A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars

Doreen Mattingly. Oxford Univ, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-046860-6
Mattingly chronicles the political career of her friend and former colleague Midge Costanza, a liberal feminist who became assistant to the president for public liaison under President Jimmy Carter—at the time, the highest position a woman had ever held in the White House. Described by Mattingly as tiny, stubborn, and loud-mouthed, Costanza was born to the working-class owners of a sausage factory in Rochester, N.Y., and used flirtation and a self-deprecating sense of humor in order to navigate the sexist world of 1970s politics. Her political appointment was loaded with symbolism and expectations: special interest groups counted on her to fight for their interests, and liberals took it as a sign of Carter’s commitment to social justice and women’s equality. But when Carter turned out to be less invested in women’s rights than Costanza had initially been led to believe, their partnership grew tense, leading to her eventual resignation. Mattingly provides an overwhelming amount of detail; the endless names and acronyms are difficult to keep track of and can prove daunting for readers who aren’t political junkies. Luckily, bouts of dry narration are broken up by colorful quotations from Costanza herself (she once said about her Thanksgiving birthday, “My father always told me that what they really wanted was a turkey, and they got me instead. There are those who would say they got both”). The biography is a fascinating and thorough look at the way second-wave feminism played out in the political arena, and highly relevant at this particular political moment. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-19-758335-7
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