Janet Yellen’s Confirmation as Fed Chair and the Republican Messaging Problem

08 Jan 2014
Speaker John Boehner and Janet Yellen

Speaker John Boehner and Janet Yellen

The eminently qualified Janet Yellen was confirmed yesterday as our first female Fed Chair, albeit by the narrowest margin in Senate history.  The vote, 56-26, reflects 18 missing Senators who had trouble returning to cast a ballot due to current horrid weather conditions around the country.  Democrats who were present numbered 45 and all voted for Dr. Yellen, joined by 11 Republicans.  It is the 26 Republican holdouts that are a mystery and a disappointment.

As a prescient voice on the economy during her six year tenure as Chair of the San Francisco Fed, spending the last 3 years as the national Fed’s vice chair under Ben Bernanke, few could doubt Yellen’s bona fides.  She has also consistently shown she cares more about Main Street than Wall Street.  Certainly, she is a far better choice than the President’s first preference: the brusque and deregulation-happy Larry Summers.  Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke also just jointly announced a pull back on the quantitative easing that has been of such great concern in conservative circles.  The markets did not take a dive but rather jumped higher at this news.  Perhaps because they see Yellen as a steady hand at the tiller.  So how could Republicans vote no?

As the saying goes, elections have consequences.  Barring some horrid revelation that would or should prevent Dr. Yellen from serving, Republicans could find no reasoned objection.  Which brings us to the their current messaging problem.  Both parties are in need of a huge overhaul, as many seem more concerned with lobbing grenades, name-calling and saving their own careers than doing the people’s business.  Yet the fact remains that Republicans have learned little from their post-mortem after Mitt Romney’s 2012 electoral defeat.  Right or wrong, the current perception is that Republicans are clueless about women and do not support their progress.

It was clear Dr. Yellen would be confirmed by a majority vote anyway, so wouldn’t it have been the politically smart thing to do to be supportive of her.  First, to send the message that Republicans are not obstructionist.  Then, to join in celebrating that a woman has broken this barrier to become the country’s most powerful financial officer, second only in power to the President himself.  The decisions of Fed Chair affect all of us daily.  Janet Yellen is the best person for the job by any metric, whether man, woman or martian, but since perception is everything, Republicans missed an opportunity to get some mileage for themselves with women.

By not chiming in to offer their support to both Dr. Yellen and President Obama in this instance, Republicans also set the stage for further division and rancor.  This might have been a golden opportunity to find consensus and show maturity.  26 Republicans voted no on that one.  That vote may come back to haunt them in 2016.  Democrats will surely campaign on it.

The numbers do not lie.  Women are still outnumbered by men in Congress by 4.5 to 1.  For Republicans women, however, the ratio is even worse.  The Senate only features 4 Republican female Senators to the Democrats’ 16.  79 women serve in the House of Representatives.  Only 19 are Republicans.

Republicans have only won the popular vote once in the last 24 years.  If they want to attract more women to their tent, clearly something is not working in their approach.  They will not be able to break the perception that they are the party of rich, older white men until they start offering more inclusionary policy.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner recently offered up an instruction manual of sorts for how his party should “speak sensitively to women,” also giving them helpful hints on how to deal with female opponents.  This makes them look like they think of us as alien beings.

Respect and inclusion.  Voting for Janet Yellen would have been one place to start.

So whenz the wake up call?

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Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé about the biased media that derailed Hillary’s 2008 campaign and the sexism still plaguing women who dare to lead.  One woman’s empowering journey.  Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. #1 on Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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