- Special Projects
It’s still early in the game, but some of my friends have already made up their minds.
They say will be voting for Hillary Clinton, the expected Democratic Party nominee, because they hope to finally elect a woman as president.
My exercise boot camp coach, KC Carlberg, has been touting Hillary since Clinton’s failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
Now, seven years later, Carlberg is rooting even harder for Clinton: “It’s time for a woman to be president,” she says.
My neighbor Wendy Wyckoff says, “ I would like to see a woman president. I don’t want to wait another hundred years for a woman to become president. Hillary Clinton is qualified. She has been a first lady; she’s been a U.S. senator, and secretary of state. She knows how Washington works. She’s qualified.”
But what about the continuing voters’ concerns that Clinton is untrustworthy; intensified by Clinton’s clumsy, evasive efforts to duck the scandal that won’t go away — her use of her private email account and server to conduct business when she was secretary of state and possibly to move classified documents.
Wyckoff says of the email brouhaha, “Hillary Clinton is not perfect. Nobody’s perfect but she is qualified. ”
Kate Harding writing in Dame Magazine describes her support for Clinton more bluntly.
“Meet the Vagina Voters, the new sexists.” — Brendan O’Neil
“I intend to vote with my vagina,” writes Harding. “There are other reasons why I’m ready for Hillary, but even if there weren’t, I would probably still vote for her just because she’s a woman.”
Libertarian blogger Brendan O’Neil ridicules the phenomenon of “vagina voting” as a setback for the feminist movement.
“Meet the Vagina Voters, the new sexists, reducing women to bits of flesh as thoroughly as those hoary old misogynists were doing a hundred years ago, “ says O’Neil.
O’Neil calls it squirm-inducing, “a terrifying shrinking of the political sphere … with the abstract being elbowed aside by the emotional, and the old focus on ideas and values now playing a very quiet second fiddle to an obsession with identity.”
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby says, “Reducing an election choice to a physical characteristic trivializes self government and the responsibilities of citizenship.”
Harding blasts critics who scoff at her emphasis on gender rather than on Hillary Clinton’s track record.
“What’s illogical and ill-considered is not my ‘vagina vote,’ but the ludicrous notion that 226 years of male rule has somehow left us in a position where gender is immaterial.”
I agree with Harding. When the U.S. Congress is 80 percent men and 20 percent women, and women continue to earn less than men for the same jobs, I don’t find it “emotional” to discuss gender and what it would mean to finally elect a woman president.
There is a lot more to Hillary Clinton than her vagina. She has the credentials to be president and the cash.
Clinton’s negatives remain voter mistrust and her lack of likeability.
But an unlikeable personality didn’t stop voters from electing Richard Nixon, and U.S. News and World Report points out that Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 despite voter mistrust about his “personal peccadillos.”
A lot of women, especially Democrats, say they don’t want to die waiting for a woman to take over the Oval Office.
In a January Pew Research poll, 80 percent of the women Democrats who responded said it is important to them to see a women president in their lifetimes. Only 20 percent of the Republican-favoring women said the same.
Reporter Gabrielle Moss writes, “Hillary Clinton is running for president and I am voting for her because she is a woman … I am voting with my heart and for once I am not going to lie about it.”
Of course, to my mind the female candidate for president needs to be the right woman.
Another interesting factor in the 2016 race is that this is likely Hillary Clinton’s last chance to run for president.
Certainly no one in the GOP is blazing a trail of interest to women, except maybe of interest to Republican women. Most of the 17 Republican presidential contenders are staunchly opposed to family initiatives such as mandated equal pay, mandated paid maternity leave and raising the minimum wage. And many of the male GOP nomination hopefuls oppose a woman’s right to an abortion even in cases of incest and rape.
Donald Trump, the current GOP poll leader, insults women practically every time he opens his mouth.
Carly Fiorina, the single female among the 17 GOP candidates, calls herself “a proud pro-life candidate.”
Fiorina is against raising the minimum wage, favors limits to access to birth control and thinks abortions should be outlawed except in cases of incest or rape or when a woman might die because of pregnancy complications.
But candidate Fiorina is hardly worth talking about in a discussion about her possible appeal to women voters because nobody thinks Fiorina has the slightest chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Only one candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, has been mentioned by analysts as having possible appeal to both Republican and Democrat women voters. Kasich has shown compassion for youth drug addicts and the poor and he says he will abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize gay marriage, not fight the ruling like some other GOP presidential hopefuls. In Kasich’s 2014 re-election bid, 60 percent of Ohio’s women voters cast their votes for him.
Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, says even if women claim their key reason for voting for Hillary Clinton is to make her the first woman president, the reality is women hardly ever vote simply on gender.
Lawless says the main reason women will support Clinton is because she a Democrat.
Female voters, like male voters, are generally motivated by party identity.
Lawless says, “In all presidential elections since 1980, women have been more likely than men to favor the Democratic presidential nominee. But that doesn’t mean that they always vote for the Democrats. In 1984, for example, a majority of women favored Reagan. They just did so at lower rates than men.”
When it comes to support from women voters, Lawless says another interesting factor in the 2016 race is that this is likely Hillary Clinton’s last chance to run for president.
Lawless says this is “because of Clinton’s age (67), as well as the fact that it’s unlikely that any candidate would have the energy or desire to launch a third serious bid for the White House.”
If another candidate wins the presidential election in 2016 and that candidate is re-elected. Clinton would be 76 when the next election cycle rolls around.
A lot has changed since Hillary Clinton’s failed bid to win the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2008. Clinton told voters in Iowa then, “I am not running as a woman.” Her focus was to stress that she was the most qualified candidate.
Lawless says Clinton realized later she made a mistake in that election by failing to highlight her historic run as a female.
“It makes sense for her now to build on lessons she learned eight years ago,” said Lawless in a phone interview
Now Clinton struts gender out front and center, early in the race and often. Even before Clinton announced, she asked an audience at a benefit for Emily’s List, “Don’t you want to see a female president?”
Emily’s list is an organization that supports Democratic women pro-choice candidates.
In her campaign kickoff at New York’s Roosevelt Island, Clinton generated applause when she said, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”
On the campaign trail now, Clinton refers to herself often as a grandmother and a mother and as a daughter when she talks about the struggles her own mother faced as a young woman.
Republicans scoff at this as “playing the gender card.”
Lawless says what Clinton is doing is more strategic than that.
Her trustworthiness is a concern,” says Lawless. “Also her ability to empathize.”
“Don’t you want to see a female president?” — Hillary Clinton
Lawless says Clinton’s goal when talking about herself as a mother and grandmother and a daughter is to try to convince both male and female voters she’s facing the same challenges as other families. She is attempting to make herself seem more empathetic. Lawless says male candidates do the same thing all the time to connect with voters.
This is a way for Clinton to soften herself, to counter the criticism that she is a rich career politician out of touch with the harsh lives of some of the electorate.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently slammed Clinton for playing up her gender, he handed Clinton a golden opportunity to lay down the gender card with finesse.
In a speech in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell said, “I don’t think arguing ‘vote for me because I’m a woman’ is enough … there are millions of Americans who would love to have a woman president. The question is, a woman president to do what?”
Clinton shot back, “He really doesn’t get it. There is a gender card being played in this campaign,” she said. “It’s played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception. These aren’t just women’s issues, they are economic issues that drive growth and affect all Americans.”
Critics have called this a boring presidential election but I think that’s far from true when we have a goofball like Donald Trump to amaze us daily, and the late entrance to the race of GOP gentleman John Kasich, who might appeal to some Clinton-weary Democrats, and Hillary Clinton struggling to make herself more forthright and less lawyerly.
It is going to be a big election season for female voters and, not to be gender-biased, for male voters as well.