When it comes to electing the president, the better communicator almost always wins. This truth did not bode well for Hillary Clinton, nor does it look good for John McCain. But does communication style matter for Vice-President? In particular, what does it mean for all the women whose names have been on the so-called "short lists?"
I decided to analyze the communication styles of these women and, more important, to reawaken the urgency to have a woman ascend to, at least, the second highest office in the land before the country is lulled by summer lethargy into its comfortable, sexist ways. Our male presumptive nominees must be reminded of their kind words and assurances in the wake of Hillary Clinton's loss that women -- and their votes -- would not be taken for granted.
A surprising thing happened during my research: I discovered that, communication skills notwithstanding, these women are as distinguished and accomplished as most of the men under consideration. Several have pre-presidential resumes comparable to Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, two of our most successful presidents. And dare I say it... all are more qualified than Barack Obama.
But back to communication: There are a number of qualities to consider:
Public Speaking Skill -- Physical Appearance--Interpersonal Skills--Voice Quality--Ability to Connect with Voters--Public Personal Narrative--Professional Presence--Message--Spouse/Family
For my analysis, I've omitted Interpersonal Communication because none of these women have been seen enough in the context of a national campaign, and Message because that's the purview of the larger campaigns.
Regarding Physical Appearance, women are judged much more harshly than men are, which is unfair and wrong, but reality. (In this election, even the men have had to withstand increased scrutiny of their physical appearance.)
Ratings are on a scale of 1-5. For context, I'd give Obama a 4.5 (nobody's perfect) and McCain a 2.5 (generous).
Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas
Sebelius is a boring speaker. Even when endorsing Obama, she couldn't seem to work up much enthusiasm. Her voice is nasal and her expression, flat. Sebelius has the Obama-esque habit of varying her dialect to fit the audience, including dropping the g's from "ing" words and eliminating diphthongs so that the word time sounds like tahm when convenient. She looks and sounds confident and projects authority, but with an easy, folksy manner. She is attractive, slim, dresses stylishly and with her well-coiffed, gray hair, cuts a professional, distinguished presence and looks very good on TV. Her political bona fides are solid and so is her family life. SCORE: 3.5
Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Napolitano delivers a good campaign speech and knows how to convey enthusiasm. Her speaking voice is ok. She projects intelligence and self-assuredness and seems to have a warm and funny demeanor while not taking herself too seriously. Her appearance is dowdy and her short, unstylish hairdo with that patch of white doesn't help. Napolitano has a solid political resume with the addition credential of having been Anita Hill's lawyer. She has never been married and has no kids. SCORE: 3
Claire McCaskill, Senator from Missouri
McCaskill's public speaking is too understated and her voice often rises too high in pitch, though she can lower it. She seems comfortable on-camera and has a terrific sense of humor. She comes across as authentic. Her appearance is matronly and she smiles too much. Politically, McCaskill is on very solid ground. She is on her second marriage and has 3 kids of her own as well as several stepchildren. SCORE: 3
Carly Fiorina. Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Fiorina is an excellent public speaker, skills honed during her many years as a top corporate executive. Her voice could use work, but it's very expressive. She comes across as extremely comfortable in her own skin, smart, but not self-important. With her slim and stylish appearance, she's made for TV although she, too, smiles too much. She's a political unknown, but one of only a handful of highly successful corporate executive women in the technology field, though her HP woes could come back to haunt her. She's on her second marriage, no kids. SCORE: 4
Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska
Palin is not a great speaker. She has a nasal voice that lacks expressiveness. She projects a relaxed and comfortable image as well as a rugged, self-reliance. She's only been governor since 2006, but has already developed a reputation for being unafraid to take on entrenched interests and is popular with Alaskans. Palin is pretty. She is married with 5 kids, the oldest of whom is in the Army and the youngest born this past April with Down Syndrome. SCORE: 3
Kay Bailey Huchinson, Senator from Texas
Hutchinson is not an engaging public speaker, but she has a very good speaking voice. As befits her long experience, she projects an image of authority, but does not come across as authoritarian. She is now in her third full term as Senator and is often talked about as a potential governor. Hutchinson's appearance is elegant. She is married to her second husband and has young children (adopted) as well as older stepchildren. SCORE: 3.5
I did not forget Hillary Clinton, who, though never a great communicator, is a towering figure and in a class by herself as a result of her historic and nearly successful run. As such, she deserves a spot atop this list.
One thing I did not account for is age. Sebelius, McCaskill, Hutchinson and, of course, Clinton are older Boomers. Choosing one of them poses risks to Obama's "new generation of leadership" message (though according to my calendar, Obama is a Boomer, too). Recall this message was instrumental in defeating Clinton, who is only a few months older than Sebelius. For McCain, choosing Hutchinson will not help him with the youth vote or counter concerns about his age. Still, if a younger woman or a man of any age is selected, we will be left to wonder whether the double-whammy of being older while female played a part.
Just like a lot of politicians, as communicators, these women are not as good as Barack Obama (no surprise) and better than John McCain (not too difficult). Better skills in this area provide a competitive advantage and would make the decision to choose one of them much easier. So would finding and nominating a woman with the stature of a Hillary Clinton.
I'd certainly prefer we were discussing a woman for president, but I'll settle for VP. With such a talented group of contenders at the ready, there is no longer any reason to put it off.
How about it, boys?
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