Like others, I was stunned Wednesday morning when I read Mike Allen, exclamation point and all, reporting that President Obama was planning to appoint UN Ambassador Susan Rice as his national security adviser and nominate Samantha Power as his next UN ambassador.
Allen reported both the facts, and some of the speculation on the reasons for the president's choices, writing that perhaps Tom Donilon was uncomfortable continuing as national security adviser now that he reported to a former underling, Denis McDonough, the president's chief of staff.
In other media, I read that perhaps Rice's appointment was her reward for withdrawing from consideration as Secretary of State. To be expected, many articles noted the close personal relationship both Rice and Power have with President Obama, confirmed Thursday by what I thought was an amazing picture: Power, Rice and Obama with their arms around each other, while Donilon walked alongside, separate and certainly not equal.
After I got past the inside baseball, I started thinking about the broader ramifications of these two appointments for American women's advancement into political leadership.
Yes, and I cheer for this one, two women have just been appointed simultaneously to important foreign policy positions. That may never have happened before in U.S. history. That's a great new step for American women.
However, besides this, does this one-two punch have any import for those of us whose BMF isn't President Obama? (In this respect, Rice and Power fall right in line in an age-old, male political tradition: that is of all equally-well-qualified prospective political appointees not getting equal consideration when one's BMF sits in the decision making chair.)
Certainly, there is no news, considering Rice's and Power's professional and educational background. Both have superb academic and professional credentials you, too, could have, if you're lucky enough to have the cash or other good fortune to attend Ivy League schools, Stanford or Oxford.
Neither Rice nor Power is well-known because of her advocacy of women's rights, so no particular significance for women there, either.
Yet, I (still) conclude that there is a lot to be cheered for, as well as learned, from the making of these two appointments. This has to do with style, broadly construed to be style of campaigning as well as style of attire.
I was driven to the style context because, at the same time as I read about the Rice and Power appointments, I read a piece about how the "mom in tennis shoes," US senator Patty Murray (D., WA.), is now a US senate powerhouse.
Can you imagine Susan Rice or Samantha Powers willingly describing herself this way, though both are moms and, at least when (Power plays) tennis, she is in tennis shoes! I doubt it. I've never seen Rice with a hair out of place, much less wearing any sort of remotely informal attire; for her, it's suits, modest jewelry and what look to be low heels, in contrast to Power's sometimes choice. But, and stick with me here, Rice's style is still downright revolutionary.
As to Power, some consider her "hot," not an adjective typically used to describe a UN ambassador. (She was so hot one day -- for Barack Obama's election-- she called Hillary Clinton "a monster." ) But, I digress.
Lest you think otherwise, I take heart from the Rice and Power style choices. Here is why. Neither of these women had to run for office as a (non-threatening) mom in tennis shoes, as Murray clearly thought she had to. By (great) contrast, here are some of Rice's and Power's quite remarkable, successful campaign style choices.
First, they followed the political man's campaign style rules:
- Make friends with men with political power, early. (See Power and Rice)
- Marry one, if that's an option. (See Power)
- Forsake old friends for new ones, if that's what it takes to advance, and you can do it credibly, or at least have the time in your career trajectory to wait-out the bad press. (See Power and Rice)
- Play inside political ball, 24-7.(See Power and Rice)
- Have impeccable academic credentials, so that you can always fall back on them during the tough times, or during the interregnum. (See Power and Rice)
Second, both follow -- one could even say, have created a new norm -- the new political woman's campaign style rules:
- You don't have to have children early and wait till they are grown to seek high political office.
- You can switch horses mid-stream in your career.
- You can have long hair.
- You don't have to wear suits, or even keep your arms covered.
- You can make seriously negative comments about other women.
- You can never say you're sorry, though you may say you "regret."
- You can play the outside game ferociously, yet still get to play the inside game.
- You can take to heart, and, more important, take to campaign strategy, that revenge is sweet.
Who knew! It sure wasn't like this when I went to National Women's Political Caucus training sessions!
Lately, I've been puzzling about how we get past the fact that "our politics," as President Obama would term it, are so ugly, causing talented women to pass up the opportunity to seek political office, even though -- in their heart-of-hearts -- this is something they want. I talk to women like this a lot. Questions about this truth are some of the most frequent I hear when I speak.
I remind these would-be office-holders they needn't feel they need be held to a higher standard than their male competition. After all, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander," as the old blues song goes. But, now that Susan Rice and Samantha Power have successfully scaled such notable heights, I have another answer: in the words of Robert DeNiro, and of Tony Soprano's pals, "fuhgeddaboudit." That's because all of us political women, thank you Susan Rice and Samantha Power, are now at a new level. Time for all us of us to feel free to own-up with abandon to the right to do whatever needs to be done to get ahead. No more obfuscating. No more dumbing-down. No more "aw shucks" about anything. Girlfriends: Can you imagine Rice or Power saying that (either)?! I don't think so.
Oops, I just realized, we're back to Hillary Clinton, shades of 1992: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." Clinton was excoriated when she made these remarks. My, how times have changed. Bill: New rule, just like the old (Clinton wished-for) rule: I, political woman, (reader, insert your name please), have a right "to fulfill my profession..." following the same rules the men do.