Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Begins Process of Courting the Women's Community -- With Mixed Results

The Obama campaign sent someone from their Women for Obama operation to Washington, DC last week, and invited some leaders from the women's movement to the DNC for a pow wow. This was a smart thing to do -- and it was smart for them to do it so quickly after Sen. Clinton suspended her campaign. This good timing is the cup half full aspect of the meeting.

Despite NARAL's late-in-the-game endorsement and the dueling letters from various factions in the women's community throughout the primary, the Obama Campaign is well aware of the fact that most of the organized women's movement that can dabble in electoral politics -- without pissing off the IRS, that is -- was firmly in the Hillary camp. As I said, breaking bread with these groups quickly was a smart move. It should be noted that, despite all McCain's obvious and cynically calculated overtures to Clinton supporters, my sources say he has issued no such invitation for a similar meeting. Of course, it comes as no surprise to me that McCain's courtship of women voters is all insincere flash and rather thin on substance.

The cup half empty report from the Obama meeting begins with a sidebar rant that goes something like this: why do politicians always assume that anyone with the requisite "xx" chromosomes is automatically equipped to handle the responsibilities of a "women for [your candidate's name here]" operation? Wouldn't it be smart, given that women make up such a key block of voters, to actually chose people well versed in women's issues and also, perhaps, women who might even be known to folks in the women's community?? Call me crazy. But, well, this is politics, so typically such posts goes to a favorite hometown gal, regardless of her expertise or connections -- and no offense to those well-meaning, perfectly capable hometown gals, but it serves neither the campaign or women well.

The woman the Obama Campaign sent for the meeting was a Chicagoan -- no surprise -- but a completely unknown commodity to the leaders of the national women's community. In all fairness, it's my understanding she's done some state-level women's community work in the Land of Lincoln -- but this was a national level meeting, and the campaign should have sent their A Game. This is all the more puzzling because of who the campaign could have sent for this first, all important meeting.

The Obama Campaign chose to send this quite nice, very sincere, but-didn't-know-a-person-in-the-room, have no-idea-who-the-players-are woman instead of Betsy Myers, former COO of the campaign and national chair of Women for Obama and -- oh yeah -- the former director of the White House Office on Women's Initiatives in the Clinton Administration. Myers, someone the women's community knows, someone the community has an established record with, someone with whom trust could have immediately been established.

But, no. The Obama Campaign sent an unknown if competent second stringer, and as a result most of the women's groups didn't send their principles either -- and thus the peace talks have not really begun in earnest. Time's a wastin', folks. Apparently the women's community did ask for a face-to-face, sit down meeting with the man himself. And Obama should do it. He should look these women leaders in the eye and ask for their support, not just assume he has it. While the polls show most Clinton supporters -- including women -- have already made the transition to Obama supporters, despite the much-hyped but mythical collective hissy fit Clinton women were supposedly having over the suspension of her campaign, Obama should not take women voters for granted. And while all women voters aren't necessarily guided by the national women's community, their leadership and these organizations are nonetheless an influential group that deserves his respect.

Women are a key base Obama needs to win -- he needs our votes, our money, and our volunteer time. This is not news. So it's not too much to ask to have a dignified sit down between the Democratic Party's nominee and the women's movement's leaders, rather than simply taking that key constituency for granted. John Kerry made that mistake, and he paid dearly for it when the white women's vote -- along with the 2004 election -- went to George Bush.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.


Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that Obama will be taking any constituency for granted in this election, ZR.

It's early days yet, and while I certainly agree that he should have sent someone with a bit more entree in the women's community... perhaps he had other motives.

Can I throw this out? I'm just a mid-level civil servant with guns, what do I know about politics?... but from what I see, it looks like Obama is trying to bring in lots of people who aren't insiders (of course there will be plenty of them, but you get me, right?).

Perhaps this early introduction was a way to get his front person some face-time with the movement... sort of a meet and get-to-know-me sort of thing.

Even if it was his intention to do this, I think he might have sent a bigger name to help the new person ease in... but again, it's early days.

Then again, as I said: What do I know about politics?

ZaftigRedhead said...

I hear you, gunfighter. Perhaps Obama is trying to bring in lots of folks, shake things up, change the way of politics as usual. That's not a bad thing. But I just think in this particular case, his newbie's way would have been eased -- and thus his own -- if he had sent the first string.

That being said, the campaign made a very smart move this week in having Michelle Obama be a suprise guest speaker at big DC luncheon in the women's community. She did great, and it allowed her to publicly make nice with some key Hillary supporters, not the least of which was Ellen Malcolm, President of EMILY's List. A great venue, and a smart move.