Sexism seems to be the topic of the day. From Howard Kurtz to Geraldine Ferraro, the question of the women’s vote after an Obama nomination has suddenly jumped to the fore — and not just publicly, either. My mailbox has more than a few missives from liberal women who claim that they will find casting a vote for Barack Obama nearly impossible, thanks to the bruising identity-politics campaign in this primary season. Women perceive Obama as diminishing them as he diminishes Hillary, and even when those slights seem mostly imaginary, they resonate.
Kurtz looks at this logically:
Women are pretty ticked off these days.
That’s the clear message emerging from the latest round of media post-mortems on Hillary Clinton’s losing candidacy, which journalists now frame as a fait accompli. (And maybe there’s something to that, with Politico reporting that “Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager and confidante, Patti Solis Doyle, and Senator Barack Obama’s top advisor have informally discussed the former Clintonite’s going to work for the Obama campaign in the general election.” Et tu, Patti?)
Numerous women — journalists themselves and those interviewed by journalists — believe the former first lady has gotten a raw deal, especially from the media. It’s no accident that Hillary’s positive ad in Oregon takes a swipe at Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos–all men, last time I checked, and one of them her former White House colleague.
On an emotional level, it’s easy to understand why many female voters feel they’re been robbed. For the first time in their lifetimes, they could see one of their own occupying the Oval Office. And, in the space of a few weeks, that dream began to evaporate.
Identity politics doesn’t work on a logical plane, though; it relies on emotional connections, regardless of which identity is in play. Take a look at Geraldine Ferraro on the Today show this morning, explaining a laundry list of slights from Obama and the media:
Some of this seems a little harsh. The example of the Democratic debates suggest a very thin skin, and almost a pre-feminist expectation of gallantry from the men on stage. She was the front-runner! Of course her competitors would have to attack her policies and positions. The “brush-off” gesture also didn’t appear to have a gender message, although since he borrowed it from a rap artist — and rappers aren’t known for their uplifting imagery of women — one could argue an indirect, subliminal condescension specific to Hillary as a woman.
Ferraro’s example of “Annie Oakley” appears dead-on, though, and it’s not the only example. Dean Barnett runs down a list that has begun traveling through e-mail of late, including Sweetiegate. The media barely mentioned that and rushed to absolve Obama of his spontaneous condescension and dismissal of a female reporter, and Ferraro complains about that as well in this segment with Meredith Viera. She recalls the incident at a Hillary event where a couple of jokers held up a sign that said, “IRON MY SHIRT!” The media shrugged, Ferraro charges, but would have created crisis desks if someone had held a sign that said “SHINE MY SHOES!” at an Obama event.
Perception or reality, a number of women have started insisting that they will not support Barack Obama if he wins the nomination. As Kurtz notes, African-Americans would say the same about Hillary if she won the nomination. It shows the endgame of identity politics — disunity, anger, resentment, and collapse.
Obama will get pressured to accept Hillary as a running mate to assuage the resentments his campaign has created, but that will be a hard sell, mostly because it won’t gain him much except a running mate with even higher negatives than he has. Look for Obama to choose more wisely and look at either Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas or Janet Napolitano of Arizona, both governors in red states where they can help Obama possibly steal a march on Republicans. Obama needs to give women a reason to return to the fold, and such a move would likely succeed.
Update: Sibelius is the governor of Kansas, not Oklahoma. Thanks to Wayne H for the correction.