Q & A: Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz pens a national Creators Syndicate column and teaches journalism at Kent State University. The author of two books also worked for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for nearly 18 years before leaving in 2011. 

Schultz's unique Facebook page has more than 152,000 followers who share their opinions amid the myriad and robust comment threads. The Ashtabula native lives in Cleveland with husband, Senator Sherrod Brown.

Fresh Water's Erin O'Brien caught up with Schultz last week to chat about everything from the state of feminism in America and Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump and all those whispers about her husband being tapped to run as Vice President in the upcoming election.

Let's talk about your Facebook page, which not only curates top notch news stories from coast to coast, it also has a subtle way of putting Cleveland stories on the national stage and bringing national topics home to Cleveland.

That's certainly one of the primary goals of it.

I have never felt that self-defensiveness about being a Clevelander. We always hear about the inferiority complex. I never felt that. I just felt that we weren't getting the word out. We weren't acknowledging all the big minds and the all the voices – particularly the women and people of color – that make us unique in the Midwest; that makes us relevant nationally. There's nothing going on in Ohio that isn't happening around the country and vice versa. People should care about what's going on here.

I always cared about politics – always – long before I knew Sherrod. I know our importance in national elections. One of the things that's driven [the Facebook page] for me is [Ohio] should matter more than once every four years.

You left the Plain Dealer in 2011. Do you miss it?

One of the things I do miss about the PD is I felt such an immediate tie to readers here [in Cleveland]. Facebook has really made up for that.

I hated cleveland.com and the anonymous comment stuff. I hated being on the receiving end of so much of it. I started experimenting with Facebook because I was certain if you could require identities of people and have spirited discussions, you could do it with civility.

I had no idea it would take off the way it did – none

[My Facebook page] also helped me see the benefit of being able to weigh in when I want to, particularly owning my own narrative when some reporters and bloggers want to cast me as someone I'm not. That has really almost come to a complete halt because I'm on social media so much.

I'm so seldom involved with any local media. The Plain Dealer doesn't run my column. It could, but it doesn’t.

Speaking of those nasty comments, you always manage to always deflect the hate. How do you stay so soft on the inside and tough on the outside?

The sharing is what helps, because I can make them the punch line by sharing … and you've seen some of the funny threads we get. My other quiet agenda is I want other women to see people can call you all sorts of things, but it doesn’t mean that’s who you are.

We tend to internalize our critics. We give so much more weight to our critics than to those who believe in us. It just seems inherent in so many women. I don’t want us to be like that.

You have railed about Donald Trump's misogyny on Facebook and in your column. As the country watches the first woman make a viable run for POTUS, what do Hillary Clinton's trials and the "woman card" phenomenon say about the status of feminism in the United States?

Right after I started at the Plain Dealer – I was 36 when I got hired there – I was aware of sexism in the newsroom, sexism out in the world, but I was also aware of having people underrate you and having low expectations of you. I love when people think I'm harmless. And I love that I look increasingly harmless the older I get – I think that's great. Whatever throws them off (laughs).

If you had told me 20 years ago at age 38 that at age 58, I would still be having these kinds of conversations with our daughters and now thinking of our granddaughters, I think I would have been pretty discouraged. I'm glad I didn't know what was coming.

What's happening to Hillary has happened to so many of us for so long, I'm really over the shock of it. I'm over mincing words. I guess I'm even beyond being disappointed about having to talk to our daughters and granddaughters.

I'm really glad the whole country is talking about it. Maybe that's the eternal optimist in me, but I've earned this optimism. It's a real and true optimism born of experience.

If Clinton is elected, do you think she'll be able to reestablish loyal opposition with the GOP?

Mitch McConnell said, right after Barack Obama was elected, that his number one goal as party leader was to make him a one-term president. You can call us partisan for pointing that out, but we're not the ones who started that fight.

I think it might be different [for Clinton] in a couple of ways. I mean no disrespect to the President – I'm a big fan overall of Barack Obama, but especially in the beginning of his administration, he did very little to build relationships, particularly within his own party.

He just cast all of congress as a problem; and he didn't have a history of relationships that Hillary Clinton has. I think that might benefit her. I don't know.

I think one of the things that will help her is the misogyny coming out of Donald Trump. It's going to make some Republicans in leadership – I suspect – a little more reluctant to look like they're on his side of the language. I'm hoping that's going to force more of those conversations.

Understood, but right now it sure feels like hate is back in style.

Most of us are familiar with this sort of thing. It's always been out there. Social media has really magnified the voices of these people. The difference is they can be very loud and anonymous about it [now]. They can show up and feel important because a man named Donald Trump – who does not care at all about them and never has – suddenly tells them he loves them.

I understand how so many white working class men feel disempowered now. They used to be able to support their families. They used to be able to make big things. They were America. They don't feel that way now.

I actually understand the anger of that – as much as I can as this woman who's not living their lives. I don't mean to suggest "I know how you feel," but I can certainly hear them.

And the politicians?

Hate is profitable for some in elected office. For some elected officials, it’s a bottomless pit of "me" for attention and they'll do whatever they can to get that attention. They don't care if it's negative or positive. They just want to hear that noise. They want to hear their name in that noise.

Let's bring it home. Do you think Ohio might have it's own "bathroom bill?"

I've been saying this for years and I'm so glad to see this happening: This whole anti-LGBTQ movement is the death knell of a dying dragon.

The 800-pound gorilla won't be denied: what about the vice president noise surrounding your husband, Senator Sherrod Brown?

I'll be honest with you. I was just joking – sort of joking – with a friend last night: my list of friends who are supposed to be on my side has really grown short. Because it's amazing to me how many feel free to pick up the phone and say, "Connie, you need to let him do this."

What do I do then? I don't mean … never make me central to the argument here, but all of a sudden you're just this appendage again, which is stunning.

But the most important thing for me is that Sherrod doesn't want to do this.

I understand that I am married to a man who is a public servant to the marrow of his bones and if he's asked, I understand how that's going to go and I respect him for that and I love him for that, of course. But I also know he really means it when he says he loves being in the Senate. He loves his job.

And the thing we're both concerned about is if he runs, Kasich appoints his replacement for two years and that gives a Republican an incumbent's advantage in '18. People seem to keep glossing over that.

If we win a lot of seats in the Senate in this election, which we might with Trump – we might win a number of them, it still matters that Ohio has a Democratic senator. I also do not want to be dismissive of what a lot of people mean when they say they want him to run. They admire Sherrod. They respect him. He really is a true believer. Who you think he is, that is who he is.

We're both die-hard liberals, obviously, no matter what someone wants to tell us because now we support Hillary. (That's been so amusing – NOT.) But I've been disappointed by some of the outreach by people. I love how one person said, "Well Connie, you've remade yourself before, you can do it again."

Huh. Okay … who would you like me to be? What do you think I ought to be this time? It's kind of interesting. Again, I don't at all mean to make it about me. I have just found that response fascinating at this point in my career.

Back to Cleveland. Will this be a deflated boomtown after the RNC's elephants pull up stakes and lumber along?

I'm not impressed that they're going to paint all the fire hydrants in downtown Cleveland before the RNC gets here. I think that I want to see what they're going to do for our neighborhoods.

It has to come from the top. We have to be committed to the notion that nobody is discardable. We've got incredible poverty. Look what happened to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood – one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. We owe these neighborhoods more than this. It's hard, hard work. It's slow work.

Fair enough, now what's your favorite thing about this town?

I feel like family whenever I'm in the city. I had two people come up to me just as I was walking up to the coffee shop. One of them – it was very funny – said to me, "You look just like Connie Schultz!"

I said, "That is a damn good thing because that’s just who I am."

I love that about this city. It's such a small town feel in some ways and people are so approachable. I love that they feel like they can come up to me. I want them to tell me their stories or something they want me to know about. I love that they want to show me a picture of their grandkid or their dog. In some ways we are such a big neighborhood, just one big neighborhood.

I also love that we're scrappy. We really are. We are the scrappy nice people in the Midwest.

But aren't we reinventing ourselves?

I would say we're rediscovering ourselves, and so much of what were finding was already here.

We're not good at tooting our own horn – we know that. First of all, it's not the midwestern way. City boosters do it, but it's not the way of the region. It's not the way we are as people.

Reinventing ourselves means, to me, helping the rest of the world – certainly the rest of the country – see what we’ve known all along about ourselves.

I'm very excited about this part of the country. I always have been.

Schultz's comments have been lightly edited for space and readability.

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.