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Hillary Clinton has a man problem. And this time, it’s bigger than just Bill.
Take a look at the exit polls coming out of the primaries thus far: Men are going for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. In California, men went for Obama, 51 percent to Clinton’s 39 percent, according to the San Jose Mercury News. In South Carolina, 55 percent of men voted for Obama, with only 23 percent going for Clinton. (Edwards took the bulk of the rest.)
This is not about sexism. But try telling that to feminists Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong, who both recently wrote whiny op-eds about the urgency of voting for girl power now. I suspect the folks going for Obama are casting their votes for the undefined, middle-of-the-spectrum candidate. Although, according to National Journal, he is the most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate, he doesn’t come off that way on the campaign trail: Obama sounds and looks conservative enough that even conservative pundits have had good things to say about him — a fact that promises to be a detriment to those conservatives if he becomes the Democratic nominee.
Actually, Hillary’s man problem is not just Hillary’s. It is a Democratic problem, one that has been previously obscured or ignored. Political observers have long been more interested in a supposed Republican gender gap with women. The reality of a woman running for president, though, has put a spotlight on the real gender divide: The Democrats have slowly and consistently been losing men.
In a 2001 Democratic Leadership Council study called “The White Male Problem,” William A. Galston — former deputy assistant for domestic policy under Bill Clinton — identified the problem. Beginning with Great Society programs, he highlighted a series of factors that turned white males off the Democratic Party.
By the 2000 presidential election, the majority of upscale white men came to believe that they needed nothing from government except to be left alone, while many downscale white men concluded that government either did not understand how to help them or did not care enough to do so. Because differing attitudes toward the role of government continue to define the left-right continuum in American politics, the rise of antigovernment sentiment among white men produced a shift toward ideological conservatism.
And because the major political parties have become more ideologically polarized, this shift in white male sentiment led inexorably to a move away from the Democrats.
The problem is much older than Obama’s political career. No Democratic candidate for president has won more than 43 percent of the white male vote since 1976.
What can they do? Galston advised, “In many respects, white men are looking for the same reassurance that the Democratic ticket failed to provide voters in the 1970s and 1980s, but successfully conveyed in the 1990s — that Democrats share their values, look out for their economic interests and will stand up for America’s role in the world. In 1996, that message helped Bill Clinton to carry white voters in the East and Midwest and to nearly do so in the West.”
Hillary Clinton’s explicit play for women, her tendency to rely on government rather than personal freedom, and her insistence that the first thing she’s going to do as president is start to move U.S. troops out of Iraq, may not help.
As my colleague Kate O’Beirne put it in her book, Women Who Make the World Worse: “Republicans have been made to feel that they face intractable women problems, but they have been able to bridge a divide that remains a treacherous gulf for the Democrats. The Democratic Party has been hurt as a result of its feminization at the clenched fists of the feminists in its base.”
Al Gore and John Kerry were bad news for Democrats who needed men to help carry them to victory. Political life with Hillary Clinton isn’t looking like it will make the situation any better. Man, that will be a loss for the Dems.
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