Women and the 2016 Election

As the commencement speaker at Howard University, President Obama optimistically noted that, “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now.” As the contentious primary contests draw to a close, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the likely Democratic and Republican nominees for president, and, as such, they have begun to shift to a general election rhetoric. Donald Trump has accentuated the gender of Hillary Clinton, asserting that it is an unfair advantage for her to play “the woman card.”  Women have figured prominently in the 2016 campaign, and as our president added at his speech at Howard, “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”  A review of the many ways to play “the woman card”—if that’s what you want to call it–reveal that no longer are women relegated to “staying home and baking cookies” (though, that is a nice option, if one chooses), the women who are part of this election are proof that unlike the small sphere of influence not that long ago relegated to women in the political world, the role of women have expanded and the real possibility that we may elect a woman president is only one part of that expansion.

Megyn Kelly, Fox New anchor has sparred publicly with Donald Trump after challenging his characterizations of women as “fat pigs, slobs – and disgusting animals” in the first presidential debate.  Barbara Bush, former first lady and mother of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, publicly wondered how women could vote for Trump and encouraged her son to interrupt more.

Melania Trump, business woman and former model, wife of Donald Trump, has encouraged her husband to act more “presidential” while his daughter,  Ivanka Trump, business woman and former model, who just gave birth to her third child, is one of the more articulate spokespeople for her father’s campaign, especially when juxtaposed with Sarah Palin, former governor and vice presidential candidate who commented that Paul Ryan may well be “Cantored ” for not supporting Donald Trump. Chelsea Clinton is a surrogate on the campaign trail for her mother while feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have had their moments in the spotlight during this campaign. North Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Marco Rubio’s failed presidential effort  and Lena Dunham, who insists that “I am a female, millennial voter” … “And I’m not only voting for Hillary, but I really like Hillary.”

And of course, there is Hillary Clinton, the front runner in the Democratic party and the Rorschach test of what it means to be a woman in America—she is a former “Goldwater Girl”, first lady, senator, secretary of state, mother and grandmother. And the voters who are women!  What do they really think about a woman president?  Most of course love the idea, but they are not voting for Hillary because she is a woman.  They are, however, donating to her campaign, as the NY Times noted that close to half of Mrs. Clinton’s “bundlers” — the volunteer fund-raisers who solicit checks from friends and business associates — are women, compared with about a third of President Obama’s 2012 bundlers. As Gail Collins noted in her  five decades long review of the women’s movement, When Everything Changed no woman would want to turn back the clock to the “Man Men” or “Apollo 13” days when a woman needed to be thin, perfectly made up with floors that gleamed to be worth anything.    

So, yes, the woman card – play it on in lots of different ways.  It is definitely not your mother’s woman card and positive proof of progress.





Deal Me In: Hillary Clinton’s Rhetoric of Inclusion


At a Philadelphia victory rally after Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania’s primary win, the Democratic front-runner responded to GOP rival Donald Trump’s accusation that she is “trying to play the ‘woman card’ by saying “deal me in.”  Her full quote:  “if fighting for women’s healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in,” revealed her stance on issues she is passionate about defending as president. This may be her most effective use of a rhetorical strategy in this campaign so far because it is a rhetoric of inclusion and puts her metaphorically “at the table” which has been a barrier for previous candidates who are first of their race, gender or religion to be elected.

It reminded me a little of the way Corazon Aquino used the language of her opponent to fashion a response to Ferdinand Marco’s description of her as “only a housewife.”  Aquino responded that “As a housewife, I held his hand as the life drained out of him in a self-imposed fast of 40 days, to protest a fine legal point about the civilian jurisdiction of a military court.”  The phrase became a commonly repeated phrase in Aquino’s speeches throughout the years, something “deal me in” could very effectively be for Clinton.




Let’s Remember the Positive, Historic Moment

Recently, Frank Bruni of The New York Times noted that Hillary Clinton is “preternaturally determined, resourceful and patient. It was a relatively positive column in a primary season of so much vitriol that the bright side can be difficult to see.

“Hillary Haters” are pointing to the ongoing Clinton drama. “Hillary Lovers” are rejoicing that she will be recognized for her historic presidential bid. I believe that it is good for all Americans to note that Hillary Clinton’s bid — whether it is a winning or losing one — is tremendous progress, simply because she is a front runner who has significant foreign affairs experience and most importantly for a female candidate, one who no one doubts would be tough enough to be president.

A quick review of two other notable female presidential candidates who made it to their political conventions reminds us that this particular moment in history has been a long time coming.

Margaret Chase Smith
At the Cow Palace in San Francisco on July 15, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the reserved Republican senator from Maine who made a bid for the presidency, was greeted with cheers from a reception of supporters who declared: “She is still in the race!”

Vermont Senator George Aiken nominated her at the convention, and one admirer noted, “Every woman, Republican and Democrat, owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Chase Smith because she has opened the door for a woman to serve in the presidency.” By the end of the convention, Margaret Chase Smith came in second with 27 delegates. She offered advice to future candidates when she said, “If I were to run again, I would organize every state and go for the delegates at least two years in advance.”

Shirley Chisholm
Eight years later, a New York congresswoman — the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm — received 151 of the delegates’ votes at the convention in Miami. She wanted to effect political change with the power of her delegates.

At a speech she said: “I’m just so thankful that in spite of the differences of opinions, the differences of ideology, and even sometimes within the women’s movement the differences of approaches, that here we are today at a glorious gathering of women in Miami.”

Hillary Clinton
Fast-forward to 2008. Hillary Clinton had her name placed in nomination at the Democratic National Convention. By doing so, Barack Obama honored her remarkable achievement, recognizing precedence for this, and paying a proper tribute. In addition, the 18 million voters who chose Clinton deserved the recognition.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton almost won the nomination. That is something no other woman in American political history has come close to accomplishing.

A woman could be president
In a poll I conducted of college-age women in 2009, more than 65 percent of the students believed that the 2008 presidential bid of Hillary Clinton made them think that a woman would be president in her lifetime. Whether a person is for or against a candidate, the presence of an outsider encouraged members of the same group to believe that it is possible for that person to become elected.

After eight years in the White House as first lady and nearly eight years as senator from New York, she served as secretary of state. Whether you are a “Hillary Lover” or a “Hillary Hater,” it is undeniable that her bid for the presidency has given presidential politics a major shove forward, something that’s easy to forget amid the rancor. After her impressive Super Tuesday win, she is likely to be the democratic nominee at the convention in Philadelphia.

Whether you are for her or against her, it is difficult to deny the historical magnitude of her successful strides. It’s good for all Americans to revel in the undeniable progress.




Talk to Me

Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech after losing the 2016 New Hampshire primary last night with her family by her side.  Commentators quickly noted that it seemed more of a pep rally and that she was looking forward, not back.

But pep rallies are meant to motivate, and Hillary Clinton’s distancing language  could not have motivated the segment of the population she needs most, the young vote.

“I know I have some work to do,” she said. “Particularly with young people.”

She went on:

“Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them, because I know I’ve had a blessed life, but I also know what it is like to stumble and fall. It is not whether you get knocked down that matters, but whether you get back up.”

This was such a Chris Christie look into the camera opportunity if there ever was one.  To really reach  young people, Hillary Clinton must speak directly to them with a message to them, such as:

“I have a special message for the young people.  Even if YOU are not supporting me now, I have always and will always support YOU.”

Every election is about language and all voters, including our young voters are listening to the candidates who speaks to us.



Memo To Hillary Clinton: What Not To Do Tuesday Night

I read a wonderful book on habits recently by one of my favorite self help authors, Gretchen Rubin.  Better Than Before is a book that offers insights to making better choices and developing better habits that help us maximize our lives.  It has me thinking a bit in the opposite direction, though, about things not to do, or, what for a lack of a better term, I’m calling “unhabits.”  One of my favorites is not to speak negatively about anything. I think that it serves no purpose and is a downer. For example, I recently met a woman who is already upset because winter will come.  She said, “I hate winter and now it is fall which means that winter will be next.” Hmmm, unless she relocates quickly, seems to me that she’s doomed. I mean, you can’t stop the winter, so try not to be so negative, OK?  It is too depressing.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about the debate coming up on Tuesday night and about how good a debater Hillary Clinton has been most of her life.  A story in today’s NY Times sums up Hillary’s history of outstanding debating.  I’m sure she is in overdrive right now prepping.  If I were advising her, I’d give her one big piece of advice, a “not-to-do” or an unhabit, if you will.  Here it is:  Don’t play the gender card–even a little.  Because in 2008 it really backfired.  Even though, my analysis of her debates reveals that she won them.  All of them.  She was more knowledgeable about issues, and quicker on her feet.

Presidential debates are important.  There was a time when presidential debates, lasted a few days in the news cycle, however the Internet has made debate performances live on in the collective minds and hearts of voters long after the initial airing.  

Even in the days of a short press cycle and limited video replay, some of the best debate performances in history have shaped presidential politics: the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960; the first Kerry-Bush debate in 2004, where John Kerry went from being way down in the polls to a few points ahead;  the Clinton town-hall debate in 1992, where Bill Clinton connected with voters and the patrician George H.W. Bush checked his watch;  the vice presidential debate of 1988 when Bentsen obliterated Dan Quayle with is “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re no Jack Kennedy” zinger, and the 1996 presidential debate where Al Gore bested Jack Kemp with his undeniable wonkiness, to name just a few.

With the first Democratic primary debate next Tuesday, from Las Vegas, there is much speculation on how Hillary Clinton will make the seemingly never-ending email story recede and her vision for America clear. How will she hold on to and expand her lead, showcase her strengths and counter the populist outsider, Bernie Sanders? Her strong performance at more than twenty Democratic presidential debates in 2008 offers a clue, but one thing she must not do is discuss her gender.  Once again she will be the only woman on the debate stage, and whether  or not there is a sense that her male opponents are attacking her, she needs to stay away from calling attention to her pioneering status as the first viable, non-symbolic front running woman candidate for president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton performed well in the debates in 2008 and she rarely stumbled. In her debate in Philadelphia, however, the sense that her male opponents were “piling on” made Republicans accuse her of playing the gender card, something that women candidates simply cannot do successfully.  Afterwards, during a speech at Wellesley, she noted that  “this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys’ club of presidential politics” further underscoring her trailblazing status, prompting opponents to complain that she was “using” her gender.  Later she clarified that “I don’t think they’re picking on me because a woman, I think they are picking on me because I’m winning.”

Shirley Chisholm walked away from her 1972 bid for the presidency predicting that we would have a black president before we have a woman president because “people are more sexist than racist.”

My co-authors, Ted Sheckels, Diana Carlin and I observed that women running for office are wise to show restraint when describing their history-making bid because gender rhetoric does not play as well.  Obama’s much lauded speech in March, 2008 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is widely seen as an important, even groundbreaking speech in American history because it confronted the country’s racial divide.  A speech on gender divide would not receive the same positive attention, perhaps because a women’s gendered struggle resonates with only a part of their audience.  The second wave feminism no longer has the same appeal it did.  So women candidates have to find a way to talk about gender issues to women beyond a certain age while acting fully empowered and talking about what they will do as president to women of a younger age.  To address two different audiences of women, while also addressing men, requires rhetorical restraint and finesse


We Can Make America Great Again by Insisting on Substantive, Dignified Rhetoric

The Reagan Library, the scene of tonight’s Republican debate, is one of my favorite Spring Break memories.  A few years back I had the supreme pleasure of traveling to picturesque Simi Valley, California to the Reagan Library archives to conduct research on Corazon Aquino.  My hope is that the majesty of the place with elevate the rhetoric, but if press leading up to the debate tonight is any indication, we are sadly in an age of uncivil discourse.

Now I’ll play the role of consultant for Carly Fiorina’s campaign:


Republican candidate Carly Fiorini

Because of the paucity of women at the presidential level of politics, the commentators on cable TV are already warning of the “unique nature” of having one woman among the sea of men tonight.  Male candidates are routinely advised not to attack women candidates, lest they appear bullying.  Admittedly, politics is a tough sport.  But Donald Trump, who admits he does not prepare for debates or any other public forum not only ignores that advice,  has dragged the sport to the lowest, ugliest level with his brutish observations of women. “Look at that face!  Would anybody vote for that?” he asked of his rival, Republican candidate   aclkCarly Fiorina. If I were Fiorina I would ask him for a public apology and ask him why he would put her down for her appearance in public so that he has to justify his comments on national television.  If she does that, it seems to me that the only next step for Donald Trump would be to drop out of the race and acknowledge that instead of discussing Ms. Fiorina’s appearance he should  apologize to her and the country for bringing the attention of national politics to such low, undignified and childish depths.  I’m sure that struggling families or students who can’t afford to go to college, or people who can’t afford health care don’t care about the appearance of any of our candidates.  I know I don’t.

Ms. Fiorina: call him on it.  Make him apologize nationally.  Urge him to drop out so that the election could proceed with the same sweeping beauty and beautiful grand dreams that are evoked by the setting of the breathtaking Reagan Library.  Then take that ballcap that has the slogan “Make America Great Again” Ms. Fiorina, and put it on your head.  By elevating the rhetoric of the election and calling for Mr. Trump to drop out, you will have done, just that.


The Apple Watch? The Fitness Assistant of My Shark Tank-Type Dreams? I’m Out

Imagine my surprise and delight after complimenting a tech colleague on her Apple Watch when she offered me a chance to try one!  I was very excited about it, especially since I used to imagine how all my weight and fitness goals could be met if I had a bracelet that would beep when I ate my allotted calories for the day and burned them off through exercise (and this was five years ago–before the Fitbit–darn it!).  I heard that *the reason* to love the Apple Watch was for its fitness components,  so for the past month I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch off and on and, so far, I don’t find it to be everything I had hoped:

Here’s why:

Since you have to have the I phone with you to keep your Apple Watch working, it is just. another. thing. to. charge.  I like efficiency!

It would not BE inefficient IF the watch lived up to my expectations.  So far it just makes me look a little show-offy. (that’s an official term) Talk to the watch, people.

My iphone app “Moves” counts my steps and MyFItnessPal helps me with calorie intake.  They are fine and handy.

Even though Apple products are known for their gorgeous designs, to me, the Apple watch  is NOT stylish (at least it isn’t *my* style).  The band is big, plastic, bright white and makes my wrist sweat.  And even though I tried to glam it up with some bracelets (see photo), I think it is kind of big and bulky and not that fashion-forward.

So, I’m going to use it through the fall semester, get a bit more training on the fitness apps it has and see if I change my mind.

My daughter, a devout runner, likes hers for the running and other fitness tracking, so I think there is a good support base for this, I’m just not in it since I don’t need the sleekness of it for my fitness calculations.  I can put my phone in my pocket or even my purse and it counts my steps.  But I’m going to let her show me a few of her Apple Watch favorite features to see if I will write a new blog in a few months saying that I can’t live without this watch.

If it would  beep when I’m done with my calorie intake (and save me from myself)……it would have my attention. Although I bet there will be an app for that for my iphone, and some studies are showing that people are eating to their quantification (not good).img_4367Now my  Mac Book Pro 13″ laptop with retinol display you could not prey from my cold dead hands…..but that’s a blog for another day.


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