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'See Jane Win': New Book Explores How Women Have Changed American Politics


STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: A new congressional candidate video is drawing lots of attention this morning.

VALERIE PLAME (audio): I was an undercover CIA operative. My assignment was preventing rogue states and terrorists from getting nuclear weapons.

GOLDSTEIN: The video shows a woman driving a black Camaro going backwards on a Southwestern dirt road.

PLAME (audio): Now I'm running for Congress because we're going backwards on national security, health care and women's rights.

GOLDSTEIN: Then the car swings around to a stop, and the woman getting out is former CIA agent Valerie Plame. She's running for Congress in neighboring New Mexico.

PLAME (audio): And Mr. President, I've got a few scores to settle.

GOLDSTEIN: Plame is one of a growing number of women running for Congress. Here in Arizona, we have two female senators. In her new book, "See Jane Win - The Inspiring Story of Women Changing Politics", Caitlin Moscatello chronicles the story of women seeking higher office. And she joins me now. Caitlin, how did what Hillary Clinton experienced in 2016 inspire more women to run, and how much of that was actually a reaction to Donald Trump and his behavior and his politics?

CAITLIN MOSCATELLO: So it's really two things. So, yes women that I talked to in two years of reporting this book, I talked to candidates across the country and I would, of course, hear that Hillary Clinton had inspired them. But I think really what we saw was two things. So we saw women across the country watched Hillary Clinton, who is this incredibly qualified candidate, who had this long political resume. They saw her lose, and they saw her lose not just to any candidate. They saw her lose to someone with no political qualifications to speak of, who was known to many Americans as the star of The Apprentice who had been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women not too long before the election, and that he still won. So it wasn't just that Hillary had inspired them or that Hillary had lost and they were angry that she lost, it was also the fact that they watched this unqualified man win. They watched him take her place. And one of the things that has historically kept women off the ballot is this qualification barrier. Women much more than men will think, "oh I'm not qualified enough to run for office" or "I have to have more experience" or "I have to start smaller and work my way up." And that has really kept women from running. And seeing Donald Trump win, there was kind of this realization, this moment of, "well, if that guy can be president of the United States, surely I can run for my state legislature or for Congress or for city council or whatever the office may be."

GOLDSTEIN: So specifically the woman that you profile in "See Jane Win". There's such an authenticity to each of them and I wonder, that word can be overused these days, but when it comes to women being able to be themselves as men are supposedly able to be themselves, how big a step was that for candidates in 2018? And do you think we'll see more of that style in 2020?

MOSCATELLO: Coming off of 2016 and then looking at what we saw in the 2018 midterms, women had watched Hillary Clinton pretty much play by the maybe more traditional rulebook. Who are we used to seeing in office? We're used to seeing older white men in office. White men still dominate our political system and it's because they run for office more than anyone else. But I think that there did used to be more of a tendency I think for women to try to fit themselves into this traditional political mold, or this mold of maybe what a candidate should be, which happened because there's just so many white men in office. That was the mold. And I think that really got thrown out the door after 2016. And so in the 2018 election cycle, women saw Hillary Clinton lose. And I think there was a little bit of this reaction of, “well, then, I'm just gonna put it on the table, I'm just going to be myself.” The stakes felt very very high for the women that I spoke with who ran in the 2018 election cycle, and there was very much this feeling of “I'm just going to run who I am, I'm going to run as myself, I'm going to be true to who I am.” And in that, there's different examples of that. So we saw women who were talking really openly about their experiences as being mothers on the campaign trail, talking about affordable child care. There were women bringing young children to their campaign events when, in other years, they would have been encouraged not to. In the background, we had the Me Too moment going on during that election cycle and there were female candidates who were openly talking about their own experiences with sexual assault, with sexual harassment. And not only were they talking about their experiences, but they were also creating policy to protect other women from those experiences and other girls from those experiences. The authenticity didn't feel forced. And it really, I think, did energize voters around them. Now, in terms of going forward in 2020, a presidential race is always a different animal, and we really just don't have much to go off of when in terms of women running for president. And so I think there have been some gaffes like, early on in her campaign, Elizabeth Warren, there was that whole “drinking a beer” thing, and some people didn't react to that. They didn't necessarily think that was the most authentic thing. But I really do think she's very much found her groove as this professorial policy wonk which is who she is. And she is leaning into that increasingly more.

GOLDSTEIN: So I live in a state in Arizona where, it's been a number of years, but we had a run where the top five statewide officeholders in Arizona were women. Both of our U.S. senators are women. But is there a difference in terms of whether people are generally, I mean, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote so I'm not downplaying that, but is there a feeling that more people are hesitant, they may say, “well ok, having a female governor? Great. A female mayor? Great. President? I'm still struggling with that.” Do you see that? And if so, why is that? Why does that still exist?

MOSCATELLO: Yeah, well, the thing we have to remember, so unfortunately we only have this one example of a woman being a major party nominee for president. We had this one person and it's one election, which was a very unique election. That's all we're going off of. And so I do think it's unfortunate that right now there are reports that there's a lot of fear about, and I understand the stakes are for, if you're a Democrat, the stakes are very high for 2020. And so I do think that there is this fear of, if Hillary Clinton didn't win, she won the popular vote but she didn't win the election, so we can't risk that again. It's too high. Trump's running. We just have to put someone, anyone against him who's going to run, and kind of this tendency to think, “ok, let's just revert back to what we used to do” which is relying on, I'm using air quotes, but the “safe candidate” who is this more moderate, white male candidate and this idea of, “ok, well, independents or maybe more moderate Republicans might be pulled in by that, and that's how we'll win.” I think that's a mistake. I think if we look at what we saw in 2018, we saw energy around women running for office, and not just women, but it was diverse women. And so I think what we should be doing is looking at where we are now. We should be looking at where the energy is within the Democratic Party, who are the voters, what are the issues they care about and not necessarily falling back on this, quite frankly, dated stereotype of who can win elections. The real fact of the matter is, nobody knows.

GOLDSTEIN: Caitlin Moscatello is author of the new book “See Jane Win - The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics”. Great to talk with you. Thanks for the time.

MOSCATELLO: You too. Thank you so much.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.