We're waiting!

Anna Quindlen

April 29, 1992|By Anna Quindlen

TO: Governor Clinton

Re: Half the Voters

Dear Governor,

How come you haven't noticed us?

There are millions of agitated female voters out here and you have a golden opportunity to persuade us to support you. We're the people who upset Sen. Alan J. Dixon in Illinois and could make Carol Moseley Braun the first woman of color to serve in the Senate. We're the people who took Lynn Yeakel from 0 to 60 in a couple of months in Pennsylvania, relishing the spectacle of a smart woman taking on Arlen Specter in a Senate race.

They say this is our year. The issues once called women's issues have become cutting edge. Since this last momentous fall, when the Judiciary Committee sent Anita Hill back to Oklahoma like a doctoral candidate who had failed her orals, our anger has become a recognized national phenomenon. One of our fund-raising organizations, Emily's List, has doubled the number of its contributors since then.

Hasn't anyone told you?

We have no reason to support George Bush. Even some Republican women will say so. During the New Hampshire primary the reporters who cover the president got some yuks out of one commercial. In it, the president was sitting at his desk when a woman assistant came in and handed him some papers. The joke was that it was the first woman assistant seen in the Oval Office since the administration began.

But it's not simply that Barbara Bush is the best-known woman in this administration. After all, your wife is the most prominent woman in your inner circle, too, although she has the experience to be part of a policy partnership as well as a domestic one. Your closest campaign advisers are the standard-issue white guys.

And this is not just about abortion. By the way, governor, what was going through your mind a week ago today? There was only one story in this country that day, and it was the future of legal abortion, writ large in Supreme Court arguments and in arrests in Buffalo. And you gave a speech about the environment. Great issue, bad timing, even if it was Earth Day.

Back in 1988 George Bush evoked significantly less enthusiasm from women than he did from men. And that was before he vetoed family leave, gagged the doctors at family planning clinics, said Clarence Thomas was the best man for the job and spent a year pretending that the economy was A-OK. Opinion polls showed that we women were much less enamored of his antiseptic war in the Persian Gulf than our male counterparts.

You could fashion a victory out of this gender gap. If you are going to stand for a new generation, you can begin by standing for a generation that has come of age during the fight for equality at work and at home, a generation that has been irrevocably shaped by the changing roles, concerns and problems of women.

You cannot assume that the gender gap automatically benefits you. You have a gender gap of your own, a personal one. Some women look at you and see every charming and evasive rover they ever had the bad fortune to tangle with.

You could defuse that if you spoke out in a constant and concerted way about your commitment to family planning clinics and prenatal care programs, family leave policies and early childhood education initiatives, legal abortion and a polyglot inner circle. You've been out there romancing black voters, Jewish communities, labor unions. But you haven't romanced women enough.

We're raising hell in state races; we could raise hell in this one too. But we're too ticked off to be taken for granted for long, and lots of us are still looking at you as the lesser of two evils, which doesn't inspire anybody.

The good ol' boys keep saying you need to bring Joe Six Pack back to the Democratic Party in November. But for every Joe, there's another voter out there searching for a candidate. Name's Jane. We're waiting.

Anna Quindlen, is a columnist for the New York Times.

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