Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, by Anne E. Kornblut

Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win
by Anne E. Kornblut
270 pages

Let me start by saying this: if you care at all about women's issues, politics, and the future of our country, you need to read this book.

Anne Kornblut is a White House reporter, and has covered "from start to finish" the three most recent Presidential campaigns. Her reporting background shows, as this is an extensively researched and detailed book - but, make no mistake, it is exceptionally readable and riveting. In some places, it reads like a novel. (Maybe that's because there were some aspects of the 2008 Presidential campaign that did seem stranger than fiction, no?)

I have a lot to say about this one, so let's get to it.

In the beginning, back in the good old days of 2007, I was a Hillary supporter. Unbeknownst to me, I was somewhat in the minority demographically. Kornblut explains why.  (Although, I don't think I meet the standard for "young woman," but just play along with me here, 'kay?)

"[Young women] considered themselves postfeminists, to the extent they thought about it, and preferred not to view the world in terms of gender. Supporting Barack Obama was proof of their liberation: they were free to choose whomever they favored for president, unburdened by any old-fashioned notions of loyalty or sisterhood, a sign that women were now diverse and evolved enough to disagree.

And if young women felt fully liberated - or were even totally oblivious to the barriers that had once existed, in many cases before they were born - it was hard to blame them. Nothing in 2008 felt unequal. Women had worked alongside men as peers in every profession for decades, with discrimination and sexual harrassment laws on the books. Women were heads of corporations and universities, as senators and governors and chiefs of police .... Every year seemed to bring a new achievement, making the next one less remarkable." (pg. 82-83)

In regards to Sarah Palin, Kornblut has done for me what no other writer I've read has been able to: she has succeeded in making me sympathetic to Sarah Palin. (Just a leeettle, teensy-tiny bit.)

But before I get into that, what was most eye-opening about Notes from the Cracked Ceiling was the lack of women advisors and strategists who weren't part of key decisions in either the Clinton or McCain campaigns. Writes Kornblut:

"[Clinton's] women's outreach division was a separate unit, cordoned off from the rest of the campaign and not involved in many of the core message decisions. The head of outreach to women, Ann F. Lewis, was not on the important strategic phone call each morning." (pg. 39)

Well, duh. If we have any hope of getting behind the desk of the Oval Office, we've got to first get in the room. Or, for starters, on the damn phone.

Some of the strategies intended to capture more of the women's votes went unheeded - even when proposed by men.

"One especially creative idea came from outside Clinton headquarters, from Joe Trippi [former campaign manager for Howard Dean] .... Very early in the 2008 campaign cycle, Trippi met with the Clinton campaign ... to pitch the idea of an online fund-raising drive to draw in one hundred dollars apiece from 5 million women - half a billion dollars, in other words, with the imprimatur of Web-smart female contributors." (pg. 42)

The idea was flatly rejected, quickly. Two weeks later, in a meeting with David Axelrod of the Obama campaign, Axelrod said, "You know, I read in a book somewhere that if you raised a hundred dollars apiece from five million contributors, you'd have a broad network of future support." (pg. 42)

Look how that one worked out for the Obama campaign.

Similarly, "[n]ot one female strategist was involved in the [Palin] selection process - not out of hostility but because the already bare-bones McCain campaign had very few women on staff. Nor were there senior advisors with experience running women's campaigns." (pg. 93)

Had there been, Kornblut writes, "they might have cautioned McCain that women are usually held to a higher standard, especially on questions of toughness and competence - and that women won't switch party affiliations just to vote for a woman. Female candidates also have to remember that women can be deeply suspicious and critical of one another. Palin's appearance was another obvious red flag: a group of female advisors could have gently reminded the McCain men that women are not always thrilled to see a young, attractive woman step into the limelight, and they might need to prepare for the long knives." (pg. 93)

The McCain camp didn't think any of this was critical, and when people like Republican governor of Massachussetts Jane Swift (who had twins while in office) shared with the campaign some of her experiences as a female candidate, it appeared to have been dismissed.

So, if we as voters are rejecting Hillary and Sarah, the question remains if there are, in fact, any women who might be potential candidates and what characteristics, what background, what persona do they need to have in order to crack the ceiling of the Oval Office once and for all?

Kornblut gives us glimpses into several women and their qualifications, noting that there are several commonalities among them. She points out that many have a background in law enforcement as well as having battled breast cancer - and Kornblut shows that these are characteristics that are viewed as strengths in the light of a potential Presidential run.

What I've written here barely scratches the surface of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling; in fact, I have 17 additional passages Post-Marked that I didn't even mention.  This book is chock-full of insider political baseball and reading it makes you feel like you have a front row seat to history.

Which, if you think about it, is what we had.

More information about the book:

The Washington Post has a special page on its website about the book and the issues raised.
Anne Kornblut's website is here.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Susan G. Weidener said...

Kornblut's book sounds interesting. Thanks for the review. I agree with what she has to say about younger women and why they voted for Obama over Hillary.

I remember during the campaign, women telling me they would vote for a woman president, just not Hillary because she wasn't the "right woman." When I asked who WAS the right women, they came up blank. It seems to me, women hold impossibly high standards for other women, but not for men.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Completely agree, Susan! It's a very good book ... I'd love to hear what you think of it, too.

Anonymous said...

I need to read this book! When I get around to it I'll let you know if it make have any sympathy toward Sarah Palin. That would be a long shot in my opinion ;)
Thanks for the recommendation!