The media have made much of Senator Hillary Clinton’s new campaign to show her “softer side” and her more feminine self. The comics have had a heyday questioning whether she even has a softer, more feminine side. Cynics like me recognize that this is a calculated effort to win the presidency. With her current support pretty much limited to single women (who are already in her party’s camp anyway and, alas for her, tend to vote in limited numbers), Hillary has to reach out to married mothers if she wants to “expand her territory” (to use the latest fad in Evangelical lingo, since so much of the married mother vote is religious).
So, the woman who famously “doesn’t bake cookies” now eschews male talk in order to chat with the women. And the woman who can be as tenacious and tough as any guy now wants to giggle about how long it takes her to do her hair. Her advisors are convinced that women will sway the 2008 election, so the former First Lady is reduced to a cold, cynical appeal to the women she formerly disdained.
Hillary is getting good response from her well-trained remarks criticizing President Bush’s “tax cuts for people like Bill and me” and her carefully parsed turn-of-phrase, “I’m not interested in attacking anyone. I am interested in attacking the problems of our country.” She always gets a laugh among older women with a wry comment about how the male presidential candidates are attacking her, saying, “when you get to be our age, having that much attention from all of these men …”
As all politicians are aware, mature women (especially those who are married and have children) vote at higher rates than men and are credited with being the determining factor in recent elections. Women are especially influential in primary elections because they respond to the issues particularly moral and social concerns as shown in CWA’s poll of the “Bible Study Moms.” Remember the campaign for the “Soccer Mom”? Now all the candidates are suddenly getting religion, and the only female candidate is appearing on daytime talk shows to “reach out” to the stay-at-home, cookie-baking moms with a double-edged message: “After this administration, we need a massive cleanup, and who is historically better at cleaning up?”
Ironically, leading members of her own party, and leaders of the feminist organizations that ought to be her cheerleaders, recognize that Hillary is a polarizing figure. The pundits mention that people either like her or loathe her and acknowledge that her negatives of 50 percent or better remain a formidable factor to overcome. Even many of her friends think that her decision to stay with Bill was motivated by her political ambition. Largely, younger women (roughly the 20- to 30-somethings) see the “Monica issue” as irrelevant because, explained one, they are a generation used to “cheating, lies and divorce all around us … It’s not such a big stigma our generation is much less judgmental than older generations in such areas.”
Mrs. Clinton realizes that her major weakness is her personality; she is perceived by many potential voters as cold, calculating, and – by the reckoning of some who recall her role in squelching Bill’s bimbo eruptions and the White House travel office firings – vicious, if not bloodthirsty. In general, her steely demeanor does not generate affection among her would-be supporters, and her seeming lack of scruples keeps her from inspiring new followers. Her reputation for shrill and abrasive behavior conflicts with the feel-good rhetoric that she tries to project. The inconsistency of her image creates a certain inaudible dissonance that generates discomfort and troubles voters. This percolates up from the subconscious level even if it never reaches a conscious assessment. Of course, then there are those perceptive voters who intuitively reject an image that they believe is shaped purely by focus groups.
Her real problem with women, though, stems from her calculating stances on the issues. Believing (rightly) that women tend to be “issue” voters, Hillary talks about what she considers to be “women’s issues” – health care, child care, family leave, etc. Hillary loses ground anytime the words “health care plan” are mentioned because it conjures up the idea of a government program as effective and helpful as the bureaucratic DMV office, where you stand in line to get a number to stand in another line and wait. The candidate just doesn’t seem to understand that these issues do not resonate with stay-at-home moms.
Instead, her emphasis on these issues reinforces the fact that during her 20 years in the public political arena she has consistently pushed a feminist agenda that is out of sync with most women. While she has deviated from the radical left on occasion (producing problems among her radical “netroots” base), few people doubt her fierce commitment to a hard left position, and her politically expedient behavior in those instances makes them suspicious of her motives.
The last presidential election was won because a majority of the voters ranked morals and religion higher than the economy. The South and Middle America regions, and women especially, vote their values. Thus, Hillary and other presidential candidates are focusing on the women and the religious voters. Does Hillary really think that voters will forget about her Oprah interview last year when she said, “Right now, the greatest threat to world peace is intolerance cloaked in religion”? She went on to describe the most dangerous ones: “People who believe that their religious views are the only right ones.” If she had been referring to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, she would have called them by name. No, these statements were another aspect of her earlier claim about a “right-wing conspiracy” being the source of her husband’s problems.
Ronald Reagan advised, “Trust the people this is the crucial lesson of history.” During the primaries and general election of 2008, the people will decide who to trust.