Andy Puzder, we hardly knew ye.
That is, before he withdrew his nomination as Secretary of Labor this week, we kinda/sorta knew him as the hard-charging Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. guy.
Yup, as the longtime CEO of CKE Restaurants, Puzder is well known in the ad/marketing communities for developing a line of slick and uber-sexualized ads featuring very young female models, often in bikinis, working their mouth magic on messy, drippy, hugely-layer-cake-sized hamburgers.
This porntacular approach to burger-munching might even be called Puz-tacular since the guy was not only unrepentant about the sexism involved but happy to take credit for the style innovation. Recently, Puzder told Entrepreneur Magazine, “I used to hear [that] brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”
As a top/down CEO, used to controlling every bit of his operation without any apparent opposition, he’s an ideological twin, the living corollary of our new President — an outsider/iconoclast/businessman not afraid to make his tastes, brash opinions (and predilection for bikini models) known.
Certainly, had he proceeded with the hearings and had the questioning senators run the ads, I was looking forward to the pearl-clutching and hypocrisy expressed on both sides. (Are sexist commercials liberal or conservative?) In the context of the news shows that ran the spots as background for their Puzder nomination stories, the spots — one featuring a very young Paris Hilton hosing down a Bentley, another showing a 20-year-old Kate Upton overheating, touching herself, and combusting while scarfing down a Southwest Patty Melt — did seem outrageously creepy and leering.
But let’s leave the spots and what they say about the man, briefly, to go to the heart of the problem with the nomination: everything Puzder stood for as management (in some cases earning $10 million a year) was in direct contrast to what the ostensible job of Labor Secretary requires, which is to look out for the heath, safety, and welfare of workers.
You can nominate an anti-environmental guy for the EPA, and the trees and rivers won’t take to the streets.
In Puzder’s case, of course the unions opposed him but also hundreds of cashiers, counter people, and cooks got out and rallied in front of the St. Louis headquarters of Hardee's and the Anaheim, Calif., offices of CKE Restaurants, objecting to their low wages, (he’s against a $15-an-hour minimum wage) and complaining about being forced to work through mandated breaks and overtime without pay. The company has also been charged with sexual, racial and age harassment.
Some even carried fake robots — that they renamed “Puzbots” referring to a smirky interview that Puzder gave to Business Insider last March in which he sang the praises of robots over human workers, saying "[Machines are] always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case."
That’s the attitude that might make the 2% smile. But tough-guy Puzder (who, before taking the job at Carl’s Jr., was an attorney and anti-abortion advocate) also failed to appeal to many Republicans. Some Senate conservatives disliked him for being soft on immigration and were not amused when it was revealed that he had employed an undocumented housekeeper for years, although he later fired her and paid back taxes.
A bigger issue united both sides against him: Domestic violence. An old Oprah tape from 1990 surfaced, an episode called “High-Class Battered Women” in which his first wife, Lisa, in a sort of “Tootsie” disguise of curly wig and big glasses, testified that her ex-husband had verbally and physically abused her. In the course of the physical abuse, she said, he was careful not to leave marks.
She later recanted her testimony.
This reporting-recanting also aligns with a shameful pattern darkening the underbelly of the Trump Administration: Chief Strategist and Senior Advisor Steve Bannon’s first wife also filed domestic abuse charges against her husband before a divorce proceeding. Prosecutors pressed charges but they were dropped when she didn’t show up for the court date. (She says he forced her to stay away.) Ivana Trump, President Trump’s first wife, also included a sexual abuse charge in one of her books, which was removed and which she later recanted. One wonders what the price is for all of this recanting.
Certainly, men, used to all of the accouterments of power, don’t like to be stripped bare. Puzder pulled out of the running before he could be rejected and Trump named his replacement the next day: Alexander Acosta, a Florida International University law school dean and former assistant attorney general who would also be his first Hispanic cabinet member.
It’s a safer pick in that he has already made it through the Senate process three different times in three different roles. He’s also not seen as anti-labor.
I’m sure Puzder is pained, angry, and never expected this. When he dropped out, he reportedly said he was tired of the “abuse.”
Will it force him to question whether his various exploitations — of women and workers — comes off as out of step? Probably not.
He’ll just seek another high-flying power position that doesn’t open him up to such scrutiny.
Ironically, this failed nomination did open a window into a previously closed white male power system that includes domestic violence, which is now seen as unacceptable. And that inclination is in some way linked, down the chain, to seeing and treating women as tasty pieces of meat to be objectified. Not okay.
The other insight that struck me coming out of the failure of the Hardee’s guy: Ironically, Donald J. Trump would never make it through a Senate hearing for a Cabinet position.