The Talmud offers this advice, which I have often cited tongue-in-cheek as a metaphor for leadership in times of crisis, especially when it fell to me to figure out what the heck to do about it: “Where there are no men, strive thou to be a man.”
A number of women I know are taking that admonition to heart right now, while it seems like the men in charge of the Democratic presidential campaign are temporarily spinning in place from Hurricane Palin.
This piece, for example, from The Nation by Michelle Goldberg illustrates a heartening trend of women taking–imagine!–community organizing into their own hands: “Alaska Progressives Challenge Palin”.
[A participant] pointed to the woman next to her, who lives in Palmer, a town about thirteen miles from Wasilla. “Bridgette was hiking on a glacier two days before she had her child, and picking blueberries a week after she had her baby. And that does not qualify us for being Vice President.” The two of them were so horrified by the prospect of a Palin presidency that they drove nearly an hour to Anchorage on Saturday to join a rally called Alaska Women Reject Palin…According to a policeman on site, the rally drew between 1,500 and 1,700 people, an astonishing turnout by Alaska standards…To put it in perspective, according to official estimates, 1,500 people turned out for Palin’s first Anchorage campaign rally Saturday morning, an event where, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the governor was “treated like a movie star.”
Then there’s this personal essay in the Irish Times by Mary Mullin, an Alaskan who like Sarah Palin has a child with Down syndrome, but says her soul sister is an “empty vessel” and that “hell no” she won’t be voting for Palin despite their similarities. She rightly observes that it’s the Democrats who care about single mothers and children with Down Syndrome; the Republicans have done nothing for them.
I especially like Arizona lawyer Lucia Fakonas Howard’s advice. She’s putting herself out there as a clear-headed consultant where there apparently are none. Here’s her commentary, “The ‘White Woman Variable’ in the 2008 Presidential Election”. I might quibble with her contention that Clinton supporters need to be courted by Clinton, because as I’ve said in previous posts, I believe Obama must be the one to enlist them personally. But overall, it looks like such good advice that I plucked it from the comments section and put it here:
The latest polls and political pundits are telling us that “white women” will decide the outcome of this Presidential election. DAAHHH!! What a surprise!! Less than 60 days before the election, and both campaigns are discovering that women voters are really important. Even though women represent more than 50% of the vote, most candidates still haven’t figured out how to target and address women.
Why does this lesson need to be re-taught in every campaign cycle, usually when it’s already too late? Strategists and analysts (usually white men) need to stop lumping “white women” (or women in general) into one homogenous group. In this Presidential election, I think women fall into at least 4 very different constituencies, and the Obama campaign needs a separate strategy, message, and messenger for each.
1. Anti-choice, religious right, conservative women. Obama never had these women and will never get them. The goal here is not to convert them, but to contain them. Stop attacking Palin on character, thus making her the patron saint of conservative women, which only angers them into action. The message of Obama’s character and values is best delivered to these women by Michelle Obama and her daughters. (Yes, I’m advocating that the Obamas drag their daughters front and center for the next 55 days.)
2. Women who feel/know we need change, but what? This is the group that I think represents the biggest shift in the polls over the last week. These women were leaning toward Obama because he represented change and hope, while McCain represented the status quo. These women were not truly committed to Obama, but they liked him more than McCain, because Obama promised a new direction and an understanding and voice for the needs of their families. Enter Palin, who is assuring them that McCain is the real reformer and agent of change – just look at who he picked as his VP. A number of women in this group are shifting to McCain, but they are not strong McCain supporters or anti-Obama voters. They can be won back with the right message. Obama needs to convince these women that he is a man of character who can be trusted to move the country in a better direction, and that his “hope message” is not hollow, overly intellectual or wimpy. These women vote their gut. They need to know who Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin are as people: the values they stand for, who they really represent, and the “culture” they will bring to Washington. Fear and uncertainty are powerful with this group, so Obama needs to convince them that he can best protect their families, their pocket books, and their country.
3. Women who vote the issues. They want to know the candidates’ positions on the issues, and will vote accordingly. Obama is getting pulled into the classic Republican defensive strategy, which is taking him off message. Obama and Biden can reach these women in the debates and their appearances by sticking to the issues. We can win a majority of these women on the issues, if we can remember what the issues are.
4. Angry Hillary supporters. There were a number of women angered over Hillary’s loss to Obama, and even more who believe he made a huge mistake in not making her his VP (assuming she would have even taken it). They’re not finished saying “We told you so”, but in the end, I think very few of them will actually vote for McCain. The McCain/Palin ticket may not be “putting lipstick on a pig”, but it is the embodiment of failed Bush administration values and policies in a skirt. Hillary supporters need to be courted—by Hillary Clinton. My take on the “white women” variable is not based on polls or data, so I may be off base. But, based on watching years of failed Democratic campaigns, I don’t think I’m off by much.
Another Talmudic pundit–perhaps the precursor to Chris Matthews–Rabbi Tarphon said, “The day is short, the labour vast, but the labourers are slothful, though the reward is great, and the Master of the house presseth for despatch.”
But we know that he really meant what Eleanor Roosevelt would later say about politics, “It’s up to the women.”
Cross posted at Blogher