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If you want to talk to a normal person on a Manhattan subway, the best time is midday on a weekday. That’s how I encountered a rara avis, a real Reagan Democrat. Political operators inside the Beltway natter on (and if they’re Republicans, it’s with nostalgia) about them, but did they ever meet one? Lest you think Reagan Democrats are political unicorns, allow me to introduce you to the real thing – and how he got me thinking about why women don’t like Hillary Clinton.
Being midday and not close to a weird part of the city (e.g., Times Square), it was easy to start a conversation in the nearly empty subway car.
I noted the man’s ball cap, with its trade union logo, and commented to him how my father had trained in the same area in high school. He nodded – a bond was forming. He was a regular guy; I was a regular gal.
He told me a bit about his union, then admitted: “Going to the Javits Center. Hillary rally. Got a call from the union. They’ll all be there.”
This was said with the enthusiasm of a man going to a wedding because his wife was dragging him along. I gave him a sympathetic nod, of the “crap we have to do for our jobs” variety (a body gesture I had perfected when I worked on the Hill).
He continued: “Hillary’s never done anything for me.”(Remember, the subway car was almost empty.) “But Trump, that guy, I’ve worked for him. He paid well.”
I replied, pleasantly, to remember that how he voted when inside the voting booth was his own business and nobody else’s.
He then scrutinized me and asked: “Do you like Hillary?”
At this point you might expect I’d recite talking points about Benghazi, the emails, with the late Vince Foster and her cattle futures deal thrown in for good measure. I did none of the above.
Shrugging, I said “not really,” and went on about her odd choice in clothes – especially the orange pantsuit that made her look like a giant Cheeto. But I conceded, she seemed to have dropped the Cheeto look.
“But don’t you want a woman to be president?” he asked. “Isn’t that important to you?”
Another shrug from me, as I repeated “not really” adding, “it will happen sooner or later. If it happens this year or some other year, it makes no difference to me.”
“That’s funny,” he replied. “I’ve yet to meet a woman who likes Hillary.” And he smiled, with the satisfaction of a man whose instincts had been verified yet again.
A moment later my stop came up, we exchanged farewell pleasantries, and the doors closed behind me.
The encounter gave me much to consider, particularly about those other women the union guy knew. Why didn’t they like Hillary either?
My guess: Hillary’s a throwback to a time when a woman had to be married to a politician to be a successful politician herself.
Photo by JeepersMedia
For example, Lindy Boggs (Cokie Roberts’ mother) was a very effective House member, but her start in Congress occurred because her husband, then-Congressman Hale Boggs, died in a 1972 plane crash. Lindy, the widow won the special election for her deceased spouse’s seat.
Elizabeth Dole, despite being a Harvard Law grad, relied on her husband, then-Senator Bob Dole, to push her career forward. She attained her first cabinet-level position in 1983, and eventually won a Senate seat from North Carolina in 2002.
Hillary, like Elizabeth, graduated from an Ivy League law school (Yale). For a few years she had brief stints with foundations as well as the Democrat staff of the House Watergate investigatory committee.
In 1974 President Nixon resigned, Hillary failed the District of Columbia’s bar exam but passed Arkansas’ exam. Bill Clinton, her then Yale classmate, had urged her to move to Arkansas, and she did. She taught law at the University of Arkansas and married Bill in 1975. Did Bill help get her that law school job? Probably.
In 1976, Bill won the race for Arkansas Attorney General, and a month after Bill took office in 1977, Hillary had a job in the prestigious Rose Law Firm, the oldest firm west of the Mississippi.
Except for those few years between Yale and Arkansas, Hillary has relied on Bill for her success, including winning her New York Senate seat in 2000 and being reelected in 2006.
Hillary has struggled to connect with women, especially Millennial women. The problem is Hillary’s experience is contrary and off-putting to two major groups of women.
First, there are the young women who take it for granted that all doors are open, and the responsibility of success or failure rests solely upon their own shoulders.
The second are younger Baby Boomers who were the first female managers, engineers, computer programmers, and scientists in their workplaces. They earned their positions through their own efforts and reputations – not because of their marriages.
Hillary’s rise on the shoulders of her husband does not inspire these women.
To my Reagan Democrat subway acquaintance, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to give you a better answer to your question about women’s attitudes towards Hillary. Then again, if I planted an image in your mind that Hillary is nothing more than a giant Cheeto, I’m guessing you just might agree with me on that.
Photo by @SInow
Joanne Butler was a professional staff member at the US House Ways & Means Committee; issues included trade and Social Security. In the Bush Administration's Labor Department, she was a senior advisor to an assistant secretary, handling a wide range of issues from speechwriting to program quality control. She has a graduate degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard University, with a concentration in economics and international finance.