“Dear Madam President,” begins Jennifer Palmieri’s book of the same name, “I am not even sure who you are.” But, she writes, “You need this book.”
An audience of more than 50, almost all women, gathered at the Woman’s National Democratic Club June 18 at Palmieri’s latest stop on her book tour. The event drew women of all ages, from college students to veteran members of the WNDC.
“I think it’s exciting to see women interested in creating these events,” Colby College student Helen Chavey said. She told The Georgetowner she considers it necessary for women to have female-dominated forums for events like Palmieri’s talk. “It’s always great to see men as supporters, but it’s important to have these spaces,” Chavey said.
Palmieri, an alum of the Clinton and Obama White House Communications Departments, served as director of communications for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Her book, the New York Times number-one bestseller “Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World,” discusses her role on the campaign and her advice for women living in post-2016 America — in what she says is still very much a “man’s world.”
WNDC President Nuchhi Currier introduced Palmieri, who read from the first chapter of her book and related experiences from her time on the Clinton campaign and in the election’s aftermath.
Palmieri told the audience that in October 2016 she realized the Clinton campaign had made a mistake in not trying to draw attention to the ways Secretary Clinton would do the job of president differently than the men who came before her because she was a woman. She said that the Clinton campaign had needed to prove Hillary Clinton could do the job, and they had — but by making her “the female facsimile of the qualities we look for in a male president,” which Palmieri called a “fundamental flaw in the design.”
Palmieri further spoke to the importance of having a first female major-party presidential nominee. “I had not appreciated how important it is that there can be a model in your mind of what you’re trying to achieve or what you’re voting for,” Palmieri said, and argued that Secretary Clinton would provide that example to future female nominees.
“From a historical perspective, it’s still a radical thing for a woman to be in charge,” said Palmieri, who noted that 2020 would mark only the first century of women’s suffrage. But she was optimistic about the future of women in politics. She encouraged the women in the audience to engage with the political process and emphasized the surge of primarily Democratic female candidates seeking office since the 2016 election.
“I think that this is a dramatically different and empowering time for women,” Palmieri said.
The club president agreed that there has been a surge of female involvement in the political sector in the last two years. Indeed, Currier is running in the June 26 primary to be the Democratic candidate for a seat in Maryland’s House of Delegates.
“Women now are so activated,” Currier said in an interview with The Georgetowner. “Our membership numbers have swelled, and they’re all young women, because they really now feel empowered, and they’re outraged, and they’re enraged and they really want to do something,” she said.
Across the country, more than 500 women registered to run for 2018 U.S. House and Senate races — 67 percent more than ran in the 2016 cycle, according to Bloomberg. And not only are more women running, they are winning primaries in record numbers. Politico reported that, as of mid-June, Democrats had nominated women in nearly 50 percent of their open House primaries.
“I think women, for the history of humanity, have had to sit back quietly,” said attendee Cynthia Nichols, a former Oklahoma State University professor of communications. She said she doesn’t know whether the United States is ready for a female president, even after Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but believes a female president is inevitable because “we’re too stubborn to give up.”
In an interview with The Georgetowner, Palmieri also outlined the difficulty women still face in breaking through the “glass ceiling.”
“Because we had the first black president, I thought electing the first woman president was going to be an easier endeavor than that, just because the history of race is so brutal in our country,” Palmieri said.
“I think we are less aware of the gender bias that men and women both hold, so it’s baked in the very deep level,” she continued. Palmieri said Clinton’s campaign and election loss made her realize that “this is really still hard, we’re really still really wrestling with [sexism].”
Palmieri’s book examines a trying period in her life. Not only does it involve the Clinton campaign’s defeat, it includes the death of Palmieri’s sister shortly after the election. Nonetheless, the book and Palmieri herself project a hopeful philosophy.
“I had hoped we were going to shatter a glass ceiling,” Palmieri said to the audience, “but in the end something far more meaningful — to me, anyway — exploded than just one woman making it up the final rung in the ladder. Those of us who feel this way saw all the ways we had been holding ourselves back.”