One Tough Cookie

Women and girls in particular might scrutinize Barbara Boxer’s tactics and achievements and use them as inspiration.


Photo by Kelly Campbell

After 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and nearly 24 years as the junior senator from California, Barbara Boxer is retiring from elected office—but don’t expect her to disappear from the political arena.

The liberal Democrat who strove to carry into partisan battles Abraham Lincoln’s “angels of our better nature” is departing Washington, D.C., with plans to continue the practices she writes about in her new memoir, The Art of Tough. Free of the fundraising-for-self yoke a senate campaign requires, Boxer will escalate her involvement in her political action committee, PAC for a Change, and hand the baton and support to the next generation of progressive politicians who’ll fight like bulldogs for the causes to which she has been devoted.

Boxer’s 274-page unapologetically leftish liberal book mirrors her physicality (short), personality (targeted, but with an underlying graciousness), and her political style (no-nonsense, get the work done, admit mistakes, and learn from them to redirect). Regardless of whether or not a person agrees with her choices or likes her character, it’s impossible to read through the “Top Fifty Legislative Accomplishments” in the memoir’s appendix or the many stories of how bill’s were passed—and defeated—and not feel a dose of respect. Women and girls in particular might scrutinize Boxer’s tactics and achievements and use them as inspiration. The battles she fought within a paternalistic institution—Congress—are far from over, but that isn’t to say that honor isn’t due to Boxer and her colleagues, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Mikulski, Hillary Clinton, and other women she upholds as heroes.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s the inclusion of too many of Boxer’s lyrics. Music and songwriting, she writes, were important diversions; she even used them once to win equal access for women representatives to the House gym. But her poetry is more Disney than Dylanesque. If the lyrics purportedly stab political opponents’ underbellies, the prod comes via a feather, not a scalpel. Overall, the songs may be an effort to soften her tough-stance profile, but instead of making her seem more friendly—and why should a woman have to do that?—the overemphasis undermines the significance of her contributions toward peace, gender equity, environmental and civil rights protections, and more.

It would be a shame if citizens after the 2016 presidential election make the mistake of giving in to political fatigue and bypass Boxer’s memoir. That a woman from Brooklyn, N.Y., who as a young girl never aspired to hold office and has had a remarkable impact on American politics and history is in itself a legacy worthy of note.

The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life by Barbara Boxer (Hachette Books, 274 pp., $27) 


This report appeared in the December of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Dec. 16, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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