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Your Mail: Nancy & Jane, Hillary and Barak

Sex and power has been the theme of my columns this month, and in my articles on new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman, and on Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, you had a lot to say about both.

Most agreed that Hillary would be a better candidate for facing a player as formidable as Obama in the primaries. As for Pelosi, you were either smirking at her “tendency to self-destruct,” or thought her passing on the more senior candidate for one she liked better was simply an exercise in politics.

Tom Romnek of Appleton, Wisc., writes:

It is nice to see a few more from the liberal side of things keeping the past actions of Alcee Hastings in mind when considering positions of authority, especially those directly linked to intelligence.

There is, however, what can be considered flawed thinking in the thrust of your article. While Jane Harman is quite likely the most appropriate choice for the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, your reasoning for suggesting Pelosi select her dismisses that fact.

Instead, you imply that Pelosi should select Harman because she is a woman. Your column states, "What women hoped Nancy Pelosi and her ilk would do was not only appoint the Jane Harman’s who were in line by seniority, but consider overriding seniority altogether to get more of the newly elected women into positions of power."

As a lawyer and professor, are you truly suggesting that selections be made based upon gender instead of qualification and experience?

If Pelosi is passing over Harman because of her gender, that is wrong. If Pelosi is passing over Harman because she lacks some needed skill, we should hear about that shortcoming. If Pelosi is passing over Harman because they don't get along and Pelosi would rather have a different committee chair, that's politics.

SRE: Thank you for your comments. I am suggesting that finding the most “qualified” candidate isn’t always immediately obvious based on one’s resume alone -- although that was the case for Harman. In those cases, I believe that women in power (or anyone in power) should consider a candidate’s female gender to be a “plus” in her application until we have enough female voices in the room.

F. Churchill writes:

I worked for General Mills (in manufacturing) for seven years, coming in at the plant manager/director level. As much as I networked and asked for guidance, the worst part of it was that the other women in manufacturing did absolutely nothing to help me along the way. They even left me out of a woman-organized mentoring program. Ultimately they left me twisting in the wind when I was downsized to make room for a white male from the Pillsbury organization. Not one of the women called me in my "last days" at the company to wish me well.

My boss was male, and he helped me as much as he could, but ultimately with the Pillsbury merger in 2001 the "network" of Pillsbury plant managers/insiders/chosen few (white males) had to "be saved." By the way, all my performance appraisals were far above average.

SRE: Thank you so much for sharing your experience – certainly you agree that women should support one another in positions of power rather than treat it like a scarce resource.

Mike Q. writes:

I enjoyed reading your article on Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. I agree with you 100 percent that a race between the two would be competitive and that they are the leading contenders for winning the Democratic primary. What’s ironic, however, is that I think Gore and Kerry would stand a better chance to win the presidency.

While the democrats may want their nominee to be Clinton or Obama, the country is not quite ready to elect a woman or a black to the highest office. It would be another predictable loss for the Democrats. I believe they could have won the last two presidential races and the one in 2008 if they’d just go with a more moderate candidate. I was really hoping Mark Warner from Virginia would run. I believe that’s the kind of democrat that could win easily. Thanks again for the enjoyable article.

SRE: Thank you for your reply – I think Hillary’s platform is moderate, but agree that people certainly think about women in politics as different. We’ll see if they are ready!

Anita Alpe writes:

I have known Hillary since her first days in Arkansas, been to tea with her, been to a funeral at a home with her, was an invited guest for a small birthday party at the Governors Mansion, road up in an elevator back in 1983 with her, and lastly, attended a chamber dinner when her husband was the speaker.

Let me tell you this Lady can mix with anyone, smile at anything, win over the most set-in-their- way humans known to man. She will be going strong and I believe when she is finished, please let me say, it will have been twice as hard and twice the work.

SRE: Thank you for your personal anecdote, I agree on all points!

Robert McDaniel writes:

Being a conservative, I do not find myself falling over and agreeing with you too often. However, on your current point, I would agree. John, John and Al really should just quit. Their ‘also ran’ status has run its course. And while I hope a ‘conservative’ will win the White House, I really hope that this year we will be able to see good, open and honorable debate. It will be interesting to see these two square off, mainly because I am really not sure what separates them or what they stand for ‘nationally.’ I appreciate your commentary.

SRE: Thanks, it will be a very interesting, and I’m sure, a highly covered primary!

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.