Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hillary Clinton Strains to Build Sisterhood Solidarity

Today's Wall Street Journal provides an excellent analysis of Hillary Clinton's struggles in attracting professional women to her campaign:

She's the ultimate professional woman. So you'd think Hillary Clinton's biggest source of support would be other alpha females.

But as the New York senator's presidential campaign works to mobilize women executives, doctors and lawyers around America, it's getting a reality check: Many have resisted the call-up. So far, she's doing better among women of more modest means.

Professional women are "much harder sells" than men, says a Clinton campaign adviser. "They're tough." They are less inclined than men to see things in black and white, and seek more information before deciding, this adviser says. Events for businesswomen must be substantive, because they frequently ask more questions than businessmen, Sen. Clinton's advisers say. At one such Clinton event, former tennis star Billie Jean King and other supporters tried to pump up the crowd as if it were a political rally. The feedback from attendees, says senior campaign adviser Ann Lewis, was "less rah-rah, more substance."

Dr. Janice Werbinski, past president of American Medical Women's Association and an early Clinton supporter, says she didn't like the New York senator's answers in a recent conference call for female physicians. "Now I'm having second thoughts," she says.

"I saw the same thing when I ran for Senate the first time in 2000," Sen. Clinton said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. "Professional women were the last to close for me." They were not about to support her just because of her gender, she said. "This is very much in line with what I've seen" in past campaigns.

Among all women - Democrats, Republicans and independents - feelings toward Sen. Clinton vary with professional status, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll, taken in early November. Among nonprofessionals, 52% said they had positive impressions of her, while 38% were negative. But women who identify themselves as professionals or managers were markedly less enthusiastic, with 42% reporting positive impressions, and 44% negative.

What expains this? The article continues:

One theory about Sen. Clinton's weaker numbers among professional women is that more-affluent women aren't as worried about health care, child care, the minimum wage and other issues important to nonprofessionals. But in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, professional women gave her lower ratings than did nonprofessional women in such categories as "being honest and straightforward," "being compassionate enough to understand average people," "having high personal standards that set the proper moral tone for the country," and "being easygoing and likable." Both groups gave her high marks for being "knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency."

"Women who work on their feet -- nurses, teachers -- strongly prefer Hillary," says Geraldine Laybourne, founder and former chief executive officer of Oxygen Media LLC, now a unit of NBC Universal, who's helping the Clinton campaign. The goal, she says, is to "make visible that women in business support Hillary" in order to build that base.

What's Clinton's response?

Critics of Sen. Clinton say she is trying to have it both ways -- to play down her gender with some audiences and to play it up with others.

"This is such a strange argument to make," Sen. Clinton said. "When I talk with women, I talk about what it's like to be a mom and daughter. If I talk to the armed services, I talk about how I would be as a commander-in-chief." Different circumstances, she said, require different approaches. "Moms who work in business don't act the same with their kids or at the office."

The Los Angeles Times covered this story yesterday, "The Clinton Resisters":

On paper, they look an awful lot like Hillary Rodham Clinton. They are professional women of a certain age -- politically active Democrats, liberals, unabashed feminists who remember what it was like to be told they could not become firefighters or university department heads, let alone president of the United States of America.

They are women of accomplishment who have bumped up against glass ceilings, sometimes breaking them, while managing marriages, raising children and trying to make the world their version of a better place.

They have waited a long, long time for a plausible female presidential candidate. You'd think they'd be rushing to support Clinton. But they can't stand her.

"She leaves me cold," said Sidonie Smith, who chairs the University of Michigan English department. "I hate to say that. It's a very strange feeling to have."

Like her husband, former President Clinton, Hillary Clinton has inspired highly mixed emotions over the years. For the political right, she has served as a protean symbol of everything wrong with Democrats and feminists.

For upscale women on the left -- historically her toughest crowd -- negative reaction has been more nuanced. Polls show that blue-collar women see her as a defender of their economic interests. But their well-educated upper-middle-class sisters, who aren't as worried about job security, feel free to judge her as they would a peer. She has recently gained substantial ground with this constituency, but polls continue to show that fully half of college-educated Democratic women do not support her.

The reasons vary. For many, it's visceral. While they struggled to break through institutional barriers in the workplace, Clinton hitched her star to her man and followed him to the top. When his philandering imperiled his political career, she not only pulled him out of the fire but helped orchestrate attacks against his accusers.

For others, the anger they feel is purely political. Some are disappointed by her support of the Iraq war, her reluctance to take stands on some hot-button issues or the fact that she has re-created herself as a centrist.

Read the whole thing.

Why aren't women going for Clinton? Ann Althouse has a clue:

The classic feminist diagnosis would be: sexism. Did you think feminism immunized you from sexism? You consciously favor the advancement of women, but then when you look at a particular woman who is at the point of advancement, you think: Yes, but not her.

But is this what we are feeling about Hillary? I think not. Hillary is not just another professional woman of my generation, who ought to inspire sisterly empathy. She is a throwback to an earlier era, when women found their place through their husbands. The resistance I feel toward Hillary has to do do with her advancement under the aegis of a powerful man — a powerful man who seems to have diminished quite a number of women.

So, Hillary hitched her wagon to her male protector, Bill Clinton (she's been known to "stand by her man"). I've covered this topic before, writing in a previous post: women executives get closer to bumping into the glass ceiling, they're less likely to support Clinton than are women at lower levels of workplace advancement. Perhaps Clinton's nanny state agenda is less attractive to women who've proven themselves entreprenurial, independent, and upwardly mobile (and less likely to be receptive to Clinton's redistributive policies).

You've got to love Clinton's contortions!

She's pulling out all the stops in pandering on gender: She had her mom stump for her in Des Moines last night. Chelsea Clinton's making the rounds today.


UPDATE: See also the Washington Post's story on Hillary's gender rollout, "Clinton Team Turns Iowa Focus to Women."