In an essay for Buzzfeed Reader, Anne Helen Petersen tries to conjure some sympathy for the devil’s mouthpiece. Her chief interest is a recent CBS profile of Donald Trump’s spokeswoman, and her essay ostensibly examines what that profile may or may not indicate about a quiet campaign to “soften” Conway’s image.
“Conway has been chastened, in part, for acting, spinning, and possessing confidence like a man—and doing so very publicly,” Petersen writes, and this is partially true. She’s also right that it’s “no sin” for Conway to look the way she does. But buried inside a puff piece, these observations carry water for the right wing:
There are two problems with this passage. The first is the most obvious: Conway is not good at her job. She can lie, certainly, but she lies badly, and so she fails the most basic test of a spin doctor. She blundered into a public ethics violation and invoked a fake massacre because she is bad at her job.
But let’s accept for argument’s sake that Conway is a brilliant propagandist: We’re still obligated to weigh the scrutiny she receives against the politics of her propaganda. This is something Petersen largely fails to do. She acknowledges that conservative women like Conway “directly undermine the goals of the [feminist] movement at large,” but doesn’t complete the thought without a plea for sympathy. “Conservative women—like Conway, but also like Megyn Kelly—are also ‘cast aside’ by the men of their own party when they fail to toe the incredibly narrow line of power and femininity, balancing challenging the authority of men and ‘knowing their place,’” she writes.
There’s an absurd calculation at work here: Conway is a powerful woman, so she must deserve some measure of respect and even sympathy. But conservative women have long manipulated this perspective to serve terrible politics. Condoleeza Rice helped her boss lie us into war. Phyllis Schlafly “leaned in” to smother the Equal Rights Amendment. And Conway chooses to serve a racist misogynist. She chooses the position and the scrutiny. If conservative women are victims of anything, it is of themselves.