August 27 2008
The Shattered Glass Ceiling: Women Voters after Hillary Clinton's Run
The Democratic National Convention is upon us, and much of the press commentary revolves around "her." Hillary Clinton, that is, and whether she and her supporters will unite behind Barack Obama. Both campaigns are now developing strategies to attract the votes of women. The best way to do this is not to play gender politics, but to craft sensible solutions to the problems that affect women, men, families, and children.
The Democratic race was unusually hard-fought, and the antagonism of women of a certain era to Senator Obama remains strong. Disgruntled Clinton supporters have created a "Just Say No Deal" coalition including 250 internet groups to oppose his nomination. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 21 percent of Democrats plan to vote for Senator McCain. That is likely to change by November 4th, but even a small number of Democratic defectors could cost Senator Obama victory in a tight race.
Senator Clinton's supporters are rightly proud of her candidacy. Set aside the controversies of her husband's presidency, she has become one of her party's most important figures. In the presidential race she vanquished several distinguished opponents, including Senator Joe Biden, who is now Senator Obama's running mate. And Clinton lost the nomination by the narrowest of margins.
Rather than blame Senator Obama, the media, or misogynists for her loss, Clinton supporters should celebrate her accomplishments. The glass ceiling doesn't just have 18 million cracks, as she has said. It has been shattered. The next woman to run for president, in either party, will be doing nothing out of the ordinary.
How then should Senators Obama and McCain appeal to former Clinton supporters and women voters in general? The answer is not, and never was, to put a woman on the ticket. The candidates need to talk to women about issues. And not just "women's issues"-whatever that means. As we say at the Independent Women's Forum, all issues are women's issues. Women are affected by questions of war and peace, economic turmoil, education, and more. Indeed, that's why Senator Obama carried a majority of the votes of Democratic women in more than a dozen states. Most women want the best candidate, not the best female candidate.
When the fall campaign begins in earnest in September, both candidates need to explain what they will do to encourage economic growth, reduce consumer uncertainty, and revive confidence in the financial system. Should government get out of the way or play a bigger role? What financial institutions, if any, should be bailed out by government? What, if anything, should be done about the housing market?
Thankfully energy prices have begun to dip. But the burden on families, especially those of modest means, remains enormous. How do we increase the supply of energy? And how do we do that while protecting the environment?
What of America's defense? We still have troops in Iraq, the fighting in Afghanistan is getting worse, al-Qaeda has been weakened but not destroyed, and the Russian bear has woken. These issues matter for women as citizens as well as for women as mothers, daughters, and wives. What kind of judgment and experience would the candidates bring to the presidency?
Education is another critical issue. Our children are not being prepared morally to preserve our democratic republic. Nor are they learning the skills necessary to compete in a global economy. How do we fix schools which are failing our children-and, equally important, transform schools to meet the changing needs of the future?
There is so much more. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, but there are still poor among us. How do we help them become self-supporting and full participants in our abundant civic life? Our health care system provides extraordinary medical treatment to many but leaves others behind. And on it goes.
There is no women's position on any of these issues. My bias is towards the private sector and away from heavy-handed government programs. Other women will disagree with me. But all of us want to hear the candidates talk about the important issues.
I disagree with Senator Clinton on many issues, but nevertheless admire her intelligence and her tenacious fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. The best way to honor her, however, is not for the candidates to make special appeals to women. Instead, they should appeal to the American people, more than half of whom happen to be women.