In a recent Time magazine cover story, Hillary Clinton is credited for her “smart power.” The author appeared on CNN with anchor Carol Costello, who noted that “many people would still like to see Hillary Clinton run for president.” Specifically, Clinton is lauded for her ability to embrace the new communication methods for international relations while still mastering the traditional communication methods of diplomacy. It is this same rhetorical elasticity that made her such a compelling presidential candidate, though as Massimo Calabresi the article’s author states, her “closest aides” say she is not interested in staying in public service. Recent poll numbers show Hillary Clinton could save the democratic party in the 2012 race. Where was the media attention to Clinton’s “smart power” in 2008 when she was running for president?
What this new article on Hillary Clinton shows is that women in high positions of power and those aspiring to the presidency must possess considerable rhetorical finesse, and even when they do, the media may pay little attention. As a presidential candidate women candidates’ phrases will be scanned for the words that suggest high seriousness in a world with major economic and international problems. Rick Perry’s silly gesticulations or Herman Cain’s flip-flopping statements about sexual harassment make it to The Daily Show routines or a run on the major news networks, but they won’t disqualify them from the race. Women candidates who don’t exhibit brainpower, rhetorical sensitivity and likability simultaneously and consistently will be discounted as not ready for prime time. There is less room for mis-steps for women seeking the White House.
This is one of several imbalances between male and female candidates found in a forthcoming book I’ve co-authored with Theodore F. Sheckels and Diana B. Carlin on women and the US presidency: Gender and the American Presidency: Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced (Lexington Books, 2012).
Until there are more women running for president who overcome the considerable, yet often ridiculous barriers, the US presidency will remain an all-male affair.
Hardcover: 978-0-7391-6678-9, $85.00Paperback: 978-0-7391-6679-6, $36.99
324 pages, Lexington Books, 2012 by Sheckels, Gutgold and Carlin