I never thought I’d see the day when I would be praising a Republican in print, but here goes: I like Jane Swift. A lot.
At just 36 years old and pregnant with twins, Massachusetts’ new (acting) governor is definitely the coolest politician to hit the scene in a long time. She’s young, super-motivated, moderate and gutsy as heck.
Her poll numbers, on the other hand, have told a different story, at times putting her approval rating just below Hitler’s. And the media has told yet another story about the Republican, painting Swift as a knocked-up weakling who’s in way over her head.
But in my mind, at least, Swift is the kind of politician that I’d like to see more of in our statehouses and in Congress.
To start, she’s young. Still 19 years from an AARP card, Jane Swift is closer to my age than she is to my parents’ age. And at a time when our legislatures are stocked mostly with men who are in that “starting-to-need-hearing aids” demographic, it’s neat to see someone who brings a fresher face to the game.
What’s more, Swift is utterly normal. There’s no Cambridge mansion or Kennedy-esque legacy in this politico’s background. Swift is from the western Mass. town of North Adams and is the daughter of a teacher and a plumber. She’s won and lost political races, becoming the youngest woman ever to be elected to the state senate (she was 25), althoughy she lost a 1996 race for Congress.
She’s got pretty normal problems too, like how to balance starting a family with a rigorous career. Since her home is a two-hour commute from Boston, and Massachusetts is one of the six states not to have a governor’s mansion, she often has to crash at her brother’s place in Boston when it’s too late to get back home. And let’s face it, although Swift demonstrated some poor judgment when she asked an aide to help baby-sit her daughter, I (and lots of other people) have forgiven Bill Clinton for many bigger transgressions.
But where Jane Swift is truly demonstrating “Her Excellency” is in bringing the work-family debate to the spotlight and highlighting the inequality that women face in this type of situation. Although Swift is likely the first woman to be pregnant while serving as a state governor, plenty of men in office have seen their wives gives birth. British Prime Minister Tony Blair won kudos for, gasp, taking a week off to attend to his family after his wife gave birth to a son.
Yet Jane Swift only gets flak for suggesting that she’ll work from home after she gives birth (which will likely happen in June). Joe Fitzgerald, a columnist for the Boston Herald, is particularly critical of Swift, and belittles her efforts by suggesting that running the state from home would be like “taking a correspondence course.” And even Secretary of State William Galvin went on the record criticizing Swift, telling the Herald that “it remains to be seen” whether Swift can balance motherhood and being governor. “It’s a novel challenge,” Galvin told the Herald.
Even among my relatively liberal group of friends, I’ve been surprised by the amount of antipathy there is towards the acting governor. I was shocked to hear one (very liberal, male) friend tell me he resented that Swift hadn’t known better than to postpone her pregnancies until a time when she had fewer responsibilities. Another (female) friend, told me she thought that Swift was giving working women a bad name.
But part of the reason why Swift’s situation is so controversial is that few men ever have to deal with this type of scenario in such a public forum. Surely scores of male politicians have been in office while their wives have had children, yet they are almost never asked how they will balance their job responsibilities with the needs of a new family member. Even in this day and age, it’s assumed that a woman will be there to pick up the slack.
We’re lucky, in a sense, for the bizarre series of events that brought Jane Swift, and all her challenges, to the spotlight. Swift is doing a big service to society by taking on the responsibilities of governing a state and having children. Her efforts will illustrate that it is not impossible to reconcile politics, and work in general, with raising a family.
Swift doesn’t deserve the flak she’s getting. Young voters—and college students in particular—should support Swift, in the hope that her experience will convince other young, family-minded politicos to enter politics. Our system will be much better off.
Now if only she were a Democrat....
Scott A. Resnick ’01 is an economics concentrator in Cabot House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.