Time for Madam President

Posted in: Politics

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to announce early this year whether or not she will again seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination for 2016. Smart money is betting she will go for it. Many Democrats would like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is a bit more progressive than Mrs. Clinton, to have a go at it. But smart money only sees Mrs. Warren stepping up if Hillary Clinton does not. Frankly, I think it would be great to see a Clinton-Warren ticket.

If Republicans have a woman they believe is ready for the Oval Office, it is a well-kept secret. While their new senator for Iowa, Joni Evans, may be the best woman in Washington at castrating pigs, she is clearly not ready to assume the presidency (or vice presidency). Sadly, part of the move of the GOP to more a conservative ideology has been at the expense of women, and their developing leadership skills. As the GOP takes control of the new Congress, they have given women three of forty-one committee chairs in the Senate and one meaningless chair in the House. Republican friends in Washington tell me that the former attorney general of New Hampshire, Senator Kelly Ayotte, has presidential potential, but she is not yet ready.

It wasn’t always this way in the Republican Party, and it could have been the GOP who led the way. In 2000 Elizabeth Dole (who I knew as Elizabeth Hanford when we worked together at the Nixon White House) ran for president. Elizabeth sought the GOP nomination several years after her husband Kansas Senator Bob Dole had also run for president. She is whip-smart, well-educated and knows Washington. She worked in three White Houses (Johnson, Nixon and Reagan), held two Cabinet posts (Transportation and Labor), and served as the head of the American Red Cross for eight years—not to overlook she served in the U.S. Senate for six years. In 2000 I thought she was certainly more qualified than the man who won the GOP nomination: George W. Bush.

Elizabeth Dole is no fool, and notwithstanding the fact she was polling within striking distance of defeating George W. Bush for the nomination, she withdrew in October 2000 because of lack of GOP money (read: men) which was making it impossible to run. Studies of her campaign show that she also experienced the fate of women at the time who were not taken seriously as presidential contenders, so she received far less press attention than men who were significantly behind her in the polls. As George Bush headed into the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, reports had Mrs. Dole on his short-list to be named his vice presidential nominee, but as later became clear the man vetting her for that job—Dick Cheney—had his own ideas about who might best fill that role.

Notwithstanding Mrs. Dole’s conservative voting record in the Senate, she is not a political ideologue, rather a person of great common sense. As the former president of the Red Cross, for eight years, she knew how to deal with crisis—that is a big part of the business of the Red Cross. So it is difficult to imagine that she would have used the 9/11 terror attacks to frighten the nation into adopting the troubling laws the Bush-Cheney Administration embraced, that she would have authorized the use of torture, and promoted the Patriot Act (which have largely eviscerated Americans privacy), or taken the country to war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, with its resulting blowback that has kept the United States at war in the Middle East to this day. And the finance and consumer savvy Mrs. Dole would not have likely ignored the fact that American banks were gathering and selling massive amounts of worthless mortgage-backed securities that would create the Great Recession by 2008, from which we are also still recovering.

Mrs. Dole’s failed candidacy was the first occasion I began thinking seriously about the need for a woman to become president, any politically savvy and sane woman who understands the world stage. I say sane because there is one type of woman I feel strongly who should never be elevated to any office beyond Congress, if voters are so foolish as to elect such a woman to the House or Senate—and some have been elected. As it happens these women are found exclusively in the Republican Party. They are the authoritarian personalities I described in Conservatives Without Conscience who are known as right-wing authoritarian leaders and social dominators, or “double-highs.” Social science reveals that although women rarely fall into this category, it is possible. The leading scholar on right-wing authoritarianism, Robert Altmeyer, says that Margaret Thatcher was a classic “double-high.” As for currently active women in the United States, Altmeyer named Ann Coulter and Michele Bachman as prototypical authoritarian social dominators. Heaven help us if we get a female double-high authoritarian in the Oval Office, for we’ve already had a male double-high, Richard Nixon, and that did not work out so well.

As many did, I thought again about a woman being elected president when Hillary Clinton, who was more qualified and seasoned than Barack Obama, lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. It seemed national guilt over racism trumped our total lack of guilt over sexism. Paradoxically, as scholars Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli note in Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders, sexism may be a more insidious form of discrimination than racism, for “sex provides the strongest basis of classifying people; it trumps race, and age, and occupation in the speed and ubiquity of categorizing others.”

In 2008, I was surprised Mrs. Clinton’s campaign took the position that she was a woman who could do a man’s job. I thought she had it backwards. If she, or any other woman, pursues our highest office, she should understand that the American presidency today requires leadership skills that are more natural to women than men.

History has made clear what type of leadership works best in the American presidency, the transformative leader as first explained in the seminal work by James MacGregor Burns, Leadership (1978), which catalogued and characterized political leaders as transforming and/or transactional. Professor Burns’s descriptive analysis of leadership styles have become the norm for the study of organizational psychology and management, not to mention history and political science. Burns later wrote The Power to Lead: The Crisis of the American Presidency in 1984 addressing the dearth of transforming leaders and the abundance of transactional leaders. Burns found most politicians to be transactional leaders, “a horse trader with his followers, offering jobs for votes, say, or support of important legislation in exchange for campaign contributions.” A transforming leader, on the other hand, “looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower,” Burns explained.

There are literally hundreds of books, dissertations, and monographs examining the leadership styles Burns defined, and of particular interest for this book are the studies showing that women are natural transformative leaders. For example, when books like Why the Best Man for the Job Is a Woman (Harper Collins, 2000) and articles like Business Week’s special report with the headline “New studies find that female managers outshine their male counterparts in almost every measure,” along with a number of similar such studies, suggested women were better decision-makers than men, they provoked academics who had found little difference between men and women as leaders to take a further look at all existing studies of men versus women as decision makers, a “meta-analysis” study (statistically combining some 45 studies to answer a question) to compare women and men as leaders/decision-makers. What did they find? A study titled “Transformational, Transactional, and Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles” that concluded: “The contemporary claim that women have superior leadership skills is bolstered by our meta-analysis of 45 studies.” In brief, these researchers found “female leaders were more transformational that male leaders.”

If Mrs. Clinton decides to make the run for the presidency her campaign must get off this notion that she can do the man’s job of being president, instead feature her skills as a transformative leader, calling attention to the work of James MacGregor Burns and others who have found it has been the transformative presidents who have led the United States to greatness. Stated a bit differently it is time to understand that Mrs. Clinton, like many other women, were born for the modern American presidency.

Posted in: Politics

Tags: Legal, Politics