This is an impressive work for two important reasons: first, my compliments to Kornblut for her non-partisan assessment of the problem of sexism in politics, and second, despite her being a thirty something, an age where most young women abjure feminism and believe sexism is a thing of the past, Kornblut brings to light that the double standard for women is alive and well in Washington, aided and abetted by the media and political consultants who don't understand how to showcase women candidates.
Ironically, in this world turned upside down, the only "woman" candidate to succeed in the 2008 presidential election was Barack Obama. According to Kornblut's claim, while Clinton and Palin had to downplay their femininity to appear strong and "ready on the first day," Obama was praised for showing his feminine side, being sensitive, relaying personal family stories of single mothers, absent fathers, breast cancer, and love for his grandmother, wife, and children.
While not personally a fan of Palin, I sympathize with her now for being thrust into an impossible position by operatives unable to understand both a woman candidate or women voters, setting her up for failure by misreading her strengths and weaknesses, and then abandoning her when things turned sour. (I now think Palin's "going rogue" might have been the most sensible decision she has ever made.)
The book is very well researched and her analysis of "what it will take for a woman to win" is thoughtful and should be number 1 on the reading list for any woman thinking of finally breaking the ultimate glass ceiling.
There is a lot to like about Anne E. Kornblut's first book--she excels in framing quotes--but my essential dissatisfaction with it starts with the title. For one thing, everyone Kornblut interviews appears to agree that party allegiance matters more to voters than the candidate's gender. This undercuts the "what it will take for a woman to win" premise that must have been part of the book proposal. One does not get a strong opinion while reading "Notes From the Cracked Ceiling" whether it particularly matters whether women win elections; that sense of urgency is strangely absent from Kornblut's prose. The title also suggests that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are comparable political figures. They aren't, of course, and to suggest that "a woman"--any woman--might be the preferable candidate blurs the enormous gap both between the politics and the educational/professional backgrounds of Clinton and Palin. Though both were headliners in the 2008 Presidential election, Hillary slogged through the Presidential primaries nationwide before conceding defeat and vowing to support Barack Obama. Sarah Palin was brought into the campaign (officially) as candidate for Vice President just nine weeks before Election Day. While conceding that the spouses of female candidates tend to undergo greater scrutiny than male candidates' wives, Kornblut says almost nothing about the controversial Todd Palin. Kornblut doesn't mention Todd Palin's membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party, for example, or his role as a virtual co-governor to his wife, as detailed both in the daily press and by e-mails released by MSNBC months ago.
Although Kornblut readily concedes that Sarah Palin was inadequately vetted by the McCain camp, she appears to accept as smoking gospel any information coming from them, quoting extensively from campaign aide Nicolle Wallace. Faced with the unpleasant task of answering questions about whether Trig Palin is Sarah's son or her grandson, the McCain campaign announced that Bristol Palin was "five months pregnant," therefore making it technically impossible for the younger Palin woman to have given birth to Trig. Perhaps. If Trig WAS born in April 2008, rather than earlier. But of course, no birth certificate ever has been produced.
Perhaps the most troubling error in this book involves Elaine Lafferty, former editor of Ms. magazine. Formerly a supporter of Hillary Clinton, Lafferty is described as "finding herself a volunteer in the McCain campaign." Lafferty was much more than a volunteer, "writing memos," as she explains disingenuously. Though not the only former Clinton supporter to accept cash to work for the McCain/Palin ticket, she may be the most prominent. Lafferty received $50,000 from the McCain/Palin campaign in September and October 2008, and later received thousands more from SarahPAC, while penning articles highly flattering to Palin (example: "Sarah Palin's a Brainiac") in The Daily Beast. Did Kornblut know that Lafferty was a paid operative, rather than a volunteer? She thanks Lafferty in the acknowledgments. It would be nice to know if Kornblut read the Federal Election Commission filings, or why she didn't ask such questions of her interviewees.
My bottom line on this book is that if you already follow politics, this book isn't likely to say much you need to read again.
on March 27, 2010
Anne E. Kornblut, a White House reporter for the Washington Post, is impatient to see a woman in the White House -- and not another First Lady, either. Her book, Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, is easy (yet purposeful) reading. But lest her novelistic tone deceive you, let it be clear that her views on the necessity of recruiting more female political candidates are never in question. Having personally followed the two aforementioned presidential hopefuls during their campaigns, Kornblut has seen firsthand the unique abuse lavished upon female candidates. In her introduction, she argues that Clinton and Palin "may not have lost because they were women...but their sex played an outsize role in the year's events." She then closes that section with the observation that "the glass ceiling may be cracked...but it is far from broken."
What, then, is keeping women from breaking through that glass? History is an obvious culprit, but Kornblut is disinclined to let the present off the hook so easily. More specifically, she faults the candidates and their large teams of handlers, who often waged behind-the-scenes battles over their candidates' public self-portrayal. Should Hillary exude toughness, or feminine restraint? How about a combination of the two? Would it help if her daughter, Chelsea, campaigned along with her? In one potent example of poor decision-making, Kornblut details the various Christmas commercials the presidential candidates aired in December 2007. While Obama focused on his home and family, Clinton devoted her airtime to wrapping Christmas presents with labels such as "universal health care" and "bring troops home." "It was hard," Kornblut wryly notes, "to quit being tough."
Of course, Hillary Clinton eventually lost the Democratic nomination, but not without some help from the national media. Was their constant bombardment indicative of sexism, or simply a reaction to the Clinton camp's preexisting ambivalence towards the press corps? Kornblut seems to think there is some of both, but the mass public's embrace of some of the more vicious ad hominem attacks on Clinton lend credence to allegations that it was more the former than the latter.
Clinton's demise was soon overshadowed by the meteoric rise of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. Kornblut does an admirable job retracing Palin's time on the campaign trail, especially in noting how quickly the high praise was overtaken by vitriolic condemnation. And while it is true that public commentary on Palin soon reflected sexist undertones, Kornblut at times seems unable to completely separate these attacks from the legitimate criticisms, most prominent of which was Palin's lack of a grasp on even basic domestic and foreign policy issues and her disastrous performances in network interviews. That Palin became a favorite target of the Democratic base was undeniable, but that this was largely due to her gender is much less apparent.
Furthermore, Kornblut missed a golden opportunity to delve deeper into one of the more fascinating subplots of Palin's candidacy -- namely, that of her role within the historical feminist movement. Traditionally, feminists were assumed to adhere to more liberal ideology, which in its most common incarnation usually included a pro-choice stance and a general alignment with the Democratic Party. So when Palin, a mother of five with strong pro-life views, became the vice presidential nominee, it seemed almost as if the modern feminist movement had reached a fork in the road. Kornblut had noted earlier how many women in their twenties had voted for Obama over Clinton in the Democratic primaries, confident in their belief that voting based on competence and ideology over gender politics epitomized a more authentic form of gender equality. With Palin, older models of feminism were once again being strained: was Palin's candidacy, given her conservative views (especially on abortion), a betrayal of feminist ideals, or was it reflective of a new wave of female ascendancy representing all points on the political spectrum?
Kornblut gives this tension a brief nod when she notes that "if Clinton had epitomized the feminist movement's dream, Palin was in many ways its worst nightmare." Entire volumes could be written on this subject, and in that Kornblut's book was ostensibly intended to ask these and similar questions, the fact that she devoted just several pages to Palin's role within feminism was disappointing. Similarly glaring in its absence was any discussion of female minority voters who faced the difficult and historic choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries. The question of which identity holds strongest -- race or gender -- was ignored in Kornblut's analysis, a surprising omission in an election for which identity took center stage.
Towards the end of the book, Kornblut contrasts the American political experience for women with that of other countries. The comparison is not flattering to the United States. For Kornblut, however, the upside to the disappointment of two women narrowly losing out in the 2008 elections is that countless lessons can be taken from their failures -- shortcomings that were as much the fault of their advisers, the media, and an unpredictable electorate as they were of the candidates themselves. With shrewd recruitment and well-planned campaigns, women will continue to challenge the gender status quo in politics. It remains to be seen when this will happen, but the shattering of the glass ceiling is long overdue.
on December 2, 2013
This book offered some interesting insights into the challenges of some of our nations most visible female leaders. While not as powerful as Leaning In, worth reading nonetheless. Regardless of your political affiliation, this book offers some intriguing tales.
on May 3, 2010
A combination of interviews, anecdotes, and analysis, "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling" uses the benefit of hindsight and Anne Kornblut's access to reveal the challenges unique to women in today's political world. While Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin are all different in their politics and personal history, Kornblut effectively highlights their shared experience of being women with ambition in her debut work. All aspects of their (and several other female politicians') campaigns and careers are examined through the lenses of the media, the public, their colleagues, and their own words.
Through this multi-faceted look at several prominent women, some successful in their campaigns and some not, a clear trend emerges: women in politics are judged differently and more harshly than their male counterparts. Acute attention is paid to looks, tone, and adherence to traditional gender roles forcing women with ambition in politics to constantly strike a difficult balance between beauty and humility, warmth and strength, caring (grand)mother and independent woman.
The post-mortems and analyses from the 2008 campaign season are abundant on bookshelves yet this work remains unique in its focus. Lovers of politics, sociology, and/or current events would be remiss not to place "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling" on their own shelf.
on January 31, 2010
I had a very mixed review of the book. Three central thoughts came to mind:
1. The book is about and for white women. She doesn't speak to issues which may be specific to women of color and political success. There may be some additional factors there that she never discusses.
2. I thought that it was too simplistic to reduce everything to resistence to a woman becoming President without investigating the internal problems found in the Clinton and Palin campaigns, many of which have been reported by insiders in other articles and books.
3. If there is continued resistance which is that strong among men, then why? What's out there? She doesn't investigate that very well if at all.
On the whole, I was disappointed and didn't learn much from the book.
on April 2, 2010
This is not a recommended read to anyone who is looking for any kind of depth or serious analysis.
Yes, the author tries to make a case for why their should be a woman President by now, but
we all know that already. DUH!!! And she doesn't really deal with the fact that Sarah Palin & Hillary
Clinton are both personalities and that plays an enormous role with whether or not someone will like
you enough to vote for you. Gender does play a role, but lets not pretend that Sarah Palin is smart,
or that Hillary isn't a bee yotch.
To put it bluntly, I will echo another reviewer:
I was disappointed and didn't learn much from the book.
Seriously, you will learn more by having a drunken conversation with a 19 year old
who just signed up for sociology at the community college.
on April 1, 2014
Interesting insights though not enough analysis in race and racial dynamics affecting politics and elections. I would recommend it for beginners
on March 31, 2015
Fascinating account of women in American politics circa 2008.
on October 18, 2015
Very biased opinions - not worth for your time, honestly. I am not sure how this book got 1-2 five star reviews but they must be from her family members. I normally don't give one star but I so disliked this book that I wanted to tell the truth to the world. As the other two-star reviewers have said, this is very biased book, and with not any substantial logics but just her biased opinions. I felt like she was talking to one of her friends in the bar with a beer. My recommendation? Don't waste your time- don't waste your money. Period.