Oppenheim: The Ad That Went Too Far

Jan 4, 2018

As a candidate for Michigan Attorney General, Detroit lawyer Dana Nessel made the case that given there could be an all female democratic ticket next year for several big races in Michigan, being a woman should not be a disadvantage.

But then she went a lot further.

In a Youtube ad she argued that a candidate with a penis would be more likely to engage in sexual harassment and would be – in general – less trustworthy than one without.

Nessel went on to pledge that, if elected, she would never be one to sexually harass her staff – and she wouldn’t tolerate such behavior in any Michigan workplace.

I lived in Michigan for 25 years before moving to Vermont, so this story really got my attention. And let me just say that I think Nessel’s advocacy for casting our votes based on a candidate’s anatomy – selecting females over males - is reverse discrimination. Pure and simple.

I also think it sends a terrible message to the boys we’re trying to raise responsibly, and the many men among us who treat women with respect.

That said, just because Nessel’s ad is provocative, doesn’t mean everything she says should be dismissed.

For one thing, she’s certainly got a lot of attention.

Her initial campaign announcement video got something like 300 views on Youtube.

The controversial ad got more than 168-thousand.

More profoundly, Nessel gave voice to some things a lot of people were already thinking. For one: that we couldn’t even trust many men we thought could be trusted.

And for another: that it’s time for women to make their move.

Indeed, our country needs more women in leadership; we’ve needed that for some time. But the need for gender diversity in politics and other institutions can’t be reduced to a simple matter of genitalia.

The need is for people, predominantly but not exclusively men, to control their urges and not to abuse their power for sexual gratification.

Nessel’s ad reflects an outpouring of anger, shame and shock over what’s been happening in our society for far too long. And while we may not yet fully understand all the implications of this overdue debate, I will say Dana Nessel’s ad teaches us something other than what it actually says.

And that is - the qualifications for any political candidate have to exist above the waist - not below.