An unprecedented number of women are running for office this year, largely in response to the Trump administration’s anti-woman, anti-everyone-who-isn’t-a-rich-white-guy policies. Two of them, Abigail Spanberger and Elissa Slotkin, decided to do so after their representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They also happen to be former CIA agents, and have received a fair amount of glowing media coverage in the months leading up to their respective elections. A 2017 Elle profile speculated that Spanberger “could be [the] change” Congress desperately needs, and a TIME piece about women running for office positioned her as an antidote to Trumpism, noting that she once heard her 2-year-old chanting “Love not hate makes America great!”
The latest example is Glamour, which ran a piece on Wednesday highlighting Spanberger and Slotkin as anti-Trump progressives who may turn red districts blue. Spanberger is leading in the polls, and Glamour claims that Slotkin, who outraised the Republican incumbent by more than $100,000 in the first two quarters of her campaign, is “poised to be the Democratic nominee” in her district. Both are backed by EMILY’s List, a nonprofit that supports pro-choice female candidates, and Slotkin — who was an analyst during the war in Iraq — was also endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.
“I did three tours in Iraq and nobody ever asked me my party,” she told Glamour. “I know what it’s like when our government focuses on a mission and gets things done.” Spanberger, for her part, told the magazine that potential voters are impressed by her CIA tenure. “Women — men, too, but especially women — hear my background and say, ‘That’s badass,’” Spanberger said.
It’s exciting that so many women have been inspired to run for office — but it’s also important to read the finer print when it comes to candidates like Spanberger and Slotkin, however progressive they may appear at first glance. Fifteen years after the Iraq War began, two women who worked in counterterrorism and intelligence are running as progressives with a blessing from EMILY’s List. Spanberger, who is running in Virginia’s Seventh District, used to “persuade foreign nationals to share information with her as part of her CIA duties,” the piece explains; Slotkin, who is running in Michigan’s Eighth District, “eventuated caches of intelligence after the U.S. invaded Iraq.” And lest we forget, despite HRC’s endorsement of Slotkin, the CIA isn’t exactly known for upholding human rights, particularly in the Middle East, and particularly during the Iraq War. (A representative for Slotkin reached out to The Outline to clarify that HRC’s endorsement was due to her public support of the LGBTQ community.)
As Splinter’s Clio Chang recently suggested, EMILY’s List’s criterion for endorsing a candidate — that she be a Democratic, pro-choice woman — may no longer be enough to gauge how progressive a candidate is. Reporters who celebrate new women candidates simply because they’re endorsed by EMILY’s list should remember that: Simply positioning a candidate as a woman against Trump doesn’t necessarily paint a full picture of where she came from or what she stands for. Why not reckon a little more with the things that are harder to celebrate?
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Elissa Slotkin’s role at the CIA. She was an analyst, not an operative. This article has been updated to include a statement from Slotkin’s spokesperson.