Note: This is the third of a series of memos re Hillary Clinton. "Guys Get Over It" took on men's lingering resistance toward women in high powered office. "Gals Get on with It" urged women to look into their own hearts to root out self-imposed barriers to advancing women leaders. I was planning to call this commentary "The Importance of Being Hillary". But regarding the Iowa caucuses, I realized the most important message is to the candidate herself.
Iowa caucus voters handed Barack Obama the blue ribbon and Hillary Clinton both a major challenge and an enormous opportunity.
Clinton and those advising her have heretofore sought campaign discipline and control, and for good reason. When you are breaking such a profound boundary as becoming the first woman president of the world's greatest superpower, you have to lead constituents over a perilously narrow suspension bridge from the old paradigm to the new one without falling over either side.
But the better solution to leading people toward big change is usually a counterintuitive one: not to close ranks but to open up to more expansive thinking.
I myself am terrified of suspension bridges, but when I was faced with traversing 22 of them on New Zealand's Milford Track, I learned that the way to do it is not to tighten up but to loosen up, to keep my eyes on the goal of the other end of the bridge, and to allow my body to propel itself forward incorporating the bridge's oscillations into my own movements rather than try to steady the bridge.
Hence, I make these suggestions to Hillary going forward:
Get over the tight control
First, loosen up, girl. You have to if you want to overcome the daily challenges that all boundary breakers face. Whichever way you turn, you will be criticized.
In that case, as the saying goes, you might as well be hung for a goose as for a duck. Quit worrying about parsing every word in every message and go with your gut more often. For example, when you teased Barack Obama about having so many former Clinton advisors on his team (obviously a message you'd prepared before the debate), he took it as an opportunity to show his quick wit and said gallantly that as president he would ask you for advice too. Instead of shutting down, that would have been a great time to parry back with something equally good humored but even more expansive like, "Thanks for acknowledging my experience. [Eyes sweep around the room] When I'm president I'll tap the immense talent in this great Democratic lineup in service of our country." Because you know you will.
Reach out and catch the wave, taking energy from inevitable uncontrollable events. Each one is an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and the capacity for spontaneity that people who know you best love.
Voters don't expect perfection in their leaders after all, but they do want to see humanity along with the requisite nerves of steel. And how leaders handle unanticipated challenges speaks powerfully to us about their judgment on the big things.
Get on with enlarging the power to
My friend 1986 U.S. Senate candidate Claire Sargent famously said, "I think it's about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we've been voting for boobs long enough." Sassy humor notwithstanding, all the cackling we've heard about cleavage just means our prehensile brains are having trouble wrapping themselves around images of the female body as one way a leader might look.
And despite Howard Fineman's giddy declaration that "It is Hillary's misfortune to be a half-generation off on the 'newness' front. Women-in-power is not such a new story; an African-American with real power is," a woman running for highest office is in truth the most profound power shift in our nation's history. Thurgood Marshall was on the Supreme Court decades before Sandra O'Connor and African American men held power positions generations before women had the vote. Still, you know that racism and sexism are joined at the head, and there is no gain for either group in pitting one's injustices against the other.
The physical image aspersions you've endured, epitomized by the recent mocked up KFC Hillary Meal Deal selling for the devilishly symbolic $6.66, have outed themselves as code for resistance to power sharing by those who hold it and understand only power over; they have no use for the more expansive power to.
Such outdated thinking not only reflects an arrogant assumption of divinely ordained power, it also shows an inability to grasp that the more the power to do is shared with diverse people, the more exponentially power increases. Power isn't a finite commodity, a pie that once sliced can only be diminished. George W. Bush got it at least partly right when he said we should make the pie higher. The problem is he only wants to make it higher for himself and his cronies' interests.
Make the case for how you will use your very paradigm shifting self to enlarge the pie, economically yes, on the world stage, of course, and especially for those loftier social justice values Americans on the left and in the center yearn to hear from their leaders.
Expand the Hillary effect
The huge reservoir of energy emanating from your groundbreaking candidacy is already enlarging the pie for women, whether they have been politically inclined in the past or not. Young women on campuses are taking an interest because they can at last see themselves in the picture of politics--it's not just about older white men any more.
Women have tended to recoil from hard knuckle politics, but your example has enhanced their courage. It generates enormous excitement among women running or inclined to run for political office.
Fiona Ma, Majority Whip of the California State Assembly says, "Hillary Clinton's election as President of the US would give women already in elected office a sense of 'Hope' of being able to attain the highest elected position in this country. For decades, other countries around the world have elected women as presidents and prime ministers. Yet in the US, it has always been a dream... until now."
Elevated enthusiasm for politics among women is true all up and down the ticket. Novato (CA) City Council candidate Annan Paterson told me, "I have been walking door to door and am often talking to adults while their children look on and listen. I feel most gratified when girls are at the door, watching a mature woman (I am 52) talk to her parents about government, our community and politics. In the same way I am watching Hillary as an inspiration and role model.
It makes a difference in ways large and small to have a woman at the top of the ticket. When you catapult this to the larger economic framework, creating more opportunities for women to contribute their talents in all arenas is critically important to America's power to enhance its leadership in the global economy.
You have nothing to lose now, and that sets you free
The great opportunity of losing in Iowa is that you can also lose the fear a front runner constantly has of losing.
To make your candidacy resonate with the majorities you need to win the next round of presidential primaries in New Hampshire January 8 up to the 23 state primaries to be held February 5 and beyond, you must get over thinking you're safer if you're in tight control and get on with allowing yourself to campaign more expansively. That's how you can seize the opportunity, engage the passions of your support base, and give all voters the chance not just to see your best self and truest convictions but to see themselves in your vision for America.