Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: How soon for a woman president?

'Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win.'
'Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win.' (Crown Publishing Group)

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Anne Kornblut
Washington Post White House Reporter
Monday, January 4, 2010; 2:00 PM

Washington Post White House reporter Anne Kornblut was online Monday, Jan. 4, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss her book, "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win."

About the book.

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Anne Kornblut: Greetings all, and thank you so much for joining today. Let the questions begin!

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Anonymous: I am a Democrat and wish Hillary Clinton had been elected president. I have buyer's remorse.

Anne Kornblut: There are so many provocative questions here today -- as I hoped there would be -- I may as well start with this one. I've heard this from a few former Clinton supporters, but wonder if it represents a long-term trend. May I ask a follow-up: what is it you are disappointed by, specifically?

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New York City, N.Y.: Comment: If and when there are qualified women (and they are out there, come forward), I will gladly vote for them. We have clearly seen how unqualified men behave. However, the substance must be recognized. Having been a model, beauty queen, society darling, close proximity to a political star does not qualify no more so than a limp-minded governor, former prisoner, self-proclaimed hero, wealthy do-nothing politician. America needs help and if a woman fits the bill, so be it.

Anne Kornblut: I think that's absolutely a given. In fact, I don't think anyone would argue that a woman should just be elected because it's time -- certainly Clinton did not. The trick will be for some woman, whoever she may be, to both be qualified -- the best candidate -- and to simultaneously tap into whatever feelings people might have that it would be cool to elect a woman.

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N.Y.,N.Y.: I disagree with a few of your tips to women candidates. Hillary Clinton would likely have won women of all ages had not Obama run a children's crusade via the Internet. Hillary would likely have won Oprah's endorsement if Obama was not black. I think the biggest impediment to women candidates are male pundits and journalists. This was certainly the case for HC who has long been a target for that group. I don't know how long it will take to get another candidate of her stature and experience (certainly Palin has neither of these qualities). It may be that the old saw that the first female president would likely be a Republican is true -- only a women who is willing to cast women's contraceptive and equality issues aside is likely to succeed with the men who own the columns, airwaves and broadcast companies. Hillary's current popularity just reminds us how capable she is and it's sad she'll never have the chance to be president.

Anne Kornblut: First of all, thank you for reading the book -- I enjoy being disagreed with, believe it or not. I go back and forth on the question of whether a Republican woman will get closer to winning the presidency, or actually win it. That has been the conventional wisdom for some time. But there are fewer actual Republican women who could do that -- Palin appears to be the only one ready to run in 2012, while there are a number of Democratic women who will probably run in 2016. On Oprah: what do people think? Will Oprah endorse a woman candidate if there is one next time -- or any candidate, given the backlash she experienced?

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New York, N.Y.: How does a female candidate handle attacks from another prominent female? During last year's Democratic primary contest, M. Dowd (N.Y. Times) referred to Hillary Clinton as a "self-hating former First Lady." Should the candidate simply ignore, or go on the offensive?

Anne Kornblut: It's a tricky question, in my view. On the one hand, I don't think any woman candidate can automatically expect to have female reporters or columnists in her pocket. On the other, Clinton, and other women who run, could probably benefit from cultivating some of the women -- and men -- who cover them. I don't know if Clinton tried to warm up to Maureen Dowd, but it certainly wasn't her m.o. in general. As for going on the offensive, women have to be careful about the "cat fight" paradigm -- recognizing that any fight with another prominent woman could lead to distracting stories of that sort.

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Leesburg, Va.: I'm an independent Obama voter, and think Hillary Clinton's biggest obstacle to being elected president was ironically the thing that got her as close to being elected president as she was -- her last name.

I just think that we as a voting populace had "Bush/Clinton Political Dynasty Fatigue." Hypothetical Candidate Hillary Smith would have had a much better shot at being elected president, But Candidate Smith likely would never have been in the running in the first place.

Anne Kornblut: It is an ironic twist, isn't it? But I think there's something to that. Plenty of people were turned off by the legacy. And yet, without the legacy, it is hard to know if Hillary Clinton would have had the star power, name recognition and fundraising ability that allowed her to run a serious campaign in the first place.

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Tuscaloosa, Ala.: As the daughter of black East African father and a white American mother, I felt a bit miffed at Hillary Rodham Clinton and some of her supporters like Gloria Steinem or Connie Schultz for ignoring that voice in their celebration of HRC.

Do you feel the need to address that the fact that feminists ignore minority women and that black U.S. president might just be a greater step forward for black women then a white woman? I want to clear that I don't know the answer to that question, but I don't people like Gloria Steinem and Connie Schultz ever even consider asking it.

Anne Kornblut: I don't have an answer here, but this raises a very interesting question. Thank you for it.

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Albany, N.Y.: I need to read your book, but how much of Hillary's problem was of her own making and that of her campaign staff, as your Post colleagues have argued? She also had the bad luck to run against the most charismatic candidate since Reagan -- against more conventional opposition, she'd have won the Democratic nomination and she'd probably have cleaned John McCain's clock -- just bad timing?

Anne Kornblut: I don't need to issue a spoiler alert for my book before saying: I certainly don't argue that Clinton lost because she was a woman.

She definitely had endless internal campaign problems, and her staff made infinite mistakes. They spent their money badly; they did not plan for a race that went beyond Super Tuesday.

That said, I don't buy the argument that Clinton lost due to bad luck. Obama, for all his charisma, was the underdog. She had all the resources, and name recognition, in the the world. It was hers to lose. Had her candidacy been different -- and if some of the questions of gender had been handled somewhat differently, I would argue -- she still could have been the nominee, in my view.

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Vienna, Va.: Hi Anne, Congrats on the book. One of the issues that I took issue with former first Lady/Sen. Clinton's campaign was this notion that most if not all black women were taken to be "a lost cause" as supporters and automatically went to the Obama column. I think that this is more likely a problem with the feminist movement in the U.S. -- this mindset that the issues/struggles of women equates to white women. Haven't read your book yet but what do you think it takes to elect a black, Asian, or Hispanic woman as president?

Anne Kornblut: Another question along these lines; thank you for it. In truth, the Clinton campaign did not initially think they'd automatically lose black women to Obama. But over time, especially after the Iowa caucuses, they started losing the black vote overall and focused on their own "base" -- which may have made some strategic sense but did not work in the end.

One of my pet theories is that the first female president could actually be a woman who is black, Asian or Hispanic -- someone so utterly sui generis that she breaks out of anyone's stereotypes of what a president "should" be.

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McLean, Va.;: This is kind of in response to "N.Y., N.Y." but as a man the whole "Candidate X is a target because she is a woman" thing is a huge turn-off. If a woman wants to win, she's going to have to do everything in her power to make it not about how she's a woman at all. It seemed during the 2008 primary that I couldn't blink without hearing Sen. Clinton complaining about being unfairly targeted because of her gender.

I didn't vote for Sen. Clinton because I didn't think she was the best candidate for the job. To suggest otherwise is offensive, and certainly 'not' the way to get me to vote for a candidate of any gender/race/religion/etc. ...

Anne Kornblut: What's interesting about this is that Clinton actually was pretty careful not to complain -- although her surrogates certainly did, you are correct there.

It does raise a good point: if someone is being racist, do you let it go and not say anything? Or do you call them on it?

What if someone is being sexist? Do you call them on it, or do you risk being labeled a whiner?

A tricky question for any candidate, in my view.

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Washington, D.C.: I agree with the point that the person, whatever race, sex, creed, or other designation the individual must be qualified. I am not convinced that the best, most qualified candidates will ever run. What do you think of this concern?

Anne Kornblut: I think it's very legitimate. In fact, having now watched three presidential campaigns from start to finish, I think you have to be a little crazy to want to run. But I fail to see what could be done to fix that particular aspect of the system.

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Freezing Florida: As much as anything, it will take a woman who isn't particularly polarizing -- someone like Liz Dole, but in her 50s.

Believe me: as much as you and yours hate and fear Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton brings the same reaction among us conservatives.

Anne Kornblut: Let me say this outright: as a reporter, I don't fear Sarah Palin; in fact, I can't wait for her to run. One thing we've seen is that people are fascinated by female candidates. So that makes for a good story for us!

But I digress. Could a non-polarizing woman run? I am not so sure. We have yet to see a woman at the highest levels of politics not become polarizing (Clinton, Palin and Pelosi being the top three). Has there ever been a seemingly neutral woman who's succeeded? Am I missing one?

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N.Y., N.Y.: What is your scenario for a Republican woman other than Palin running? Conservative, or country club?

Anne Kornblut: I could make the case that if Meg Whitman wins the California governor's race (which is by no means a sure thing) she will be the kind of model Republicans will start looking to. But I don't know whether the GOP will accept a candidate -- any candidate -- who isn't pro-life. So that puts the party in a bit of a bind. A lot of research suggests that Democratic/Independent women won't cross over to vote for a pro-life Republican, even a pro-life female Republican, which would then mean that the candidate was no more able to lure that critical group than a male candidate.

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College Park, Md.: RE: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

As a black woman myself, I personally always felt being black being a greater source of hindering my career and my life in general than being a women. I respect that person leaving her thought provoking question unanswered, but from my POV, having Michelle and Barack Obama in the White House makes me feel better about my own black daughters' future than Bill and Hillary Clinton being back in there again.

Anne Kornblut: Very interesting, thank you. I have always felt awkward asking the question of whether race or gender is a bigger impediment -- how can you even measure such a thing? -- but I appreciate the answer here. Interestingly, I got the opposite comment from former Secretary of State Condi Rice in my interview with her for the book.

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McLean, Va.: "What if someone is being sexist? Do you call them on it, or do you risk being labeled a whiner?"

To me, the answer is the same for both (racist and sexist) -- You have to be careful to make sure that the person is actually being sexist/racist first, then address them. The "whining" label, to me, doesn't come into play until you get into a situation where I can't figure out where the accusation is coming from.

I was put off by Sen. Clinton (via her surrogates) because there seemed to be a whole lot of wolf-crying. It becomes difficult and cumbersome to separate the wheat from the chaff with regards to these complaints, and easier to dismiss all of the complaints as "whining."

Anne Kornblut: A very thoughtful answer, thank you. I have a whole section in the book about one such incident: When Clinton said the male candidates were "piling on," which many interpreted as her crying wolf.

I also was always intrigued by the fact that the Clinton campaign complained about our Style story the day she showed cleavage on the Senate floor, and then used our story as a fundraising letter.

That said, there were times when she had a legitimate gripe. Figuring out the right moments to speak out, as you suggest, was the tricky party.

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Boston, Mass.: Ms. Kornblut

I read the notes on your book. I guess my question to you, is there truly a glass ceiling, or were Ms. Clinton and Ms. Palin flawed candidates? My feeling during the campaign was that Ms. Clinton seemed to represent the 1990s (which was not a bad thing), but did not offer the "change" element. And Ms. Palin did not seem to have an understanding of the issues (kind of like Dan Quayle). I'd like your thoughts. Thank you

Anne Kornblut: I guess my answer would be: both.

There is, by definition, a glass ceiling in politics, given that no woman has been president yet.

That is not to say, however, that Clinton or Palin lost only because they're women. They had other flaws. I'm going to butcher the quote, but there's an old Golda Meir quote about how true equality will be when mediocre, flawed women are just as successful as mediocre, flawed men.

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Non-Polarizing Women who have Succeeded...: Sens. Snowe and Collins, Gov. Granholm, Sens. Boxer and Feinstein, Sec. Napolitano, Sec. Sebilius...

I guess it depends on what you mean by "Succeeded," I don't know that Sen. Clinton and Fmr-Gov. Palin have "Succeeded" any more than the above women, they are simply have more notoriety.

I would argue that polarization leads to notoriety, but not necessarily success.

Anne Kornblut: Oh, absolutely -- great list. I meant simply "succeeded" in terms of their level of power. None of the women listed have been elected to a position of power outside their states, which is not to dismiss their success, but to say that it is not yet success at a national level.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi, Anne,

Nice to see you back on the chats! After reading the excerpt of your book, I must admit I was horrified by Geraldine Ferraro's attitude about voting for a woman for president, that women should basically stick together and vote for a woman no matter what. Does this mean that we can expect to see Ms. Ferraro on the stump for Sarah Palin if she is one of the candidates in 2012?

washingtonpost.com: Notes From the Cracked Ceiling (Crown Publishing Group)

Anne Kornblut: I highly doubt it!

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Anonymous: "We have yet to see a woman at the highest levels of politics not become polarizing (Clinton, Palin and Pelosi being the top three)."

Madeleine Albright, but she can't run for president.

Anne Kornblut: That is another good point. She also wasn't elected -- and I believe that polarization stems, in part, from the process of campaigns and elections.

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Evanston, Ill.: I can't wait to read your book.

I was curious about what you thought about how Jenny Sanford handled the "Appalachian Trail" political sex scandal scandal.

Honestly, I would want my daughters to [be] more like Jenny Sanford than Hillary Rodham Clinton or Silda Wall Spitzer or Elizabeth Edwards, despite my own admiration of all these women. Granted the circumstances of the political sex scandals were different (neither Bill Clinton or John Edwards or Eliot Spitzer claim to love their mistresses plus Jenny Sanford was already aware of the extramarital affair when the newspapers broke the story).

But while I don't agree with either Gov. or Mrs. Sanford's politics, I thought they both handled that public airing of the failing marriage better then either the Spitzers or Edwards or Clintons or too many too list really.

Anne Kornblut: She was a whole different model, wasn't she? She surprised everyone, and I think that's one reason we've heard rumblings about her running for office herself one day.

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Richmond, Va.: I believe it is going to be a long time before we get a woman president. I think that if Mr. Obama does not get his act together before 2012 (and by the way, I was a big supporter but have found him very weak), plus the perception that America is on an economic decline, will ensure we have a male, representing (whether true or not) a past that would help us believe we can be strong again. I don't think -- sadly -- any woman can do that at this point.

Do you mind my adding here that if Bill Clinton had not been a factor in Hillary's run, she might have had a better chance. I would have voted for her but for the wincing of Bill.

Anne Kornblut: Another point along these lines...thank you.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: In order for a woman to crack the political glass ceiling, we need more women to enter politics. What I observe, especially as more women than men are entering college and postgraduate studies, is that most women are smart enough not to go into politics. The pay overall is relatively low, with the added benefit that the public berates politicians because of their perceived high pay, and the constant scrutiny and criticism of any political act is enough to drive most high achievers into the private sector. How can we motivate high achieving females to be willing to have their lives put round the clock commentary in return for lesser pay?

Anne Kornblut: This is one reason that top female executives so rarely run. Who needs it?

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Maryland: On your article on December 27 on young women voters -- I believe it is ill-informed to assert that we voted for Obama simply because we thought voting for a woman would be easy the next time around. Or because we thought voting for an African American was more important than voting for a woman. Or because she was 'that' woman, or one of the other "reasons" you gave.

Perhaps this is in your book, and I am also using anecdotal evidence to back my belief, but I would love to see a scientific poll of young woman voters on why they voted for Obama over Clinton.

washingtonpost.com: When young women don't vote for women (Post, Dec. 27, 2009)

Anne Kornblut: A fair comment -- and a good request. (As for my methodology: I will say, I interviewed many, many, many women over the course of the 2008 campaign, and drew generalizations based on them -- recognizing that they were not scientific, and welcoming a healthy debate).

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Princeton, N.J.: Anne,

Thank you for hosting this chat -- we really missed your insights, and your chats were always well-reasoned, entertaining, and -- most to the point -- provided accurate, unbiased analysis. I am definitely looking forward to reading the book; I was wondering if you address ideology? Obama was clearly favored by more liberal pundits because of his progressive cred, while Clinton was continually portrayed as a slightly-less conservative, female version of McCain. This paled in comparison to the lambasting of Palin; if she wasn't a conservative, pro-Life, pro-drilling, pro-hunting GOP governor, would the press have piled-on? I think it is doubtful.

Anne Kornblut: I think it's hard to know -- there's no way to separate Palin from her ideology, right? So I think the answer will lie in the next example. When another woman runs for president, we'll have more examples, and should be able to tell how much of it was ideology (in Palin's case) vs. being part of the mainstream political establishment (in Clinton's case) vs. being a woman in and of itself.

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Wokingham, U.K.: It seems to me that all the female leadership models we now have -- certainly Clinton and Palin in their election campaigns -- involve masculinism and militaristic posturing. They learned this from Margaret Thatcher and perhaps Golda Meir -- even Elizabeth I ('I have the body of a feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king'). Perhaps these are just the qualities we need at certain times but we seem to be a very long way from assessing women leaders as people without thinking every minute of their gender.

Anne Kornblut: Did you know there are actually at least FIVE women who've been nicknamed some version of "Iron Lady" around the world? (I didn't before writing the book). Good point...

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Orono, Maine: "Hillary Clinton would likely have won women of all ages"

I disagree with this. Hillary has never really been the favorite among younger women regardless of Barack Obama.

I think the fact that Hillary's early career was so defined by her husband's politics office as governor of Arkansas and president of the United States was very unappealing to younger women who don't define themselves by their husbands.

Anne Kornblut: I can't tell you how many times I heard this on the campaign trail.

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Eugene, Ore.: I've always felt in my bones that if Sarah Palin looked like Susan Boyle, she wouldn't be embraced so quickly by her supporters.

I don't think that's not a new critique of hers, but she is attractive (2nd runner-up in for Miss. Alaska 1984) and wondering if you agree or disagree with my initial remark?

Anne Kornblut: What's so interesting is that if she HAD looked more like Susan Boyle, she might have been taken more seriously. (Wasn't part of Susan Boyle's appeal that she was an ugly duckling with talent?) And yet in that case, Palin might never have been picked in the first place.

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Columbia University, N.Y.: Anne

I haven't read the book -- but how much can we blame HRC's loss in the primaries on 1) the Iraq war vote and 2) the genius (or lack thereof) of Mark Penn?

Thanks

Anne Kornblut: Well, I hate to play the spoiler, so let me just say, without ruining the whole thing for you...that both of those subjects make very prominent appearances in the book.

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Montreal, Quebec: Do you feel Hillary lost because of sexism, or because of campaign mismanagement? In my view, all she really had to do was contest the caucus states the way she did the primary states. Her over-confident campaign staff really let her down.

Anne Kornblut: I agree wholeheartedly. That said, when you go back and look at gender -- not just sexism, but the whole question of how the campaign used and failed to use gender -- it is more complicated than blowing all their money in Iowa and losing sight of the delegate count.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: "Very interesting, thank you. I have always felt awkward asking the question of whether race or gender is a bigger impediment -- how can you even measure such a thing? -- but I appreciate the answer here. Interestingly, I got the opposite comment from former Secretary of State Condi Rice in my interview with her for the book. "

There have been many female heads of state in the world, there has not been (up til now) a racial minority head of state (South Africa doesn't count).

Anne Kornblut: That's an excellent point. I hadn't thought in those terms, but you're right.

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Washington, D.C.: In a recent article, you listed "Lipstick on a pig" as an example of sexist treatment Sarah Palin faced, equating it with an incident in which John McCain praised a questioner who called Hillary Clinton a "bitch."

As you must know, there was nothing sexist about "lipstick on a pig" -- it was a phony controversy trumped up by the McCain campaign, as anyone who has ever heard the phrase before knows. Indeed, McCain himself had previously used the same phrase to describe a Hillary Clinton health-care plan.

Perhaps you'd like to take this opportunity to retract your inclusion of "lipstick on a pig" in a list of examples of sexist treatment of candidates?

washingtonpost.com: How to shatter the 'highest, hardest' glass ceiling (Post, Dec. 27, 2009)

Anne Kornblut: Actually, I just listed it as a "lowlight," but I can see why you think I was saying both were incidents of sexism. I in fact covered the original "lipstick on a pig" incident, and was among those to call the McCain campaign on it. But I do believe their use of it was another in a long list of ways that gender played an outsize role in 2008 -- in this case, with the Republican side failing to see that their complaints of sexism would not resonate.

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Arlington, Va.: I am a young (ish) woman and never forgave Hillary for not kicking Bill to the curb. Irrational, maybe, but there it is.

Anne Kornblut: If I had a penny for every time I heard this...

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Bonanza, Ore.: We elected a black president a year ago and we see how that is going; one broken promise after another, a continuation of Bush policies, a health bill that is a gold mine for insurance companies and a disaster for everyone else. Who knows, maybe the voters will elect a woman out of desperation. Another black president....probably never. No group has been let down more by Obama than the black voters.

Anne Kornblut: Another view on this point...

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Ithaca, N.Y.: @buyer's remorse

Many liberals might feel "sold-out" by the Obama administration, but I think the Clinton administration and Hillary Rodham Clinton's terms in the U.S. Senate show that she can give Barack Obama or any liberal a run for his or her money when it comes to selling out liberal ideals to appear more moderate or conservative.

Let's not oversell how ashamedly liberal Secy. Clinton was during her own time in political office as well as first lady.

Anne Kornblut: A thoughtful reply to earlier...

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Anne,

How about Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano? She was a popular two-term governor of Arizona and is a good dozen years younger than HHS Secretary Sebelius (former Kansas gov).

Yes, there's the choice of phrases that got taken out of context after NW 253, but how about Napolitano as Obama's VP in 2012, setting her up for 2016?

Anne Kornblut: I interviewed Sec. Napolitano for the book -- she was really interesting to talk to. And yes, I could see her running in 2012, no question. The VP scenario I'm less certain about -- or at least haven't heard any rumblings from the White House about a replacement for Biden.

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Evanston, Ill.: How much of Sarah Palin's rise is attributable to the Democrats rejecting Hillary?

Anne Kornblut: Certainly the McCain campaign looked at Clinton's loss and felt that adding a woman to their ticket could help bring over some of those disaffected female voters. But it didn't really work, and since then, I would wager that Sarah Palin's rise has had far more to do with her own intriguing persona and the vacuum otherwise within the GOP. What do the rest of you think?

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Athens, Ga.: I heard you were booked to do Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" and just wondering if that was true?

Anne Kornblut: Not yet! But may I forward this to them as a "by popular demand"?

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St. Louis, Mo.: To get a woman to the White House, we need to get more women into the political pipeline. Although women have advanced in other professions, their numbers in Congress hover around 20-24 percent. Why -- in your opinion -- have they been slower to enter the political arena?

Anne Kornblut: My educated guess, from interviewing a lot of people, is that women are still struggling to figure out how to balance lives and families -- and that many are loathe to expose their families to the kind of scrutiny that comes with politics. And it's just not easy to start a new career once children are grown, although many people have done it.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Not Golda Meir -- Bella Abzug! Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.

What do you think creates the kind of psychological resiliency female candidates need to have (and that arguably Hillary has and Palin lacks, given her stated reasons for leaving the governorship)? Where does it come from? How do women get the cankles and other misogyny to roll off their backs?

Anne Kornblut: Thank you! I knew I shouldn't have answered that one without googling to jog my memory.

As for resiliency, I think it's something some people are born with. It is certainly a prerequisite for running for office. Because unlike in other professions, politicians actually have to listen to what the critics are saying, in order to respond. They can't just ignore it all.

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Portland, Ore.:

If I'm running in a Democratic primary, the model I don't use is anti-union/pro-useless war Margaret Thatcher which is what Mark Penn always said was his model for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I NEVER understood why use Margaret Thatcher as a model in a Democratic primary unless Mark Penn and crew forget that they need to win that first?

Anne Kornblut: I actually feel for Penn on this. Clinton seemed inevitable; Obama, early on, seemed impossible. What seemed like the much bigger hurdle was getting the country -- not the progressive Democratic party -- to elect a woman. In hindsight, it's easy to see how flawed that logic was, but I can also see how it made so much sense at the time. And in fact, any woman who runs in the future will still have to answer the eternal question of whether she is tough enough.

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Alexandria, Va.: Anne, congratulations on the book. I will surely be taking a look at it. What about Condoleezza Rice? Though she has not expressed any desire to run for the presidency, I wonder whether she might be the catalyst we're all looking for. She might be more divisive than other potential candidates, but her career embodies the things that many swing voters care about -- national security and foreign affairs. And she's an accomplished female, African American and is much more established in academia than (sadly) any of her other counterparts.

Anne Kornblut: When I interviewed her for the book, I asked her that -- and she did not sound very interested in it. That said, everywhere I go, people ask me if she might run someday. It would be hard for her -- she has, after all, never run for any elected office -- and I'm not sure I'd blame her for wanting to stay put in her nice offices out in California. But I would never rule anything out.

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Germantown, Md.: I think that if Hillary Clinton had been nominated, she could have won the election. I have no doubt that she is plenty competent to do the job, but I also think that she had become a very polarizing figure in American politics. That would have made her presidency a very difficult one. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, does not appear to be competent enough for that extremely demanding position. I believe most Americans realize that. So who's out there, Anne, that a) can win an election, and b) is competent enough to get the job done?

Anne Kornblut: I mentioned Napolitano earlier; I also think that on the Democratic side Senators Claire McCaskill or Amy Klobuchar could run. Perhaps Alex Sink, if she wins in Florida. Or Kirsten Gillibrand, if her time in New York goes well. Perhaps a House member? Stephanie Herseth Sandlin? It seems hard to imagine anyone making the leap from Congress to the presidency, but it's not impossible. On the Republican side, Meg Whitman perhaps could, if she survived the GOP primary in California, won the general election and immediately turned the fortunes of California around. But that seems like a long-shot, too. As for Palin, I am not going to discount her, but she does face enormous challenges. Which is why I remain firmly planted in the skeptical camp.

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Copenhagen, Denmark: Dear Anne Kornblut -- I look forward to reading your book.

I'm a white male, 38, and a huge fan of Hillary Clinton -- the more I study her the deeper my respect grows, because take away all the celebrity stuff and all the baggage due to her husband mostly -- then you have a genuine workhorse committed to public service ... and her ability to reinvent herself is amazing -- I mean, will you look at those poll numbers!

Isn't she likely going to run in '16, and don't you think she stands a fair chance of winning?

Anne Kornblut: You are in good company, I assure you! I tend to doubt that she will run again -- in part because she has said she won't -- but have learned to never, ever rule anything out, especially when the Clintons are involved. 2016 is a long way away...

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Washington, D.C.: To win, a woman candidate must explain why her victory is better for both men and women, and not just women. Hillary Clinton did a good job of this, but many of her more vocal supporters did not.

Anne Kornblut: I think that's a fair point.

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Sterling, Va.: Hey, you know what it will take for a women to win (the election for POTUS)? Women should vote for a woman candidate. In the last election young women ditched Hillary for Obama -- because they had a crush on him! Anybody know of any other good reason? How do you think a woman will ever get elected? Not going to happen for another 50 years in my opinion.

Anne Kornblut: And people say I am a pessimist! I know a lot of women my age (yes, I still consider myself young) who voted for Obama for reasons other than having a crush. But I think it's true, any woman will need a high percentage of female supporters in order to win -- just as Obama did.

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Williamsburg, Va.: "One of my pet theories is that the first female president could actually be a woman who is black, Asian or Hispanic."

How about Michelle Obama in 2016?

Anne Kornblut: I've heard it mentioned, but so far she has shown zero interest in the substance of politics. Plus, she is very protective of her girls, who will still be fairly young adults then. But stranger things have happened...

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Ewa Beach, Hawaii : I will have to read your book. But, tell me: do you examine the media's treatment of Hillary Clinton throughout the campaign? How much influence do you believe that media figures like Chris Matthews had on defining Sen. Clinton as a conniving calculating politician while extolling Barack Obama as the leader of a rebirth of the United States? I watched Matthews throughout the campaign, and, almost daily (sometimes with you in attendance), he castigated Clinton, often accusing her of lying.

We have lots of women qualified for president. You mention Meg Whitman. I suggest that Carly Fiorina is ready right now.....if only she could win Sen. Boxer's seat....which is unlikely.

Anne Kornblut: Aloha! Let me start by saying, I cannot believe how beautiful your state is. I was just there covering Obama, and was deeply disappointed to have to work the whole time.

I do address media treatment in the book, including Chris and others on MSNBC, where I often appear. But I also point out that women were sometimes just as damaging to Clinton's cause -- and I would never argue that someone can't be castigated because they're female. As a reporter, I know I'll be out there challenging the next female candidate who runs. But I hope the gender-based questions and insults can subside, or at least be called out when they occur.

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Arlington, Va.: Isn't it obvious now, in 2010, that ideas matter so much more than a person's skin color or sex? If a woman wins in 2012, it will be a wonderful and celebrated moment, much as it was for President Obama in 2008. But I am much more concerned about the views and ideas of our leaders. That's what matters most to me.

Anne Kornblut: I think you are not alone in that.

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Seattle, Wash.: It seems like the fourth estate really is part of the problem now that most of them are part of a larger media and marketing machine and less focused on insightful analysis. They amplify the problem by using Barbie dolls to report the news who lack the same credentials as male newscasters. A simple example of this was the (and remains) the constant focus on what women in politics wear (honestly does Michelle's arms or Hillary's pants deserve that much ink?)

Anne Kornblut: One scholar I interviewed actually said that commentary on appearance is now much more equal than it used to be -- because we are so much more obsessed with what MEN are wearing, thereby reaching parity. Progress?

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Bronx, N.Y.: First, I would like to point out that Hillary lost by the rules of the game, not by the popular vote. Just as many people voted for her as Obama in the primaries, but she was destroyed in the caucuses, where turning out the small number of voters (mostly privileged) needed to win was much better handled by Obama's people than by Hillary's.

My question is -- I felt that there was inherent bias in the way things were presented, both by the campaigns and the media, portraying her as the "Lady MacBeth" stereotype. I think that if any African-American stereotype had been put on Obama, who is 1/2 African (not AA) and 1/2 Caucasian, there would have been an uproar. How can the language bias be broken? (examples: constant use of the word "shrill" among thousands of others)

Anne Kornblut: It's a great question, and I don't have the answer...Anyone?

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hillary Clinton did win. They just didn't give her the nomination. She received more votes than any of the other Democratic contenders. It was just the rules were such that Obama was able to win more delegates. Plus, Obama's name wasn't on the ballot in a couple of states where Clinton's victories were negated by the rules. As has been pointed out, if the Democrats had followed the rules the Republicans used, Hillary Clinton would have been the Democratic nominee and possibly president. So, the public has responded: it will vote for a president. Republicans will vote for a ticket with a female on it. It is just a matter of time before a woman becomes president.

Anne Kornblut: Another optimist...if it's fair to call you that...

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Boston, Mass.: I think Hillary's biggest obstacle in the primary was the liberal establishment -- they don't like her and never did. Oddly enough, the "progressive" movement bared its true colors as being just as chauvinistic as any other movement.

Anne Kornblut: And another view along the same lines...

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McLean, Va.: Sad as it may be, at this time, a successful female presidential candidate requires a lack of credible/competent male opponents. Maybe even sadder, the near-term political landscape looks pretty good for that scenario.

Anne Kornblut: That's actually how women have won in other countries. Part of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's campaign argument was that men had made a mess of the country and a woman would do better.

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McLean, Va.: I am a white man, so take this as you like.

I think that a woman will succeed in the hot-house presidential politics only when a vote for her is not interpreted in any way as an indictment of men. A woman who implies in any way that she would be a better president than a man because of some innate superiority of women (reference Myers, Dee Dee) will not, I assert, succeed. Men are too tribal.

The model for the ideal female candidate is Obama. I voted for him because I never once got the impression that this was an indictment of white people. This is what made him different than many other black politicians.

Anne Kornblut: I think you're absolutely right. And in fact, the Clinton campaign tried hard to follow this model -- and men did like her in many places. That said, women are an important constituency. So any successful candidate -- male or female -- will have to figure out how to talk to both at once.

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Queensbury, N.Y.: I heard you on NPR today, and look forward to buying and reading the book.

I know you said the Sarah Palin shouldn't be underestimated, but that struck me as a way [of] avoiding and saying the obvious. Unless I totally miss my guess, she will never again receive any serious consideration, other than from the fringe element of the Republican party. Yes, she has loyal supporters, but her quitting on the job simply added a cherry on top of a pretty flimsy political career, where as luck would have it, she became governor of a state with 850K or so voters.

Other than that comment, I must ask someone who covered the campaign, is it really true that Clinton had no post-Super Tuesday plan? That struck me as being beyond the pale. While clearly a competent and bright woman, and someone who could have been a good president, her executive flaws like that one make you wonder. What in God's name was she or her husband thinking at that stage of the campaign.

Thanks for your comments, and good luck with the book.

Anne Kornblut: Thanks so much. I was actually being serious about Palin -- stranger things have happened in politics than to have someone rise from nowhere for reasons that were unpredictable. Obviously she has massive challenges. But I am not going to be the one to disregard her potential at this point. It's too early, and the Republican party is in too much disarray.

As for Clinton, the campaign really did feel overconfident about their prospects -- and until very late in the campaign felt as though she was the runaway frontrunner. Perhaps the even bigger problem was that they ran out of money -- a related but slightly separate mistake.

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Arlington, Va.: I am all for Sarah Palin running for president in 2012. The Republican convention will be a four-day mud fight, and her speaking style will grate on everyone's nerves. She'll be turned to mincemeat at the debates (unless she chickens out on them). Obama wins everywhere except Alaska, Utah and the Deep South (excluding Florida).

Anne Kornblut: And another Palin view...

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Richmond, Va.: What do you think of Michelle Obama.

Anne Kornblut: I find her fascinating, but I also don't count her as a woman in politics. She's the wife of a man in politics -- at least until she exhibits some interest in the substance of governance, which so far she hasn't.

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Alexandria, Va.: One reason I voted for Obama was because I had so much respect for Michelle. She clearly holds him to a high standard, and the fact that he aligns himself with her, and that he passed her test, was and still is a big draw for me. I wonder what women in politics can learn from the individual success of Michelle Obama. Is it a woman with qualities like hers in politics that might have a chance?

Anne Kornblut: To follow on my last answer -- I think Michelle Obama has been a tremendous draw for many, many people, and she is obviously very talented and smart. But she also has the advantage of not having to answer any questions herself, or take policy positions, which is something no female candidate could do. So she is in a very different role, of the political spouse. If she were to run for office herself someday, that question would be easier to address.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Have you considered that polling data shows that millenialls are more open to accepting others without regard to race, sex, nationality, etc.? Thus, it seems that in both the private sector and politics there may likely be more level assessments of people based on reasons other than whether they are male or female. This should bring a new dynamic into politics and future presidential elections.

Anne Kornblut: I haven't seen those numbers, but that doesn't surprise me. That said, people often say they are open to things in principle -- but the real test is who they actually vote for, when there is a real person on the line. Obama's election is good evidence that you are right.

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Washington, D.C.: I would love to see a female president. I think that's a change that could do some good.

However, there is one figure who I think has done considerable damage to that prospect, and I was wondering what you thought of this assessment.

It's Sarah Palin. It became obvious quickly during the campaign that she was unqualified to be vice president, let alone president if the situation arose. Indeed, one could make the argument she's the reason McCain lost. With a female candidate as deeply polarizing -- and for much of the country, unqualified to serve -- on the scene, could this make voters nervous about electing women?

Anne Kornblut: Several people I interviewed told me that after the Mondale/Ferraro ticket lost, many Democrats were nervous about running women candidates -- that the lesson they'd drawn from the experience was that women were harmful to the party's prospects. It'll be interesting to see what happens post-Palin. That said, it appears that Palin was only one of many reasons McCain lost; she was a drag on the ticket, but the economy looks like it did him far more damage than she did. And I bet that doesn't mean that the next Republican will avoid the economy.

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Utica, N.Y.: If there ever was a female POTUS, do you think her husband could ever run for POTUS himself 8 years later?

Anne Kornblut: That is too many hypotheticals for me to wrap my brain around. So, sure!

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How come one seldom sees female reporters running for political office?

Anne Kornblut: I did not realize there was a national clamoring for it!

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College Park, Md.: It's great to have you back on the Post's Web discussions and I'm looking forward to picking up your book. I think HRC would have been a polarizing, yet thoroughly competent, commander-in-Chief. From your time on the campaign trail, and your research for the book, what skills or characteristics do you believe would be required of a female candidate that may be different from those expected in a male?

Anne Kornblut: I think that Clinton actually provided a pretty good model for future candidates. While she may have gone overboard with the tough-enough-to-be-president thing, it will probably remain something any future candidate has to do. And I believe women will probably have to talk about themselves as daughters, mothers and wives, which is slightly different than the personal questions men get. Above all, I think the next candidate will have to be comfortable talking about gender, much in the way Obama was able to deliver his powerful race speech.

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Baltimore, Md.: I think it's interesting that in countries with parliamentary systems, women have risen to prime minister or premier often enough that it evinces no surprise -- Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel are the two prime examples. I think a talented woman may find it easier under such a system, because our presidential campaigns have devolved largely into "beauty contests" for both men and women, or referenda on "who would you rather have a beer with."

Anne Kornblut: A lot of people agree with you; the book has a section on women in foreign countries, if you want to check that out.

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Arlington, Va.: Don't Democrat women hurt the female cause when they allow Palin's intelligence to get hammered by the press and talking heads ("I can see Russia from my house!")?

Don't woman have an uphill fight as it is without raising this old card played by men (make a woman look stupid/incompetent)? Seems to me, even if you disagree with her politics, I think any woman should actually defend Palin in instances where this occurs -- though they can take issue with her politics.

Anne Kornblut: Thanks for this point; it's a very divisive one. Other women I know made the opposite case -- that it was their duty to defeat Palin so she did not become emblematic of women everywhere. Talk about polarizing.

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Del Ray, Va.: The nomination hearings of Clarence Thomas gave ample evidence that race trumps gender. Feminist white women believed Anita Hill. Black women wanted her to keep quiet.

Anne Kornblut: Sometimes identity politics is enough to make your head spin, isn't it?

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Anne Kornblut: Thank you so much everyone! I can't believe I went over by 45 minutes -- that's how many great questions there were, and there are still more that I can't get to here. Please check out our event on Jan. 12 at the Post -- I am doing a panel with Dee Dee Myers, Kathleen Parker and Nicolle Wallace. Just be sure to RSVP. We'll take questions there, and look forward to seeing everyone.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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