Hil­lary Clin­ton’s lib­er­ated cam­paign

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - RUTH MAR­CUS ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

You know some­thing has changed in the state of gen­der and pol­i­tics when the Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner jok­ingly al­ludes to the, er, plumb­ing dif­fer­ences that ne­ces­si­tated a longer-than-planned mid-de­bate bath­room break.

“It does take me a lit­tle longer,” Hil­lary Clin­ton told CNN’s An­der­son Cooper.

This is not your Clin­ton 2008 cam­paign.

Then, Clin­ton was more skit­tish about play­ing up her gen­der. Not that she didn’t men­tion it — she did. Still, it was an at times awk­ward and muted em­brace, un­der­girded by the cam­paign’s con­vic­tion that, al­though the coun­try was ready to elect a woman, vot­ers also needed to be con­vinced of her tough­ness.

“Most vot­ers in essence see the pres­i­dent as the ‘fa­ther’ of the coun­try. They do not want some­one who would be the first mama, es­pe­cially in this kind of world,” Clin­ton poll­ster Mark Penn ad­vised in a 2006 in­ter­nal memo. Penn, who thought that Clin­ton as first woman pres­i­dent was a sell­ing point, be­lieved the role model should be Mar­garet Thatcher — pro­ject­ing smart and strong, not warm and funny.

Even in 2008, the “ready for a fe­male pres­i­dent” ques­tion felt an­ti­quated, a fusty re­flex. Yet the years since then have brought so­cial change that fur­ther eases the path to a woman in the Oval Of­fice. Voter shave ab­sorbed—or-not—an­other first in the form of Pres­i­dent Obama. And Clin­ton armed her­self with new na­tional se­cu­rity cre­den­tials in her four years as sec­re­tary of state.

“The prob­lems for women can­di­dates is they have to show they have the stand­ing and grav­i­tas to fight with the big boys in Wash­ing­ton, but they also have to be a hu­man be­ing,” said Demo­cratic poll­ster Anna Green­berg. “Hil­lary doesn’t have to prove the stature stuff any­more and so that lib­er­ates her.”

Lib­er­ated she is — stylis­ti­cally and sub­stan­tively. Is­sues of pay eq­uity and work-fam­ily bal­ance that were no­tably — some ad­vis­ers think mis­tak­enly — sub­dued in the 2008 cam­paign are at the cen­ter of her plat­form to­day. Fus­ing the third rails of gen­der and age, she bur­bles about be­ing a grand­mother; she is un­abashed in talk­ing about col­or­ing her hair.

The 2016 Clin­ton cam­paign has no doubt that gen­der ben­e­fits Clin­ton. The sin­gle-digit slice of vot­ers who say they would not elect a woman are not Clin­ton sup­port­ers in any event, in the cam­paign’s view, and are out­weighed by the facts that women vot­ers make up more than a ma­jor­ity of the elec­torate and tend to vote more heav­ily Demo­cratic.

Thus, Clin­ton Un­bound was on full dis­play dur­ing last week’s de­bate. The coda of her open­ing state­ment was a ref­er­ence to what would be the his­toric na­ture of her elec­tion: “Yes, fi­nally fa­thers will be able to say to their daugh­ters, you, too, can grow up to be pres­i­dent.” Twice when con­fronted with tough ques­tions, Clin­ton de­flected by in­vok­ing her gen­der.

“Well, I think that’s pretty ob­vi­ous,” she said when asked how her pres­i­dency would dif­fer from a third Obama term. “I think be­ing the first woman pres­i­dent would be quite a change from the pres­i­dents we’ve had up un­til this point, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Obama.”

Clin­ton en­gaged in a sim­i­lar di­ver­sion on why Democrats, in the year of the out­sider, should em­brace the ul­ti­mate in­sider: “Well, I can’t think of any­thing more of an out­sider than elect­ing the first woman pres­i­dent” — al­though she went on to say that was not the ra­tio­nale for her run.

There is an ob­vi­ous risk here — that if Clin­ton un­der­played her gen­der hand in 2008, she might over­play it this round. One Demo­cratic strate­gist de­scribed be­ing as­ton­ished at two fo­cus groups of white, col­lege-ed­u­cated women who re­peat­edly of­fered “liar” as a Clin­ton de­scrip­tion and re­jected the no­tion that hav­ing the first woman pres­i­dent was a big deal.

“She’s got to earn their trust a lit­tle more be­fore they let that be some­thing that mat­ters to them,” this strate­gist said. “She’s not a cause for women — yet . . . I wouldn’t say they felt be­trayed but they were an­gry at her. It didn’t feel like they were ready to for­give or let her into the soror­ity yet.”

Ex­pect to hear more Clin­ton as soror­ity sis­ter — a pitch aimed not only to women but also to the fa­thers of those daugh­ters. Ex­pect, too, to hear more misog­yny, al­though prob­a­bly not quite as overt as the rap­per T.I., who said last week, “Not to be sex­ist, but I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman” be­cause “women make rash de­ci­sions emo­tion­ally.”

T.I., not to be rude, but next time, think about your daugh­ter, would you?

Clar­i­fi­ca­tion: In a re­cent col­umn, I wrote that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) backs the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Ryan’s of­fice says he has been “very sup­port­ive of the goal of get­ting a TPP deal” but has not taken a po­si­tion on the fi­nal agree­ment.

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