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What About the Woman Lobbyist?

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Both John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman denied any romantic involvement. Mrs. McCain said she trusts her husband. And the two former McCain associates who allegedly told The New York Times that they suspected an improper relationship between the Arizona senator and the female lobbyist remain unidentified.

And so this Frankenstein's monster of a story -- the torso a telling of McCain's lobbyist connections onto which was sewn an appendage of hinted sexual misbehavior -- is dead. The circus has left town.

But what about Iseman, who the story said was hanging around McCain and warned by his helpers to stay away? She was not some 18-year-old congressional page or an exotic dancer. She was a then-32-year-old lobbyist. And whatever you think about lobbyists' influence in Washington -- and I don't like it, either -- hanging around politicians is what lobbyists do.

So Iseman visited McCain's office, sat with him on corporate jets and turned up at fund-raisers? Had she been a paunchy guy named Chuck, would the story have buzzed for close to a week? It would not have.

Did Iseman ever bat her blonde lashes at McCain and he grin back? Could have happened, but even if it did, there's no evidence that anything momentous resulted, either personally or business related.

Now, suppose you're a male politician or executive, and you see the three-ring innuendo attached to the mere appearance of McCain in the company of an attractive woman. A good-looking 28-year-old lady lawyer wants to meet you in a bar to discuss her client's import licenses or peddle a software package. You might think twice and have drinks with Chuck, instead.

Chuck could even come up to your hotel suite, and the two of you could watch the football game while drinking scotch. Do that with a young woman, even if she's wearing three-pound glasses, and your staff would rapidly intervene to, in the words of the Times, "protect the candidate (or executive) from himself."

Now, imagine you're a principled woman whose job requires bonding with potential customers, most of whom are male. You must constantly avoid giving the wrong signals to men who find you comely -- but also make them feel comfortable in your presence so that you can give your pitch.

Judy Rosener is a longtime observer of such fine-line walking. A professor in the University of California at Irvine's Graduate School of Management, she sees business travel as an especially big challenge.

"A lot of women say they don't get good clients and good tasks because it's assumed they don't want to travel," Rosener told me. Some do, and some don't. "Men have told me they think they are doing women a favor by not expecting them to travel," she said, especially if they have children.

There is a further complication, however. Wives of male executives often don't want their mate traveling with a woman. The men can solve the dilemma by inviting Chuck, instead.

As for the question of McCain traveling with Iseman on a corporate jet, Rosener says this: "They weren't alone. If she were alone on a private jet, I would kind of feel differently."

Of course, that would not have been Chuck's problem. He could have joined McCain on a private flight to Tahiti, and no headline would have made a big deal about his being a he.

The McCain-and-the-female-lobbyist-story seems over. Everyone has gone home, except for Vicki Iseman, who, as far as we know, did nothing unusual for a lobbyist. In sum, she seems to have been pulled over for "lobbying while female." She also has a point of view, you know.

COPYRIGHT 2008 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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