Both the Obama and McCain campaigns see a need to reach out to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s predominantly female hard-core supporters. There is growing pressure on Obama to deliver a speech on sexism as good as his speech on race relations to retain Clinton backers. And McCain, looking for any opportunity to make up ground, is making overt appeals to Clinton voters (conveniently forgetting his 2000 campaign attack on then-Gov. George Bush, “His ad twists the truth like Clinton.”)
How should they do it?
In today’s Washington Post, both campaigns appeared to recognize that economic issues are as important to women as they are to men, but how they addressed them relied more on buzzwords than solutions:
…both camps probably will focus on economic issues to appeal to women this fall. In separate interviews yesterday, supporters used identical language to discuss how McCain and Obama view rising gasoline prices.
“John McCain gets that it now costs $80 to fill up your minivan when it used to cost $40,” strategy director Sarah Simmons said.
“When you spend $76 to fill up the tank of your minivan, that’s real money,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)…
Of course, women are just as concerned about gas prices, health care, jobs, wages and retirement security as men are. So it makes sense to talk with women about these kitchen-table issues. But throwing in a “minivan” buzzword is literally the least one can do when reaching out to women.
Delivering a sweeping speech, as Obama did on race, offers the ability to show deeper understanding of how women are struggling economically.
But a stock speech on sexism wouldn’t have the same impact as Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” address, which broke ground by sympathizing with the concerns of both whites and blacks, in order to lead all peoples to unite around common economic goals.
For a speech to similarly break through and advance the conversation about gender, a candidate must show how overcoming bias against women does not only help women, but strengthens the overall economy for everybody.
That when women earn equal pay for equal work, and can break into good-paying trades like construction, trucking and firefighting, incomes rise for entire families.
That when quality child care and early education is available to all, women have greater employment choices and children are better prepared to learn.
That when employers unfairly fire victims of domestic violence, women lose critical income and become more dependent on abusers, weakening our overall workforce.
That across the globe, according to the UN, “empowered women can be some of the most effective drivers of development.” Improving women’s access to schools, jobs, capital, property and health services can increase wages globally and relieve downward wage pressures in America.
The candidate who recognizes that the specific struggles of women impact all of us, and moves us beyond a battle of sexes, will not only earn respect from Clinton voters, but from voters overall.
And it will ensure that the spirit of Clinton’s historic candidacy lives on.