In the first post on “Message to Obama: Change Your View to Obama for Women“, I made clear that I’ll vote for Obama, but the fervor with which I and many other women work for his election will be determined by his actions going forward. As one former Clinton activist said, “women aren’t marginal; we’re the key”.  John Kerry took women’s votes for granted, and won only 51% of women’s votes in 2004. That’s several points too low to create a gender gap capable of propelling any Democratic presidential candidate to victory.

Since I wrote that post, Obama’s tidy double digit lead over John McCain evaporated to a measly 3%, a statistical dead heat. This shift was brought about in no small part by Obama’s clumsy attempts to tack to the presumed center on core issues like wiretapping and abortion ostensibly to broaden his base, but instead turning off the passionately progressive grassroots groundswell that brought him to where he is. And remember–Republicans vote for their candidate come hell or high water while Democrats argue the issues, and that’s how we all too often lose elections.

And if this weren’t enough to give Obama heartburn, into the already toxic stew came the horrendously racist New Yorker cover masquerading as satire, in exactly the same way as so many horrendously sexist caricatures of Hillary Clinton have done. This should be Obama’s 3 am phone call: those so-called satires saturated the popular culture and contributed to her difficulties with many constituencies. Jill Zimon’s comparison of the two is a worthwhile read; meanwhile, these two magazine covers side by side speak volumes.

It ought to be obvious to Obama that he needs to confront the injustice by solidifying his base of support in common cause with women who have been so wronged.

If it was important a week ago that Obama change his campaign initiative’s vantage point from “Women for Obama” to “Obama for Women”, it’s now urgent. So let me be more speciic about what Obama must do to get women like me to get to work enthusiatically for his election.

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What would “Obama for Women” look like? Let me speak directly to Senator Obama.

First here are a few things you would NOT do if you were Obama for Women:
1. Don’t say, “You’re welcome to join us”.  Say, “We need you,” because you do. Women are the majority of voters, especially Democratic and progressive voters. Over half of Clinton supporters have already said they’ll vote for you, but you’ll need them all, and you must remember that they trusted her—and expect you–to respect women as central to the political process.

2. Don’t lecture us about why we’d rather have Obama than McCain. Convince us that supporting you won’t mean half a loaf—asap: McCain already has former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on the hustings doing this for him.

3. So don’t tell us what you feel. Show us what you’ll do, or better yet are doing. We know you stand for hope and you love your wife and daughters. How will Obama for Women put legs onto those fine words in policies?

Now here are three things Obama for Women would do immediately:
1. Name enough women to your closest inner circle to reach gender parity. According to Rolling Stone’s look at your 18 top advisors, only three are women. Commit to gender parity in your administration too.  You need diverse perspectives anyway to prevent the groupthink that has deep-sixed surer winners than yourself, largely by advising the kind of pandering to the imaginary center that got you in trouble last week.

2. Make the sexism speech. This might be the most important piece of advice of all. Make it with the same passion and personal engagement as your courageous racism speech. Call out the blatant sexism that looks so much like the racism you know so well; the two are always joined at the head. Affirm women’s equality, justice, and human rights. Deliver it August 26—serendipitously, that’s Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote–at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado where there’s a ballot initiative to make the fetus a more important “person” than a woman. By making the sexism speech here, you’ll break the impasse of another debate that has divided America, rather than succumbing to the same old polarized abortion debates.

3. Publicly advance an agenda that’s bold and meaningful, not incremental.  The Equal Rights Amendment (finally), and the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which codifies the civil right to make childbearing choices, are a good start. You’re already cosponsoring  FOCA, so cease your gratuitous pandering about mental health exceptions and affirm that women’s rights, including reproductive rights, are human rights, period.  You’ll be cheered wildly. Talk about the Prevention First Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and universal health care that looks like Hillary’s; honoring her will bring honor (and Clinton supporters) to you.  Your website’s page on women mentions some of these and other initiatives. Obama for Women would articulate them in mixed company.

The primaries showed women aren’t a monolith or a single-issue bloc. But we do have interests, serious interests to which attention must be paid by any candidate who wants to earn both the votes and enthusiastic hard work of women who brought Hillary Clinton within a hairsbreadth of the Democratic nomination. That’s why, Senator Obama, you must quickly as possible demonstrate you won’t just have the obligatory “Women for” group that every campaign has, but rather you will be Obama for Women.

Now that would be change we could believe in.


  1. Stacy on July 15, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    He would do well to listen to your advice- unfortunately, he seems to be making the same mistake Hillary made- following his advisers ‘conventional wisdom’ about moving to the center, despite the fact that that has rarely worked.

    The fact is, many of Obama’s most ardent supporters seemed to like him because of his willingness, initially, to not run to the right and flip flop all over the place like a fish out of water. Now, because he has done just that, he gives the appearance of not standing on principle and just doing what every other democratic politician has done to win elections. How can he say he represents change if that is the case? Right now, all he seems to be doing is giving the moderator of the first presidential debate a lot of fodder to make Obama look wishy-washy as he tries to explain his dancing back and forth on FISA, full reproductive rights, etc.

    I agree that he needs more women in prominent roles in his campaign and cabinet (if he wins) but not just ‘token’ women- he needs to really reach out and explain why voting for him is in our best interest as women. He also needs to highlight just how socially conservative McCain is and why that would be disasterous for women- something which strangely, he hasn’t done yet.

  2. Jennifer on July 16, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    This is my first response to a blog. I am a young mother, unfortunately going through a tough divorce, but am 100% pro-life. Your article infuriated me, because it implied that all women are anti-life (pro-choice) when it has been proven that the vast majority of Americans (yes including women) are against abortion.

    I am very politically informed, and although I see McCain as the lesser of the two evils, he does value an unborn child as MUCH as the mother-not more, which is what this amendment in Colorado is about. I notice you did not mention that this amendment in Colorado was authored by a 20 year old woman! I am extremely proud of the stand she is taking, and yes I pray that this amendment passes.

    How can anyone look at a precious baby, whether or not they are “normal” or “disabled” and say that child does not deserve life? Any informed person knows that the unborn child feels as much pain going through an abortion as you or I would, if someone were ripping our limbs off! The horror of late term abortions is absolutely unreal. Yes, call me one of your religious right-wing wackos, but I look at my precious son and shudder to think what could have happened to him if I was “pro-choice”. Where is the child’s choice in this abortion holocaust? For those of you who dare to say that these babies are unwanted, there are countless THOUSANDS of childless couples who would give their right arm to adopt a newborn from America, but instead they have to spend thousands of dollars to adopt overseas! May God have mercy on America for the murder of millions of babies.

    • Gloria Feldt on July 17, 2008 at 8:08 pm

      Jennifer, you are welcome to comment, though we disagree.

      I fundamentally believe that being pro-choice is the true pro-life position. I am a mother and grandmother, and I have spent much of my life working to make life better for children. But unfortunately, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t in the end give equal legal or moral weight to both the woman and the fetus. And one of the things I learned years ago from many women’s experiences is that women who chose abortion do so not because they don’t value children but because they value them so much that they want to be able to nurture and take good care of the children they have. Also, prevention of abortion and unintended pregnancy has always been the overarching goal of the pro-choice movement, which is why I say Obama should talk about the Prevention First Act in his platform. I hope you would agree with the importance of prioritizing prevention. You may also be interested to know that Obama has voted much more consistently for measures that help children after they are born than McCain has, and that’s typical. Pro-choice legislators in general vote more consistently for pro-child legislation than anti-choice legislators do.

      I say in my op ed that women aren’t a monolith, so I know there is a range of views about abortion just as there is about most issues. However, my op ed is aimed at telling Obama how to attract Clinton supporters, and I think you’d agree they tend to be pro-choice.

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