When NARAL, the pro-choice women's advocacy group, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) over Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) it brought to the fore frustration and anger that had been simmering in the Democratic party. But while prominent Democratic women have voiced anger at the decision, the overriding question is: will it hurt Obama if, as is assumed, he becomes the party's nominee?
An immediate effect of this endorsement has been to stop Obama from declaring victory as the presumptive Democratic nominee because has to be very careful not to alienate women voters who perceive that sexism has played a role in the campaign.
Supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) felt betrayed. Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily's List a group that supports women in politics, and a Clinton supporter said of the endorsement: "I think it is tremendously disrespectful to Senator Clinton...to not give her the courtesy to finish the final three weeks of the primary process."
The press has been hounding Clinton to quit. On Wednesday, prominent progressive writer Jonathan Chait wrote in the
Los Angeles Times
: "It's highly unusual for a mainstream presidential campaign to persist for so long with no purpose except self-perpetuation." Both Ronald Reagan and Sen. Ted Kennedy took mainstream campaigns to their respective conventions. This begs the question why Clinton can't carry her fight forward?
Geraldine Ferraro, a former VP candidate in 1984, has been a strong voice for Clinton in this campaign and for women during her career. She has increasingly lashed out at Obama. In an interview with the NY Times, she suggested she may not vote for Obama. She continued by saying: "I think Obama was terribly sexist," in reference to some of his comments on Clinton. She has been more vocal than most women in the media because of her high profile. And her voice will be heeded by some.
Clinton echoed Ferraro on Tuesday, saying in the
: "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists."
Does Clinton have a point?
A review of the media suggests sexism in its coverage. Marie Cocco detailed much of misogyny in a recent article titled:
." The examples cited include when Clinton was called a "b***h" at a McCain rally, everyone laughed and McCain answered the question as if nothing unusual occurred. Sounds sexist to me. This went undefended by Obama and other Democrats too. Cocco called out Howard Dean and the Democratic Party for not speaking out more strongly.
Cocco missed one egregious statement by Keith Olbermann, which the MSNBC personality later had to apologize for. On the air after hearing Howard Fineman say: "some adults somewhere in the Democratic party to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds..." with Olbermann continuing, "Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out."
Many women see a parallel between this political race and their experiences in the workplace. Consider that women only make up 16% of the
members of Congress
, and a recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy notes the number of female employees at
And it's no better in the C-suite, where you will only find one female CEO at the moment: Anne Mulcahy at
Some women definitely perceive that the glass ceiling remains firmly in place in both business and politics, though the facts rarely receive reports in the media. For example, the
reported Monday on the Work-Life study. The 147-page study highlights a national trend in women employed in engineering and science, but the Times decided it wasn't national news -- not even Business, Science or Technology. They published it in the Fashion and Style section!
The study -- paid for by titans of industry like
Johnson & Johnson
-- finds many women face sexual harassment in the tech workplace. 63% of women said they experienced harassment, while another 53% expressed men were dismissive of their work.
Obama presently leads Clinton in delegates, superdelegates and the popular vote, closing in on winning the race. Should he become the nominee, he will have considerable work to do with women. Kristin Breitweiser, an outspoken 9/11 widow, wrote on the huffingtonpost.com: "that's why so many Clinton supporters are reluctant to vote for Obama if he becomes the nominee. It's not because they are bitter. It is because they chose Hillary over Obama for two real reasons: experience and definition. Obama can't gain experience in the next 5 months."
Sen. Obama made the mistake of calling a female reporter sweetie during a campaign stop in Michigan last week: talk about demeaning a woman trying to do her job. He immediately came under fire for his sexist comments when the tape became an instant hit on Youtube.com. He admits to a bad habit of referring to women whose name he doesn't know by calling them "sweetie." Obama later apologized.
Those are strong words. I have
written in the past how polls show that more of Clinton's voters (often women or seniors) have expressed they might choose to support Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) instead of Obama. McCain has the edge in experience although polls are speculative this early in the race. Some of this talk proves to be bluster. Both Ferraro and Breitweiser make desperate attempts to stop superdelegates ending the race before a decision has been made on representation for Florida and Michigan voters, which helps Clinton make a case for winning.
Nevertheless, it presents McCain with an opportunity should he face Obama. He has given a prominent role to Carly Fiorina, the former if not infamous CEO of
. Fiorina has publicly appeared as a surrogate for McCain on television, and one news story even suggested she might be a vice-presidential pick for McCain putting California in play.
I have some doubts about McCain making inroads with women, however. Most women who are Democrats will eventually recognize that McCain would be no better than President George Bush. McCain will likely nominate more judges similar to Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Antonin Scalia. Many advocates for women's rights find these justices radical in their views and fear a conservative court might set back the feminist movement, such as overturning Roe v. Wade.
The real problem would be democratic women not showing up to vote for Obama if he wins. I have my doubts Clinton would be named as a VP pick, which might mitigate the problem immediately. Obama hasn't show much interest in the idea, and many expect him to pick someone who will help him with his patriotism problem, such as Sen. Jim Webb (D., Virg.) a former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan or even Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel from Nebraska.
Can he help himself? Obama and the press have been quiet on discussing sexism with race taking precedence. Obama will have speak out forcefully. The divisions are deep, and he will have to act quickly. Perhaps he could heal the wounds with women by giving a speech on sexism, similar to the one he gave on race. He can no longer duck the issue for political gain.
Should he speak out, maybe then the media will cover sexism instead of ignoring it. Women deserve a positive dialogue on fairness in politics and the workplace.