Michelle Bernard

The Democratic National Convention is upon us, and much of the press commentary revolves around “her.” Hillary Clinton, that is, and whether she and her supporters will unite behind Barack Obama. Both campaigns are now developing strategies to attract the votes of women. The best way to do this is not to play gender politics, but to craft sensible solutions to the problems that affect women, men, families, and children.

The Democratic race was unusually hard-fought, and the antagonism of women of a certain era to Senator Obama remains strong. Disgruntled Clinton supporters have created a “Just Say No Deal” coalition including 250 internet groups to oppose his nomination. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 21 percent of Democrats plan to vote for Senator McCain. That is likely to change by November 4th, but even a small number of Democratic defectors could cost Senator Obama victory in a tight race.

Senator Clinton’s supporters are rightly proud of her candidacy. Set aside the controversies of her husband’s presidency, she has become one of her party’s most important figures. In the presidential race she vanquished several distinguished opponents, including Senator Joe Biden, who is now Senator Obama’s running mate. And Clinton lost the nomination by the narrowest of margins.

Rather than blame Senator Obama, the media, or misogynists for her loss, Clinton supporters should celebrate her accomplishments. The glass ceiling doesn’t just have 18 million cracks, as she has said. It has been shattered. The next woman to run for president, in either party, will be doing nothing out of the ordinary.

How then should Senators Obama and McCain appeal to former Clinton supporters and women voters in general? The answer is not, and never was, to put a woman on the ticket. The candidates need to talk to women about issues. And not just “women’s issues”-whatever that means. As we say at the Independent Women’s Forum, all issues are women’s issues. Women are affected by questions of war and peace, economic turmoil, education, and more. Indeed, that’s why Senator Obama carried a majority of the votes of Democratic women in more than a dozen states. Most women want the best candidate, not the best female candidate.

When the fall campaign begins in earnest in September, both candidates need to explain what they will do to encourage economic growth, reduce consumer uncertainty, and revive confidence in the financial system. Should government get out of the way or play a bigger role? What financial institutions, if any, should be bailed out by government? What, if anything, should be done about the housing market?

Michelle Bernard

Michelle D. Bernard, a lawyer by training, is the president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum and author of Women’s Progress, How Women are Wealthier, Healthier, and More Independent Than Ever Before.
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