Countdown to the Iowa Caucuses IV: No More Cowboy Diplomacy

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Marie Wilson Founder, Take Our Daughters to Work Day; Honorary Founder and President Emerita, Ms. Foundation for Women

One of the best received lines in the democratic debate yesterday was one Senator Clinton is using, "No more cowboy diplomacy."

It's a phrase The White House Project www.thewhitehouseproject.orgcoined to headline the release of our research about messages that women candidates could deliver with authority about national security during the 2006 mid-term elections.

We had no notion that it would ever be picked up again, especially in a presidential election, but I feel proud that it's out there in the world.

The Iowa debates made me proud. In the way they were conducted and thanks to decisions by candidates of both parties, which must have been made beforehand, there were "no more cowboys." No one in either posse drew their guns and fired at each other. There was no discussion of Governor Huckabee's comment about Mormons and Jesus and the Devil on the Republican side (what a relief).

But there was a bit of a lassoing on the Democratic side when Senator Obama was asked about how he was going to make such a dramatic change from the past with so many former Clinton advisors in his camp. He ended his answer by saying he hoped that when he was President ,Hillary would also be advising him.

It drew laughter, but it also has drawn me to the conclusion that everyone outside the Clinton campaign should always refer to the first woman who has a shot at the presidency as Senator Clinton.

Recently, I appeared on the NPR program "On the Media" the topic was what we should be calling "Hillary."

The discussion made me a convert to calling her "Senator Clinton." Having studied how difficult it is for women candidates and leaders in all sectors, to keep their "authority," I'm surprised I hadn't really thought this thru.

And in a time of war, because only recently have we begun to feel that it is normal for women to lead on issues of security, (Thanks largely to having seen Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice as Secretaries of State), it's important to bolster women candidate's credibility by using their titles.

I thought about it particularly because of the Republican debate where, in answer to a question about the national space program, former governor Huckabee suggested that he would like to put "Hillary" on the first rocket to Mars. I wondered if he would have felt as comfortable saying that we should send a United States Senator into space?

Of course the Clinton campaign uses "Hillary." Her advisors want voters to feel close and connected to her and probably to make a distinction between her and former President Clinton. That makes sense.

But I don't think Tim Russert or former governor Huckabee, or Senator Obama should be calling her by her first name.

Corporate women tell me that when they stand up to make a presentation and a male colleague makes a comment about the nice suit they have on they feel their clout shrinking.

As The White House Project's Barriers and Opportunities Research showed women running for executive positions have to watch everything they wear; every phrase, every decision about what to stand in front of (better behind podiums and in front of major buildings) to make sure they are seen as leaders. We know from all our research on women and authority, and the subtle and not so subtle ways it is eroded.

If you want to hear the "On the Media" discussion, go to