Nancy Kassebaum Baker

The Impact of Women's Leadership: Challenges Ahead - March 13, 2007

Nancy Kassebaum Baker
March 13, 2007— Lawrence, Kansas
Emily Taylor and Marilyn Stokstad Leadership Lecture
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Former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R-KS), delivered this lecture at the Dole Institute of Politics for the Emily Taylor and Marilyn Stokstad Leadership Lecture. Baker's speech begins at 9:44 in the video.

I'm really honored to be invited to be a lecturer this evening at this special lecture series honoring Emily Taylor and Marilyn Stokstad. I graduated in 1954, two years before Emily came to the University of Kansas. But I've been so impressed with those whose lives have been touched by the leadership she gave both here at the University of Kansas and around the country, and I would like to recognize her sister, Gen McMahon, who is with us this evening. Gen… [applause]

And Marilyn Stokstad—where are you seated? Oh for heaven's sakes, Marilyn! Without my glasses I can't see that far.

Marilyn, I've known for a long time, and admired the ingenuity, the creativeness and the dedication she has brought to the study of art history. She's not only known here in Kansas for her leadership, of course at the museum and in the field of art history but around the world. And let me tell you from conversation at dinner tonight, Marilyn hasn't lost her touch. She's going to lend her voice to what she believes is important and what is important not only to the faculty at the University of Kansas and art history, but whatever crosses her path she feels is important. Thank you, Marilyn, for being such a stalwart and dedicated representative of the best in the field of arts. [applause]

I'd also like to welcome the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. We are very honored, of course, to have Deanell Tacha as one of the judges on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. They're holding a meeting—is that the proper word to use, meeting?—consultation here in Lawrence, and I know that Judge Tacha is here and I think brought some of the Tenth Circuit with her, who may or may not have come. But anyway, welcome, and we're proud of Deanell and all that she...

I don't want it to start around the room, because there are so many friends I see here who have done so much and in our ways have provided the leadership that's important.

When Barbara said I needed to speak on women's leadership and the accomplishments of women's leadership, I said, "Oh, Barbara, you know I've always believed that men and women are interested in the same things. We all are interested in foreign policy and economics, healthcare, our budget problems. Where women have differed, and I believe Kansas...I have to think women are unique because we have a pioneering spirit that I believe has always lent a strain of leadership, no matter whether it was out in the field helping the harvest crews in, or in the highest ranks of the women's suffrage movement, or Carrie Nation who threw her hatchet through the saloon door. You know, we've always been engaged in what we felt was important for the well-being of community and family, and it's taken different directions whether it's teachers or law or doctors, librarians, art historians.

For me, I suppose, I can remember my dad when I majored in political science here say, "Well, what can you do with that degree?" [laughter] And he was right at that point, and it never crossed my mind to be actively engaged. But it has changed. In 1979 when the session of Congress started in United States Senate, I was the only woman at that time. Now, Margaret Chase Smith had been before me, and other women whose husbands....

Now there you are, Marilyn. I'm glad you came up front.

And now there's sixteen women. And I've been asked, would it make a difference if there were fifty women—half of the Senate women—and I said I don't think it would. And the reason is, women in the political arena—or any arena, whether it's faculty or wherever one may be—you are working with the issues you care about and you're working sometimes cross-purposes with other women.

Nancy Pelosi didn't get to be the first woman as speaker the House of Representatives in the United States Congress by batting her eyes. She got there through the political maneuvering it takes to be engaged in political leadership. And it's not maneuvering in the sense that it shouldn't happen. It does. And I suppose in some ways it's more difficult for women to do, but if you are engaged you are there with that in mind about what your goal may be. And I think that that plays into a role that is sometimes harder for women to do.

What I believe women add no matter where we are working is a range of perceptions that is perhaps...different perceptions, a broader interest of commitment to those things that come to us because we do care either for older family or younger children. And it's commitments we have to a nurturing process no matter what we're engaged in, I believe, that gives a different perspective that I think is important.

I've always believed women make better negotiators. I've always thought women were better budgeters—if that's the right word. Certainly I believe so, being on the budget committee in the Senate. Because we go to grocery store, and you have to shop, and you're more conscious of how things have to be balanced out. It's a perspective that I think makes a difference.

Women have achieved so much in the last fifteen years—woman as Secretary of State, a woman who is now leader of the House of Representatives, a woman who is now running for president as one of the potential, certainly contender, strong contenders, to be the Democrat candidate for president of the United States in 2008.

So women are there. And as I said when everybody kept asking me when I left the Senate, the good thing is it's no longer a big deal. There's sixteen women in the Senate now, and I think that the opportunities are limitless for women.

What's interesting in visiting with young women on the campus is the opportunities that are open today that women are considering, whether it's physical therapy, whether it's going into teaching—which I hope more men and women would consider teaching as a career—whether it's other fields that they're working hard on and the experiences that come.

But I think a new challenge for us as women's leadership today is how not to lose the importance that we have always brought to caring for our community and our families. That's just as important a leadership role as serving as president United States, I would be suggest.

If we can't leave a legacy of a generation that follows us, that will bring to it the essential qualities that give us a civil society, that engages today in the globalization that is with us in the world.

We need to be able to connect in a better way than we're doing today. America has a unique role at this time and one we really have to meet, I would suggest, in a more successful fashion than we have done. I think it takes an understanding of history, it takes a commitment to be willing to be engaged, it takes a willingness to try and understand why people resent us around the world. How can we be reaching out to make that connection?

I think women have a real role to play even if the very smallest and lowest opportunity to establish those connections which enable us to achieve a better understanding of people who might not agree with us. And it happens in our own neighborhood. How do we make that connect?

I was struck with the program that I think was running on maybe the Today program in the morning—maybe it was the evening one—about how to be happy. I don't know if any of you saw that. And what I saw was a problem where they were all laughing.

Well I remember at home when I was growing up, we watched—we listened, we didn't have television—Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen and Jack Benny, and my grandmother and mother and dad and all of us, we used to chuckle and laugh. You know today, I don't know that we gather together and share the same kind of sense of amusement. And it does make you feel good to laugh, and a sense of contentment and happiness. But it comes from the opportunity, I think, to be able to share. To share in an enjoyment and a contentment of what one does.

How do we teach the younger—and is it a teaching process for the younger generation? I think it's more by example.

I am absolutely astounded at the attention, I'm sad to say, of Anna Nicole Smith's death. Why? Why has that captured such attention? And what kind of example does it set to a younger generation?

What can we as women in leadership do, I think, that is important and absolutely essential today is to be a role model, no matter where you are, because you learn from what you hear adults doing. You learn today, in television, what you see adults doing.

And I think that this is something that does cause us to pause and wonder how to provide that sense of better connectedness, a sense of greater worth in what one is engaged in doing.

There is a quote that supposedly Daniel Boone said once when he was defining happiness, and he said, "Happiness is a good gun, a good horse and a good wife," in that order.

But I suppose we would all have a different definition. But I think as we look to them to where we are today and how important it is to understand ourselves and the rest of the world, it is a challenge.

I am pleased that President Bush is going this week to South America. I happen to believe we haven't paid enough attention to our neighbor in the Western Hemisphere, and he's going to Mexico and Brazil—and I'm not sure where else—for a week. And while not much may occur with that, at least he's connecting and he's showing how important that relationship is, and it's a relationship that should be encouraged.

I am hopeful that, indeed, we're reaching out to engage the neighbors in the region by Iraq and Iran and Syria, deciding to get together with our support. It may not come to anything, and it doesn't mean you lose sight of the differences that exist—and some very important differences—but how can you move forward if you can't talk? How can we solve a problem in Lawrence, or in Burdick, where my farm is—it doesn't take a lot solve a problem in Burdick, you just go to the post office, where we all gather—but to talk and to understand the differences that exist

And I think today we've become, in a way, isolated by our bureaucracies and lost a confidence in some of those even closest to us. We have a lack of trust in our judiciary, a lack of trust in our schools, most certainly a lack of trust in Congress—which probably has never been particularly at high levels—but it's a question, so then who do you believe?

And that, I think, is something that, lost, is hard to recover. And I feel strongly we're talking about a challenge of leadership and of what women can do to meet the changing environment we live in. It is to provide that need to reconnect, to understand, to communicate, and to help bring people into an understanding of those differences around the world.

Being in Japan for four years was a wonderful experience. But I look at the younger generation there and I realize that they're uncertain about the future and have become so absorbed in, sort of, the video games and so forth that I wonder if today, when everybody seems connected by a cell phone, how do you really sit down and carry on a dialogue and be able to discuss the differences that exist among us?

And it seems to me that's something that we can get back to through perhaps not only gathering such as this, except how you reach a younger generation, that we can encourage them to be participants without having to feel there is a need to have a dramatic career? It isn't always being on the cover of some stylish magazine or on the evening news. It's that day-to-day commitment. And I think that's something important for us to use as an example to what ultimately builds a strength in our own civil society.

Just today my husband and Bob Dole and George Mitchell and Tom Daschle, our former majority leaders on both sides of the aisle, were meeting. We all meet to talk about good things. They're talking about how to engage in better governance, in a more civil governance, and I'm sure in and room they were all nodding and saying, "Yes, well we did it. We worked across the aisle." They did, but I know that many times they were very upset with each other. And you could do that. But at the end of the day, it didn't become "us versus them." It was a realization that you had to meet together to get something resolved.

And I think as we look today ahead and realize the challenges with globalization, it's a much more personal thing. As President Ford used to say, his guiding principle was handed down to him from his stepfather, who was a very strong influence in his life, and President Ford said it was, "Be truthful, work hard, and get to dinner on time."

And that's something that's hard to do today. When I was growing up, dinner was at six. Today it's very hard to get a family to sit down together at dinner, on time. There's always school activities, there's something going on, and to be able to hold a discussion around the dinner table. And I know when I married Howard, he said, once when I started a discussion, "We don't talk politics or religion at the dinner table," and I said, "Well, what is here to talk about?" [laughter] So I have to have dinner with the children and grandchildren to really get into a good discussion. {laughter]

But I think, I really hope that...and I can't provide any good example for how we bring this back together, except encouraging young people today, who are great about going around the world. I mean, it's amazing today, the travel that we all do but that the young people particularly do. And that I suppose is a good way to extend interests in message and understanding.

But we shouldn't forget there are those who don't have that opportunity, those who come to our country who have not ever had an education. You want to make sure their children have an education—how important that is. And I would hope that we realize how we're losing out on encouraging young people to teach. It has not been a profession that is attracting young people today, as I would hope and you would probably hope so, too. And as someone said, well it's because there isn't the money there. That's true —there isn't. But there is a satisfaction, sometimes, that teachers had in knowing that somewhere they had touched a life.

And I think today when our schools are struggling to find teachers in history and math, English, science, we really have to realize how important it is that we hand down that particular tool Because if we don't have that and if we can't engage this class of students in a discussion about the differences that we have in life, that we have to face, if we can't encourage a career for those young students that gives them something to hope for, where will the jobs be, a student might ask in junior high school and high school ten years from now. We need to help them think through where those jobs might be and where that education lies.

It's a real opportunity for us, I think, because it is something that some of you have heard me say before—and I hesitate to say it again—but I've always think it's important to remember that we warm ourselves by fires we didn't build and drink from wells we didn't dig. And today we have to be sure we leave, still, those fires and that water to drink.

Thank you very much. [applause]

BARARA BALLARD: We'll have some questions, if you have them, for a while, and I think you understand, we'll have the microphones come forward. Just raise your hand and you can ask your question. Remember we only ask that you not given a mini-speech, that you just ask the question so that Senator Kassebaum can answer it for you and more people will have the opportunity to ask questions. So if you have a question, we have probably 20 minutes or so for questions. We'll start right here, please.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: If you were in charge, how would you go about achieving universal health care for this country?

KASSEBAUM: Well, that's a good one to start with. If I were in charge, how would I go about getting universal health care? You know, I worked in that arena for a while and I believe it is important, and the reason it is, is because I think as we're coming to realize, that with those who have no healthcare, the inequities—not just the inequities but the costs— become so difficult. So the more you can have, in some way, a universal care policy, whether it.... You know, the greatest cost in health care is the chronic care of disabilities over a period of time, an illness. I feel strongly that we ought to be able—and the overuse of the health system, I would say, too—so finding an answer that is never easy. It's easy to say we should find universal health care, and then how do you pay for it? But there has to be a way we combined what has worked in the, let's say, United Kingdom, and what hasn't worked and take lessons from that to find some things. We're such a big, diverse population and I've always believed we can't cover everything. So do you have an underlying risk pool that can cover higher care and an underlying health policy of which everyone has a small commitment to pay into—which we do with Medicare, to a certain extent you pay a small amount, not nearly, of course, comes back out—and are able to find an answer that way. We debated this so much about 1993, 94 when Mrs. Clinton was working with healthcare. We had extensive debate and we could never agree on what should be covered and what shouldn't be covered, and I have to say that boils down to where we are today and we're repeating the same arguments. I think there's an answer, but.... Sandy Praeger is here somewhere, our insurance commissioner. Sandy, where are you when I need you? She does a great job as insurance commissioner but she knows the health care issue very well, too, and I know she's working on trying to find something. It'd be interesting to see what Massachusetts and California do with their initiatives, and we may learn something from them. [to questioner] Do you have a suggestion? What do you have? [repeating response from questioner] A single-payer system, Medicare for All. But again it goes back to, what does it cover? [repeating response from questioner] Well, health care. That's right.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good evening. I'm not from the state of Kansas and I find myself having to explain some of the eddying issues around the state of Kansas today. How do you explain these eddying issues to outsiders?

KASSEBAUM: What kind of issues?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The political and social issues that eddy around when the state of Kansas is mentioned.

KASSEBAUM: The political...?

BALLARD: Eddying? You mean [making swirling movement with hand] evolution, this and this and this and this? Give me a specific one.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm talking about, how would you describe the culture of Kansas, because it has such divergent points of view?

BALLARD: Thank you.

KASSEBAUM: Well, let me say we've never had an easy history. [laughter] But I happen to think that, as William L. White said something about, if something started in the country it started first in Kansas; if there was anything that happened in the country, it started first in Kansas. You know, one of the early populists movement in the country started in Kansas. Mary Ellen Lease said, it's better to raise less corn and more hell. And we'd had the suffragists, through Carrie Nation and the temperance movement. I mean, we've been a fairly active population in Kansas. I told Howard, though, the question teaching evolution started in Tennessee with the Scopes trial. [laughter] It wasn't Kansas that did all the mischief. But I think, you know, there's been a lot written about it. As a Republican, we've had turmoil in our party but the Democrats have, too. They've just grown up with it. [laughing] [laughter] But I'm a real believer in old-time campaigning that starts at the grassroots. It starts with, I believe, an ability to respect a person's different points of view and realize that makes for a healthy.... If we all believed the same way, it would be terribly dull. And I think that that's part of the dialogue about understanding, and sometimes it's hard to understand if someone is a totally different point of view and you wonder why they can't be more reasonable like you. But it happens, and that's what I think is healthy, if we can discuss it. It will continue, but that's what we have. I would wish we wouldn't spend so much television time on ads and campaigns. I think it's enormously expensive and it can be so distorting. But we've always had from the very beginning time in our country, really vicious political debates, vicious political debates, and outrageous things said about your opponent, but it was never on television so it took a long time to hear it by the time it got down the chute. So, that's just the way it'll be. That's Kansas for you, I think.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Senator, being a highly accomplished and well-respected woman in political leadership, what wisdom would you give in a public forum like this to presidential hopefuls, especially our favorite son, Sam Brownback?

KASSEBAUM: Well, let me just say I respect Sam's sincerity and genuine beliefs. I am a supporter of John McCain. I was before, when he ran before. I worked with him in the Senate. I'm not sure that he's going to be successful, either, but he asked me last fall if I would support him and I said I would. Advice I would give to all of them is, one, it starts so early that by the time...a year from now when we enter the primary season, we'll all be worn out. If I were anybody out there waiting, I would wait until they all knock each other out and then get in. [laughter] But unfortunately it tends to numb us to the debate. And it just is so early, and if there I had any advice it would be to sit it out for a while. I wish they could all shake hands and sit down for about three months. That's not very helpful, but I would wish as they get into a real campaign, that they will be talking health care, they'll be talking foreign policy and they'll be talking education, and sort of, what are the priorities that we need to address? And they could well change next year, by '08. Everything changes so quickly today that we really don't have time to absorb, I think, the longer-term implications of what we're talking about. [pauses] Can I go back to health care just a minute? That's dangerous, but you know one thing I miss is seeing in our communities...we used to have awfully good community hospital. It was sometimes called the county hospital and that's unfortunate. But there was wonderful care that you could achieve there, and I think the ability to have that type of outreach again in health care, and a visiting nurse program is very important care in a community. That's no real answer to it but I think again it takes it back to a level where we can find that type of care. Now what's become so costly is, of course, the hospital care with chronic condition.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Senator, I have a personal theory that sitcoms in the '70s used to get a lot of laughs by people up behaving rudely and crassly, and it seems like we've just kind of taken that into our culture and that's sort of my theory as to how that happened, but I'd like to hear your theory on when and where the change came from your husband and his colleagues being able to work across the aisle and it seems as if we can't do that today. Can you pinpoint a time or an attitude or what happened that seemed to make that much more difficult today then, say, twenty years ago?

KASSEBAUM: Well, I'm not sure that I could pinpoint. I do think the money has not helped. And everybody's out raising so much money—3/4 of their time is spent raising money and going around the country trying to raise money, and I think that drains away the time I would like to think that one might spend studying the issues or discussing with colleagues or with constituency issues. And so television and the media and all the other aspects of it today. It's not just your major networks. It's the blogs and the chat rooms and the internet conversations, and it's expanded so that I think that's one of the changes. It used to be you could be on the Senate floor or in the respective Republican and Democrat cloakroom, then you would talk among your fellow colleagues. Plus I have to say, and Howard doesn't agree with me on this, I think that it's important to have one house, whether the Senate or House, the opposite party from the president. I think we've already seen a change in dialogue and debate by having the change that occurred. Now of course it occurred both houses, but I do think that's important. And I think it helps the President. It engages him in having to work and make his point with the members of the Senate or the House. And so that's, I think, beneficial. Now members of my own party might not agree with that, but I saw it play out in a way that I didn't think was helping anybody. And I don't think Congress has done much, to tell you the truth. Now I suppose as colleagues we all look back and think it was better when we were there, but I think it has not lend itself to a very dynamic environment, which I think could come.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. My question—you mentioned that we live by the fires and the water that the people in the past have left behind, and so I wonder if you could tell us the story of who or what inspired you to pursue a career in public service?

KASSEBAUM: Well, I suppose most people would say my father, but Dad didn't want me to run for the Senate. It was my mother who encouraged me to do so. I'd always had an interest in politics and public affairs and had campaigned door-to-door for other candidates. I still think that's one of the best ways to reach out and go door-to-door and be at gatherings where you can visit and find out really where.... The grocery store's a great place, because you do hear a lot when you're in a neighborhood where you know people in the neighborhood, which isn't easy today because our neighborhoods have changed so, in many ways. But it was Mother who encouraged me to do so, who really didn't care much for politics, and so I've always thought it was interesting. I suppose the inspiration wasn't any necessity to prove that a woman could do it. It was just an interest I had. I do remember a lot of people saying, "Why are you running for the Senate? Why don't you run for the House of Representatives?" or "Why don't you run for the state legislature first?" I said, "Because you bring the same qualities to the United States Senate as you do to serving in either the state legislature or your local community city commission, or your school board, or your library board, or anything else. It's understanding what matters to you and to the community you wish to serve. Your constituents may not always agree with you, but I believe it's terribly important to say what you believe is important, and they don't need to vote for you. You hope they will, but if we're trying please everyone by following what the polls say—they change every other week, and you know you can't provide some sort of real dialogue. It's easy to say I support universal health care —but how do you do it? And that's what you have to think about and discuss and carry through, and you can't do it in a 30-second spot, if you're running for office today. And it's so quick to pick up on the littlest things that I wonder if they matter in the long run. And that's when I say when you hold up a role model. Who is it that we think of? I suppose my inspiration was just everyone I've worked with that in one way or another, in community efforts particularly, in Wichita and in Maize, where I lived outside of Wichita, and then serving on the George C. Marshall Foundation. If I had to pick someone who I thought represented the best that we had to offer, both in military service and as a statesman, who realized how important it was—as did General Eisenhower—not just to have a strong military and a strong defense, but also that wasn't the only thing that won. You had to build on that as Marshall did with the Marshall Plan, as Eisenhower did through his leadership at Columbia University and then coming back and then and serving as president. The interstate highway system was Eisenhower. The People to People program under Eisenhower. I really became a great admirer of General George C. Marshall, serving both as secretary of defense, secretary of state and the chief of staff during the war. Realizing that he could serve Roosevelt and Truman best in that capacity, particularly Roosevelt. When he was offered commander of the Allied forces, he said no, Eisenhower would be the best. So it's that kind of leadership you long for today, that I think isn't always feeling it's important that they be at the top of the poll or on the cover Entertainment Tonight that provides a steadying balance, sort of keeping your hand, as a center would say, on the football, I suppose, and know that you can provide a balance to the discourse that really can tear people apart if there isn't someone willing to be that center.

Thank you very much.

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