Book Review: Jennifer Palmieri’s Dear Madam President is a little book about some complex gender problems

Beyoncé may have sung about girls running the world but Jennifer Palmieri considered this a certainty until it was wrenched away in 2016. Palmieri was the communications director and advisor to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the presidential campaign that saw the advent of President Trump. Dear Madam President is a short book that chronicles this story and gives advice about some possible ways forward. It is ultimately a rather sound volume but it could have been improved by being longer and tackling certain subjects in a more in-depth way.

It’s fair to say that Palmieri was left shell-shocked and angry with President Trump. It means she could have employed purely negative emotions to process the situation. Instead, Palmieri was galvanised and decided to write something hopeful and optimistic. Dear Madam President imagines a point in the future when a woman will be the U.S. president. It gives this important leader some practical tools for dealing with things; so in some respects it makes it the spiritual equivalent of Lean In, if it been made by the advertising experts behind Gruen.

Palmieri has certainly earned her stripes (and stars) in politics. Prior to 2016 she also worked for President Obama and on John Edwards’ 2004 campaign. A big take-home message here is that female leaders will encounter criticism from some people and sometimes this is simply due to people’s own biases convincing themselves that there is just something they don’t like about this particular lady.

Clinton’s personal email scandal is described here in some detail. Palmieri downplays it and believes that if it weren’t for this then some other problem or issue would have been dredged up to taint Clinton’s character. It’s pretty obvious that Palmieri is a staunch Democrat and her commentary is obviously skewed towards this political persuasion, so readers seeking balance best look elsewhere.

It is interesting to read Palmieri concede that they made some mistakes with Clinton’s campaign. She now thinks the email scandal would have been better dealt with had they addressed this by talking about it more frequently at the time, despite how uncomfortable it felt. She also believes the communications advisors were responsible for turning Clinton into a facsimile of a man. In the process they dehumanised her and relied too heavily on the antiquated model we have of women needing to play like blokes in order to succeed in a man’s world. There is obviously some commentary on gender roles and biases here.

Dear Madam President is ultimately a personal account of the 2016 election campaign, Palmieri’s personal life and a roadmap for the future. There is a lot of complex material tackled here in this slender volume and while it should be commended for being ambitious, there are certainly some topics that would have benefited from a more in-depth and considered analysis. As it stands, this is a therapeutic and empowering book for anyone interested in immersing themselves in a campaign staffer’s perspective and how they all handle the difficulties and challenges on the campaign trial. And above all it asks the question, “Can a woman be president?” and the overwhelming answer is “Yes she can!”

Jennifer Palmieri’s Dear Madam President is out now through Hachette.


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