Archive for January, 2010


Where do ideas come from?

I was inspired when I opened The Morning Call today and  read about a woman who battled oral cancer and wrote a book to help families faced with cancer. What a way to be a victor.  Every time I open a newspaper I think of the many good ideas and good feelings I get from reading stories like that.  A few weeks ago I was touched when I read a story about the cantankerous Andy Rooney who wonders why he would retire–even though he is  91–he grouchily inquired:  “retire from what, life?”  

When Nancy Coco, director of The Lehigh Valley Writing Project  invited me to share  where my ideas for writing come from at Lehigh Valley Writing Project’s “Best Practices” Conference that will be held tomorrow in Fogelsville, I was forced to consider where they do indeed, come from.  The short answer:  the newspaper.  The long answer:  everywhere.  People, places, things, the weather, an attitude, books, colors, even my dog.

I struggled to put together a presentation because I don’t consider myself much of a writer.   Gail Collins is a wonderful writer.  I’m a speech professor who writes about speaking.  Sometimes I joke that if I could orally interpret my books they would sell better.  I’m only half-joking.  So, I made a partial PowerPoint and I hope I inspire my audience with some of the ways I have come up with book projects.    One of my former students  emailed me to say she will be in my session.   She’s all grown up, married and a teacher now.  Talk about pressure.  Now, there’s a plot idea….


What I expect President Obama to say

I’ve assigned the viewing of  tonight’s State of the Union address to my speech classes.  That means that I’d better not only watch myself, but consider in advance what I expect President Obama to say in his first State of the Union address,  and how I expect him to say it.

I think he will tell us, without buttering it up, the state of the union.  I do not think he will be able to declare that “the state of the union is strong”  as so many past presidents have done.   I do think he will remind us that he inherited a mess and that he is trying to make it better.  I think he may even use a little humor to tell us that while two wars, a struggling economy and working through health care reform is no picnic, there are some reasons to smile.  I think the charismatic candidate we saw on the campaign trail will be recognizable again.

I also think that President Obama will ask us to do our part.  With the amazing-looking  iPad launched today,  (my husband asked if I mind if he sells the Kindle I bought him) America is feeling inventive again.  I think he will tap into that Steve Jobs genius and encourage us to be the next Steve Jobs.  Or raise him.

Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and science at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of several books including Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).


Women can be sexist, too. Oh, Oprah! Not you!

One of the difficulties women politicians face is the undue attention paid to their looks instead of their words.  That’s why I was surprised when media giant Oprah Winfrey stopped her train of thought in an interview to comment on a curly haired Sarah Palin in an interview recently on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  For years  rhetorical scholars and political scientists who focus on gender have noted  the tendency of the press to focus on the appearance of women politicians (hair, hemlines and husbands) instead of their stands on issues.  Researchers conclude that it is a major drawback to the success of women candidates.   While simply describing a woman’s appearance (as one would a man) might be considered thorough reporting, stopping an interview (before even really starting it) to call attention to a new hairstyle was a belittling move on the part of Oprah Winfrey.   Television is indeed a visual medium, but no doubt, Winfrey’s high pitched  “what ya do with your hair?” query at the beginning of this televised interview made most viewers tune out anything Palin said to weigh-in themselves on Palin’s new look. 

Shame on you, Oprah.


Blog, Don’t Jog! Better yet: Blog and Jog (not at the same time)

I’m quite excited to say to my students, family, friends–really anyone who will listen to me–that I blog now.  A few crabby people asked:  “Who actually reads your blog?”  Crabby people are annoying, aren’t they?  I mean, I don’t know who reads my blogs (ok, my husband’s been keeping up pretty well) but that’s not the point, I say to the crabby people!  Preparing for an upcoming speech about the writing process, I found this NY Times article that gives a really good reason why you should blog:  it could lead to a book deal.   But even if blogging doesn’t lead to a book deal, blogging helps me to generate ideas that could lead to books.    And I’ve read more than a dozen blogs that at some point say:  I feel better now that I blogged about this. 

So hold on crabby non-bloggers and blog nay sayers.  Blogging is a good thing.  Like town criers of the past and the op/ed pages of the newspapers, bloggers raise public discourse.  And who knows, in addition to possibly  feeling better because you blogged about it (you know who you are, venting bloggers) you may even score a book deal.

So resolve to blog!  Even if no one reads it.

 Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).


More women governors will lead to Madam President

Why don’t more women governors become presidential candidates?  Barbara Lee, president of the Barbara Lee Foundation created a guide, titled “Keys to the Governor’s Office” to help women running for governor.  At first, her interest was on women and the presidency, but she notes that “as I understood more about the paths to power, it was clear that electing a woman president would become a reality only after we unraveled voters’ complex reactions to a woman seeking full executive authority.”

Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project also notes the importance of the role of governor to increase women’s participation on the national stage.  “Look at governors from large states,” she told me when contemplating who may win the presidency.  Brenda DeVore Marshall and Molly A. Mayhead, editors of Navigating Boundaries:  The Rhetoric of Women Governors, note, “the increasing importance of the state governor throughout the history of the country, coupled with women’s steadily expanding role in the office, demonstrates that the face of leadership has changed.  It also indicated that examining the women who are governors in America would be a good place to start when identifying women most likely to make successful bids for the presidency.  But that doesn’t seem  the case and it begs the question:  “Why don’t more women governors run for president?”

Currently, there are six women governors.  Jennifer Granholm of Michigan is out because of her Canadian birth.  Still, of the five women governors eligible for the presidency, rarely do we hear of them as contenders.  They include Linda Lingle, Republican of Hawaii, who like Democrat Chris Gregoire have won two terms and enjoy high approval ratings.  M. Jodi Rell, Republican governor of Connecticut has announced her retirement.  Other governors include the newly elected Beverly Perdue, Democrat of North Carolina and Jan Brewer who as secretary of state of Arizona was next in line to succeed Janet Napolitano when she became Secretary of Homeland Security.  Though a small cadre, it begs the question:  why don’t the names of these women don’t come up when presidential politics are discussed? 

Is the rough media treatment of women candidates a deterrent?  Are women who would otherwise plunge into presidential politics thinking twice when they consider the sexist media treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin?

Communication scholar Erika Falk, notes in her book Women for President:  Media Bias in Eight Campaigns  that “if women have a negatively skewed  impression of their chances of winning they may be less likely to run, and this may be the most important and worrisome potential outcome of press  coverage of women.”

Governorships are the surest paths to the presidency.   When we elect more women governors and more women governors become presidential candidates then a woman president will be more likely.

 Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).


Fox News Sly Move for Sarah Palin

She was  a small town mayor, a hockey mom with a large brood who took the Alaskan political scene by storm to become the youngest and first female governor of a state known for  its rugged frontier and Native heritage.  Her inaugural rhetoric invoked a distinctive Alaskan style when she paid tribute to the first woman to win the Iditarod, Libby Riddles.  She said:  “She was a risk-taker, an outsider.  She was bold and tough.  Libby, you shattered the ice ceiling.  Thank you for plowing the way.”   

When John McCain named her as his running mate in  August  2008, news commentators were unsure of the pronunciation of her name:  was is Puh-lin or Pay-lin?  Little was known about her except what the 24/7 news cycle was putting forward in a continuous loop:  a former beauty-queen; a moose-hunter;   mother of five.  When I wrote Paving the Way for Madam President in 2006, a book that chronicles the lives of five women who ran for president, I spent a considerable part of the last chapter positing what women were in the pipeline to emerge as national figures.  At the time—four short years ago—Sarah Palin was still mayor of Wasilla.  Her name appears nowhere in a book about women and the United States presidency.

Recently, Fox News announced that Sarah Palin will become a commentator. 

While quitting the governorship was a bad political move for anyone who wants to be president, Sarah Palin may make up some of that damage with her new national presence.  What she lacked in interpersonal agility as a vice-presidential candidate, she may quickly learn to overcome with the media exposure (and training) she’ll get on Fox.  What detractors may be reluctant to admit is that Sarah Palin’s new national television opportunity may be just the preparation she needs to shed her distinctly Alaskan style for one that will play as well in Kalamazoo as it will in Ketchikan.   Those of us who understand the power of media exposure realize that Sarah Palin’s new television gig may just turn caricature Sarah into presidential candidate Sarah. Stay tuned.

Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).


Public speaking makes dreams come true

On Monday let us all pause and reflect on the power that Martin Luther King, Jr. had to create change in our society.  We should also consider that much of his advocacy came through speech.  On August 28, 1963 King delivered a speech that stirred the nation when he called for racial equality.  In front  of the Lincoln memorial and before a crowd of 200,000 King addressed his followers with soaring oratory.  The speech is widely considered to be the greatest speech in American history.

We may never get a Martin Luther King, Jr. moment, but we can create better lives for ourselves and others through public speaking.   What is your dream?  A better program for your daughter at school, a promotion at work, or maybe you have political aspirations.  The only way to become a good public speaker is to speak.  So, take a communication course and  build upon the skills that you already have to create confidence and refine your message.  Offer to speak to a college classroom, to church members, or a civic group.  By refining your communication skills you are making your dream come true, whatever that dream is.

And on Monday:  Remember the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the change that came through speech.

Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of several books.  Her latest, Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2009 contends that Clinton was able use a variety of rhetorical options to become the first woman front-runner candidate for president in U.S. history.

January 2010
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