To Todd Akin: Thanks, Dummy. Love, Janet.
The 'legitimate rape' foofaraw may have awakened a sleeping giantess.
Tuesday night at the DNC was a night for speeches by and about women — from Lilly Ledbetter’s measuring of the 23-cents-on-the-dollar gap to Julián Castro’s encomium to his grandmother to, of course, Michelle Obama’s appeal to women working on the job and at home and both. So Wednesday seemed like an appropriate time to check in with Janet Brinkley.
She’s the president of the League of Women Voters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and when we meet this afternoon at the Caribou Coffee at Park Road Shopping Center, she’s happy about the attention paid to her particular 51-percent chunk of the electorate. “Yesterday,” she says, “was where we can start the conversation.”
It really kicked in a couple of weeks ago, with some nutty remarks by a certain congressman from Missouri. Brinkley, busy with work, missed the initial hubbub. A friend told her about it. She checked her iPhone, and her jaw dropped. Then she began to understand what Todd Akin might have ignited.
“That comment got women voters to look more closely at what’s at stake in this election,” Brinkley says. “I wouldn’t say they were disconnected, but they just weren’t as engaged as they could have been. So I kind of want to say to Akin, in a backhanded way, ‘Thank you’ … It got us talking, which is important.” She smiles.
Brinkley, 46, has been the LWV’s president since May and a board member for five years; she’s also a divorced mother of three and a businesswoman, an account manager for HD Supply, a facilities maintenance company in south Charlotte. The League is a sober, nonpartisan organization that’s been around since 1920 and does traditional civic-minded things such as organize candidate forums and voter registration drives. This year, the League’s main issues to watch are the post-Citizens United storm surge of unlimited campaign contributions; and the nationwide phenomenon of voter ID laws that hard-core Republicans insist will help curb the massive, RAMPANT problem of WIDESPREAD VOTER FRAUD and which less vigilant patriots tend to see as good, old-fashioned voter suppression.
There was a time when Brinkley might have thought the former. She now frames voter ID laws as the latter. These are mainly her opinions, she stresses, not the League’s; still, one of the League’s main objectives is to get more people to vote. “If a vote is not fair and not accessible by all, then being able to work on real issues becomes even more difficult,” she says. She switched from the GOP to independent two years ago, and she retains the outward appearance of the Texas Republican she used to be — prominent earrings, conservative dress, ample makeup — but her eyes and jet-black hair reflect a more complex background. Her mother was Filipino, and as a sailor’s daughter, she lived all over the place growing up.
So after she moved to Charlotte in 2001 and joined the League, members started challenging her on her beliefs, and she gradually began altering them. She still doesn’t care for the Democrats’ tendency to believe the solution to every social ill is a social program, and gobs of taxpayer money thrown at same (she does think the Obama administration has been better at this than its Democratic predecessors). But she’s come to think the GOP has gone completely off the rails on fiscal, foreign and social policy, and she echoes much of what we heard Monday from convention speakers at Time Warner Cable Arena: “Most people would be productive members of society if given the right vehicle,” she says. “Nobody wakes up one day and says, ‘I want to be on welfare for the rest of my life.’”
So the Akin idiocy has been useful. Women she knows have gotten interested in politics again, and the abortion issue is a lever to inform them about the economy, health care, campaign finance and a whole range of other issues. “If anything,” she says, “it fired up women to be part of the political process.”