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“GIVE ME A BREAK!” Real Female Leadership in Action

August 18, 2019

How many of you remember the 2007-08 Democratic Party’s leadership nomination process for President of the United States? It got a tad nasty, though nothing like the 2012 Republican Party spectacle. How many of you recall President Bill Clinton’s vindictive attack on then candidate Barack Obama, who was running against Hilary Clinton?

Well, that’s come and gone, now that Hilary Clinton did a gig as Secretary of State, resigned early in President Obama’s second term, went on to write an autobiography, became the Democratic Party nominee for the 2016 Presidential race, and then lost to Donald Trump.

At one event in 2008, in a room full of Hilary supporters, Bill Clinton attacked Obama’s campaign platform by emphatically stating: “Give me a break! This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen. Twenty three million Americans struggling for work. A middle class falling further behind!”

Contrast Clinton’s remark against his subsequent love-filled endorsement of Barack Obama at the Democratic convention and you’ll get whip lash.

This type of supercharged hyperbole increasingly powers American politics (witness the Republican Primaries for nominee, which produced Trump as the winner, and the subsequent Presidential campaign). In reflecting on these past political events, one incredible woman came to mind, one who didn’t just talk the talk but more importantly walked the walk. She did FAR more for her country than what other First Ladies, before and after, accomplished.

So who are we talking about?

Eleanor Roosevelt–America’s most amazing First Lady. In her first year as First Lady, she travelled an astonishing 40,000 miles to observe the devastating effects of the Great Depression and to connect with Americans.

While President Roosevelt–aka FDR–avoided talking about the rampant racism in America, Eleanor hit it head on. She worked tirelessly to combat racial injustice. She fought against the lynching of blacks, withdrew her membership from the Daughters of the American Revolution when black opera singer Marian Anderson was barred from performing at Constitution Hall, and supported the work of the NAACP.

While FDR brilliantly conceived the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as a way to address potential social unrest among the many unemployed young men, Eleanor walked the walk by going out to construction camps to inspire the workers.

She urged the Roosevelt administration to create what she called “She-She-She Camps” for unemployed women (see photo). Unfortunately, she was unable to get FDR’s cooperation. The above photo was taken at Bear Mountain in New York State, where Eleanor Roosevelt spoke to women.

It’s about leadership.

The main point of this post has been to emphasize the importance of commitment and action to a cause. Eleanor Roosevelt helped set the benchmark for living one’s espoused leadership.

So before we get overly hyped up with the media-generated circus that has become ingrained in political conventions, where the spouses of candidates are trotted out to talk about how human their husbands are (typically it’s been about males, but that’s slowly changing), recounting bubbly and tear-jerky anecdotes, step back and take a deep breathe. Reflect on what real leadership resembles.

It’s one thing to espouse what you think or believe; it’s quite another to put your words into concrete action.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

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