She understands how families, despite their best intentions, fray. Her parents divorced, and when her mother found teaching and research work in Montreal, she moved for her middle and high school years to that largely white, French-speaking city. For college she went to Howard, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C., that allowed her to appraise America — its past, present and future — from a different vantage point. From there she forged her own path, with her own rules. She didn’t marry until she was 49. Her husband is white and Jewish and she’s a stepmother to his two children.
What a rich mix of influences: as multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural as the country in which her parents wisely invested their hopes. What a portrait of life as it’s lived, with all sorts of swerves.
In her public remarks she makes references to some of this, but they’re usually just that — references. After she mentioned school busing (“that little girl was me”) to attack Biden in a primary debate for his opposition to it, I went back and looked at the big speech that she’d given to kick off her presidential campaign. Busing was nowhere to be found. In fact her speech didn’t have all that much biographical detail, period, at least if you edited out the professional stuff. It was strikingly impersonal.
I recently read much of her memoir, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” published shortly before that speech, and came away with the same impression. She gives you less of her history than you expect, not more. She steers away from emotion, not toward it.
Maybe that’s what a woman aiming for top jobs in a man’s world has to do. Maybe that’s even more incumbent on a woman of color. A scintilla too angry and you’re unhinged. A soupçon too misty and you’re unraveling.
It’s worth noting that when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stood in the House last month to call out the misogynistic remarks of a male colleague, she twice stressed that she was speaking from the perspective of principle, not of upset. “I want to be clear that Representative Yoho’s comments were not deeply hurtful or piercing to me,” she said, adding that she was made of tougher stuff than that. She later reiterated that she “was not deeply hurt or offended.” To be at all emotional, she had to establish that she was unemotional.
A male lawmaker wouldn’t have felt that need. John Boehner, the House speaker from 2011 to 2015, certainly didn’t: He was famous for weeping at the drop of an amendment. If Nancy Pelosi behaved as soggily, she’d be savaged.