Monday, September 19, 2016

Hillary as mediator: why the job of POTUS might suit her more than you think . . .

For several months now, I’ve been wanting to love Hillary. She’s already my candidate because of the lesser-of-two-evils-condition of this election, but I’ve felt very conflicted. I don’t resonate with her as a person, but I get instantaneous tears in my eyes when I watch her enter a stage. That woman, right there, that person of my gender, could be our next president. I want this so badly I get a lump in my throat typing it.

. . . But I’m still not able to connect with Hillary. And I’m not alone. I decided to do some soul-searching (and more research) into what makes Hillary less accessible than other politicians, though she is a powerhouse of a lawmaker. Once you look into her approval ratings, what you see is that the nation approves of Hillary more when she’s working in a job than when she’s trying to garner their approval in a campaign. This is strange, but you start to see the pattern all over the place: she frequently delivers stilted, 'shrillspeeches, but when she was a Senator, she amended 67 bills in eight years and served on five senate committees. As Secretary of State, she brought Iran to the negotiating table, improved US-Cuba relations, increased exports to China, and more. These are no small feats, and people liked her while she was accomplishing them. So where is the disconnect between her success and her, well . . . popularity?

The thing that makes Hillary less accessible has a name. In his illuminating article Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America Sees Isn’t the Clinton Colleagues Know, Ezra Klein calls this “the Gap:”
There is the Hillary Clinton I watch on the nightly news and that I read described in the press. She is careful, calculated, cautious. Her speeches can sound like executive summaries from a committee report, the product of too many authors, too many voices, and too much fear of offense. . . And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will.
I now see exactly what Klein sees in Hillary. What’s more, I have come to see that the Gap is why I think she will make an incredible President.

As this is legal blog, I’d like to frame things from a lawyering prospective. Clinton is an attorney, as are over half of past presidents. It thus seems fitting to apply the profession to her demeanor. I feel there are really three types of lawyers. There are (1) the orating-suave-extroverted types, (2) the attention-to-detail-introverted-sharp-witted types, and (3) the mediating-community-organizing-consensus-building types. Most lawyer-politicians fit entirely into category (1), or are sometimes a mix between (1) and (2) (read: Bernie Sanders). The category (1) lawyers are the ones that have the most success with campaigning: they are affable, charming, and thrilled to hear themselves speak. However, Hillary is right between lawyers (2) and (3), she has nearly none of the natural orator in her. She, in contrast to nearly all of her peers, is a listener. Though she was a litigator in the past, I think that Hillary’s personality makes her more of a perfect mediator.

She embodies all the qualities of a great mediator (learned in my Mediation course with Steven Rosenberg, here at UC Davis). First, she’s an incredibly active listener embarking on “listening tours” to kick off her last two campaigns and is inclined to use what she hears (e.g. ‘card-table time’ wherein she re-reads all her notes from listening and develops policy). Second, her work-style is collaborative and consensus building. Though this is sometimes to her detriment, it gains her great loyalty and gives her a large network of people from whom she can ask favors and ideas. Third, she is flexible, and fourth she is creative in developing thoughtful initiatives like this one. Finally, Hillary is persistent. It doesn’t take much to see that she has been working toward higher political office -perhaps even toward this very race- since possibly the mid-eighties.

To my mind, these qualities make her a perfect fit for the presidential office. Indeed, Matthew Yglesias is in accord in his Vox article Hillary Clinton is bad at speeches for the exact reasons she'd be a good president:
The very qualities that tend to make Clinton bad at speechwriting — a penchant for the least-common-denominator and a passion for making sure no small thing is forgotten — are qualities that are extremely relevant to effective leadership in a political system that’s built to favor transactional relationships over big ideas.
I’m interested in a president who listens, who is consensus building, who is flexible and creative, and who remains persistent despite the great quantity of hate coming her way. I'm enthused by what I now know about Hillary's style of leadership. It is worth noting that all of these Mediator qualities are also seen as traditional female qualities (female leadership strengths tend to be undervalued, BTW; also see an unpacking of the complicated concept of female ‘traits’ in Judith Baer’s book Our Lives Before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence). However, great Mediator traits aren't solely ascribable to females, in fact there are more males in the Alternative Dispute Resolution professions in the US than there are females.

I am thus not persuaded that it’s simply Hillary’s femaleness that informs this mediation-type leadership style; women have been shown to take all kinds of approaches to accomplish mediated results. I think Hillary has simply discovered the method of governance that works for her. I am inspired by that method.

Now that I'm learning about mediation, I'm likely to favor it over the exorbitant cost of litigation. I’m similarly inclined, based on similar learning, to favor a mediating president over a fighter who may cost the country a lot in the long-run.

I am now overwhelmingly on board with scores of other women who support Hillary. I’ll sing that fight song with you every time, Ms. Clinton. There’s that darn lump in my throat again.


Flamingo said...

I find the link you make between the qualities found in a good mediator and those desirable to be found in a good President very relevant. I completely agree on the fact that what should really matter in electing POTUS is the competence and political achievements of the candidate and not necessarily their ability to make good speeches or the way they look.

However, I can't help but wonder to which extent the Vox article's author is right in saying that "Clinton is bad at speechwriting ". Doesn't it seem more likely that she is not writing them all by herself? Or not at all, just giving out guidelines and approving them? Then maybe her team is also part of the speeches problem(strategy?).

Kyle Kate Dudley said...


I completely agree. I think part of the problem with the speeches is that she attempts to incorporate the ideas of too many different speech writers who are all trying to represent the disparate interests of her constituency. It might make for a more varied and less accessible message which doesn't cater to the way our country listens to speeches, as we often listen in soundbites.

Julie Maguire said...

Kyle Kate,

Thank you for such an informative post. I really appreciate the way in which you acknowledge Clinton's abilities as a mediator and their potential to aid her in her (hopefully) potential presidency. It is a very interesting and enlightening viewpoint on her capabilities for the role of president.

I can also empathise to a certain extent with your inability to connect with Clinton. In this article, published in The Irish Times, Clinton's "coldness" is acknowledged as a reason for voters not to warm to her (pun unintended). However, while I appreciate the desire to relate to your president, I also question if a male elect would be criticised in this way. Would warmth be expected of a man in this same position, or would an element of detachment be expected?

Julie Maguire said...

Sorry the link to the IT article never posted in my previous comment.

Josie Zimmermann said...

I am so glad you wrote about this. I've read both of the articles you mentioned, and they had remarkably similar effects on me. While reading about Clinton's Listening Tour, it struck me how crazy it is that we expect someone who is good at campaigning to also be good at leading a country. Listening seems like such an intuitively desirable trait in a leader, and an equally horrific campaign strategy. I don't want a president who is the best at rallying a crowd. In a country as large as ours a large number of people will inevitably be left out of any crowd. I want a president who doesn't forget about those people. I want a president who is thoughtful, which is maybe not an easy quality to showcase in a 90 minute debate. I want a president who is capable of bipartisan action, which is hard to see in a fantastic campaigner who smears their opponents.

I think a lot of the criticisms of Clinton are fear of a changing norm. She is absolutely different from what America has seen before--and not just because she's a woman. Her style of leadership and campaigning is very different. I think once I realized that, I was much less bothered by her supposed blunders. She's not exactly trying to like all the men who came before her, and I appreciate that.

Earnest Femingway said...

Kyle Kate, this may be the blog post I connect with most all year. I was a Bern-er during the primary, but as the likely end results became clearer I went through a journey so similar to yours. For me, I considered some of the common criticisms against HRC and tried looking at them from a different angles. Flip-flopping? A politician reconsidering their platform and evolving is a positive thing! The inability to connect with voters? HRC is a policy nerd, just like me! What about Bill's record? It is entirely sexist and unfair to blame a woman for the entirely independent actions of her husband! A little critical engagement and introspection and boom, I was "with her."

Reading your post I also realize how much more stock I place in mediator talents than orating skill. I whole-heartedly agree with Josie's comment. I want a politician who is going to get things done. For me, incremental progress is better than no progress. Your analysis of HRC's political style has only bolstered my belief in her ability to be POTUS.