Our Hillary Clinton Problem

Why are older, elite women voters so ambivalent on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?

Interview by Katherine Lanpher
Illustration: Philip Burke
I’ll never forget the excitement I felt in 1984 at the San Francisco Democratic convention, when Walter Mondale announced that Geraldine Ferraro would be on his ticket. For the first time in my life, I saw a door open to me that I had assumed was closed. Hillary will open a door that’s never been open. She will shatter records, and we will be talking about her campaign for years to come. Now, here’s my little grain of salt: There are days when I pray that her campaign gets off this cautious streak. There’s no reason, when 70 percent of the American people disapprove of just about everything, to stick with the status quo. Can she be bolder? Yes. Can she be louder? Yes. She’s done a phenomenal job. I give her and her campaign a B right now. Not an A, a B. But they’re doing quite well.Tannen: Every time women see women in positions of power, it helps them feel comfortable with ascending to positions of power. So, yeah, it’s going to change the world forever. To help this happen, we have to be aware of language. When you hear Hillary discussed or commented on, just for a second say that same thing in your head, and ask "Would it have the same meaning if it were said about a man?" The whole concept of bossy? It is said only about women because women are not supposed to tell other people what to do.MORE: Let’s say I’m angry at Hillary because she hasn’t apologized for her vote authorizing Bush to go to war. What would you say to me? Tannen: The point about apologies fascinates me. Demanding apologies in public life is a way to get a person to humiliate himself. That’s the way men tend to react, and that’s why so many women are frustrated that their husbands won’t apologize. She thinks, an apology just says that you care. And he thinks, why does she want me to humiliate myself? But in public life, if you can get your opponent to apologize, you’ve rubbed his nose in the dirt; he comes out weakened. A lot of politicians follow the tenet: Never say you’re sorry. A former Republican secretary of state in Florida, Sandy Mortham, once said, "I’ve seen women who overapologize, but I don’t do it. I believe you negotiate through strength." I think Hillary is more aware than anyone that she’s in a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" situation. Whatever she says, a lot of people won’t like it.Brazile: I agree.Tannen: She can’t win by apologizing. And furthermore, she shouldn’t, because she did what she did, and she’s saying she did it for the reasons that, at the time, seemed right. MORE: What prescriptive advice would you give to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to appeal to women like us? Tannen: I don’t think she needs my advice. [Laughs] When you said it’s "our" Hillary problem, that’s right. People need to hear her and put aside unrealistic expectations. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, "You know, I went to hear her speak, and I really expected not to like her, but she won me over." I contrast that with what I heard people say about Senator Kerry: "I went in expecting to like him, but he left me cold."Brazile: I would advise the campaign to avoid the incumbent label. Elections are about the future, and it’s time that she focuses on being Hillary Clinton, president of the United States, and not remind us of Bill Clinton’s presidency. She’s a strong, credible candidate, but she’s not the typical underdog outsider. She’s an insider; she’s someone who knows her way around Washington, and then some. There’s anxiety among some women about what a female candidate means in the grand scheme of things, in terms of the future of the country, in terms of how we’re perceived in the world. So I don’t know exactly how she can do this, but people to have to be able to visualize Hillary as president, as the leader of the free world. To the extent that she can help us do that, she’ll be able to bring in those women who are standing on the sidelines.Tannen: Try to put aside the way she’s being served up by the press. We really need to remember that women are easier targets, and so, like everybody else, we’re more likely to go after them. Stop and ask yourself, why am I thinking this? The double standard is still true.Brazile: To the elite women right now, I would just say, "Calm down.

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