Love/Hate. That is the simplest way to describe the attitudes of most American women toward Hillary Clinton — and this in spite of Lois Romano’s kvelling in the Washington Post that “Most Voters are Women, and Most Women Favor Her.” But not so fast, Lois.
The truth is that, if she were a candidate in a presidential election, Hillary would win the votes of a lot of women. But those are the women who vote Democratic no matter if the candidate is or isn’t wearing a heart shaped pendant and a black pants suit. Some of those women — the more liberal ones, in fact — would prefer Obama or even John Edwards (who, by the way, some Washington political operatives told me they were still convinced will be the Democratic candidate).
Hillary is going to have a tough fight in the early primaries, and that type of infighting doesn’t show her at her best. When she is thwarted, as she seemed to be last week by Obama’s early jump into the race, Hillary can be both uncertain and irritable. (I wonder whether she would act that same way if she was commander-in-chief and up against a tough foreign policy challenge?) And a real political battle seems to bring out her expletive-spewing, lamp-throwing tendencies.
But if she ends up the candidate, as Romano seems to assume she will, part of her plan will most certainly be to win overwhelmingly the votes of independent women voters, and to win them in swing states such as Florida, Ohio, and Iowa. Remember, it is those women in Ohio, the one-time Soccer, later Security, and now possibly Mortgage Moms who won the presidency for George Bush in 2004 and ran away from the Republican Congress during last November’s elections.
The problem for Hillary-of-a-Thousand-Faces is which Hill to be? These voters are not the women who kept their maiden name, like Hillary Rodham once did. They are not the women who think it admirable to stand by a man who has had a sexual relationship with a girl not much older than his daughter. No wonder it is “Hillary for President” with the “Rodham” forgotten and the “Clinton” downplayed.
In her book Closing the Leadership Gap, Marie Wilson, who runs the White House Project, a supposedly nonpartisan organization that has as its goal the election of a woman president (any guess who that woman might be?), notes that the United States “has been steered by male leadership who tend to lead from a self-centered, self-preservation perspective.” (Sounds like both Pa and Ma Clinton to me.) In contrast, “Women…are inclined to lead, their families and nations, from an other-centered perspective.” Anyone who has ever seen Evita knows that this is not quite true.
But at least since her announcement we are seeing the kinder, gentler Hillary. On her Internet video announcing she is “in it,” she is sitting on a beige-on-beige couch, accessorized with a flowery beige throw-pillow, from which she invites potential voters in for a “chat.” At her first event after the announcement, she was Mother and Advocate, talking about health care for children, and holding a cute little girl by the hand à la Nancy Pelosi.
Still independent women voters are a fairly tough sell. They are thoughtful moms concerned about what our politics teaches their children. Though many believe that a woman could be president, and might want to see it happen, the problem, for them, is this particular woman — whom they never really warmed to, anyways, for all those years when she was first lady.
They know she is smart and hard working, but they also know that that is not what made her the political superstar she is. Hillary, with great calculation, has, year after year, always used her role as the wife of a flagrantly unfaithful but enormously powerful man to achieve her own ambitions. The question is: Do they really want their daughters to learn that’s the way a woman becomes president of the United States?