DICK MORRIS’ ’08 PLAY-BY-PLAY
Volume 1, #36
September 15, 2008
OBAMA AND WOMEN: AN UNHAPPY COURTSHIP
Obama has never gone out of his way to relate to women. Only seven of his top twenty Senate staff positions are filled by women (McCain has thirteen of twenty) and women on Obama’s staff earn 83 cents for each dollar his male staffers are paid. (McCain pays his female staffers $1.04 for each dollar he pays to his men).
From the very first moment Obama entered the presidential race, feminists resented him for trying to stop Hillary from becoming the first woman to be elected president. In the minds of feminists, the fifteenth Amendment (giving blacks the vote) competed with the nineteenth (women’s suffrage) for national attention. Even though women had to wait more than fifty years longer than African-Americans to get the vote, feminists were in no mood to let a black man get elected in place of a white woman, especially if her name was Hillary Clinton.
Clearly the Obama/Clinton race triggered ill feelings among many women and laid the basis for the problems Obama was to have in the general election. He won the nomination by beating a woman and then hoped to capitalize on the votes of women to get elected in November. As the race developed, the elbows got sharper and the rhetoric of both sides seemed to emphasize race and gender more and more. Hillary appealed for the votes of “white working people” while Obama lambasted and ridiculed her defense of guns by calling her “Annie Oakley.”
Although Obama always spoke of Hillary respectfully in public, it was clear to all voters that some ill will had crept into their relationship. After the primaries, Hillary postponed her concession for at least a week as pressure built on her to step aside. For his part, Obama seemed to snub Hillary, passing up opportunities to meet her and doing little to help her raise funds to pay off her campaign debt.
As it became clearer that he was not about to select Hillary for vice-president, the mutual animosity seemed to escalate. Obama made it clear that he would not even consider Hillary for vice president, ostentatiously refusing to vet her or to include her on his short list of candidates.
By early July, even as Obama led McCain in the polls, it was evident that his drawing power among women was dwindling. The downhill progression of that relationship and the steps the Republicans took to hasten its demise, may explain the true turning point of the 2008 election.
Rejected for vice-president, Hillary bargained hard for an optimum role at the Democratic convention, insisting loudly -through her spokespeople – on the right to be placed in nomination, have a roll call, and address the convention in prime time. She also asked that Bill be permitted to speak on a separate night. Conscious that he was incurring flack from her supporters for not putting her on the ticket, Obama gave in on all these seemingly cosmetic issues, affording Hillary just the platform she sought at the convention.
But after Obama nominated Joe Biden for vice president, Hillary’s extensive exposure at the convention began to backfire on Obama. When Mrs. Clinton delivered a magnificent convention speech, the best of her life, everybody in the hall wondered about the same collective question: Why had she not been chosen?
In reality, Bill probably had more to do with Hillary absence from the ticket than did the Senator herself. Unwilling to have to explain why the former president would not release the names of his library donors, Obama did not relish having to be held accountable for the former president’s shady financial dealings in Kazakhstan or Dubai. Aware that putting Hillary on the ticket would sign him up for a political “Ménage à trois”, Obama wisely demurred.
Hillary had so infiltrated the convention that it had the ring of a Clinton convention throughout its first three days. Only when it moved from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field for Obama’s acceptance speech on the fourth and final day, did it acquire the hallmarks of Obama’s convention. When Biden spoke – failing to excite the crowd as Hillary had done – the convention became fixated on why Hillary was not on the ticket.
Party faithful and activists fell in line after Obama spoke, but the scars among female voters lingered on.
The polling reflected that Obama did not fall uniformly short among all women. He carried women under the age of 40 by large margins. But polls indicated that McCain was actually ahead of him among female voters over 40 by 4 points. Most Democratic candidates since 1976 had scored more than ten points better among middle aged and older women than among men of the same age.
MCCAIN FINESSES OBAMA
Then the McCain campaign pulled off one of the most successful head fakes in modern American politics. Obama had to decide not only whether or not to choose Hillary, but whether to go with another woman, likely Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Had he opted for either woman, the odds are that he would have won the election, but McCain out maneuvered him. Through leaks and judiciously planted stories, the McCain campaign convinced Obama and his people that the Republicans were going to nominate a man – Romney, Lieberman, or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty – instead of Sarah Palin who they had, in fact, been eyeing for the job for weeks and weeks before.
For his part, Obama wanted to believe that McCain would pick a boring man because he did not want Hillary on his ticket and did not dare go around her to choose Sebelius. The conventional wisdom among Democratic pols was that Obama would have triggered a floor fight and a revolution had he chosen a woman other than Hillary. Nonsense. Had Obama tapped Sebelius, Hillary would have had to grin and hail the advance for feminism. To do otherwise would be to admit that she placed her personal ambition ahead of her support for her gender, something which, while obviously true, she could never admit. Her supporters, more true feminists than true Hillary backers, would have been seduced by Sebelius’ speech and the hoopla surrounding her designation and would have been enthusiastic. Only a few top level men in Hillary’ milieu, inscluding one former president, would have been grumpy about the choice.
But with McCain meeting with Romney and Pawlenty and floating rumors about them, it seemed that Obama could go ahead and name Biden without fear that the Republicans would embarrass him by naming a woman for their ticket.
After all, Obama’s people reasoned, who would McCain pick? Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison – floated out there consciously as a decoy for Palin – was old and dull and had been indicted (although acquitted) in 1993. She seemed an unlikely choice. Palin? Are you kidding they must have asked? McCain wouldn’t do it.
But McCain did. And he did so right in the middle of Obama’s post convention bounce from his excellent speech. The Friday news fell like a wet blanket over the memories of the carnival like atmosphere at Invesco Field the night before. And Obama’s woman problem just got worse.
THE DEMOCRATS FALL INTO MCCAIN’S TRAP
But then the Democrats compounded the error by attacking Palin and doing so on personal, gender based issues, no less. It was a gift to the Republicans even their most sophisticated strategists could not have anticipated. And what was the leading charge against Palin? That her daughter was pregnant and not married!
McCain wisely told the media that Sarah had informed him of the situation before he offered her the job and that he said it would make no difference in his decision. In one stroke, the Democrats undid all the good for themselves they had accomplished in decades of support for welfare, food stamps, day care, rent subsidies, headstart programs, and abortion. By seeming to suggest that a woman should be disqualified because her daughter was pregnant and unmarried was a slap in the face of the tens of millions of Democratic single women voters upon whom the party depended for its fabled gender gap.
Suddenly, the party roles were reversed. McCain, tolerant of Sarah’s personal decisions, was the wise, open minded one, while the Democrats were the narrow minded, harsh, judgmental party. When personal attack followed upon attack women of all ages and backgrounds rallied to Sarah’s defense and were appalled by the Democratic tactics. But the charges kept on coming: Sarah’s husband had a twenty year old DWI. Her sister and brother in law were going through a messy divorce and she had gotten him fired as a state trooper (after learning that he tazered his son and threatened her family’s life. One tabloid is rumored to be working on a story that her kids use drugs (this in a race where the Democratic candidate admitted using cocaine through his college years).
And then Sarah Palin spoke at the convention. The Democratic attacks had so hyped her speech that it drew 34 million viewers -ten million more than Hillary or Biden had attracted and only one million less than Obama himself had gotten the previous Thursday night. Her speech was magnificent. Forceful, confident, funny, firm, sarcastic but not shrill, she drove her way into everybody’s heart. Now, against the backdrop of Palins speech, the Democratic attacks seemed sexist and dirty. And, with Obama having turned up his nose at Hillary for vice president, women began to wonder if he was not anti-woman.
Finally, when Obama chose to play off Sarah Palin’s comparison of a pit bull with a hockey mom (the only difference, she said, is lipstick) by saying that you could put lipstick on a pig but it would still be a pig, Obama had a huge gender problem. And one that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
And who has been silent during the whole process? Not heard from defending Obama or criticizing Palin? Hillary Rodham Clinton has stood back and let her conqueror twist slowly in the wind all by himself.
Hillary’s slogan if Obama loses because women wouldn’t back him? I told you so!
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2008. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***