Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Hillary narrowing the gal gap?

Since I seem to be on the subject of Hillary Clinton – as evidenced again yesterday, when I wrote in my newspaper column that she's unpopular with white males (the white guy gap) – it’s also worth noting that she has long had problems attracting a certain category of females.

Ironically, it is the category to which she herself belongs: upscale, college-educated professionals. Call it the gal gap.

This past summer, a plurality of these women told pollsters that they favored Barack Obama over Hillary in the Democratic nomination contest (35 percent to 32 percent). In late May, only 19 percent of college-educated women saw Hillary as the most honest candidate in the field; by contrast, 50 percent chose Barack Obama. And last April, in the crucial early primary state of New Hampshire, only 25 percent of professional women told pollsters that they favored Hillary.

None of this was particularly surprising, because Hillary’s brethren have actually been cool to her for years, largely for cultural reasons.

Many of these women simply didn’t like the fact that Hillary had opted to stick with Bill in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal. They felt that she had allowed Bill to walk all over her – in their view, unacceptable behavior for a feminist – and, worse yet, that she had done so only to further political ambitions that could not be fulfilled without the philanderer’s assistance. (By contrast, Hillary’s strongest female supporters – downscale, blue-collar, non-college-educated women – reportedly believe that she deserves to be lauded for making the tough decision to keep her family together.)

I can attest to the attitude among upscale professional women, having watched videos of Democratic focus groups that were convened when Hillary was first running for the Senate. Those Long Island gals didn’t mince words. And I was reminded of their skepticism yesterday, when I ran across an article in the new issue of The Atlantic. The writer Caitlin Flanagan, a well-educated professional female in good standing, lays out the anti-Hillary case. Since her ruminations are for magazine subscribers only, here’s a lengthy excerpt:

If Hillary really wants to connect with professional, well-educated women, “she would have to be willing to let us women in on the big, underlying struggle of her life that is front and center in our understanding of who she is as a woman. Her husband’s sexual behavior, quite apart from the private pain it has caused her, has also sullied her deepest – and most womanly – ideals and convictions, for the Clintons’ political partnership has demanded that she defend actions she knows to be indefensible. To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he’s used women far less sophisticated, educated, and powerful than he – women particularly susceptible to the rake’s characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit – for his sexual gratification. In glossing over her husband’s actions and abetting his efforts to squirm away from the scrutiny and judment they provoke, Hillary has too often lapsed into her customary hauteur and self-righteousness, and added to the pain delivered upon these women…

“(B)ecause Hillary long ago attached her ideals and political destiny to Bill Clinton’s, she has of necessity made herself complicit – in ways that go far beyond the traditional role of first lady and candidate’s wife – in all sorts of unsavory actions, including the way he treated vulnerable women…In short, to get excited about Hillary is not to get excited about how a woman can change the world, but rather to endorse the way a certain kind of man – over time, and holding her hostage not only by her ambition, but by the love she has for a child whose home she desperately didn’t want to destroy – can diminish the very best of a woman.”

But here’s the interesting new development: well-educated professional women are starting to warm to Hillary anyway.

According to the numbers-crunchers at Gallup, who just conducted a poll analysis for the nonpartisan National Journal, Hillary’s growing autumn lead over Obama on the Democratic side is largely attributable to an influx of support from these women. That summer survey I mentioned earlier, which showed professional females backing Obama by 35 to 32 percent? Now the numbers have reversed; now it’s Hillary over Obama by 47 to 24 percent.

Apparently this is happening because the well-educated professionals are increasingly impressed with Hillary’s specificity on certain top-tier issues, notably her new health care plan, her crisp communication style, and her sense of command in the Democratic debates (another is slated for tomorrow night, in Philadelphia). That’s how some Democratic pollsters see it, anyway. But clearly Obama has hurt himself as well, by failing to close the sale. He has promised to raise the political discourse, but many professional women have apparently concluded (at least for now) that his high-road idealism is not sufficient, that they can’t get a sense of how he would actually govern.

All of which prompts one other thought: Won’t it be great when we can finally test these shifting sentiments with the help of actual votes? Is it January 3 yet?


Good grief, those conservatives are sure hard to please.

Here's a Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, who has made it abundantly clear that, as an ordained southern Baptist preacher, he (a) supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, (b) considers abortion to be a "holocaust," and (c) doesn't believe in evolution....and yet a lot of conservatives think the guy is just too liberal.

The Washington Times reports today that some vocal conservatives are assailing Huckabee as a "treacherous liberal on taxes, social welfare spending, and illegal immigration." Fiscal conservative leader Pat Toomey complains about Huckabee's "big government liberalism." What we have here, apparently, is vivid evidence of a split on the right - between the fiscal conservatives (who care most about money) and the social/religious conservatives (who care most about the soul).

When the GOP is healthy, these factions tend to be in sync. Not so today.


And congratulations to the ballclub that has owned my heart since 1962, the Boston Red Sox.