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.
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.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.