Articles by the Author
The Convention -- What I Saw
Posted August 28, 2008
The difference between being there, at the Democratic convention in Denver, with thousands of cheering, sign waving delegates, and watching the convention unfold on television, is of the mass surge of emotion which is overwhelming. There was no separation between what I felt, and what the crowd felt. The result was euphoria, which may or may not be realistic, but for the moment, I was swept away by speaker after speaker, cheering until I was hoarse.
Bill Clinton did what everyone hoped he would do, saying the words they had been waiting for:" Barack Obama is ready to lead this country," And the delegates gave him what he had been waiting for, their love and forgiveness for any transgressions he may have committed during this bitterly fought campaign. "I love you," he said, and they loved him. American flags waved wildly and the cheering continued, it seemed, forever. Tonight he finally came to terms with the reality of Barack Obama's triumph. Sixteen years ago, he reminisced, "They said I was too young and inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Sound familiar?" The parallel was unmistakable.
"Barack Obama is on the right side of history," he acknowledged, without a hint of reluctance.
If unity is what the Democrats were looking for, they got it. The roll call vote was not expected to yield any surprises, and yet it did. The timing was exquisite. At just the right moment, New Mexico yielded its place in the alphabet to Barack's state of Illinois, which yielded its place to Hillary's state of New York. Senator Charles Schumer yielded his place to Hillary Clinton. It was she who clinched the nomination for Barack Obama by asking for a suspension of the rules to nominate her one time rival by acclimation. The crowd roared "Aye," when Speaker Nancy Pelosi went through the motions of asking for a vote, and suddenly, the most important task of the convention was accomplished. We had elected the nominee.
The second task was to nominate the candidate for vice president, a pro forma vote which served as an introduction to Senator Joe Biden who was introduced lovingly by his son, Attorney General Beau Biden. The exchange between father and son went beyond the normal political rhetoric. I felt I was listening in on a family conversation.
At the end of Biden's speech, children and grandchildren came out on the stage; Biden held his young grandson in his arms, the boy's small head resting on his grandfather's shoulder. That image was worth 1,000 words.
The "surprise" of the evening, was a real surprise -- Barack Obama joined his new running mate on stage, an unprecedented appearance for the Presidential nominee who is traditionally hidden from view until the night of his acceptance speech. By this one dramatic script change, Obama underscored his desire to discard "old" politics.
Amongst the line-up of speakers, I noted the presence of a number of women in non-traditional roles. I sensed that Obama was targeting women voters by inviting women to the podium, including the first female three-star, retired female general.
When the lights were turned down low, a woman wearing a red suit, walking haltingly with a cane, worked her way to the podium. When the lights went up, they revealed that she was standing on legs made of steel, her prophesies. Her name was Tammy Duckworth, a 2006 candidate for Congress. She described herself as a "wounded warrior" and made a powerful plea for fair treatment of veterans who had "shed their blood" for us.
During most of the speeches, except for the major ones, the convention hall is a noisy and chaotic place. Delegates, reporters, and camera men and women wander up and down the aisles pushing anyone in their way aside. People keep on talking; it seems as if almost no one is paying attention.
The hall fell silent when a film honoring veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and World War II appeared on the screen. It portrayed what the news has rarely shown, fear, violence, death, and the aftermath of grieving mothers and wives. I watched the middle aged Vermont delegate sitting in front of me being comforted by his young neighbor as he was wiping away his tears and she was gently rubbing his shoulder.
Cynics might say this convention evening was carefully staged to manipulate our emotions. Believers would say that this convention night tapped into our genuine emotions: the desire for peace, instead of war, the desire for unity, instead of division, and the desire to reconstruct the American Dream, instead of letting it letting it dissolve.. I count myself among the believers.
Obama and Clinton - The Ticket to Win It
Hillary Clinton would be the wisest choice for vice president.
By Madeleine M. Kunin
Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 2008
Burlington, VT. - Common wisdom dictates that the vice president should provide balance to the ticket by representing a different part of the country, another set of experiences, or a basketful of electoral votes.
When I served on the committee that advised Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on choosing a running mate in 1992, he gave us only one piece of guidance: "I want someone who can be president." So all candidates were carefully vetted.
When Governor Clinton met with Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, the two clicked. Senator Gore was from a neighboring state and another progressive Southern politician. He provided a mere handful of electoral votes. Rather than broadening Clinton's constituency, the two men overlapped and reinforced each other. But Gore added one important dimension – a degree of gravitas aided by his foreign policy experience.
Barack Obama's choice of running mate has to be his alone. What can he learn from 1992?
The presumptive presidential nominee must have trust in his running mate, no matter who he or she is, and that person has to be carefully vetted. The vice presidential candidate does not usually make much difference at the polls. But that may be changing as voters become more aware that the understudy must be ready to take over if needed.
That's why Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may be the wisest choice. Senator Clinton's constituencies – women and working class voters – would bring the finishing touch to Senator Obama's ticket. And as an older, more experienced person, she may also bring a level of gravitas, not unlike what Gore provided for Bill Clinton.
She has the further advantage of having been thoroughly vetted by the media and by some 18 million voters. Within a hair's breadth of winning the nomination herself, she showed that a sizable constituency considered her qualified to be president – the ultimate litmus test for a vice presidential candidate.
Clinton's priorities were extraordinarily similar to Obama's, making it likely they would reinforce each other rather than compete.
The disadvantages ,though, of Clinton as VP are almost as obvious as the advantages: Can she be effective in second place? Can she support his agenda as enthusiastically as she did her own? Some say she represents old politics, contradicting his campaign theme of change. They can't forget some of the tough words she hurled at Obama during the primary battle. Then there is the trust factor. Can Obama and Clinton be at ease with each other, both on stage and off, both on the campaign trail and in the White House?
And then there is the recurring question, "What about Bill?"
Choosing a running mate is the first decision that the presumptive party nominee makes. It gives us a clue about his judgment, his capacity to reach out, and his vision for the country. Voters are keenly interested in the message that this selection sends.
Could it happen between Obama and Clinton in 2008? Their first public meeting with supporters in Unity, N.H., indicated that they could share the limelight amicably. And the country might just be ready for such a nontraditional ticket.
Some voters will, of course, oppose such a ticket because of race or gender or both. But others would be drawn to the polls for the same reason: An opportunity to vote for the first African-American and first woman – making history on two fronts.
There is something about running mates that creates a shared portrait; one that is larger than the sum of their parts. That electricity was apparent when Bill Clinton introduced Gore at the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Ark., in the summer of 1992. A magical chemistry emerged when they were together. They became a dynamic team, representing new leadership.
When I imagine the red, white, and blue balloons floating down from the convention hall ceiling on Obama and Clinton, both raising their arms high in a victory salute, that picture definitely shouts "change!" It would bring symmetry to African-Americans and women, two constituencies who often went their separate ways during the primary.
Clinton and Obama have already established a unique bond, having gone through the same trial by fire, revealing much about who they are – not only to the voters, but to each other.
In order for the union to work, Clinton will have to be offered a clearly defined portfolio of responsibilities.
Obama has campaigned as a politician who is different from the mold. Moving into the general election, he has increasingly revealed that he is also a political pragmatist who wants to win.
If, after he has vetted all the others, he concludes that he can work in partnership with her and that she would increase his likelihood of winning, he should pop the question.
• Madeleine M. Kunin is the former governor of Vermont, former US ambassador to Switzerland, and author of "Pearls, Politics & Power: How Women Can Win and Lead." She served as co-chair for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Vermont.
Goodbye Charm School: The Case for More Women Leaders
by Madeleine M. Kunin
AlterNet, April 16th, 2008
If we want a more representative and effective government, we should consider backing away from the traditional male style of leadership.
The following excerpt is from the chapter Women & Leadership in Pearls, Politics, and Power by Madeleine M. Kunin (Chelsea Green, 2008), and is reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Leadership cookbooks that list the ingredients for effective leadership are more popular than ever. Almost every successful CEO has been impelled to divulge his secret formula. Most have bemoaned the lack of leadership "in our time," exemplified by Lee Iacocca's latest book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?:
Had enough? Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff.
Men throughout history have struggled to define leadership, benign and not benign, from Jesus to Hitler, from Aristotle to Machiavelli. Leadership meant male leadership. There was no other, unless we count Joan of Arc and Queen Elizabeth I.
Click here to read the full article.
Who's Ready for a Female President?
by Madeleine M. Kunin
The Washington Post, January 11th, 2008
Download the PDF here.
Statement about women rising to positions of power on the Jewish Women’s Archive.
As I walked into the crowded House Chamber for my inauguration as the first female Governor of Vermont, on January 10, 1985, I felt physically uplifted by the crowd. A group of women from other parts of the country who had traveled to Vermont to see a woman Governor inaugurated were cheering from the balcony. The sound of applause—not just for me but for women rising to a position of power—reverberated through the hall, like the sound of an orchestra.
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Madeleine Kunin's commentaries on VPR
Listen to Madeleine's audio commentaries here.
It's About Time
Blog post on women in political office on Hillary Clinton's Official Campaign site.
A 9-year-old girl was taking a tour through the Vermont Statehouse recently, scanning the portraits of the men. When she came upon mine, she exclaimed, "Finally, a woman. It's about time."
The question the country will answer in the next two years is, "Is it time for a woman president?"
There have been several significant firsts for women recently.
When Harvard announced that its next president would be a woman, Drew Gilpin Faust, the halls of academia were shaken. Only two years ago Harvard was caught in a contentious debate about whether women could be serious scientists, and now a woman is at the helm.
With Nancy Pelosi at the podium, wielding the gavel, all those 9-year-old girls know that the United States Congress is no longer a man's world. Its as if the sign in the tree fort that had been scrawled, "Girls, keep out," had been replaced with, "Women are Welcome."
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A Math Lesson on College Loans
NY Times, June 13th, 2007
THE Department of Education’s proposed new standards for overseeing student loans — a response to the growing scandal involving kickbacks from lending institutions to university student-aid officials — are a step in the right direction. But the department and the Bush administration could go further in making student loans cheaper, less cumbersome and, most important, not susceptible to corruption.
In fact, the method for achieving this is already on the books: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, which omits the middleman and allows the government itself to give loans to students. It needs to be expanded.
Click here to read the full article.