“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” says former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The comment was supposed to help Hillary Clinton but it has also exposed her problem appealing to women voters.
An email has just popped into my inbox from Hillary Clinton, asking “Are you by my side?” Well of course I don’t have a vote in this race, but it’s a question she should be asking the young women who do. Because there she has problems. And they’re serious. She may have left millions of cracks in the glass ceiling when she ran to become the first female US president eight years ago, but it hasn’t shattered yet – and it might not do so in 2016.
I’m sure a lot of people outside the US will look at this and reach for one word – misogyny. And yes, in the bars and cafes, and on the bleachers at football games, trackside at a Nascar race, and in myriad other places where men gather to sweat and swear you will find – err, how can one put this – a slightly less than fully developed feminist perspective on having a woman president. But it is much more than that.
I was in Las Vegas a few months ago for the first Democratic debate at the Wynn hotel. So where better to go to find out who was going to win the political jackpot than on to the casino floor. This is what we call a vox pop. I think in the American media they are called man-on-the-street interviews. They give colour and texture to a piece. Ordinary voices, giving unfiltered opinions. Except when we did this set of vox pops and asked people (rather surreptitiously, because the security guards would have kicked us off the casino floor very quickly) what these men and women thought of Hillary Clinton, they spoke with one voice: they didn’t like her and didn’t trust her.
Now normally when you do these type of interviews you go back and edit them – and have a script line, something along the lines of “some said this, and some said that” and you play the divergent views. Except in Vegas they didn’t. The random group of people I approached ALL loathed her
Ok so far, so anecdotal. Let’s look at some actual figures. In the Iowa caucus last week, 84% of women under the age of 30 voted for the 74-year-old Bernie Sanders; just 14% for Hillary.
The projection for New Hampshire is even more striking. 92% of that age group say they will back Sanders. Among women aged 30-39 it is not a whole lot better. Just 11% say they are going to back Hillary.
The American people feel they have known Hillary intimately for a very long time. And with any longstanding relationship feelings get complicated. For better or worse some people never forgave her for sticking by Bill when he was embroiled in the whole Lewinsky scandal. If she was a proper feminist, she would have left him, goes the argument.
All of which would be explicable if it was an older cohort rejecting her, but it is predominantly young women who say they’re not going to vote for her – and for whom the shenanigans of Bill are ancient history.
Some people hate her for being a Clinton. A lot of people – men and women alike – think that the Clintons have had a modus operandi that is uniquely theirs, and that no other US citizen would be able to get away with. If you were to focus group these people, the words that would get bandied around would be – entitled, arrogant, elitist, rich, takers of shortcuts, legally dodgy.
These concerns were highlighted by the email arrangements Mrs Clinton had while secretary of state. All her communications were going through a private server. Something that is now the subject of an FBI investigation. Others in high office may have done similar things, but it fed the narrative of Clinton exceptionalism. That they do things their way. It may not be fair, but politics is not fair.
Which leaves the Clinton campaign with difficult questions about why they are failing to win this demographic group, which early on in the campaign I bet her team would have had down as low-hanging fruit. Is it a post-feminist generation who feel that the gender of their next leader is irrelevant? Is it that they want something shiny and new – and yes, I know it’s a stretch to describe the veteran Bernie Sanders as anything other than wrinkly, but he was an unknown quantity six months ago. Is it that people are yearning for change, and Sanders certainly offers that with his socialist prescription for America?
So what does she do about it? Well what she did this weekend was to go to Flint in Michigan where there is the mother and father of a public health scandal over the supply of clean water to a predominantly black and impoverished population. The African American constituency has always turned out for the Clintons – and when the protracted primary race turns to the Southern states, this is where she hopes she will be able to do Sanders most harm – and ultimately win.
But what you DON’T do is laugh uproariously with Madeline Albright when she’s campaigning alongside you in New Hampshire and opines “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”.
Because that is like saying: “You should vote for Hillary because she’s a woman.”
Or worse: “Any woman supporting Bernie is betraying the feminist cause.”
Telling the voters they’re wrong is not a good look, and never ends happily.