How Fio­r­ina dom­i­nated de­bate

Now she is be­ing judged in a way her male coun­ter­parts are not

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Tammy Bruce Tammy Bruce is a ra­dio talk show host.

And the race is on. I’ve been gen­er­ally open– minded about the Repub­li­can can­di­dates this time around. We all know what it’s like to have a fa­vorite early on, only to have the chaos of cam­paigns spin ev­ery­thing around to the point where we’re chant­ing “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” by the end of the night.

Can­di­dates who be­lieve there’s one strat­egy, or the Amer­i­can peo­ple are “dumb,” or the ma­chine will usher them through, will be vic­tims this time around. Vic­tims not of cir­cum­stance, but of un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the citizen, and even the so-called “out­siders” in their midst.

While ev­ery­one was fix­ated on Don­ald Trump, some­one else changed the game. Carly Fio­r­ina didn’t come out of nowhere, she came right through the front door. The woman CNN tried to keep off the main stage dom­i­nated the de­bate, and shocked her fel­low GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates into re­al­iz­ing, per­haps Mr. Trump isn’t who they should worry about.

With­out ex­cep­tion, and on both sides of the aisle, Ms. Fio­r­ina is con­sid­ered the win­ner of last week’s de­bate.

There have also been some ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ism in the post-de­bate tele­vi­sion con­ver­sa­tions. Rang­ing from anchors to pun­dits, we heard that Ms. Fio­r­ina had been “shrill,” or even the clas­sic “stri­dent.” She should “smile more” said one pun­dit. She needs to be “softer” ar­gued another.

We will never hear those sug­ges­tions of some of the an­grier men on stage. At one point Gov. Christie barked at his col­leagues that no one was in­ter­ested in their busi­ness ca­reer ac­com­plish­ments. No one sug­gested in the af­ter­math that he should have been softer, more smi­ley, or less… stri­dent. The out­burst did not help him, but some took it as be­ing… com­mand­ing. I took it as him need­ing a Snick­ers.

I dis­agree that naive re­quests of a woman seek­ing to be the most pow­er­ful per­son on Earth should be, well, nicer, is sex­ism per se. But it is a re­flec­tion of how unique it is in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics to have a woman, on her own ac­cord, in the most im­por­tant arena in the world.

There’s a sim­ple fact about how women com­mu­ni­cate. In­stinc­tu­ally, we tend to com­mu­ni­cate in­di­rectly be­cause of is­sues of safety. Most of the other hu­mans we en­counter are likely larger than us, cer­tainly the men we en­counter, so the best way to en­gage is in­di­rectly, in a man­ner that is less or even non-con­fronta­tional.

It’s not that we all choose to adapt that mode of speak­ing, it’s been handed down to us by an­ces­tors who pre­ferred to not be dragged out of the cave by their hair and thrown off the cliff. For say­ing some­thing the wrong way.

Some stud­ies even as­sess the body lan­guage of women as be­ing 55-85 per­cent of our com­plete com­mu­ni­ca­tion method. This is why, in part, we have fewer women in talk ra­dio, a medium I’ve en­joyed since 1993. Talk ra­dio re­quires a blunt­ness which is not the usual style of women. Body lan­guage works on tele­vi­sion, but not, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, on talk ra­dio. Be­cause of that, ev­ery­thing has to be con­veyed ver­bally, di­rectly, through not just words, but with tone as well.

Now as women are pur­su­ing and mov­ing into po­si­tions of power, the same sur­prise with the style dif­fer­ence may be dis­turb­ing at first, but peo­ple will get used to it.

So, the re­quests from gad­flies and po­lit­i­cal crit­ics that Ms. Fio­r­ina should soften it up a bit isn’t rel­e­vant. What those who are taken aback by her de­meanor, which matches the se­ri­ous­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion of her male ri­vals, will even­tu­ally see is the com­mand­ing, con­fi­dent and charis­matic na­ture of lead­er­ship. Some­times it in­volves a smile, some­times it doesn’t. What it must al­ways re­flect is a stately un­der­stand­ing of cir­cum­stance that will even­tu­ally make you for­get that the pres­i­dent hap­pens to be a woman.

The irony of this is Ms. Fio­r­ina’s break-out mo­ment was re­spond­ing to Mr. Trump’s at­tempt to di­min­ish her by den­i­grat­ing her face. Her re­sponse will be rec­og­nized as one of the most re­mark­able mo­ments in pres­i­den­tial de­bate history; a mo­ment when ev­ery­one on the stage, and watch­ing, un­der­stood the game changed. It is in the cat­e­gory of Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s re­tort to Wal­ter Mon­dale that he would not “hold my op­po­nent’s youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence against him,” to Lloyd Bentsen chastis­ing Sen. Dan Quayle’s at­tempt to com­pare him­self to Pres­i­dent Kennedy, with “Sen­a­tor, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Sen­a­tor, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Ul­ti­mately, our lead­ers are not our par­ents, they’re the peo­ple who must make life and death de­ci­sions vir­tu­ally ev­ery day. We need peo­ple who un­der­stand that. We are now re­ject­ing the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect no­tion that lead­er­ship must act a cer­tain way to please or pacify oth­ers. We are re­ject­ing po­lit­i­cal correctness. The good news for the Repub­li­can voter is that the lineup of peo­ple ask­ing to be our lead­er­ship is im­pres­sive, and the per­son who pre­vails will be one who proves him or her­self, as Ms. Fio­r­ina puts it, proves them­selves over time and un­der pres­sure.

On the morn­ing af­ter the de­bate, CNN asked Ms. Fio­r­ina, again, about Mr. Trump’s com­ments and sex­ism. She noted, “It’s still dif­fer­ent for women. It’s only a woman whose ap­pear­ance would be talked about while run­ning for pres­i­dent — never a man. And that’s what women un­der­stand.”

“Women are half this na­tion. Half the po­ten­tial of this na­tion,” she added. “But some­how we still spend a lot of time talk­ing about women’s ap­pear­ance and not their qual­i­fi­ca­tions.”

That’s true, but it’s some­thing that will change as the Amer­i­can peo­ple see al­ter­na­tives to that nar­ra­tive, and as long as the woman lead­ing the way breaks through ex­pec­ta­tions born of habit. Amer­i­cans want some­thing bet­ter, some­one out­side of the sys­tem with a love for coun­try and un­der­stand­ing of the arena. This time around we very well may get the first woman pres­i­dent, but a con­ser­va­tive who hap­pens to be woman who can ac­tu­ally do the job.


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