Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.
Dear State Representative Robert Foster and former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.,
At a time when young people in your state of Mississippi are dealing with both the lowest earnings and the highest unemployment rate for their age group, when tens of thousands of people don’t have health insurance in part because of the refusal of current leadership to expand Medicaid, you have made your way into the headlines by boldly pledging not to meet alone with a woman other than your wife. Congratulations to both of you for all of this national coverage.
Your constituents probably won’t know anytime soon, if ever, whether this proclamation was inspired solely by the teachings of Billy Graham, by a fascination with the Victorian era or doubts about your own self control, but there are a few questions to consider to make sure you are achieving your stated goal of avoiding speculation resulting from the evils of the #MeToo movement.
Is having another man present really the answer? So I understand you think that having another man present will really help you control your unbridled masculine urges, but doesn’t having two men present with a woman make it even more questionable? According to your way of thinking, I would feel a lot safer, as a supporter of the #MeToo movement, if you had two women present instead.
Should you really be meeting alone with men either? It is very clear that you believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, despite the rulings of the Supreme Court, and therefore any sexual relations are only between a man and a woman. But wouldn’t it help avoid and question that you are going outside of your marriage with a man if you always had a woman present as well?
What kind of women should be present? Now that I think about it, it would really make sense for these women chaperones to be married and also mothers. I mean, who can even trust a married woman if she hasn’t yet procreated?
How do you make sure you are taking into account their roles as wife and homemaker? From reading your statements, it sounds like you really value the role of wives, mothers and homemakers, so you should also factor in what work schedule will make that possible. These married mothers who will be the acceptable chaperones will need to be able to drop their children off at school and pick them up and will probably need an hour or two mid-day to ensure your shirts are pressed, the home is clean and that the evening meal has been prepped so that it can be on the table when their husbands finish their hard day of work. This likely means you have a window of 10 a.m.-12 p.m. for any meetings.
Should you consider body cameras? Now I don’t want to overthink this too much, but at the end of the day it is your word against someone else’s. So to be absolutely certain you won’t run into trouble, you should consider committing to recording all private meetings and making that video available to the public – including your meetings with lobbyists, lawmakers and financial supporters. Yes, you will need a wide lens to fit all the chaperones into the shot, but this level of transparency will ensure you are protected.
Having worked in government for quite a few years myself, I will admit these are pretty cumbersome guidelines if you want to get something done as governor of Mississippi. So in case it all feels like too much, I have also taken the liberty of outlining an alternate approach.
Don’t touch anyone inappropriately. This sounds pretty straightforward, but as a rule of a thumb, a handshake with a person of any gender will do.
Don’t make any remarks about a woman’s figure, including her bust or backside. This includes comments that were once acceptable, such as “nice rack” or “your butt looks great in that skirt.” I am happy to provide an additional list if this is not clear enough.
Don’t ask anyone, including women, for a sexual favor because of your place in power. This is generally a good rule to follow even if you are not elected, but there are a number of cases I am sure you are aware of that have left your fellow former and current public servants in hot water as a result.
Hire women to be on your senior team. I know this one probably sounds extreme, but having a woman’s perspective, and the counsel and advice of a group of women you trust, may turn out to be illuminating. And if you follow rules 1-3 you won’t have any issues.
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Finally, if you are looking for anyone to help you overcome your fear of any supposed lying, confused or predatory women in public service and journalism, I know a number of excellent professionals of all political stripes who can help you overcome your fear of powerful women. I am easy to reach.