The 1960 presidential debates provided the ideal venue to test Paul Rosenthal’s theory that the visually-heavy medium of television was going to turn campaign persuasion upside down. No longer was a candidate’s stand on selected issues the key to the ballot box but rather the voter’s response to the candidate’s flickering image on the boob tube.
In addition, another factor entered the mix — the so-called “illusion of intimacy” that resulted from inviting people on television into the privacy of one’s home. They became almost as intimate to us as our Facebook friends today.
Since, in 1960, media dominance was teetering on a tipping point between radio and television, scholars studied the presidential debates on both media.
They found John F. Kennedy won the hearts and minds of television viewers, while the statesman-sounding Richard Nixon prevailed on radio.
Without such negative visual cues as Nixon’s gaunt, sweaty and shave-stick-white face or his gray-suited figure disappearing into the background — it was, for the folks listening on radio, as if Nixon and Kennedy had auditioned behind a screen.
Yet, millions of political advertising dollars are still spent on television, even though millennials don’t watch TV. Or vote — at least, not until they find themselves with families of their own.
So what can be done about the seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling in the Oval Office?
In a recent Huffington Post column, Marie C. Wilson argues, “Having spent 30 years working to change the culture and conversation — from Take Our Daughters to Work, to Vote, Lead, Run — I know there is only one way to permanently change the discussion: numbers of women in leadership. Or more specifically, a critical mass of women leading in each sector, with the end goal of women leading in parity alongside their male peers.”
To that end, the White House Project not only encourages women to run for office but also trains them to compete successfully.
Hollywood also got into the act in 2005 with the ABC series called “Commander in Chief.” And although the show’s bigwigs denied the claim, a number of conservative commentators and right-wing organizations criticized the series as a thinly-veiled attempt to lay the psychological groundwork for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Polls had been suggesting that the sticking point with American voters, both male and female, is the perception that a female commander in chief is an oxymoron. Fortunately, the citizens of 19 countries in which women are presently large and in charge do not share such an unsupportable view of female leadership. In the U.S., however, a majority of voters still contend that a female president doesn’t possess, to employ Al Campanis’ language, “the necessities” to strategize in the War Room.
Since we can’t exactly audition our presidential candidates behind a screen, how can we prevent gender bias from being thin-sliced into the ballot box? How can we shift perception to include both men and women when we talk about the candidate who “looks presidential?” Maybe what is needed is unisex attire that has evolved far beyond the pantsuit.
Hillary may well be the only really experienced presidential candidate out there. Surely as first lady and secretary of state, she has logged the requisite 10,000 hours that, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” is the secret to mastery of any field.
In addition, in his latest best-seller “David and Goliath,” Gladwell contends that “being seen as an underdog opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” Perhaps the press corps who bashed her in 2008 didn’t realize they were gifting Hillary with an advantage.
Yet, only last month, during the Grano Speaker Series in Toronto, Gladwell threw out a McLuhan-esque “probe” to the effect that we will not see another African-American president in our lifetime — or, for that matter, another female president, if Hillary wins.
The reason, he offered, is tokenism. “Pioneers,” Gladwell said, and supported his point by ticking off 30 female heads of state who were not succeeded by other women, “don’t necessarily blaze trails.”
“The door is let open,” Gladwell told the audience, “but then the door gets shut behind them. Those people who get through,” he added, “become fetishized for where they came from. They are too visible.”
Maybe tokenism barred the door for the African-Americans who followed Jackie Robinson.
The hot-water-free response by Al Campanis to Ted Koppel’s query about the dearth of black managers should have been “I really don’t know, but isn’t it a huge loss for baseball?”
A year later, with the perfect vision that hindsight provides, Al Campanis was able to employ more clarity in his thinking. “Time has diffused the immediate hurt of April 6, (1987)” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It has turned to a plus for baseball and myself.”