Think about the cardinal, not the religious official, the bird. The male cardinal flits about in beautiful colors. The female is smaller, much less colorful, but she does all the work. There may be there a folksy analog there to our political life. In the fascinating book, First In His Class, author David Mariness writes about the Clinton’s when both were graduate student instructors at Yale. Hillary would prepare assiduously. Bill would simply walk in and appear to talk off the top of his head. Guess who was the more popular?

We hear a lot about Hillary Clinton’s flaws as a politician. We hear that she can just not give a compelling speech. When she appears on a platform with her husband and they both speak, she seems to disappear. And, in fact, if she was given one of her husband’s or Barack Obama’s speeches, and she gave exactly the same speech, we might guess that she would be less effective. So, what we are talking about really is her appearance and the timbre of her voice. What we may be dealing with are gender differences that mean that female speakers, in general, will be less effective at using speeches to move audiences and public speaking, for better or worse, is one of the major ways that we have come to evaluate candidates for the presidency.

But, once elected, the ability to give moving speeches, is only a small part of what makes a president effective. Barack Obama first caught the attention of the public with his ability at public speaking. But, when historians evaluate his presidency, as they are already beginning to do, we will discover that the things he accomplished with his tremendous command of detail, may weigh more heavily than his ability to speak in public.

So, think once more about our cardinals. The male cardinal may strut around and be good at “public speaking”. The less colorful female may be better at doing the real work. It may be that a Hillary Clinton or an Angela Merkel, in the end, be superbly equipped to be effective in doing the real work that the office demands. We may have been fooled by the bright plumage or the deep voices. Looking back, we may wonder why we did not come to understand all this sooner. After 228 years, we may finally come to understand that the real ability to do the work does not lie exclusively with the bright and shiny male.

H.J. Rishel


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