by Robin Gerber | bio


I’ve been traveling, promoting "Eleanor vs. Ike" and speaking about Eleanor Roosevelt’s great leadership. I had the privilege of speaking to nearly 100 women in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 6, one day after Super Tuesday.

It was a wonderful audience of women in high-level jobs in state government and education, and they loved hearing about Roosevelt’s exploits, from holding her all-women press conferences to arranging for the African-American contralto Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution had refused her permission to sing in Constitution Hall.

Roosevelt said, "Every time we shirk making up our minds or taking action we weaken our spirit and our ability to be fearless."

Roosevelt was always fearless in pursuit of her goals, but it was never easy for her. She fought her fears every step of the way. She learned to stand up to her critics, or to ignore them, by "getting skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide." It’s a Roosevelt quote that Sen. Hillary Clinton often repeats, and no wonder.

I think we forget how much courage it takes to run for public office, to expose yourself over and over again to criticism, attacks, gossip and rejection. For women, the road is even harder since our culture has yet to fully accept women as leaders.

I suspect that Clinton has fears much as Roosevelt did — fears that she fights every day so she can appear strong and confident, as she must. These are particularly hard weeks for Clinton, as Sen. Barack Obama racks up a string of primary victories.

Clinton knows this can all turn around quickly, but that doesn’t make it easy. The fear of losing the race; the fear of letting down her supporters, friends, family; the fear that the country will suffer without her leadership — these are all real and legitimate feelings that Clinton has to battle in herself.

The press and public don’t appreciate the force of will it takes for her to come out strong and positive and smiling at every event and during every public moment. Roosevelt would have some understanding, although even she did not take the final, courageous step of waging a fight for public office.

"We don’t become heroes overnight," Roosevelt said, "just a step at a time, finding strength and courage and confidence every time we look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Which of us believes she can become president? Not many, I suspect — certainly I don’t — but I do want to see a woman president. Thank goodness Clinton is doing the thing that history and so many critics tell her she cannot do.

Robin Gerber writes about women and politics for Women’s Voices for Change. Her new novel is "Eleanor vs. Ike" (Harper/Avon January 2008). Visit her website.

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