“I tried so hard to keep my heart and head separate.”
That’s what former Secretary of State Robert McNamara said when speaking about his fateful decisions during the Vietnam War.
But wasn’t that false divide between head and heart the root problem of Vietnam – and perhaps the source of our nation’s disengagement and frustration with our political leaders in general? Isn’t that why voters are so passionately articulating their desire for change in 2008?
We demand of our leaders a steadfast resolve, and surely no elected official requires this strength more than the Commander-in-Chief. We depend on our President to lead us in times of prosperity as well as crisis, and to represent us as a forceful presence on the global stage. Yet we also want to like our leaders, to know that they are human, that they possess beating hearts beneath their tenacious public exteriors.
Yesterday, a woman who has been derided as being too much head showed us her heart, and is paying the price for it today. Senator Clinton has often been criticized as a too-tough woman whose resilient exterior makes her somehow untrustworthy: “Controlling,” “threatening,” “heartless,” “selfish,” and “unwomanly” are just a few of the laundry-list of adjectives used to describe her in national media. So when, after months of grueling schedules and a whirlwind campaign, the Senator actually showed her heart yesterday when talking about what this election meant to her and the future of our country, logic would have you believe that it might have pleased those who couldn’t stop talking about how “heartless” this woman seemed.
Except logic doesn’t apply when it comes to gender in the United States. From The Wall Street Journal to CNN to the blogosphere, headlines immediately sprouted regarding Clinton’s watery eyes—and not in a charitable way. Meanwhile, her democratic opponent John Edwards immediately jumped on the opportunity to imply that, well, maybe this proves Hillary’s not tough enough for the job after all.
If I remember correctly, Rudolph Giuliani, the toughest mayor that ever reigned, showed a dollop of care and softness after 9/11—and it has carried him all the way to a presidential run. That’s the privilege of being male in this country: embracing your “feminine side” becomes a virtue. But when Clinton shows some emotion – albeit on the exhausting campaign trail – Edwards disqualifies her for not being man enough for the job.
As the first viable female candidate for our nation’s highest office, Senator Clinton bears a huge weight—because one woman leader will always have to prove she’s man-enough for the job. But her run – win or lose – has helped to pave the way for other women to enter the political pipeline, and to see themselves as our nation’s future leaders. Hopefully, their power-in-numbers will belie the need to divide heart and head, or to be judged by their displays of emotion or seeming lack-thereof.
But that time is not yet upon us, and we cannot afford any leaders, women or men, who leave parts of themselves off the table. Senators Obama and Edwards look like people who can cry to me, and I find that hopeful. We are seeing a surge in voter participation, and I think their humanity is actually what makes them attractive to voters. But it is a mistake when Edwards turns into “one of the guys”, or when media decries response tinged with emotion from a (woman) candidate. With the challenges that our nation faces, we need authentic leaders, who embrace that leadership with both their heads and hearts.