If we don’t want a repeat of the Obama years, when some important gains were made for women but a lot of ground was lost, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to get out on the trail and mobilize young women now.
Clinton needs to use her incredible popularity and credibility among U.S. voters to ensure that if and when she runs for president, a victory brings with it a Democratic majority. She needs to be on the stump, and on message, encouraging young women to vote their interests, increasing the minimum wage, closing the gender wage gap, and ensuring reproductive health-care access is expanding, not disappearing as a result of Republican anti-choice policies sweeping the states.
Now is the right time for Clinton, who began
a national book tour on Tuesday to promote her new memoir Hard Choices, to test narratives and messaging that can resonate with young people—namely young women—in order to get out the vote this November, not two years from now. Clinton can and should use her impressive media spotlight and spur young people to action and refocus the media’s attention away from the latest right-wing smear about Benghazi or ageist speculation about her having “brain damage.” She’s already won over millennials on social media with the clever “Texts From Hillary” campaign, but she needs to be even more open and direct about how she is going to fight against regressive Republican policies that are taking women back to the 1950s.
If she plays it safe, going through the usual drills—tour stops full of pithy anecdotes, vague policy assertions, and platitudes that make us feel warm and fuzzy—Clinton will have missed an incredible opportunity to propel herself and women into the next generation of power in one fell swoop.
The gender gap that beltway pundits describe after every election is made up of women of color and single women. Clinton can speak to the obstacles that marginalized women face, with rising costs of child care, lack of access to affordable health care, and a larger wage gap than their white counterparts.
Clinton has an opportunity to right many wrongs and win back trust after the 2008 primary controversies, and frame issues of economic power for women—bread-and-butter issues—around the stories of women of color.
“I know I have a decision to make,” she recently told People magazine. “But part of what I’ve been thinking about, is everything I’m interested in and everything I enjoy doing—and with the extra added joy of ‘I’m about to become a grandmother,’ I want to live in the moment. At the same time I am concerned about what I see happening in the country and in the world.”
While Clinton is busy playing the “I’m not running for president” game, progressives are losing time, wondering about the future, uncertain if she will be progressive enough, and resisting the natural inclination to draft the solidly progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as a presidential candidate.
In previous cycles, potential candidates mounted their campaigns in the winter after the midterm elections; President Obama announced his candidacy in February 2007. But this cycle is different.
Clinton has been a household name for a generation. Millennials who grew up hearing about the “mommy wars,” and who later came of age and voted for President Obama, now may be ready to give Clinton a shot. But the incentive for them to get out the vote in 2014, should be that she won’t just be in the executive branch, unable to pass anything as a result of congressional gridlock.
And as the first woman in the oval office, Clinton would likely face similar problems as the many other women who have fought the odds and tradition to reach the top of an organization at a time of turmoil and unrest. UK professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam were the first to label this phenomena the “glass cliff”—it means that women who occupy positions of power are more likely to do so when the risk of failure is high, “either because they are appointed to lead organizations (or organizational units) that are in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success.”
So there is a real danger present that even if she runs, and even if she wins, Clinton won’t be able to be effective, and the public will wrongly conclude that having a woman in the Oval Office is a mistake.
All this speculation is itself exhausting, and the Democratic base, which is still suspicious of the Clintons because of their treatment of President Obama during the South Carolina primary, needs some convincing. Why not start now?
Speculation about how Clinton matches up against potential challengers is fun for the pundits, but her effective use of the media’s interest in her to achieve victories at the ballot box for Democrats is sure to generate some loyalty among the base. A democratic base that is reasonably skeptical of the hawkish pro-Iraq War Clinton that reigned supreme in the 2008 cycle.
Right now though, Clinton has a huge head start over presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle. No Democrats can compete with her, and 55 percent of respondents in a recent ABC News poll want her to be the next president. With that wind at her back, Clinton can focus her attention on a Democratic base turnout because the status quo of congressional gridlock and partisan bickering is unsustainable and no real change can be made until we change the makeup of Congress.
It seems like forever ago that Democrats in the House, led by the first woman Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), routinely passed legislation that served to make the lives of millions of Americans better. Americans are eager for Congress to get back to functioning, frustrated with the last four years of Obama derangement syndrome. Clinton can act now by taking action in support of the party
and stumping for Democrats on an economic message that empowers women and families to make sure Congress is ready for her too.
And if Clinton isn’t ready to take on this challenge, another candidate with an ear to the day to day concerns of everyday people and a populist message could shake things up and make the next few years a bit more unpredictable.