Episode 45: Right Hand Woman
Published March 31, 2016.
Ann: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Aminatou: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Ann: I'm Ann Friedman.
Aminatou: And I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And wow, what a day.
Aminatou: Big day for us, Ann. We got to interview a woman that we really admire on Call Your Girlfriend, Huma Abedin.
Ann: Who if you don't know -- now you know -- is Hillary Clinton's right-hand woman, has worked in politics for a couple of decades mostly putting forward policies that we think are pretty awesome. But she's like a behind-the-scenes kind of woman which is why we're so excited to actually talk to her on the record.
Aminatou: I know. And she does so few interviews so this is like a big deal honor for us.
Ann: It's true. And we made a list of people who we would want to talk to on the podcast. She was definitely in the first ten names, at least.
Aminatou: I want to say in the first two names.
Ann: [Laughs] Yeah.
Aminatou: Go ahead and listen to our interview with Huma and then Ann and I will debrief and tell you everything that we think about it afterwards.
Ann: Ugh, such a good debrief. A long debrief.
Aminatou: Hi, Huma. Thanks so much for joining us.
Huma: Hi. I'm thrilled to be on. Thank you for having me. I'm honored.
Aminatou: You know, almost two years ago when we started dreaming of doing this podcast you were I want to say like one of the first people that we ever thought we wanted to talk to so this is kind of a momentous day for us.
Ann: Milestone for our podcast.
Huma: Are you serious?
Huma: I'm stunned. Stunned to hear this.
Aminatou: You're a big deal to young ladies. We're excited.
Ann: Young, nerdy women everywhere.
Huma: [Laughs] I thought I was only a big deal to my mom.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Well you can tell your mom you have a lot of fans. So listen, we know that you are Hillary Clinton's right-hand woman but you often work behind the scenes. Can you kind of describe your job and what it is that you do every day?
Huma: Well, you know, it is a little bit hard to describe because I am behind the scenes. You took the words out of my mouth. I confess that is intentional. I prefer to be behind the scenes and stay behind the scenes. And I really work as part of a village as my boss coined the phrase perfectly. I am truly honored and thrilled to be a part of it. And I think every day, here at the campaign at least in Hillary for America's team it's a little bit of everything. The way I see it is I work in a startup that started about a year ago and I help keep the trains moving on time. I often am on the road with her so everything from insuring that we know what we're doing, that she has the policy updates and information that she needs. Working with our communications team, with our policy team, with our scheduling and advance teams.
And, you know, it's like moving -- it's like a living, breathing, moving organism, particularly when the campaign's on the road and she's on the road a lot. And I just am there to help keep it all together and help people be at their best including my boss but also this incredible team that supports her. And I love doing it. I feel like I'm learning something every day and I still get up every day excited about what I do. I feel very lucky to have that existence.
Ann: Is this a job that you knew existed when you were younger? Like did you think you would end up working in politics but not quite this role? Or no, did it fit with your ambitions?
Huma: Gosh, not at all. You know, it's funny. I was actually one of those young women who knew exactly what I wanted to do as far back as I can remember. I grew up overseas and my earliest memory is that I wanted to be a journalist and I specifically wanted to be Christiane Amanpour and she was at CNN, you know, traveling around the world. I'd watch her. I was living in Saudi Arabia and I would turn the TV on. She was just this intrepid, brilliant, fearless sort of truth-teller. It is what I wanted to grow up to be.
So when I came to the US for university I thought okay, I'm going to be her and I studied journalism. It wasn't until I was at school that I became more interested in politics and I started taking political science classes and that's when I had this opportunity, this incredible opportunity, to have an internship at the White House. That was back in 1996 when Hillary was First Lady and the rest as they say is history. I was very, very quickly hooked. It's not anything I ever thought I would do and now I look back and think how could it not have been?
Aminatou: Can you tell us about the first time that you met Hillary Clinton? Like what is it like meeting this iconic figure in politics?
Huma: So this would've been in the fall of 1996 and I was working in the First Lady's office as an intern for her then chief-of-staff Melanne Verveer who did all of her policy and every intern session the interns had an opportunity to meet whoever was the head of their office. The First Lady was very good about meeting all the interns in her office.
And so the first time I met her was during that -- this small session. Really she would come over, take a photo with all of us, thank us all for our work, take a couple of questions. And I confess I was really . . . I've thought back about that moment and I remember -- I feel like I was really nervous. It was the midst of a work day. I was trying to figure out what I was going to wear and how I would look and I was just shaking I was so nervous. And it was kind of a blur and we did it in the diplomatic reception room which is in the residence and it's this really beautiful, oval-shaped room with this spectacular wallpaper. And it's like so just being in that room in the residence, it's kind of one of those awe-inspiring moments. And here I am this 21-year-old intern in college thinking wow, this is really cool.
That was the first time. But my moment, and I think I've talked about this in the past, I think, when President Clinton had his reelection a few of us interns went to Little Rock. And so that was in November obviously. And I remember being at the rally in Little Rock and it was election night and obviously he was reelected and I remember being on the rope line and there are thousands and thousands of people. And I was with a whole bunch of my friends. And, you know, I had met her before like I said in this photo for 30 seconds. They come out and the crowd's electric. I don't know. You know these things that happen in your life that just stick? That she walked by and she shook my hand and our eyes connected and I just remember having this moment where I thought wow, this is amazing. And I just . . . it just inspired me. You know, I still remember the look on her face. And it's funny, and she would probably be so annoyed that I say this, but I remember thinking "Oh my God, she's so beautiful and she's so little!"
Ann: Aww. [Laughs]
Huma: You know, it's just sort of . . . because people look different on TV. And I just thought wow. And I had such a fangirl moment and I was hooked. I mean, and that sort of was my . . . that's my first kind of -- my memory.
Ann: Oh wow. I mean, so you're at this point, you're still in your early 20s, right? When this happened?
Huma: Yeah. I guess, yeah. Yeah, I guess I was . . . I guess, right? I was 21 probably if I had to guess? I'm bad at math.
Ann: A lot of our listeners now are politically progressive, politically engaged, pro-choice women who -- most of whom are under 35. And we talk about Hillary a lot on the podcast and we talk about politics. And we get a not insignificant amount of letters and tweets making the case for Bernie to us. And I'm wondering if you can sort of give your personal opinion of why . . . what you would tell them about Hillary, or why should they support her?
Huma: Look, I think that, you know . . . as somebody who has known her for now -- and I really am aging myself -- it is going to be 20 years in September that I will have been with her. And I think that I have had the ability to get to know her both in the capacity of somebody who is my boss, who every time I've been in a meeting with her, on a plane with her, in a backstage sort of negotiation with her, I've always been blown away by not just how much she knows but how determined she is to get things done that help other people. And that she doesn't stop until she gets there.
And so even if it's unpopular and even if it's not a sexy issue and even if it doesn't necessarily -- isn't the thing of the moment, she's dogged until she gets either a result or at least has tried to make change. And then we get in the car and she'll say "Do you have that business card of that person? Because I want to follow-up and I want to see if I can help them. And this person has a struggle in their own life." And so I feel as though I see somebody who every single day gets up when she really doesn't have to. I think that if my boss quit tomorrow she will go down as one of the greatest American women in the history of the world. But she's had a life where she's had a lot of blessings and she's been able to do a lot with it and she's been able to help a lot of people.
And, you know, we're in the midst of campaigning in New York right now and we've been looking through her record and the things that she did in the Senate and everyone she helped from 9/11 and beyond. It keeps me going. It keeps me being able to get up every single day even when it's hard because I know she's committed to making people's lives better. And I wish the world could see the Hillary Clinton that I see every day because she's going to do great things for this, because she has done great things for this country and I'm really confident that she can do great things for -- on behalf of this country when she's our president and I'm really looking forward to it.
Aminatou: I have a specific follow-up about that. So Hillary Clinton has a really strong record on reproductive rights but she hasn't really spoken about them with the same kind of fervor when she discusses other issues. I'm thinking specifically about her comments about abortion in '05 when she said that it was like a sad, tragic choice for many. Fast-forward to this campaign and she's come out like full-force against the Hyde Amendment which is amazing. What else are you recommending that she should do to ensure that all women, and particularly low-income women and women of color have equal access to healthcare?
Huma: Well I think that, you know, it's something that she's spoken out about a lot in this campaign and I think particularly since the other side, you know, our friends on the Republican side have suggested some pretty scary policies and especially when we have to deal with the issue of Planned Parenthoods potentially being closed down and what the Republicans did in Congress. I mean this notion that all women should feel like they're able to make their own decisions, not have politicians tell them what to do or how to do it but be able to give all women access to affordable, good-quality healthcare. And that's including your reproductive health which is why I think the threat of the Planned Parenthood shutdowns were so scary.
But beyond that, really not making judgments on decisions that women have to make. And so any woman, particularly when it comes to reproductive health, I mean this is something that's deeply personal. And she absolutely respects that, doesn't think any politician should be telling women what to do, and as long as you're making decisions that are your own decisions as a woman, it doesn't matter who you are, and you're doing it with your family and keeping your faith in mind. Everyone has their -- the right to make their own decision and she supports that.
And so I even remember recently I had a little bit of a scare myself and I thought all right, I want to check myself out. And I'm fine. And any woman in this country should be able to go in whether it's a cancer screening or whatever it is and say -- feel like they can go and find that out and not have to worry about the cost or can I get access. That's one of the things that I know she will continue to fight for and continue to speak out about.
Aminatou: You know, another thing that really stands out to me is this moment in 2012 when John McCain really came to your defense and said that you're an honorable woman and dedicated American and a loyal public servant.
Huma: Oh, yeah.
Aminatou: I remember that moment so well because it was part of this ugly smear campaign where people were implying all these ridiculous ties about your family and the Muslim Brotherhood and it was really a low in our partisan politics. And for me it was just personally it seemed like something that was a really painful moment. Can you talk about what it's like being the most visible Muslim woman in US politics?
Huma: Well, you know, I think that . . . you know, you're making me emotional even thinking about that. At the time when that list became public, and I should note that it wasn't just myself. There were other well-known Muslim-Americans in government who were put on that list. And I think that . . . my initial reaction, I confess, was complete and utter shock. I couldn't even wrap my head around the charges.
And I think what Senator McCain did and for which I will forever be grateful and I have to say that I felt exactly the same way about our president, President Obama, who then there was an aid reception at the White House and he also stood up for the Muslim-Americans including myself who had been sort of labeled in a way that was so upsetting. And I think the thing that upset me the most was how upset my family was.
And I kind of get up every day and I work in politics. You get to a point where you're used to there sometimes being these barbs thrown at you or negative insinuations thrown at you. And I think for many of us who are in that position you can sort of steel yourself and not think about it and just get up and do your job. I think when your families are involved it's a little bit harder. I think the hardest thing for me in this whole situation was the effect it had on my family and just the amount of pain that it had on my mother and my father who's not even alive to be able to defend himself. It was -- to me that was the hardest part, what my siblings had to endure, what my mother had to endure. And I think what Senator McCain did shows what's great about our country which is you have people who stand up and say what they believe even if it's not the most politically popular thing to do.
But I'm hoping that that's part of the past, you know? And me and other Muslim-Americans don't have to move forward in this country having to worry about things like that which again is something that really motivates me to work for this particular Democrat because I think the dialogue on the other side has become increasingly scary.
Ann: Yeah, and to that point as well about the sort of personal effect of what your job entails or has come to entail, I know that we on our podcast read with great interest although probably without the same political motivation as others all of the email disclosures from the state department days in part because we're such fans of Hillary Clinton and of yours and of Barbara Mikulski. It's sort of like this weird window into -- you know, into the personal workings, I guess, of professional women who we respect. You know, when I was thinking about talking to you I was sort of like God, that must have just felt . . . when I think about my work email being searchable it's like a full-body panic.
Ann: Even if it's not -- I haven't said anything wrong. I'm curious about what that felt like to just know that it's out there in that way.
Huma: Terrifying, but with . . . and I haven't -- I confess I have not read anything that has become public, but I think the story that I was most . . . I found most interesting was a woman, and I don't remember any of the details, but a woman who said she didn't support Hillary until she read all of her emails. And she saw what a warm, caring, thoughtful, determined person she was. But I can't . . . it's something I can't really think about because I can't even imagine what's in those emails. But I'm sure I would be -- I would probably be mortified. I have no idea. I haven't read any of them.
Ann: Well there's a really funny one actually that I think we talked about it once on the podcast. Amina, please correct me if I'm wrong. But it's about getting a fax machine setup.
Huma: Oh my gosh. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh, that's definitely our favorite.
Huma: Okay, that one I heard about. I definitely heard about it because that made news. I heard about that one, yes. It's . . .
Ann: Go on, sorry.
Aminatou: I mean we all sympathize in that moment.
Huma: Thank you. Thank you. Well it's funny because it was -- it's hard to explain because it was a secure fax that was coming through and I think what you read in the email is a little bit of her frustration that it wasn't working and my frustration that she couldn't figure it out or whatever it was. But the backstory here is that we very often -- it wasn't unusual that when secure faxes were coming through that we had some challenges with them coming through. And so I don't know if I have much to add to that except that now that I think back . . . and I had not even remembered that it had happened. That's the funny thing. So much happens in your life that you don't often remember.
Aminatou: You just -- in that moment you were a hero to everyone who's ever had to help their boss figure out any kind of technological problem, so don't worry about it.
Huma: [Laughs] I am so glad. I am so glad there are people that read that email and understood what it's like to go through it. That's funny.
Ann: So I'm curious about you saying that you didn't really go out of your way to look at what was there. When it comes to any of the many things that we've talked about that are potential big headline-making controversies do you have like a standard operating procedure for how you deal or what you do when something blows up?
Huma: Are you talking about in the campaign or if I read anything about myself?
Ann: I don't know. I guess in general. It just seems like in your life and in your line of work, it seems like controversy or at least things that appear controversial in headlines are kind of unavoidable. And I'm just wondering if you have like a -- I don't know, you're like "This is what I do when shit hits the fan."
Huma: There is . . . so I have a policy. First of all I never read anything about myself. If I've done an interview, and I haven't done very many -- this is the first podcast certainly I have ever done, but I could count on one hand how many actual interviews probably that I've done. And I'll never read them if it's a magazine. I don't want to know. [Laughs] And then usually if it's something a little, you know, news -- if there's some news that we're dealing with with the campaign, it's why I'm so grateful to have this amazing communication staff here and we . . . if it's something we have to respond to, we huddle and we figure it out.
You kind of just get into this zone, and then if it's about me personally I just -- honestly I just ignore it. Sometimes people will tell me "I've read this thing about you," and I'll say "I have no idea what you're talking about." And they'll say "But it's here. It says -- it says you did this." "No, I never did. Didn't go to law school. I know I didn't go to law school." But I think I just get into work mode. You just click into what has to get done. And I think for the many busy listeners you have, when you have a four-year-old child and a job that requires you to travel and you don't have enough sleep and you're not sure when your next meal is and you're doing work that you feel is important there is a lot of things to distract yourself from the silliness that's out there. And so I just stay focused on my work, my son, and things that I love doing.
Aminatou: Oh my God, if we could only all be so disciplined.
Ann: Advise from a pro.
Aminatou: I know. I'm just like internalize everything.
Huma: Oh, and I'm not always so disciplined. I'm not perfect but I try to be disciplined. [Laughs]
Aminatou: When she's elected president Hillary Clinton's going to have the first ever First Husband. Do you have any inside scoop of what kind of initiatives Bill Clinton is going to pursue when he's First Dude?
Huma: I don't . . . I feel that just that question makes me nervous. I mean that's a very presumptuous . . . I mean, I don't -- I don't want to get ahead of the primary. We've got to get through the primary. But I think it's fair to say that as one of the most successful Democratic presidents in the history of this country that there is nothing President Clinton can't do. He's one of my great inspirations for getting into public service. I was one of those young staffers who would go to his speeches. And I always felt like when President Clinton was giving a speech, back when he was president, even now. Every time he's giving a speech you feel like he's talking to you and he constantly asks questions and you're nodding yes. And when he's done speaking you think "Okay, I need to go out and do something good for somebody" because that's how inspiring he is.
And so I don't think there's anything in the world that he can't do. I have a feeling though that he will not be picking the china out and he will not be picking out the flowers for any of the events. [Laughs] If they actually . . .
Aminatou: He should really look into it though. Somebody has to. It's the hard -- you know? It's a hard job and sometimes a man's the best person for it.
Huma: It's possible. I just -- I think that my boss actually really enjoys doing those things, and it'll be a good . . . [Laughter] it'll be yet another. It'll be yet another additional sort of new thing. She'll be the first president, I don't know, who picks out her own flowers for state dinners. But let's see. There's a ways to go before we get there. There's a lot to do before that happens. It's hard to imagine right now.
Aminatou: For our . . . we have a lot of single lady listeners and we talk a lot about marriage and political marriage and the implications of it. Can you tell us what modern political marriage means to you today?
Huma: Well I think marriage is . . . a modern political marriage? That's interesting. You know, I think that a marriage really only works in any situation, whether you're in politics or not, if one partner is fully supportive of the other. I think it's a little -- it's often a little more challenging when you're in politics because your private life, and I think everybody craves their own privacy, and so I think your private life is displayed to the world in a way that you otherwise wouldn't have to deal with if one spouse is a private person and the other person's in politics as was the case certainly in my marriage. But I think it works if you fully support each other in what you're doing.
So for example I could not do what I'm doing for Hillary. I'm on the road a lot on the campaign. As I mentioned earlier I have a four-year-old son and I don't think I could do this if I didn't have the support of a spouse who is willing to basically be a stay-at-home dad as much as he possibly can so I'm able to be on the road. I miss my son but I don't worry about him because I know between this little village we've created between Anthony and my in-laws and my mom and our families and this wonderful woman who we have helping us I can go out and be the best professional woman that I can be because I have that support.
So I think being able to understand each other and support each other is hugely important and being able to kind of withstand the media scrutiny. And you know politics, it can often be -- it can often be a contact sport. I guess I should say it's not for everybody. It's not for everybody. [Laughter]
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Ann: Well in our last few minutes we have some rapid-fire just quick-answer kind of more fun questions that are not so fraught about the politics of marriage. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I will start. Who are your besties, long distance or otherwise, who support and inspire you?
Huma: My sister who supports and inspires me every single day. Wait, you said rapid fire. Is it only one person?
Aminatou: However you want to do this.
Huma: Well, I think -- I guess I would have to say it starts in my family. My sister every single day. My mother, you know, she lives in Saudi Arabia and it's across eight hour time zones. She's my biggest cheerleader and inspiration. I feel like the list of women is so long but I think of people like Anna Wintour who even when it's tough she'll send me an encouraging message and say "You can keep doing this." She's somebody to me I look at and she makes the impossible look effortless and it's people like that. Shonda Rhimes, another -- a woman who again has done things that no one's ever done before and is so encouraging and so inspiring. And I look at women who do things like that and it makes me think that I can . . . I can do whatever I want to do and obviously my boss is very near the top of that list. She inspires me to get up every single day and work hard.
Ann: Oh my God, that is a power circle. [Laughter] You're killing us. You're killing us. We are seriously falling out in separate studios. If you and Hillary had a podcast like Call Your Girlfriend what would you talk about?
Huma: Okay, food. Food. Definitely food.
Ann: Oh my God.
Huma: We're obsessed with food. It's a joke on the campaign. Whenever we have a chance and it's meal time, it is always -- and particularly we're so lucky to be able to be on an airplane where we have this wonderful woman who provides us with as nutritious of meals as possible. But we are obsessed with food and we look forward to it and what is it? And I want to know the menu. And then we enjoy it. So we talk about food. We talk about fashion. And we sometimes -- we'll often do celebrity gossip, although very often we'll be looking through pages and say "Who are these people?" We're not sure. But there's plenty of people we love. So we just -- you know, it's fun, but I would say food is probably top of the list. Maybe food and shoes?
Ann: What is your power snack?
Huma: Okay, it's any power bar. You know, I did Kind. I'm on Quest Bars now really because it's like . . .
Aminatou: Oh man, Quest Bar. Good bar.
Huma: Yeah, Quest Bar I think is my favorite. I like the cookies and cream and sometimes the double chocolate brownie. But I think that it's the easiest thing to throw it in my bag. And I think I mentioned this earlier, sometimes you don't know when your next meal is, so it's the safest thing to pack.
Aminatou: What's your pump-up song?
Huma: You know what it's been recently? It's Andra Day's Rise Up.
Aminatou: Yes! Ooh, good choice.
Huma: Oh God, I love her and her voice. I feel so empowered when I listen to that song.
Ann: Okay. You've said that you love the show Veep.
Ann: Do you identify with the Tony Hale character at all?
Huma: Okay, so what I love . . . [Laughs] So there's lots of shows that I love. The problem is we hardly ever -- and I do love Veep. I watch everything. I watch Veep. I watch Downton Abbey. I watch Scandal. I watch Good Wife. I watch . . . I mean the list is long. Here's the problem: I'm so behind on everything that now if we're traveling, I'll be at a hotel room in Iowa and I'll turn the TV on. I'll be totally confused. I'll be like wait a minute. Wait, how did this happen? Kerry Washington's living in the White House? What? Because I completely lost track of where we are -- where they are in the seasons.
Do I identify with the character? I identify with the whole show because I think to me it's the closest thing to what Washington is and it's just sort of all the things that people don't want to say they say on that show and it's done in such a funny way. But he is very, very funny and I don't know that I identify with him but he certainly sets a very high standard for anybody who does that job.
Aminatou: I'm so excited for you to catch up on Good Wife because for me, and when the emails were leaked, when I found out that you all watched Good Wife, that's the only thing I cared about.
Ann: That was in the emails.
Aminatou: This is the biggest revelation.
Ann: We got excited.
Aminatou: And I can't wait for you to catch up because it's been a rollercoaster and it's ending in five episodes and it's kind of crazy right now.
Huma: Oh my God, don't tell me what happens.
Aminatou: Oh, I won't tell you. You're going to die. It's amazing. You know, so last question. Are you ever going to consider running for elected office yourself one day?
Huma: No. [Laughs]
Aminatou: "No!" say women across the land.
Ann: I know this is supposed to be rapid fire . . .
Huma: Is that the wrong answer? No, I don't think so. I don't think so.
Aminatou: It's not the wrong answer.
Huma: I feel like I've worked for a politician for a very long time. I've been married to a politician. I see what they go through. I'm not quite sure that I could . . . I'm not quite sure that I could do that. But I have a lot of respect, a lot of respect for people who run for elected office.
Ann: Ugh, and we have so much respect for you whether or not you run.
Aminatou: Exactly. Huma, thank you so much for joining us today. This is such a high moment for us. There's so many moments where I just wanted to scream and I'm so excited. I haven't had a fangirl moment in a long time so thank you for today. This is a big deal for us.
Ann: It's true. And it's been fun.
Huma: I can't believe so much -- this has gone by so quickly. I've had such fun, and I'm really honored to be on and I'm thrilled that you asked me to do this. And as I mentioned early on I was very nervous about doing it. This was such a fun girl conversation so I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.
Aminatou: Wow, Ann, that was great right?
Ann: Oh my god, I'm still a little high from it.
Aminatou: I mean I'm definitely very high from it.
Ann: I have dreams of like oh, if I could just have a drink and a long, unspooling conversation with powerful women I admire we would get along so great, we would love each other, and that's kind of what this felt like.
Aminatou: I know, that's what this felt right. Ugh, okay, let's just run down some very key things. The first moment that I almost died and wanted to scream is when we were talking about her biographical details and she brought up Christiane Amanpour.
Ann: Who is your favorite ever.
Aminatou: My number one with a bullet is Christiane Amanpour. That was very -- hit close to home for me.
Ann: It's true. I also appreciated her honesty when we were talking about her early moments with Hillary, when she was like "My first thought was you're so beautiful."
Aminatou: I know, that was great. Serious full-body chills when she talks about seeing her again in the rope line in Arkansas. That was great.
Aminatou: Another really good detail, you know? So she obviously talks about being the Chief of Staff for Melanne Verveer who is now the executive director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security at Georgetown and who is -- I can attest first-person one of the most fantastic ladies out there and such a booster of young women. And knowing that she is the one kind of responsible for Huma Abedin, also great.
Ann: Okay, I also have to confess that there was a moment when Huma said that her favorite snacks were power bars and Quest bars where I was texting you like side-channel to be like "I can't believe it. That's so disgusting."
Aminatou: Except what did I tell you?
Ann: You were like Quest bars are the truth.
Aminatou: Quest bars are great and I don't even ride like that for power bars but if you're going to power bar that's the one.
Ann: I mean to me, also, I was like wow, the Quest bar and the power bar, is everything on-brand?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Yes, everything about Human Abedin is power. Power, power, power. I don't know. She also got real with a lot of our answers, like talking to her about being a super-visible Muslim woman in politics. I hadn't really considered her family in that whole incident and how painful that can bring and the kind of stuff it can bring up. I love how close she is with her mom and her sister and that's really just a neat detail.
Ann: Oh my god, speaking of her sister, scream moment in terms of core besties. Can you believe it? Anna Winter, Shonda Rhimes, and my sister?
Aminatou: [Laughs] I mean at that moment I was definitely like RIP. I mean I was deceased. I loved her answer about Bill Clinton and being very careful there.
Ann: So careful.
Aminatou: I really do wish Bill Clinton would pick china patterns and stuff. It's like what else are you going to do with your time?
Ann: I know. I mean even if it were . . . I keep thinking about what the acronym would be. It's like FDOTUS?
Aminatou: First Dude of the United States?
Ann: First Dude of the United States. FDOTUS.
Aminatou: You're fired. You're actually fired. Her answer about political marriage too, so real and true, right? It's not for everyone. And also just this consideration of yes, she can be this power lady and travel all around the country campaigning and doing all this stuff because she's lucky to have a spouse who really will pick up the slack and is at home and really contributes to that part of their marriage and that was a really interesting dynamic.
Ann: I mean also though for me, I don't know, I've got to say I had a moment where I was like yeah, your spouse is at home but he wanted to be elected to office again and that's what he was making a bid to do. It's not like you guys sat down together and decided okay, Huma's career is going to be front seat. He kind of screwed himself over -- sorry -- and I'm not saying they don't have a great arrangement and he's not supportive now. That sounds awesome. I love it. It's just like a little . . . it was a little weird to me, maybe because I'm skeptical of all men who seem to do their super-awesome wives wrong in the public eye. But I was like okay, interesting.
Aminatou: I know. But isn't that like what life is though? Is . . .
Ann: Powerful men doing their spouses wrong?
Aminatou: No, I don't know, it's like making the best of that situation. Like if he . . . there's nothing in their marriage previous that indicated that if he'd gotten elected that she would be a stay-at-home mom.
Ann: Totally. Totally.
Aminatou: That's not -- you know?
Aminatou: I don't know that that's a fair . . . that's a fair qualm to have, right? But I do think that this question of how you negotiate personally work life and family balance, like that was interesting to me.
Ann: Yeah. And I don't expect -- listen, I don't expect any couple to say that like oh yeah, we sat down and we plotted out our entire lives and decided that 2014 to '16 would be your years and then 2017 to '19 would be my years and whatever. I understand you make decisions based on other stuff that happens. I don't know. I'm not trying to say it doesn't count if you didn't plan ahead to be a supportive or stay-at-home caregiver. I'm not trying to imply that at all. I'm just saying immediately it got me thinking about an alternate universe. I don't know, it got me thinking about what I know about her marriage just from reading articles about it I guess is what I'm trying to say. Which is admittedly totally not the whole story.
Aminatou: You know, I was both disappointed but also, you know, I was like I get it when she said she was not necessarily seeking political office for herself because anytime I see somebody who is powerful and remotely competent as a woman I'm like please Emily's List give this person all of your money. This is what they should be doing with their lives. But it's really apparent in her career that she's ambitious and she really consistently wants to be a behind-the-scenes player.
Ann: I think it's interesting though because when you ask -- I mean even, god, I just read something about Hillary Clinton being asked if she had ambitions to run for office. And I think it was during Bill's second term, and she was like "No, no, no." And I believe that if she had really wanted to do that she would've probably said yes, or at least said "I don't know, I might think about it." So I don't know. There's still time for Huma to change her mind if she should want to do that.
Aminatou: Oh, don't worry, I'm going to manifest that also.
Aminatou: She'll be like our first Muslim/fabulous president so it'll be great.
Ann: Our first fabulous Muslim president.
Ann: Please make the pre-campaign items now.
Aminatou: Yeah. I remember this one moment in the interview where I think I asked her . . . I was like "When Hillary Clinton is president," instead of like "If Hillary Clinton's president." And she was like that's so presumptuous. And I was thinking back about Marco Rubio, and the one thing I loved about Marco Rubio is how consistently he was trying to manifest his -- he was visualizing being president and he always said "When I'm president XYZ. In my presidency." And I was like my man, you're like fourth right now. This is amazing. [Laughs] And I confess to really channeling that feeling.
Ann: He was actually playing a fantasy video game called My Presidency. Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, another thing that was interesting in going in to talk to Huma today is just thinking about where we're at in the campaign moment, and obviously on the Clinton side they're being really careful, and who knows? We could win or Bernie could win or whatever. And the last thing I watched before going into that interview was actually Chris Hayes' interview with Susan Sarandon.
Aminatou: Where I wanted to just tear my hear out because . . .
Ann: Wait, so recap, what did she say?
Aminatou: Susan Sarandon went on All in with Chris Hayes and she's a surrogate for Bernie Sanders, which great. Celebrity surrogates, they never work out. Campaign people talk to me about this. This is such a bad idea. She's been a very vocal Bernie supporter and basically she said that she thinks that having Donald Trump as president is better than having Hillary Clinton as president. This is the same woman who tried to force Nader down our throats years ago and we have now forgotten Susan Sarandon.
Ann: Yeah, she's been on a losing streak generally in terms of public comments.
Aminatou: I know, but it was just so . . . just hearing her vocalize that, for me it was such a low moment because of the Bernie versus Hillary wars on social media. P.S., this is also the same woman who got in Dolores Huerta's face.
Ann: That's exactly what I was referring to when I said that public behavior. Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, know. It's like appalling, right? And just thinking about the amount of privilege and just what kind of kooky Hollywood person you have to be to really think that Donald Trump is going to usher in revolution, like she actually used the word revolution which is nuts. Also Susan Sarandon is a rich person. I'm like please, I'm not forgetting this. You're part of the same system that Bernie Sanders is trying to dismantle.
Ann: Did you see that PBS had a quiz -- sorry, this is going to sound like a tangent but I swear it's not. PBS had a quiz this week to see how much of a bubble you live in?
Aminatou: I know, Ann. I have so many qualms with that quiz because it's very racialized. It gears towards white people.
Ann: Well, it's a quiz for white people. Right.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's for white people to know how much of a bubble you're in. I was like this quiz does not work if you're a person of color.
Ann: No, no, no, it definitely doesn't, but doesn't it say that? This is explicitly a thing about white America.
Aminatou: I didn't think it did but maybe. But also . . .
Ann: Oh my god, maybe I just read it into every question too.
Aminatou: But also Ann, PBS, explicitly a thing for white America sometimes.
Ann: Harsh. Since the departure of Sesame Street.
Aminatou: I mean maybe. Maybe. Since the departure of Sesame Street, all the people of color have left.
Ann: Ugh. Anyway, what I was going to say about that is definitely regardless -- setting aside the thing about the survey -- it definitely makes you ask questions about Susan Sarandon's bubble.
Aminatou: I know, but also just, ugh, god, I really wish we ran elections here like they do in other countries. It's like three weeks and pack everything and let's go home. It's only March. We still don't know who the nominees are on either side. The rhetoric is just getting worse and worse and worse and the tensions are just coming to the surface.
Ann: I don't know, I feel like it's good to talk to . . . it's good to talk to behind-the-scenes people who help set policy and it's good, like everybody . . . I know this is going to sound dumb but everybody has a choice in terms of what they focus on. Like you don't have to share ten offensive things that Donald Trump said about women. You can be like "Here's the reason I'm supporting XYZ candidate," in a positive way.
Ann: Like everybody has agency. I don't know, sometimes I get frustrated as a member of The Media, capital T, capital M, obviously I'm conscious of what stories are you amplifying? But everybody has . . . I don't know, everybody has some responsibility for . . .
Aminatou: My god, tell all the people on Facebook that. [Laughs] You know the thing too about the Clinton campaign that's been really fascinating is they do have all these really powerful women behind the scenes. I looked over on Bernie Sanders' campaign page. Weirdly for a socialist revolutionary ushering person, not a lot of women involved in that campaign. [Laughs]
Ann: Well the percentages . . . right, I was going to say on public levels. And the percentages are not great.
Aminatou: Yeah, and they pay also is not great. But I don't think you should choose your political candidates that way, but it was a thing that's really interesting.
Ann: Well it's a question of who's your natural network, you know what I mean? It's sort of one of those things where I feel like if you put someone in a hiring position, which let's be real, it's going to be a campaign director or whatever, they are going to hire people in their network and networks do tend to break along gender and racial lines.
Aminatou: No, that's true. But also if the fight right now is over who's more progressive that's an interesting data point.
Ann: Is the fight over who's more progressive? Seriously?
Aminatou: I mean, yes, this is the thing they fought over for weeks. It's like who is more progressive? And I'm like I don't know, if you're going to be progressive in the sheets and in the streets you have to hire women. [Laughs] That's fair. Anyway, god, can you tell we're both so election fatigued right now?
Ann: I don't know. I feel like we also sound like we could talk about this for hours. [Laughs] Which is not a sign of fatigue for me. I mean admittedly I am drinking wine and my bra is off so it's like all bets . . . we could talk for hours. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my god, we're literally in the same position, same visual, so it's good. I just want it to be over very soon.
Ann: I mean also we can just choose -- again, agency. We can choose to have this be a political episode then not talk about it for a few weeks.
Aminatou: Okay, what else are you excited about right now?
Ann: Oh my god, right this second?
Aminatou: Yes, right this second, besides being braless and drinking wine.
Ann: Okay, so normally I get review copies of books sometimes and I'm like yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. I recently received . . . it's wrong to call it a graphic novel but it's an illustrated book, kind of full of doodles and comics, etc., by Lisa Hanawalt who is . . .
Aminatou: Oh yeah.
Ann: Is the animator of Bojack Horseman, which is not relevant to me. But this book is incredible. There's a multi-page spread about menstrual huts. She does this weird thing about anthropomorphized lady birds shopping for bathing suits. It's all so weird. I love it so much. And I've seriously just been sitting and paging through it. It's called Hot Dog Taste Test.
Aminatou: That's great.
Ann: That's my recommendation. That's what else is happening.
Aminatou: We're literally on the opposite reading schedule. I'm reading this business book right now called Superbosses: How Great Leaders Build Unstoppable Networks of Talent.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: By Sydney Finkelstein who's like this great professor at Dartmouth. And honestly I'm pleasantly very surprised. You know my secret shame is how many management books I read but I really like this one.
Ann: I mean give me a hot tip from Superbosses. What have you actually learned?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Well, so I just started reading it but the whole conceit is essentially what makes a super boss, right? And so he examines all of these proteges and career leaders, people who are super famous. Mostly dudes, right? So it's like football coaches.
Ann: Oh my god, I can't.
Aminatou: Norman Brinker, but also Ralph Lauren. There's Vera Wang. Ann, Vera Wang is like one woman in this book and it's really, really great. But the thing actually I love the most about it is he was on some media tour, and I think this is what made me pick up the book, and he was reading this article where they showed the graphic of a famous French chef and he talked about all of his sous chefs and the former sous chefs and it just graphed out how everybody went on after a period of time and how all these people worked at all these other great restaurants and they used to work for this great chef. And I was like yes, you're such a nerd and you brought snacking into this whole thing. And it's a thing I think about a lot, right? Like how your professional network expands and how everybody . . . and I think even in our network, this is something that's so apparent. It's like how everybody has leveled up. The interesting connections, like professional connections that happen on every level. So reading fiction is very hard for me, so I'm a through and through non-fiction reader but this appeals to every nerdy bone in my body.
Ann: The fiction that anyone can have a great team. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, I mean not everyone, just super bosses. I'm still getting to the part of what makes a super boss. But ultimately it's like be competent at your job, try to not be an asshole, and have teachable, learnable things. I don't know.
Ann: Wow. You're right, totally the opposite. I'm like Hot Dog Taste Test and you were like teachable moments in managerial science.
Aminatou: I know, I'm like "Ann, here's this McKinsey case study."
Ann: [Laughs] And I'm like no, I swear, it's really funny. The birds have boobs. I can't explain it.
Aminatou: Listen, it's not every day in this friendship that I'm not the one that's reading the low-brow thing so cherish this moment.
Ann: I know. Let me tell you though that this book, mutual lady friend of ours Carolyn was at my house and picked it up and she's like "I think I'm going to make a menstrual hut behind my house" after reading the menstrual cuts cartoon. That's how influential . . .
Aminatou: I can't even believe Carolyn doesn't already have a menstrual hut.
Ann: Doesn't have a lot of yard space.
Aminatou: That's how ridiculous it is. Yeah, it's crazy. Oh, there's this category in the book though where he talks about the different types of creative types. One type is the iconoclast and Miles Davis is the example that he uses.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: And I'm a big Miles Davis fan even though I think jazz is garbage.
Ann: Wait, wait, you think jazz is garbage?
Aminatou: Ann, it never resolves. As a musical form it is so problematic, but there's some jazz I really enjoy.
Ann: You can't call jazz a problematic musical form. [Laughs] That's not allowed.
Aminatou: First of all, Ann, if I've learned anything from my liberal arts undergraduate education it's that you can call anything problematic. Second of all I'm saying that jazz is trash.
Aminatou: That's like where I'm parking. This is an opinion I'm parking. But listen, I'm mostly tongue-in-cheek. There's a lot of jazz that I like but it drives me crazy. So he talks about Miles Davis and that's really fascinating. People who just become magnets in and of themselves, and how they just attract good people in their circle and they just end up teaching so many people over time. And I was like man, this is, you know, the natural outgrowth of being a good leader.
Ann: Shine theory for CEOs.
Aminatou: It's like shine theory for CEOs.
Ann: Our eighth book which we will write sometime around 2025. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. Anyway, if you're a nerdy person or even if you're just like . . . I don't know, if you're somebody who is like me and kind of stumbled into managing people really young and you didn't know what you were doing and you were just like fake it until you make it every day, Superboss is for you. It'll make you feel motivated. You'll learn about all these other people. I just wish there were more lady examples in all these books, but shocking, there are not a lot of public lady super bosses.
Ann: Well if you need a weird kind of stoner feminist come-down then you go home after implementing Superbosses and read Hot Dog Taste Test.
Ann: They actually work together!
Aminatou: Ann, maybe one day when we live on the compound and we share a library this is how we'll organize books, in pairs, like the high and the low of everything. It's like here's the shot and here's the chaser.
Ann: The menstrual hut will actually have two shelves.
Aminatou: Oh my god, the menstrual hut. Now that I've achieved one thing on my bucket list I can put another thing on.
Ann: Ugh, making so much room for new goals. Okay, maybe we should tell people we still have a survey up at callyourgirlfriend.com/survey.
Aminatou: We're doing a live show in D.C. We're super excited to see all of you. It is sold out, sold out, so we're really sad for all those who keep emailing us and asking about tickets. We unfortunately do not have any for you. But you know one thing that you can do to make your life a little easier is to go on your Facebook event page for this thing, not the actual Facebook page, the event page, and see who else is offloading their tickets. I love that we have a little ticket black market happening.
Ann: Ugh, I mean, I hope no one is scalping but you know, do what you need to do. Don't jack up the prices. It'll be fun. We will see lots of people there.
Aminatou: How honored do you feel that people are scalping tickets in your name though?
Ann: I mean I don't know. I once read an article about how Tom Petty prices his tickets and how he actually advantages scalpers and I've been thinking maybe we've just got to raise the prices.
Aminatou: [Laughs] God, this is exactly what Bernie Sanders and Susan Sarandon were talking about. You people.
Ann: No, they're just playing ping pong.
Aminatou: The millionaire and billionaire class jacking up the podcast tickets.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Facebook -- ugh, just look it up yourself -- or on our brand new Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Ann: Gina Delvac! See you on the Internet and all of those places.
Aminatou: See you on the Internet.