consider it my job for that day to pay it forward toward someone else.

I resolve to give at least one compliment every day to someone, whether I know them or not. I was once waiting in line at the movies, and the woman behind me tapped my shoulder and said, “I can’t help noticing that you have an absolutely perfect haircut.” As someone who generally hates her own hair, I still remember that, and how unexpectedly flattered I was. I want to do that for at least one person every day.

I resolve to never let hateful comments go by without saying, quietly and calmly, “I find that very offensive.” No further conversation is necessary. No matter what the other person says, my response will be, “Let’s just change the subject,” and I will refuse to be drawn in any further. People need to know when their lack of manners has gone over the line. I hope you’ll do that if you hear something hateful about me. Remember: Silence is tacit approval.

I resolve to give myself permission to be selfish. When I was growing up, being called selfish was the worst criticism my father could hurl. As I grew up, I realized that “selfish” just means caring about yourself. I won’t exclude caring about others—it means I have to be OK before I can help anyone else, just as airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you attach your child’s mask. You can’t take care of others if you have nothing left to give.

Will these resolutions make me a better person? I’m pretty much who I’m going to be. But if these resolutions mean I don’t spend the time I do have worrying about losing time; and that I cross at least one thing off my “to do” list every day; and that I’m conscious about the little things even total strangers do that make me feel good; and that I quietly but firmly stand up for my values; and that I take care of myself so I can be of use to others—then 2016 will be a good year.

My bottom line advice for the upcoming year comes from a website called InspireMore: If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.

Happy New Year!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I admit I’m feeling unnerved.

The terrorist attack in San Bernardino followed seemingly unrelated events including the shooting of Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, and the murder of three people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Then came the fire-bombing at the mosque in Coachella, and the death of my old friend George Zander after the gay-bashing he and his husband, Chris, suffered in downtown Palm Springs. (As of this writing, it is not yet clear whether Zander’s death was directly related to that assault.)

Coincidentally, I recently ran out of new books on my nightstand, and began re-reading two old favorites: 1984 and Brave New World. They are both incredible novels—but reading them at the same time is perhaps an unnecessary punishment at a time when our own country’s future seems to be so precariously hanging on the next presidential election.

George Orwell’s 1984 is set in a world of never-ending war, invasive government surveillance, the manipulation of history, tyranny dominated by the presence of Big Brother, and the control of society by a privileged class via a party motivated purely by power. The book was published in 1949, after World War II, and uses the destruction of London as its physical backdrop (not unlike the devastation depicted in Mad Max or Clockwork Orange). It also envisions a society in which citizens are controlled through fear and intimidation.

Orwell introduced concepts we use today. When things are described as “Orwellian,” we mean they go too far in manipulating or depriving the population of the basic necessities of life. The concept of Big Brother became a reality television show on which a group of people live together, isolated from the outside world—and always under the watchful eye of the television camera. “Doublespeak” and “groupthink” came straight from Orwell’s frightening vision of a totalitarian future in which children spy on their parents, and the ultimate punishment for independent thinking is to be confronted by the thing that frightens one most. Anyone who has ever read 1984 cannot possibly forget Winston Smith and the rats.

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, casts the future as a perpetually happy utopia in which people live in a clean, efficient, technically advanced society, without traditional marriage or family—embryos are artificially manufactured with restricted abilities and ambitions. Class distinctions are fully accepted based on sleep-programmed education from infancy, and the size of the population is strictly controlled so each class can be provided with everything it needs. A drug keeps the population docile, and those few who dare to see themselves as individuals are banished to uninhabitable parts of the globe. Individuality is discouraged, and society is run as a benevolent dictatorship.

How do these two books relate to my being upset about the beating of the Zanders and the bombing of the mosque? These two local crimes seem motivated by individuals willing to use violence based on their individual visceral opposition to gays or Muslims; a recent study by Nathan Kalmoe, a University of Michigan doctoral candidate, articulated a broader explanation of the willingness of individuals to use violence for political gain.

At a time when the leading candidate of one of our two dominant political parties is shamelessly using demagoguery—attempting to gain power by arousing the emotions and prejudices of others—to play to the fears of Americans in exchange for political support, it is no surprise that Kalmoe found that combative and even violent political rhetoric can make some Americans see violence as an appropriate means to an end.

“The rhetoric of ‘fighting’ for a cause, declaring ‘war’ on problems, and suffering ‘attacks’ from opponents, is how political leaders, journalists and citizens often talk about politics,” says Kalmoe. “Political leaders, pundits and citizens regularly demonize opponents and emphasize the righteousness of their own goals. Language like that may facilitate moral disengagement, which allows people to rationalize the harm they do to others.”

To be fair, most people in the study opposed violence, but a significant minority, ranging from 5 to 14 percent, agreed with the use of violent options, while between 10 and 18 percent were indifferent. That means millions of ordinary Americans accept the general idea of violence to gain political ends. Not surprisingly, Kalmoe found that young adults are more prone to adopt violent attitudes after exposure to such language—possibly explaining the appeal of groups like ISIS and domestic militias that seem to offer a way for disaffected young people to act and not just feel powerless.

Both Brave New World and 1984 are cautionary tales, and each depicted a future that has not come to pass. But we do have elements of each: surveillance; calls for a greater invasion of privacy, even of citizens; the manipulation of language to mean something other than what it means (in 1984, the three central principals are “War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength”); conformity in the name of assimilation; the use of drugs to minimize distress; turning on each other in the name of security (“If you see something, say something”); and class consciousness.

More than 25 years after Brave New World, Huxley wrote a nonfiction work, Brave New World Revisited, in which he considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision. According to Wikipedia, Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like the future he had envisioned much faster than he originally thought it would.

My conclusion, after San Bernardino, the attack on the Zanders, and the Coachella mosque is that we are much closer to 1984 and Orwell’s prediction that fear would be the ultimate motivator of political power.

If we are to retain our values and head toward a more optimistic future—one in which our religious houses of worship and the Zanders of our world are secure—we need to recognize that casting every conflict in apocalyptic language and falling for demagogic rhetoric must be rejected.

If you think your vote doesn’t count, think again—while you still can.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The past few months have brought me one ailment after another, side effects from treatments causing other issues, a lack of appetite (which is not a way to lose weight I would recommend) and no energy. (I’m not a hypochondriac; this is atypical.)

I admit I’ve been a little cranky. OK, VERY cranky. Luckily, I’m finally feeling better.

I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles at the home of an old friend, with my daughter and assorted family. On the Wednesday preceding Turkey Day, that friend had a house guest in addition to me: a young woman named Kelly, 42, who is recovering from a heart transplant. (For privacy purposes, I’m not using Kelly’s real name.)

My friend volunteers at a major hospital once a week in their patient and family care group. She’s assigned to a floor where patients are waiting for or recovering from transplants. Her job is to interact with the patients and their family or friends—and basically do a lot of listening. She has personally bonded with some of her patients, including Kelly.

Kelly lives in Houston, but flies into Southern California monthly for follow-up protocols. Although she has successfully come through the threat of rejection of the heart she received, she is now facing kidney problems requiring dialysis. Her weight is down to 89 pounds.

“I watch the Food Channel all the time,” she confided. “I keep thinking it will make me feel hungry.”

She walks haltingly, but is obviously very independent and taking control of her recovery, almost a year since she got her new heart.

After spending an evening with Kelly—someone who is so valiantly battling to keep herself alive—I feel ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself over the ailments I’ve suffered over the last few months. Yes, we all handle what we have to handle, but my issues feel so insignificant and self-indulgent by comparison.

All of this made me think about how lucky we are—palm trees included—compared to at least 90 percent of the people on the planet. Therefore, with the holiday giving season upon us, maybe there’s something we can do for those whose lives revolve around physical challenges we will most likely never have to face.

There are more than 122,000 people in this country officially waiting for an organ—heart, liver, lung, kidney, eye and/or tissue—according to the Universal Donor Registration Site, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than 20 people die every day while on the lengthy waiting lists, and there are as few as 15,000 donors each year. Some people need more than one organ—a heart and a lung, for example. Some patients’ bodies may reject an organ and require a second procedure—and, therefore, a second donor. Matching donors to those in need is a complicated process. In America, federal law makes it illegal to “knowingly” buy or sell a human organ. It is true that there are countries where those with lots of money can cut in line.

I’ve written many times about having conversations regarding end-of-life choices and how important it is to NOT leave those critical decisions to others (who may not have a clue what YOU want). But even if those discussions and plans seem too difficult to confront, ask yourself: Have you at least made arrangements to be an organ donor? One organ donor can save as many as eight lives—but medical professionals must know you are a donor when your time is up. Otherwise, those legally empowered to speak on your behalf must be found; discussions must be held; and conflicts must be resolved. For example, what if you have more than one child, and they don’t agree? Don’t you want this decision to be yours?

When you get a California driver’s license, you have the opportunity to indicate that you want to be an organ donor. Your license arrives with embedded information that tells anyone treating you after an accident or during an emergency that you have made the decision to donate.

Even if you didn’t indicate your willingness to be a donor on your license, you can still register by going to Donate Life California, the state authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. In California, almost 13,000,000 are registered.

Both the HHS and Donate Life websites offer information that can help you make your decision. If you are reluctant to donate your heart, you still might be willing to donate a kidney. In 2014 alone, more than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the U.S.—and of those, more than 11,000 kidneys came from deceased donors. Donate Life California says that 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 12 people die each day waiting for one.

There are those who, for religious reasons or because of cultural traditions, would not under any circumstances want their organs removed and transplanted. Most of us who have not registered as an organ donor, however, just avoid thinking about things related to the end of our lives. We somehow seem to believe that if we can push off those decisions, maybe death won’t really happen. Good luck with that.

My sister-in-law Denise has a combination of three auto-immune diseases, and the treatment for one can often make another worse. She eats very little of very few foods (again, not a recommended diet) and has been through years of treatments and protocols. Yet if you met her and my brother for dinner, you would never know she had ANY condition that impinged on her ability to be herself and enjoy the evening.

Not too long ago, Denise emailed to ask how I was feeling. I wrote back saying I was now fine, and that I felt silly complaining about anything compared with her every-day reality. She replied, “You take it a day at a time and make the best of it. That’s all we can do.”

When I asked Kelly, the heart transplant patient, about the impact of all she has been through, she said, “Some days it’s really hard, but it’s worth it.”

Pris, a desert friend, perhaps said it best: “There’s always something out there to put things in perspective.”

Enjoy the holiday giving season—and give someone the gift of life.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I have two local friends who hail from London: Rupert in Rancho Mirage, and Gillian in Palm Desert. They often laugh at how Americans react to their British accent.

“Well,” I tell them, “Americans can’t really differentiate between British, Australian, South African or New Zealand accents, let alone between North and West London. We just assume that if you have that accent, you must be smart and educated.”

Many of us have similar trouble differentiating between Vietnamese and Filipino, Japanese and Chinese, Saudi and Syrian, Egyptian and Liberian. They’re all either Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern or African—if we know enough to make those distinctions.

With what just happened on Nov. 13 (more than 125 dead in Paris), as well as what happened only a day before in Beirut (43 killed) and a couple weeks before that on a Russian plane (224 dead), it’s also difficult for us to differentiate between who is “us” and who is “them.”

I’ve written before about this tribal hangover in our evolutionary journey, whether about “mean girls” or political correctness or motorcycle gangs or the local “us” versus “them” in Coachella after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year. It feels urgent to me that we consider how important it is for Americans to not only preserve our sense of security, but also act based on our values. If we can be pushed into knee-jerk policies based on fear—not unlike the internment of law-abiding and loyal Japanese Americans during World War II—“they” will have already won. There should be no fear worth abandoning our basic concepts of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

After the most recent Paris attack—amid reactions that include concerns about accepting Syrian refugees, even if they’re fleeing death and destruction; rushing to commit troops to harm’s way; voicing political rhetoric without acknowledging the need for allies whose philosophies or way of life may be vastly different from ours; and a call to shut down American houses of worship (First Amendment be damned)—I had the great pleasure of interviewing Deepa Iyer, author of a new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. A South Asian American, born in India, Iyer immigrated to Kentucky at age 12. She has served as executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together and is a senior fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion, as well as an activist in residence at the University of Maryland.

Iyer’s book chronicles some of the shameful incidents that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, the massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, the violent opposition to an Islamic Center in Tennessee, and the demonstrations against building a mosque in Lower Manhattan. She also looks at public policies adopted after Sept. 11, like rampant profiling (as if we could suddenly distinguish between a Muslim and a Hindu—can you?).

Not coincidentally, we’re witnessing campus protests by young people who decry stereotyping, exclusion and hate crimes. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight institutionalized racism.

Iyer has a particular take on hate crimes: “Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted, but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong (to) the community being directly targeted.” She cites, as an example, the massacre in Wisconsin, where afterward, non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety and felt forced to change some of their behaviors.

Are home-grown hate crimes different from what ISIS is doing? Local bullies want a sense of power. ISIS terrorism is designed to frighten anyone who might be inclined to oppose their desire for power—including other Muslims. As a nation, if we react based on that fear by abandoning our principles and beliefs, including our historical willingness to integrate people from other cultural and religious traditions, then ISIS will have been successful in pushing their notion of “us” and “them.” ISIS wants to be seen as a legitimate state. Granting that status to ISIS is antithetical to defeating what we should recognize as nothing more than a worldwide hate crime being perpetrated by armed bullies.

In addition to our revulsion at indiscriminate killings, there is at least a smidgen of a desire to distance ourselves from the possibility that in each of us, there still lurks that tribal impulse toward violence against “the other.” Being “civilized” means we have mostly found ways to transcend those impulses; the choice of how to go forward must be informed by realizing that some members of our species are apparently still “uncivilized.”

We all have Uncle Joe or Cousin Amelia, whom we dread seeing because their behavior becomes obnoxious after the second glass of wine. Still, they are family—no matter how we might like to distance ourselves from the idea that we are in any way like them. It may not be all that different to fear seeing ourselves as capable of being at all like ISIS extremists. Yet abusive bullies live among us.

Despite political finger-pointing (Bush got us into Iraq; Obama pulled us out too quickly), we are where we are, and there are serious questions to be asked: Do we want to rush into combat for the sake of looking tough? Are we willing to once again increase American casualties? What about “collateral damage”—the killing of innocent women and children? Should we implement policies, created out of fear, that restrict the freedom of others, based on nothing more than what they look like, or which religious affiliation they claim, or where they come from? What are the consequences of both intervention and a lack of intervention? How much is already being done that hasn’t been made public? These are public conversations worth having, and we need coherent and nuanced responses.

We must resist the temptation to see even ourselves as “us” and “them.” If we can’t even distinguish one accent or one nationality from another, maybe it’s time to realize there is no “us” and “them.” We are all Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, Jewish, Scientologist, Mormon—and none of the above. We are Italian, Laotian, Moroccan, Polish, Jordanian, Irish, Iranian, Belgian, Ukrainian, Swedish. These are ways of distinguishing and identifying ourselves, but in the end, it’s all “us.”

The challenge is to educate ourselves about each other enough to not let fear turn us against our better natures. We can only hope that our more civilized selves represent the direction of our evolution away from mere tribalism.

We are all Parisian, Lebanese, Russian. Like him or not, Uncle Joe is also “us.” Alas, ISIS is also “us.” For better or worse, we’re all in this together. In the end, there is no “them.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Politicians are corrupt. Voters base their votes on marketing and money. Politics is not the same as “real” work. The media as a whole has a liberal bias.

If only it were that simple.

I ran for Congress in 1996. I’d never run for public office before, and there were many things I had to learn. One key skill was how to respond to reporters. Since I had little money for my campaign, most of my exposure was via free media, as opposed to paid ads. That meant something would be in the news, and I would be asked to comment, or I would call a press conference to make an “announcement,” followed by questions.

When I ran, most local media sources were pretty conservative. The majority of registered voters in this area were Republicans. Democrats could be found in pockets here and there, but most locals then—even in the gay community—were self-described “economic conservatives,” concerned primarily about the economy while being non-dogmatic on social issues. Oh, sure, we had those few rabid pro-life factions, or critics of “liberal” education (like sex education in schools), but mostly, local voters wanted the economy to keep working, with the underlying belief that smaller government was in people’s best interests, and government should work effectively but be non-intrusive.

When most reporters pose questions on a specific issue or news story, they generally already know what slant they expect to give the story. The questions they pose are intended to get a response that fits that narrative.

If you only catch politicians on the news, you’re lucky to get, at most, 15 seconds of their response to a question. So how does the candidate make sure you get their best sound bite, regardless of how the piece is edited? Politicians have a bottom-line message they want people to walk away with. What I learned was that no matter what questions were asked, every answer had to include my sound bite, because I never knew which 15 seconds would make it onto the air. The reporter might ask five or six questions; each answer must sound responsive, but you still need to get the sound bite in there. While you’re doing it, it seems horribly repetitive, but it’s the only way to overcome whatever slant the reporter may have.

Students who want to go into media take courses to learn how to interview. Business people and public figures join organizations like Toastmasters to learn about eliminating “um” and “er” and “ya know” from their speech patterns. But who teaches politicians about the ability to be responsive in a way that will actually inform?

Debates are clearly different than interviews, if only because candidates are up against others who may be more skilled at the techniques. Those trained as lawyers, for example, are good at jousting with questioners, but they can also come across as argumentative. Educators can come across as pedantic. Business executives can come across as clueless about the difference between being “the boss” and leading a government.

The most recent GOP presidential debate, on CNBC, was roundly criticized for political bias, badly framed questions, poor research and a lack of follow-ups. It’s not that smart, probing questions weren’t asked; it’s that questions were clearly framed to generate controversy rather than inform. Even when good questions were asked, the participants went after the panelists rather than responding to enlighten voters.

As an example, when Donald Trump was asked whether his campaign might be described as a “comic-book campaign,” that was an opportunity for Trump to talk about the substance of his campaign (which is not always readily apparent). A good communicator would have easily made that pivot.

Let’s face it: When you’re president, reporters shout out questions all the time, often slanted to push a specific narrative or challenge a decision. If the president can’t handle that, how is that individual going to resolve intractable conflicts, both domestic and foreign?

I like to separate policy and politics, and I believe either is an appropriate subject for inquiry in a debate—they just should not be confused as being equivalent. The idea that candidates should only be questioned by people who share their ideology is ridiculous—but that is what’s currently being demanded by the candidates. I would think the opposite would be more enlightening: Only those who disagree with the candidates should ask questions: Let’s really see how they deal with having their ideas challenged.

Here are the kind of questions I would ask if I were running a presidential debate:

  • What is the very first action you will take as president that will make the clearest statement about your administration’s focus?
  • You claim one of your highest priorities is to create jobs, yet you also say that government itself doesn’t actually create jobs. How do you reconcile those two positions? What specifically can government do to create jobs without controlling the private sector?
  • You may not have a Congress run by your own party or one that agrees with your priorities. Is bipartisan support something you would pursue? How?
  • On what issues are you not willing to compromise, no matter the result?
  • Is the threat of America as a superpower more important than soft power—the ability to negotiate and convince? Or does one require the other?
  • How can we influence other nations toward peace in areas of the world that are plagued with violence and political upheaval? Would you ever act alone?
  • What is government’s role in addressing homelessness and extreme poverty?
  • With some states not as concerned as others with expanding access to medical care, what is the federal government’s role, if any?
  • Education has always been seen as a locally controlled system. What exactly should be the federal role be in education?

Since the debate formats have been challenged, here are my suggestions for a format that should be followed regardless of party:

  • No more than eight candidates should be onstage at the same time. Have a lottery to decide which candidates take part and hold as many as necessary.
  • Limit total debate time to two hours.
  • Allow each candidate to make 30-second opening and closing statements. 
  • Have a red light to let candidates know when they have 10 seconds left, and a buzzer that goes off when their time is up. Moderators should be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone if they go more than 10 seconds over their time.
  • Answers that are nonresponsive to the question, or that stretch the truth, should be exposed with immediate follow-up questions. Moderators need to do their homework and cite sources.
  • Audiences should withhold the temptation to cheer or boo once the debate begins. Perhaps there should not be an audience.
  • Candidates should not know the questions in advance.

“We get the government we deserve” has long been the mantra of those who aren’t happy with electoral results. It shouldn’t be up to politicians and political parties to decide what we do and do not have the right to know, or how questions are asked. How candidates handle both policy and political questions is crucial information for voters.

We not only need good debate panelists and fair formats; we also need to hold politicians accountable for practicing their profession responsibly. When we tune in hoping for outrageous sound bites, we end up voting for entertainers, not leaders.

It’s not the “biased media” at fault; it’s us!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors