There's a new woman voter out there. Empowered women are holding themselves to the same standard they hold men to, and it's showing up in the public opinion polls. Female concerns over the debt and the deficit, not the usual gender issues, have dramatically increased as the Nov. 6 election bears down upon us.
The Gallup Poll now shows Mitt Romney trailing the president by only a point among women who are likely to vote in 12 swing states. This follows a Pew Research Center poll taken after the first presidential debate showing that President Obama's 18-point lead among women had shrunk to a tie, 47 percent to 47 percent.
"In every poll, we've seen a major surge among women in favorability for Romney," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told USA Today after the first debate. These polls find women increasingly concerned with the deficit and debt, just like men. The social issues continue to be more important to women than to men, but these issues no longer dominate the discussion.
Hillary Clinton's famous needling of Barack Obama four years ago -- "the buck stops in the Oval Office" -- suggested that he didn't have the leadership qualities required in a president. She reprised the theme this week, inadvertently or not, when she fell on the president's sword to take the blame for the national-security fiasco in Libya.
Her attempt to rescue the president with her declaration that "the buck stops with me" follows the litany of mixed metaphors in search of someone to blame for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The president stands accused of "throwing Hillary under the bus," she's accused of "getting Obama off the hook," and the State Department has become the "broken link" in "the chain of events" of a major security failure. The "failure of intelligence" contributes a new definition of incompetence at the highest levels of government.
When a president hides behind the skirt, or actually the pantsuit, of his secretary of state, it's enough to tempt even a feminist to put national security above the social issues.
Mrs. Clinton can't like the position she has been relegated to, taking responsibility for the president's own debacle after weeks of White House misinformation. Her lame lamentation that she wanted to avoid "some kind of political gotcha" so close to the election makes her look less than authoritative even as it renders the president as weak and confused. She was busy enough trying to defend the robotic Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for her repeated description of the Benghazi terrorism as "spontaneous" protest of an obscure anti-Islam Internet video that almost nobody, in the Middle East or elsewhere, has seen.
Ironically, Hillary fell on the president's sword from a perch in Peru, where she is attending a conference devoted to, of all things, "women's empowerment." It hasn't been a good fortnight for the ladies in leadership positions. Candy Crowley, the moderator of the second debate, got it wrong when she misconstrued Obama's use of the word "terror" in his Rose Garden remarks speech the day after the Benghazi tragedy, and had to concede that Romney was correct that the president refused for two weeks to say that the death of his ambassador in Libya was an act of "terrorism" and not a violent movie review.
Many women are exacting a heavy price for the president's alienation of affection. Susan Crown, a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Chicago businesswoman, is one prominent example. She is a fallen-away Obama fan who campaigns this year for Romney. She argues that the so-called war on women is actually an economic war on everybody. She observes that the annual household income has dropped by an average of $4,000 since the president took office, a fact emphasized by Mitt Romney in the second debate, with the acid observation that, "I do not think Barack Obama has ever taken an accounting class."
In the second debate, Romney looked deeper into the dark side of Obama accounting, finding that 3.5 million more women are living in poverty than before he took charge of the economy. Women understand that an economy with 7.8 percent unemployment, when half of college graduates can't find good jobs, is not good for anyone.
In the first presidential debate Romney destroyed the straw man that the president constructed to represent the challenger. In the second debate, he destroyed the prospect that the straw man could be resurrected. Three weeks on, women and men will finally decide for whom the buck stops.