Is Obama Pandering to Women Voters?

BlogHer Original Post

In case you hadn't heard the shocking news, Obama went on ABC’s The View earlier this week and gabbed about JP Morgan, gay marriage, and Kim Kardashian -- though not necessarily in that order. He also announced that he is going to win the election in November.

Earlier this week, he gave the commencement address at Barnard, where he talked about the remarkable women who’d shaped his life and then exhorted the nearly 600 female graduates to take over the world. "Don’t just get involved," he said. "Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table." Still, the president also acknowledged that in this dreadful job market for graduates, that could be tough to do.


Obama is in full-on campaign mode, trying to court the all-important women’s vote. This week, that effort also included a fuzzy Mother’s Day video praising his mom, Michelle, and the other women instrumental in his life.

That Obama is going after women is hardly news, nor is it news that women of all ages respond to him with the enthusiasm that they do. Yet for some reason, pundits are incredulous, like they’ve never heard of targeting voters in their lives.

Obama is trying to exploit the gender gap! Obama is pandering to women! The next thing you know, he’ll be signing a bill that establishes equal pay just to please women! (Oh, wait. He already has.) In fact, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank even dinged Obama for mentioning the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in his speech to the young women graduates of Barnard.

Wait, how long have we been hearing about women’s issues in this election season? Does "War on Women" ring a bell? Hasn’t Obama been hammering for months now on women’s rights? But to hear Milbank tell it, Obama’s Barnard speech was the first time he’d mentioned women’s achievements and concerns. In a column sneeringly titled "Barack Obama, the first female president," Milbank noted: "Heck, he even wore a gown." Funny!

He went on to say:

Obama was still early in his address when he acknowledged that his praise for the young generation of women is “a cheap applause line when you’re giving a commencement at Barnard.”

But Obama was being modest. He didn’t deliver a cheap applause line. He delivered an entire speech full of them. His reelection campaign has been working for months to exploit the considerable gender gap, which puts him far ahead of likely GOP rival Mitt Romney among women. But Monday’s activities veered into pandering, as Obama brazenly flaunted his feminine mystique.

I don’t know what "feminine mystique" means, but clearly it's not a desirable trait. Nor, for that matter, is being a "female" president. This is not a good sign. Are we going to be forced to endure another miserable election like we did in 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were continually maligned for simply being female? Where it was acceptable for either political party to routinely trash women candidates because of their gender? I know we can take the heat, but why should we? Maybe we need to take a cue from those smart, feisty, hard-charging graduates of Barnard?

I wasn’t the only one irritated by Milbank’s sexist and condescending remarks. By mid-afternoon, his column had incited more than 2,000 comments, challenging everything from his account of Obama's speech to his snide use of the term "female president." The flak was so intense that the Post felt compelled to run an update in which Rachel Manteuffel noted the criticisms:

Maybe the pandering that Milbank found is a necessary component of a graduation speech, along with pomp, circumstance and Oh The Places You’ll Go. As Saulpaulus said,

"this speech was more along the lines of boosting [the students’] self-image. Isn’t that something ALL commencement speakers are SUPPOSED to do . . . "

Maybe, except for truly, truly special graduates who can take the unvarnished truth.

Manteuffel also noted Nisha Chittal's tweet pointing out something interesting: Milbank is not the first Post opinion columnist to use the first-female-president construct.

In response, Milbank weighed in with a predictably obnoxious comment on his original post: "I do not really think Obama is a woman."

Thanks, Dana! I’m sure readers were hugely relieved to hear that.

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