Warren faces the affability ceiling

For all the talk about the glass ceiling that women face in politics, it turns out the barrier isn’t whether voters think women have the strength or the smarts to do the job, but whether they’re likable enough.

If that idea is a grating one after years of effort by women to show they can wield power and make tough decisions just like the boys, welcome to Elizabeth Warren’s world.

The Massachusetts senator had barely launched her web video on New Year’s Eve announcing a presidential exploratory committee when Politico posted a story that had been sitting in the can anticipating the moment. “Warren battles the ghosts of Hillary,” it was headlined. But the focus wasn’t whether she might repeat any Hillary Clinton policy missteps. Instead, it said the looming question was this: “How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?”

With a bit of a sigh, the Boston Globe and Washington Post pick up the story today, with pieces that explore further the idea of a gender-based double-standard when it comes to a candidate’s likability.

“Like it or not, likability is indeed a much greater factor for female candidates, acknowledged campaign specialists who hope to change that narrative,” writes the Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert.

The Post story points to some signs that the dynamic may be shifting, citing Ayanna Pressley’s congressional campaign here as an example. “I have been asked to not come off as outraged or angry for fear of being labeled an angry black woman,” the paper quoted Pressley as saying during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle. “Well, I am angry. And I am outraged. Because this is outrageous,” Pressley said about sexual assault allegations leveled at the Supreme Court nominee.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg laments the fact that pundits seem far more focused on whether candidates — especially women — are “sufficiently likable” than what they stand for. “That part already feels exhausting and it hasn’t even begun,” she writes — though it certainly does seem to be well underway.

Ebbert reminds us that it was no right-wing troglodyte but Barack Obama who most famously injected the issue into a high-profile moment, smirking in a 2008 debate with Clinton that she was “likable enough.”

Fair or not, Warren seems acutely aware of the challenge and has gone out of her way to try to beat back any image of her as cold or aloof. Of course, that carries its own risks, as a livestream of her Instagram feed on New Year’s Eve showing her cracking open beer in her Cambridge kitchen immediately opened her to the charge of not being authentic.

There is a chicken-and-egg quality to the debate, as pundit-types say they are only commenting on an established phenomenon, not endorsing it. Meanwhile, (and mindful of the irony of saying so), the continued focus on the likability factor probably just helps reinforce its place in the conversation.



Gov. Charlie Baker was sworn in for a second term, laying out a workaday agenda hewing closely to the practical, not visionary, approach he took in his first term. (Boston Globe) A Globe editorial laments that some things on his to-do list also appeared there four years ago. MassLive details the private interests that paid for Baker’s inaugural festivities.

Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo say passing a law against driving while stoned will be a priority. (Boston Herald) But defense lawyers and the state ACLU say any test for marijuana use will be unreliable. (Boston Herald)

A Salem News editorial ponders over the power structure in the House.


The Republican wall of opposition to reopening the federal government without border wall funding started to crack, with two GOP senators, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, saying they’d support a funding bill that leaves the border wall funding out. (New York Times)

Scot Lehigh cheers the latest iteration of Mitt Romney — and hopes it has some staying power. (Boston Globe)

Attorney General Maura Healey joins a lawsuit challenging a Texas court’s Affordable Care Act ruling. (State House News)


NAIOP, a local real estate group, estimates it will take two years for National Grid to deal with the backlog of projects that built up because of an employee lockout and state-imposed ban on work after an incident in Woburn. (WBUR) National Grid workers say they’re relieved at a tentative agreement to end the lockout — though they don’t yet don’t the details of what union leaders and the company have agreed to. (Boston Globe)

Faneuil Hall Marketplace eatery Durgin-Park, a icon of old Boston that opened in 1827, will close in nine days. (Boston Globe) Santoro’s Sub-Villa in Saugus is closing after 60 years. (Daily Item)

The state Board of Bar Overseers accuses Salem attorney and former city councilor Stephen Lovely of forging documents to obtain possession of a property. Lovely denies the allegations. (Salem News)


MBTA officials say Quincy’s Wollaston Station on the Red Line is on track to reopen, as scheduled in August, following a $33 million renovation. (Patriot Ledger)


Last year at this time the region went through a prolonged cold spell that turned into an environmental setback when a huge amount of oil was burned to produce electricity. A new study examines what would have happened if an offshore wind farm had been up and running at the time. (CommonWealth)


A Mansfield man faces two counts of vehicular homicide in connection with an accident in May in which prosecutors say he had been drag racing a pickup truck whose occupants both died in a fiery crash. (Patriot Ledger)


Alabama’s employee pension fund is taking sole ownership of CHNI LLC, a newspaper chain that owns the Gloucester Times, the Eagle-Tribune, and the Salem News. Interestingly, the papers didn’t even run their own story on the sale. (Associated Press) Dan Kennedy, at Media Nation, says the outcome of the sale could have been much worse.