Dee Dee Myers is no stranger to spin. As press secretary to Bill Clinton for the first two years of his presidency, she was both the youngest (at age 31) and the first woman to serve in that high-profile position. Though her tenure was short and turbulent, she received generally favorable marks in a difficult assignment. Upon leaving the White House, she consulted on TV’s "The West Wing," where she funneled her White House experience into the character of press secretary C.J. Cregg. Now a mother of two, Myers parses political rhetoric and nuance for a living as a "stay-at-home pundit" for NBC and MSNBC.
But she swears she did not time her long-awaited memoir/manifesto, Why Women Should Rule the World, to hitch a ride on the gender train with the 2008 presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"That’s really all accidental," Myers says. "Obviously, because Hillary Clinton is running such a serious campaign, gender issues are front and center whether anybody foresaw that they would be or not. I feel lucky."
Although she knew Mrs. Clinton "fairly well," their relationship was oblique since Myers reported to the president. Ironically, in a book filled with numerous inspiring women, Hillary Clinton is strangely absent. Was the first lady not a role model for the young press secretary?
"That’s a really good question," Myers says with a sigh. "I sort of made a conscious decision not to write too much about her because I didn’t want the book to be all about her. She was not somebody that I worked for, like Dianne Feinstein, or worked for from a distance, like Geraldine Ferraro, because my focus was so intensely on Bill Clinton. She didn’t have the same kind of personal mentoring relationship with me as some of the other women that I talked about."
Unlike Scott McClellan, former press secretary to George W. Bush whose forthcoming memoir was in the works before his parking space was reassigned, Myers was in no hurry to relive her history-making trial by fire.
"Everything about working in the White House and on a presidential campaign is so intense that I knew I just wanted to let some time pass," Myers explains. "Then I started having babies. If I didn’t have two young kids, I probably would have done this sooner."
True to its title, Myers’ memoir-with-a-mission presents a compelling argument that female rule is the obvious solution to the mess men have made of things to date. Citing dozens of studies that support nature over nurture, Myers explores how innate male aggressiveness has wrecked havoc on everything from the classroom to the boardroom to the Oval Office.
By contrast, she says women are natural consensus-builders and team players whose nurturing instincts would bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world, given the chance. In fact, she cites studies that suggest that the leadership, patience and time management skills involved in childrearing are just what America needs today to reinvent itself along more sustainable lines.
On those grounds, Myers has no problem defending Hillary Clinton’s campaign claim to 36 years of experience.
"I think you see things and experience things and learn things about power and the way the presidency works from that front row seat that you couldn’t learn from many places. I think that is a legitimate claim to experience," she says. "She was the first First Lady to come to the White House with a career that had been very much separate from her husband’s. I don’t think we need to denigrate her experience and her contributions because she was ‘just the wife.’ "
Both women shared the eye-opening experience of suddenly being swept by the electoral tide onto the foreign shores of the Potomac. "
Being 31, female and from California was like the trifecta of how not to go to Washington," Myers chuckles. "My learning curve was pretty steep. But [Hillary] became what I didn’t have to become, which was kind of a Rorschach test on how we felt about women in power and wives and their proper roles."
Myers was reluctant to take the job when George Stephanopoulos offered it to her. It had all the earmarks of the classic woman’s double bind, responsibility without the authority. Her instincts proved correct: She was frequently left out of the loop on important decisions, then blasted by the press corps for withholding information. She had no illusions about why she was there.
"I think the president wanted to give me the title because I was a woman, because I had been a loyal campaign aide and he liked me," she says. "He wanted credit for naming the first woman to that position and I got it; I understood."
Myers admits she much prefers politics from the sidelines these days. She occasionally has lunch and compares notes with current White House press secretary Dana Perino, the second woman to hold the job. "I don’t have any desire to get back into it," she says. "I like being an observer."
Myers admits to torn loyalties in the 2008 Democratic race; while she finds "a lot to admire" about Hillary, her sister works for Barack Obama. Which candidate does she think will ultimately prevail?
"I’ve always believed that a war of attrition favors Hillary Clinton because when you get down in the trenches, everybody gets dirty. Everybody already thinks the Clintons are a little dirty, but if Obama gets dirty, then I think he loses much of what has made him Obama. And that’s the hell of this crazy system; it’s very hard to run as a reformer. That’s why reformers never win. And I think that’s too bad."
Jay MacDonald writes from Austin.