Girl Power!

Posted: Jan 20, 2007 12:08 AM
Girl Power!

Did a majority of Americans vote for Democrats on Nov. 7th, 2006 because they were sick and tired of men running the show? Did America decide it was time to smash the "marble ceiling"? Of course not. We know from exit polling and post-election data that corruption and frustration regarding the war in Iraq had reached their tipping points, and Republicans fell victim to the voters’ anxiety and anger. Nevertheless, you would be forgiven for mistaking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s swearing in festivities for a historical reenactment of the Seneca Falls Convention.

Introducing Pelosi at her big coming out party, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (C-CT) laid it on a bit thick. “When Nancy takes the gavel tomorrow, she takes it for all of us—for every little girl who wondered what they could be when they grew up. And tomorrow we’ll find out the answer: anything you want to be!”

Pelosi had to shout over former Texas Governor Ann Richards’s favorite song, "Don’t Fence Me In" when it came time for her to speak. "That was Ann’s favorite song … and that’s women’s message: Don’t Fence Us In!"

It went dreadfully on like this. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus gushed with approval. Presumably typing with one hand and clutching a damp, mascara-stained tissue in the other Marcus wrote, "The key to ensuring future Pelosis is a workplace that accommodates women—and men—looking for ways to shuttle in and out of work or to craft flexible schedules that let them be good employees and good parents. … Who better to help accomplish this than a female speaker?"

As for me, I would prefer a speaker—male or female—who places victory against the jihadist enemy higher on his or her "to do" list than setting policies “to ensure future Pelosis.” But we all have different priorities, I suppose.

"Nothing irritates male voters more than to have a woman politician belligerently point out the obvious: that she is a woman," one prominent Republican pollster in Washington told me. "In focus group after focus group, we see support from white men nosedive when female politicians from either party deliberately suggest that their gender makes them better suited for high office."

I can validate this phenomenon from personal experience. I once observed a focus group for a client, a Republican woman candidate for Congress. She was thought to have innumerable weaknesses, though we considered her gender an obvious strength. We were thrilled to see that she sustained her favorability when we highlighted her presumed shortcomings to participants. But when we played up the gender-angle, the needle plunged among white guys. The focus group fundamentally altered our approach to voters.

"That’s the kind of thing you see whenever these situations arise," my source told me. "Generally speaking, being a woman is an electoral advantage, but running as a woman is a weakness."

Nevertheless, that Pelosi is our nation’s first female Speaker of the House is a fait accompli. There’s no turning the clock back on this one, boys. But Pelosi’s Girl Power! routine runs the risk of harming the prospects of that other Democrat woman looking to achieve higher public office: New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It may not matter that Sen. Rodham Clinton has heretofore avoided Pelosi-style Girl Power! rhetoric. Male voters have tended to express their irritation toward in-their-face gender politics in subsequent elections. Remember, 1992’s "The Year of the Woman" was followed by 1994’s "The Year of the Angry White Male." (Yes, I know, the Angry White Male dynamic is an unsubstantiated myth, but you get my point.)

This is a problem for Sen. Rodham Clinton because men are very much part of the Pelosi coalition. President George W. Bush beat Sen. John Kerry among male voters in 2004 by a margin of 55% to 44%. But in 2006, male voters chose Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 50% to 47%. Republican support from white men fell from 62% in 2004 to 53% in 2006. In a manner of speaking, white guys gave the girls the gavel. Will they regret it?

"If I were Hillary Clinton," my source says, "I would ask Speaker Pelosi to cool it."