You can read this series from the beginning here.
"You know, there are a lot of women in our office," Winthrop said.
Winthrop was one of my new interns, and the only one with a pronounced masculine gender expression (unless you count Rebecca, and that mostly just applies to what she wears on Fridays, anyway). We were having lunch at my favorite vegetarian Thai place, and I was enjoying a seasonally-appropriate and locally-sourced pumpkin curry.
"There are quite a few individuals with feminine gender expression," I said. "That probably correlates to a majority of individuals who are biologically female."
"Oh, yeah," Winthrop said. "You went to Oberlin."
"Amherst."
"Same difference. My theory is that if you go to a school that doesn’t have a college football program, why even bother? Of course, I went to Colorado, so I don’t know what that says."
"Colorado doesn’t have a college football team?" I asked. I usually don’t comment on sporting-related issues, but that sounded wrong.
"They’re two and four, and they have the Trojans on Saturday. Not gonna be pleasant. Wait a sec. Got a text." He pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Oh, awesome," he said.
"Good news?" I asked.
"Yeah, looks like they caught that Gardner sonofabitch in a lie." Winthrop was handling the Colorado Senate race for us. "You know about Deadspin?"
"Do they have anything to do with the Trojans?" I asked. I hate sports.
"Not exactly. It’s a sports website. They break a lot of cool stories. They did the thing last year where they caught that Notre Dame linebacker lying about that dead girlfriend he didn’t have. And it looks like they caught Cory Gardner lying about playing high school football."
"So what?" I asked.
"This is a big deal in Colorado," Winthrop explained. "Football is huge there. And Deadspin reaches a lot of low-information voters. This is awesome, dude. Let’s go back to the office. I can think of a couple of memes already."
I wanted at least a bite of the mango sticky rice dessert, but duty called. Winthrop and I trooped up to the office.
"We have to walk everything back," Aunt Joan said. "And quickly."
"Sorry about that," Winthrop said. "Really, so, so sorry. I mean, I feel terrible."
We were sitting on Aunt Joan’s couch, which was becoming my least favorite place in the universe. She was frowning the sort of frown that my mom gave my dad when he got caught donating money to Scott Brown that time.
"We cannot afford to look silly," she said. "It is one thing to be wrong, it is another thing to get tangled up in a silly controversy that matters to no one. And over high school football, of all things."
"It’s not our fault," I explained. "Deadspin didn’t source the story properly. They’ve apologized. We can shift all the blame onto them, no problem."
"This is not why I am unhappy with you," Aunt Joan said.
"Concern trolling," Winthrop said. "If I had concern-trolled it, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I could have said that the allegations could cause problems if true, and then we would have been insulated from the fallout."
"Does insulation work against fallout?" I asked. "Because isn’t fallout radioactive? How does insulation stop radiation?"
"Justin," Aunt Joan barked. "Stop that."
"Sorry," I said.
"Since neither one of you young men seem capable of comprehending the situation, let me explain. This is a race where the turnout of women voters matters a great deal. The number of women voters who are going to be impacted by whether or not Cory Gardner played football in high school, or even whether he lied about it, is not statistically relevant. You need to keep the focus on the issues in this race."
"And those are?" Winthrop asked.
"You ought to know the drill by now. Point out the benefits of progressive policies for women–FMLA, health care, child care, civil rights. Then explain how the Republican wants to take it all away–abortion, contraception, et cetera."
"Gardner doesn’t want to take contraception away," I said. "He’s made a point of it."
"Nevertheless," Aunt Joan said, "it’s important to spread the seeds of doubt that he might one day. It’s not enough to make women voters dislike Republican candidates; you want to make them fear the brand."
"I’m just not comfortable doing that, though," Winthrop said. "Treating female voters that way."
"How do you mean?" Aunt Joan asked. She said that with what most people would call an edge in her voice, but it wasn’t an edge so much as it was the teeth of a rusty saw.
"Look, you have to understand," Winthrop said. "My mom was in an abusive situation for years, and I know something about this. Abusers control their spouses just like how you said, through alternating rewards and fear. It doesn’t seem right to use those same tactics."
"Are you saying," Aunt Joan said, "that the Democratic Party is in an abusive relationship with women voters?"
"Well, no," Winthrop said. "Not if you put it that way. But…"
"You’re fired," Aunt Joan said. "Go downstairs, get your stuff, and exit the building in not less than twenty minutes. Understood?"
Winthrop didn’t say anything. He meekly scuttled out of the office and made his way to the elevator. I stayed in my seat because I didn’t want to have to console him or anything, because that would be awkward and weird.
"I don’t have time for any more nonsense, Justin," Aunt Joan said. "We’re fighting a losing battle as it is. We need everyone to stay focused, and that includes you. Understand?"
"Yes, Aunt Joan."
"We’re going to lose the Senate. You understand that, don’t you?"
"I understand it on an intellectual level," I said. "But I want to do as much as I can to make a difference in the campaign to keep it."
"We have to fight. Of course we do. But there’s a benefit to letting the Republicans have two years in which to amuse themselves by tilting at windmills. We can’t count on Obama for much, but we can count on him to backstop us by vetoing everything that manages to get through. Then the Republicans will have two years of stupid votes on all sorts of nonsensical things, and we get to hang it around their necks in 2016. Understand?"
"Two more years of gridlock," I said.
"If you want to make a difference," Aunt Joan said, "you have to be Ready. We’re going to hit them so hard that the Republicans will have to work hard to beat out the Libertarians. It’s all going to happen, everything we’ve worked on for so long for so many generations. You need to be focused, you need to be effective, and you need not to go running around saying stupid and inane things. Got it?"
"Got it."
"Get back to work, then."
I didn’t agree with firing Winthrop–he was committed to the progressive cause, and he brought in gluten-free bagels on Mondays. But I knew Aunt Joan was right. The future belongs to progressives, but we have to be strong and disciplined to grasp it. If that meant instilling fear in others, well, I knew firsthand just how effective that could be.
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