I’m just back in California and in the midst of unpacking from our trip to Ohio and also re-packing everything away from Christmas, so I haven’t been able to follow all of this as closely as I would have liked. But I heard el Rushbo today as I was working, and he remarked upon the popularity of both Huckabee and Obama in Iowa with the ladies. And that led me to a thought. There are two separate types of women who came out in full force for both of these guys and--if I were a smart Republican (or Mr. Obama) hoping to win the nomination and the general--I think I’d be looking for the common thread between these women. The first type (for Huck) is the home-schooling, evangelical woman. Of course, they’re not all home schoolers and they’re not all evangelicals . . . but they are the "salt-of-the earth" types (Rush’s phrase) who has otherwise felt neglected in this race. She sees some hope in Huckabee. He strikes her as someone who may re-invigorate the things that she knows made our country great. For Obama, we have the Oprah-watching (dare I say, worshiping) well-intentioned but more secular woman. She is put off by Hillary (probably because she’s had enough of people talking AT her) and thinks--or, rather, hopes--that Obama’s message actually means something. In any event, she likes that he talks about "hope" and the notion that together "ordinary people can do extraordinary things." (Rush, by the way, said that this is one of his lines . . .)
What do both groups of women have in common? I think Schramm is really on to something with his analysis of Huck’s and Obama’s words and what those words seem to have in common. The fact that both of their words seem to appeal to women is also significant. But how? Women are drawn to strong leadership that is persuasive and inspiring--rather than pushy or insinuating-- for one thing. They like to be told that they know what they are talking about. They like men to listen to them and take their views seriously. And when men don’t (or don’t seem to) . . . well, there’s a problem awaiting those men. Could it be that women on both sides of the aisle are a kind of metaphor for the voting public--all a bit frustrated about being ignored by their party’s leadership? Could it be that there is something in the words of Huck and Obama that seems to represent an appeal to something higher than the run of the mill policy speech? Something that puts people in mind of American greatness and suggests a role for them in it? Something, even Reaganesque in an appeal to it being "morning again" in America. Never mind that it doesn’t really mean anything to say that. It didn’t mean anything, really, when Reagan said it. But it did capture a mood. It meant that Americans were looking for a way to dust ourselves off and go at the world with a bit more of a spring in our step. We didn’t like the naysayers (Carter) and we didn’t like the dry, dusty, unimaginative Oldsmobile Republicans (your father’s Republican--thanks Joe K!) telling us what to do. We wanted someone who could think out loud and who was willing to invite us into the conversation. We wanted to believe (as we should) that it is we who make our country great. The specifics are another matter . . . and really, in some ways less important.
A while back, Hillary Clinton was going around the country inviting people into staged "conversations" with her. She must have had focus group information that led her to understand that a big problem of hers is that she is uninviting and seems to push people away from dialog. This is why women often don’t like her. They perceive her (correctly) as someone who is inclined to talk AT you rather than with you. She is a know-it-all. The reason this "conversation" ploy of hers didn’t work was precisely because it was staged (like her "victory" celebration last night--I have heard it described by several commentators as something more akin to a wake where people had to have a subpoena to attend).
Maybe the problem that the party establishment on both sides is having during this election cycle is that all of us unsophisticated rubes out there in the voting public are actually too sophisticated to be taken in by their perfectly groomed and manicured candidates and their ever-so-carefully crafted words. We’re on to them and we’re skeptical. I’m only afraid that once the substance (or lack of it) behind the appeal of a Huck or an Obama comes to the surface, it’s going to make people cynical. It’s fine to long for leadership and for someone to appeal to what makes us great as a people. But in the end, it really is we the people, who make us great. It is a rare thing for a president to be able to affect that. He may tap into it, he may hinder or help it along . . . but he can’t change it, start it, or stop it.