Editor’s Note: In a new series of weekly columns (available soon as a newsletter), we’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.
A Taylor Swift bump, a Nikki Haley bombshell, some bad-new polls for Republicans about women voters. Women (and girls!) dominated the week’s news. But Melania Trump and Michelle Obama had the most arresting turns in the spotlight, showing just how different two first ladies can be.
Writing for CNN Opinion on the International Day of the Girl, Michelle Obama laid out a plan to change the world – by educating girls. She announced the Global Girls Alliance, a collaboration aimed at helping the more than 98 million adolescent girls worldwide whose futures are limited because they don’t go to school. At one school in Liberia, girls “show up even after walking for miles or waking up early to earn some extra money to help pay their school fees,” she wrote. “They show up even though many are pressured to marry as adolescents, sidetracking their own goals for a man’s.”
Back from Africa, Melania Trump declared herself “the most bullied person” in the world, before clarifying that she was just one of the most. She also said she “stands with women” who report sexual assault, as long as they have “really hard evidence.” A dangerous message, wrote former prosecutor Elie Honig, that discourages survivors from reporting crimes because they fear “they will be shamed, stigmatized or disbelieved.” (Just ask Christine Blasey Ford, wrote Brigid Schulte.)
But there’s more to this, wrote Lionel Shriver (in the Spectator), who was baffled when Ford’s testimony that she was attacked by the teenaged Brett Kavanaugh made others cry. Ford’s “culture has encouraged her not to put that incident in perspective and get on with her life,” she wrote. “I fear the deferent and visibly fragile academic with a high, mousy voice makes a lousy role model for young women today.”
And in the New York Times, Susan Chira said it’s a mistake to think that sisterhood can “override partisanship or deeply held moral views.” Women “won’t vote as one – and there’s no reason to be shocked by that,” she wrote, citing the high percentage of women who broke for Donald Trump in the last election.
Are Democrats too nice? Michelle Obama told an interviewer Thursday that her motto, “when they go low, we go high,” still stands. Only it doesn’t work, former AG Eric Holder told a rally in Georgia. “When they go low, we kick them,” he explained. And Hillary Clinton told CNN: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” No!, wrote progressive Sally Kohn. “I’m not with her. Or him. I’m still with Michelle Obama…Do we only believe the high road is the right choice if it leads to victory? Are our principles that conditional?”
A new CNN poll this week offered good news for Democrats anyway – thanks to women –and “if Democrats are smart, they won’t just ride this pink wave, ” writes Jill Filipovic, they’ll come up with a 2020 “platform that doesn’t just take women into account, but puts us first.” with paid family leave, better protections against workplace harassment, and more. Reproductive rights, “including abortion, should not even be up for debate.”
‘I think it’s time’
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley surprised just about everybody by announcing that she’s quitting at the end of the year. Uh-oh, wrote SE Cupp. She sensed “palpable” anxiety at the loss of “one of the more stabilizing forces in an otherwise chaotic Trump orbit.” As the speculation over Haley’s successor began, David Graham, in the Atlantic, called her one of the “adults in the room.”
Don’t kid yourself about Haley, wrote Michael Knigge in DW. She was no moderate, he said, but “an ardent supporter of Trump’s ‘America First’ policy,” someone “at odds with the core principles of the UN.” On her “bleak” watch, the US killed its funding for the UN Population Fund, which provides health care to pregnant women and girls in besieged areas, and reinstated the so-called Global Gag Rule.
Taylor and Kanye: political players
Taylor Swift told her 112 million Instagram followers that she was endorsing two Tennessee Democrats, Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House. Vote!, she wrote. A day later, 65,000 people had registered, said Vote.org (there is often an influx of people registering to vote just ahead of deadlines, but the site tagged Swift with the lift anyway).
The pop star is not stupid, wrote Patrick Crowley in Billboard: “While critics will still whine that she’s late to the party, this particular endorsement couldn’t be more impeccably timed.” She’s getting out the vote when and where it matters, in a tight midterm race in a red state.
Carrie Sheffield objected. She said Swift’s endorsements – and her slam of the GOP Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn – lacked “rigorous, critical thinking.” “Under Republican leadership (with Blackburn’s support) we are seeing increased black, Latino and female economic empowerment, including record low unemployment among African Americans,” Sheffield wrote.
And President Trump? “I like Taylor’s music about 25% less now, OK?,” he told reporters. Three days later he hosted Kanye West in the Oval Office, where the rapper delivered a disjointed MAGA monologue for the cameras. “High-octane foolishness” from a man-child, lamented Clay Cane. “Let the image of Kanye jumping into the arms of the President in the Oval Office while people are suffering through a hurricane inspire you to get out and vote.”
A shocking disappearance
Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi writer and Washington Post columnist, walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2 and did not come out. Turkish officials believe a Saudi assassination squad murdered him. Saudi officials denied it. Trump was vague about it and did not condemn his Saudi friends. “In previous years, something such as this might have been addressed with a firm hand from the White House,” wrote Nic Robertson. But Trump has ignored Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s increasingly autocratic behavior, Robertson said, and “in doing so, he has become a role model to all the wrong people and for all the wrong reasons.”
Peter Bergen wrote that Khashoggi’s disappearance cast a spotlight on the Trump administration’s “warm embrace” of the Crown Prince. MBS is a key figure in Trumpian policy in the Middle East and is posing as a moderate despite his bourgeoning totalitarian dictatorship. “If evidence emerges that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in Istanbul, US sanctions should be levied on the kingdom,” Bergen said.
Trump’s dishonest op-ed
USAToday published a falsehood-riddled op-ed by President Donald Trump denouncing Democrats on health care, calling them “radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela,” “destroy American prosperity” and “slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense.” Many people were astounded that a newspaper would publish a piece without thoroughly checking it for accuracy (something USA Today itself effectively confirmed, in a 2,900-word Factcheck.org follow-up.)
“I can’t help but smile,” wrote Jim Himes, a Connecticut congressman. “It’s nonsense top to bottom… a tacit admission that his policies can’t stand up to ours in the court of public opinion.” He predicted that centrist Democrats would help sweep in a Democratic majority next month, by “backing reforms that would strengthen the system we have today, not running on Medicare-for-all as Republicans want voters to believe.”
Thank you, Mitch
“It takes someone special, someone rare, someone spectacularly Machiavellian and malevolent, to screw up all three branches of government. Ladies and gentlemen: Mitch McConnell.” In the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation, Paul Begala wrote that Senate Majority Leader effectively quashed pre-election intelligence reports that Russia was trying to help Trump win the presidency, blocked Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, and rammed through an unpopular Brett Kavanaugh. “You can thank the ‘Gentleman from Kentucky’” for the “bitter, hateful, vengeful hyperpartisanship infecting our national life,” he says.
But in Washington, all sins are forgiven. “Meet Brett,” wrote Lev Golinkin. “Brett [Kavanaugh] once worked for Ken Starr, who set out to publicly humiliate Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the most vicious way possible. Bill was forgiven, including by many feminists.” So were Starr, Clarence Thomas, Joe Biden, and George W. Bush. Brett may have muffed his big job interview, wrote Golinkin – but the takeaway is that the powerful give a pass to their own.
Fatemah’s bright future
And on International Day of the Girl, Fatemah Qaderyan, 15, wrote that she knows all about “limits placed on girls and women.” Her all-girls Afghan robotics team won the silver medal at a D.C. competition last year, and a week later her father was killed in an ISIS bombing. “He never stopped believing in me, I will never stop believing in a brighter future for the next generation of girls in Afghanistan.”