Archive for August, 2012


The Motherlode of Poltical Weapons: The Spouse

1996.  It is getting to be a bit retro and still the moment of Elizabeth Dole descending the steps at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in her stylish, form fitting mustard silk suit is as vivid a memory now as it was the very night I watched her on my television.  At the time I was an “ABD” PhD student at Penn State and had been a lecturer of public speaking at area community colleges and Penn State Lehigh Valley for almost a decade.  I needed a dissertation topic that I could revel in and Mrs. Dole delivered big time.

Now, twenty-plus years into teaching, six books and much deliberative thought later my appetite is whetted again after seeing Ann Romney’s convention speech last night and a C-Span afternoon’s worth of Republic spouse speeches at  Republican conventions from 2000 to the present.  I’m inspired to think about some common threads in these women’s speeches and well, I think I hit the mother lode.     There seems to be a rhetorical imperative for the spouses of Republican presidential candidates:  motherhood.

Now, it is true that Elizabeth Dole has never been a mother in the biological sense, yet her maternal side was on full display during her 1996 convention speech when she sashayed her way around the convention hall to share the human side of Bob Dole.  Like a hostess at a grand Southern party, she was warm, cordial, and careful to advance her agenda.  As Molly Wertheimer and I wrote in Elizabeth Hanford Dole:  Speaking From the Heart (Praeger, 2004) “What another wife might say about her husband at a political convention may be very similar to what Elizabeth Dole said about Bob Dole in this speech.  But the ingenious way she said it, by strolling through the audience while telling stories and visiting with witnesses of his kindness, showed her ability to create a new kind of speech under a controlled condition.”  Indeed, Dole a political powerhouse in her own right, presented herself as a loving, kind marriage partner, and one whose ethos of humanity herself—as president of the American Red Cross—served as a kind of mother to the nation in its times of dire need.

Four years later I was in the audience at the GOP Convention in Philadelphia when Laura Bush addressed the audience.  I remember the press clippings prior to her speech describing her as a shy librarian terrified of her national debut.   On the stage were school desks filled with scrubbed-faced children as she spoke of her role as a mother and teacher.  She said: “George and I have been blessed throughout our 23 years of marriage with many interesting opportunities.  Our lives have changed enormously in the last six years.   He was elected Governor, we moved to Austin with our then 13-year-old twin teenagers, and since then, we’ve been through dating, driver’s licenses, prom night and just a few weeks ago, high school graduation.  Now we’re helping our daughters pack for college and we’re preparing for our next life crisis…empty nest syndrome.”  She described George W. Bush reading “Hop on Pop” to their daughters as he lied on the floor and the girls would literally hop on pop.   A story only a mother could tell.   And she did it again four years later when I saw her at Madison Square Gardens during the 2004 GOP Convention.  In both 2000 and 2004 I led groups of students through the conventions as experience learning in public speaking). A more experienced and relaxed speaker than she was in 2000 (all speakers improve with practice) this time she tied her husband’s initiatives in his first four years in office with her own passion for teaching and family.  She updated the audience on her family dynamics:  “These have been years of change for our family as well.  Our girls went off to college and graduated, and now they are back home…My mother moved out of my childhood home and into a retirement community.  We lost our beloved dog, Spotty, and had our hearts warmed by the antics of Barney.” 


 It is hard not to love a pet-loving mama.

In 2008 Cindy McCain warmed the crowd at the 2008 Convention in Minneapolis when she told the audience “Well, I hit a home run with John McCain!  I got the most marvelous husband and friend and confidant….and also the best father you could ever imagine.”  She spoke of her children:  “our son, Jack, our son Jimmy “headed for harm’s way” and of her experience witnessing the poverty in Bangladesh as a result of a cyclone.  It was then, she said, that she realized:  “There was something I could do.  I could take them home.  And so I did.”  The camera panned to their children—seven in all, four of whom they adopted.  She summed up her persuasive effort by saying:  “This is a good man, a worthy man…I know.  I have loved him with all my heart for almost 30 years.” 

Wife and mother extraordinaire, no doubt.

So this week when Ann Romney took center stage in Tampa, Florida looking at least a decade younger than her 63 years, I wondered what she would say to soften her husband in the same way that Elizabeth Dole and Cindy McCain had to do before her (not Laura Bush – many Americans really liked George W. Bush.  We even wanted to have a beer with him, remember)? 

Ann Romney, looking resplendent in a bright red dress said, “I want to talk to you tonight not about politics and not about party.  I want to talk to you from my heart about our heart.  Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.  I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago.  And the profound love I have and I know we share for this country.  I want to talk to you about that love so deep, only a mother can fathom it.  The love that we have for our children and our children’s children.”  She couldn’t have sounded more natural and genuine when she added, grinning “I know you guys…. I have heard your voices.”  A natural speaker and a great spokesperson for moms.  I loved hearing that it is the moms who hold things together a little more.  “I love you, women! And I hear your voices.  You are the best of America!” 

Oh, Mama!  Ann Romney was really good.   Relaxed, natural, warm and believable.

These women can speak in a credible way about the candidates like no one else can.  I’m going to dig deeper to find threads of similarities in their messages and examine why their speeches are crucial to the success of their spouse candidates.  It is why I was alarmed when I heard that Ann Romney’s speech may not be covered by network television because of the threat of a hurricane.  As these four Republican women have demonstrated, the spouses of these candidates are potent political forces. 



Elizabeth Dole 1996 Convention

Elizabeth Dole 1996 Convention


Looking For Hopeful Signs for the Advancement of Women and Leadership

For those of us who write about women in politics, 2008 was a year to remember, to say the least.  Hillary Clinton came close to winning the Democratic nomination for president and Sarah Palin burst on to the scene as John McCain’s running mate.  It a year of very visible progress for women at the highest level of elected office in the United States and both Clinton and Palin dominated the media.   Even though neither Hillary Clinton nor Sarah Palin won election, we were reminded constantly of the viability of women at the highest level.

But where are the women now?  In 2012 no woman is on the national ticket.  Does that mean that all progress for women in politics is lost?  Where can we look to find evidence that women are visible in this election, absent a woman on the national ticket?

Although not nearly as potent as seeing a woman run for president, two women will have voices at the national level this election year.  Candy Crowley of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC were selected to moderate a presidential and vice presidential debate, respectively. Crowley, host of CNN’s “State of the Union,” becomes the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate.    According to St. Louis University Professor of Communication Diana Carlin, a former advisory board member of the Commission of Presidential Debates, “while Crowley and Raddatz may ask the same types of questions that male moderators would ask, it is important to put role models up front and center. A common argument about the need for diversity in visible places is that ‘we cannot imagine what we haven’t seen.’ Seeing strong women pose tough questions to presidential and vice presidential candidates reminds us that women are equally qualified to participate in the political arena.”

In addition to the powerful role modeling that women moderators provide, it was also the way that both Crowley and Raddatz were chosen that may signal that the lack of women on the national ticket is temporary.    The selection of Crowley and Raddatz came after an intense grassroots effort led by three New Jersey teenagers. Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis  created an online petition, and solicited more than 150,000 signatures.  It was through a civics education program at their high school that the women became aware of the need of more women in positions of power.  If women are to rise in American politics it will be because young people like these extraordinary young women will make it happen.   

Looking to young women is something that The White House Project, an advocacy group aimed at promoting women’s leadership in business and politics has been doing for years.  The organization has once again endorsed the “Barbie for President” doll. While Barbie is a toy that has come under criticism from feminist groups because of its appearance, The White House Project  believes that putting the doll in the hands of young girls reminds them that they too can be president.

The notion that seeing women in positions of power can lead to the election of more women at the highest level has been borne out in research.  In a poll I conducted after the 2008 election, college age women reported that they believe a woman will be elected president in their lifetime because of the bids of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.   Visibility is a key to success in American politics and furthermore speaking confers a position of power.  To have Crowley and Raddatz asking questions of our candidates reminds voters of the power of women in politics. 

In addition to the moderators, we may also find clues in the words and actions of the spouses of the candidates and how their role has changed over the years.   How does the role of Hillary Clinton, secretary of state,  just names #2 on the Forbes list of ‘most powerful” women remind us of the potential of women leaders.  Do  women governors, speakers at the conventions and other women politicians who serve as pundits on television impact the continuation of progress for women in politics?   

So 2012 is no 2008 in terms of women on national tickets, but we can still consider the advancement of women in politics, and thanks to three teenage girls in New Jersey, we can be hopeful that women will continue to make a difference on the national stage.


Where are the Women in 2012?

2008 was almost too much for people like me who study women in politics.  Can we reminisce for a moment?  Hillary Clinton, former first lady and senator of New York almost won the democratic nomination for president.  Sarah Palin, whose name many of us didn’t even know how to pronunciate at first burst onto the scene as gun-toting mother of five who looked more than a little like Tina Fey. 

I wrote two books, Almost Madam President:  Why Hillary Clinton ‘won in 2008 and Gender and the American Presidency:  Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced (co-authored with Ted Sheckels and Diana Carlin) blogged and commented to my heart’s content.  It was a very good time.  But now, with no woman on the ticket in 2012, where can we look to gain clues about how women will advance in politics absent a woman on a national ticket?  

Until the election I will identify the significant women of 2012 in upcoming blog posts and consider their impact on the election. 

Who are they?  The wives of the candidates?  Secretary of State Clinton? Governors?  Senators? Candy Crowley, the debate moderator?  What about the women political pundits?  Can they be a voice for women?  You’ll have to read my blog to see what I uncover.

I’ve been thinking that the progress for women gained in  2008  (and before) must not be lost even in an election cycle barren of women candidates.


Don’t tell me that the only woman representing a candidate is the one in the box for sale at Toys R Us!

Stay tuned!


The Sport of Cheerleading Deserves Recognition

As summer winds down, the fall sports season is just getting started. Everyone loves an entertaining game of small town football, field hockey, soccer, and other competitive endeavors, and the Lehigh Valley is no exception. However, one thing in particular that deserves more recognition is the athleticism and dedication of high school cheerleaders. While, yes, once upon a time, cheerleaders often graced the sidelines simply for their pretty smiles and perky dance moves, cheerleading has evolved into quite the athletic competition.
Pompoms and megaphones aside, cheerleading has developed into competitive routines based on stunting/pyramids, jumps, tumbling, and dancing outside of the sidelines. In fact, PIAA has officially declared cheerleading a sport for the 2012-2013 school year, with a statewide competition being held in Hershey at the beginning of February. By doing so, PIAA has given high school cheerleading programs across the state a fair and honest chance at a genuine state title. (Before, squads had the option to compete at privately run regional competitions—mainly under the Universal Cheerleaders Association or the National Cheerleaders Association.)
Cheerleaders will now have the privilege of participating in a true school sport with rankings, rivalries, and a defined competition season. Cheer programs across the state will begin to become more uniform as distinctions are made from sideline cheerleading to competitive cheerleading. Not only is PIAA’s recognition important for the fairness of competition, but it also answers the age-old question if cheerleading is in fact a sport: competitive cheerleading, yes, sideline cheerleading, no.
Furthermore, another positive of the official sanctioning of cheerleading is safety. Recently, ESPN ranked cheerleading the second most dangerous contact sport in high school, just under football. Both stunting and tumbling contribute to a high risk of head and neck injuries in competitive cheerleading. Before, safety was overseen by AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators). While coaches and athletic directors should have carried out any safety standards, nothing more than a slap on the wrist or a deduction from a competition judge would have occurred. PIAA will now have authority over the skills athletes should be allowed to compete in tandem with the AACCA.
Another important aspect of cheerleading that all sports enthusiasts should be aware of is the hard work and training that goes into becoming a cheerleader. Cheerleaders often train year ‘round to achieve skills and perfect the ones they already have. Cheerleaders will dedicate much time to training at their schools’ weight rooms, their own gyms, plus gymnastic and cheerleading training facilities to keep in tip top shape. Cardiovascular endurance as well as a strong core is essential for becoming a talented cheerleader. All-star programs (purely competitive cheerleading squads) are increasing in popularity as well as all cheerleaders train consistently to give the best performances during peak competition season from January to March.
Lastly, the Lehigh Valley in particular should keep their eyes peeled for their local cheerleaders—they’re good. The Lehigh Valley is already booming with talented high school programs that opt to compete, some even participating in UCA Nationals in Orlando, Florida come mid-February. The Colonial League holds their annual league competition in mid-November as the Lehigh Valley Conference dukes it out in December. Districts are typically held in the last week of January.
With that being said, cheerleading is yet another outlet for those with a passion to compete. Cheerleading, like any sport, is based on training hard, perfecting skills, and performing at one’s best, all while building character, teamwork, and work ethic along the way. High school cheerleading will always proudly carry the tradition of supporting other sports teams throughout the year, but it’s also time for everyone to know that the spirited students cheering on the sidelines come Fall, are also hardworking athletes with their own sport and season.

Emi Gutgold is a senior at Northwestern Lehigh High School where she is a four year member of the Varsity Cheerleading team as well as Class President. She is a 2x UCA All-American as well as a 1x NCA All-American. Emi trains at Rocket Elite All-Stars in Easton, Pennsylvania.

August 2012
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