The First Female President

…and how the news media contribute to that NOT happening.

I have no idea who will be the first female president of the United States or when her election will finally happen.  What I do know is systemic sexism within the ranks of journalists and political pundits, including females, hampers that eventuality.

The most recent example was former Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri’s appearance on “Morning Joe” during which she discussed her latest article in Vanity Fair, “The Spartan: Why Gretchen Whitmer Has What It Takes for a White House Run.”  Palmieri’s assessment included the Michigan governor’s demonstrated grace under pressure during the pandemic when faced with armed protests at the state capitol and threats to her personal health and safety.  And how local and national pundits underestimated her appeal when she ran for re-election in 2022.

Yet, right on cue, MSNBC regular guest John Heilemann asked Palmieri about voters’ perception of a woman as commander-in-chief.

As you know having been close to Hillary Clinton, the question of ready to be commander-in-chief, a question that she, a former secretary of state grappled with, thought was really important, knew that a woman would have to answer at a higher level of scrutiny than a man would, does any governor, much less a female governor have to answer that question any differently?  Is there any thinking going on in Gretchen Whitmer’s world how to overcome that challenge?

If Governor Whitmer had been at the table, I imagine she would have treated Heilemann to some good old time “womansplaining.”  She would have reminded him that she and every other governor, male or female, is a commander-in-chief with primary responsibility for their respective states’ National Guard.  They have mobilized forces in cases of civil unrest and natural disasters.  And at the president’s request, they send troops overseas to defend the nation’s security and interests.  And they perform the solemn duty of being there when fallen members of the Guard are brought home.

In Whitmer’s absence, no one on the “Morning Joe” set had the hands-on knowledge to make this argument.  Nor was this a one-off occurrence.  Consider the following IMDB tally of guest appearances on the program.

Washington Post writer Eugene Robinson (224 episodes)
John Heilemann (176 episodes)
Foreign relations expert Richard Hass (157 episodes)
Presidential historian John Meacham (151 episodes)
Branding guru Donny Deutsch (139 episodes)
Economist Steve Rattner (133 episodes)
Former Senator Claire McCaskill (80 episodes)
Retired admiral James Stavridis (76 episodes)

The first governor on the list is former Maine chief executive Angus King, although his 21 appearances came after he left the statehouse and was elected to the U.S. Senate.  You eventually reach former Virginia governor Mark Warner (now Senator) and former Vermont governor Howard Dean, each with 10 appearances.  The conversation is never about their years in Augusta, Richmond or Montpelier, respectively.

The first sitting governor is much farther down the listing, Maryland’s Wes Moore with eight bookings during which he can share his less than six months in office. Don’t get me wrong, Moore has a bright political future but his on-the-job training as governor is less than complete.  Eventually you get to New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, in office since 2019, with nine appearances.

Having served in state positions under three governors and as a policy director at the National Governors Association, I recognize my belief that governors make better presidents than legislators is biased and therefore tainted.  But it is not personal.  President of the United States is an executive job.  Success depends on organizational leadership and management skills, not oratory or crafting legislative language.  There is no better training ground than a governor’s office.  Although on a smaller scale, the daily responsibilities of any governor are much the same as a president’s.

Just ask Gretchen Whitmer.  She had to deal with armed protesters invading the Michigan statehouse in May 2020, eight months before the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.  And she activated the state’s National Guard on January 11, 2011 to deter similar confrontations ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.  That is what a commander-in-chief does.  And you can learn how to do it better through experience commanding troops, not playing soldier at a military boarding school.

For what it’s worth.

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