lady business

Barack Obama Conducts a War on Women…’s Hearts and Minds!

US President Barack Obama appears on the television show
Barack Obama and quarry. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

If you’ve tuned in at all to the 2012 campaign this week, you may have noticed that President Obama has been going after the ladies, hard. There was yesterday’s appearance on The View. The hastily arranged Barnard graduation speech on Monday, for which the university bumped the scheduled speaker. He really milked Mother’s Day for all it was worth. It’s been a full-on charm offensive, with Obama reaching beyond boilerplate campaign messages on women’s health and their role in the economy to blatantly affirm the worth of our entire gender.

Why the sudden intense focus? Worry, perhaps. According to a fairly stunning CBS News/New York Times poll released on Monday — the accuracy of which the Obama campaign has questioned — President Obama has lost five points with women since April. Mitt Romney, by this latest accounting, is now ahead (if barely) with women voters, 46 to 44. It’s a particularly surprising turn of events: Not only do Democrats traditionally have a major advantage with female voters, but just a few months ago, in the Rick Santorum era, the major narrative surrounding gender in this race was the Republican “War on Women.” The drop in support just so happens to correlate fairly closely with last month’s Hilary Rosen gaffe, in which the Democratic strategist said that Ann Romney, stay-at-home mom, had never worked a day in her life. 

What makes the poll all the more bitter for the Obama camp is that it’s certainly not as though he hasn’t been trying to shore up his support with the fairer sex. Well before anyone outside of the Beltway knew who Hilary Rosen was, the campaign began a concerted effort to bring in women voters, centered around the health-care debate and the importance of preserving ready and universal access to birth control and mammograms. Women who registered with the Obama campaign website were bombarded with text messages and e-mails about reproductive health. After the Rosen debacle, the campaign released “The Life of Julia,” a web slide show meant to illustrate the ways life would be different under a Romney presidency; it’s no accident that it wasn’t the Life of Julian.

But Obama is at least aware of the dangers becoming the political equivalent of the guy at the bar who approaches a large group of women and asks, slurrily and  indiscriminately, “Who’s up for whatever?” At an early April White House event on women and the economy, he told the crowd, “Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn’t be treated that way.” And yet he can’t seemingly help himself.  Below, just a sampling of his recent attempts at pandering to women as a monolithic bloc, ranked in order of efficacy by a monolothic focus group of one.

13. “I was going to head over here earlier and they said, no, no, this place is full of women and they’re still settling down,” the president said. “What do you mean, settling down? What are they doing over there? Just creating havoc.” —White House forum on women and the economy, April 6. Women! Amirite, bro?

12. “I’ll ask Michelle [what Fifty Shades of Grey is] when I get home.” —on The View, May 15. Worse than the Rosen gaffe?

11. “I love hanging out with women.” —on The View, May 15. All of ‘em. Can I interest you in some Courvoisier?

10. “Each of us has amazing women in our lives who give us strength and encouragement, and no matter what we do on Mother’s Day, it never seems like enough. This year, I wanted to try something a little different. I know Michelle treasures every single person who is part of this movement we’ve built, so I’m hoping each of you will sign my card to her today.” —fund-raising e-mail sent May 11. Dude, don’t offload your gift-giving to strangers!

9. “Women are over half this country and its workforce, not to mention 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law. I always count my mother-in-law.” —White House forum on women and the economy, April 6. M.I.L. jokes: A bit chick-lit, but we’ll take it.

8. “Malia and Sasha and a bunch of my friends and Michelle had sort of like a [birthday] roast, a little private roast, each one of them read something and Malia and Sasha had written out why I am such a wonderful dad,” Obama said. “They had this list, it was so sweet. And one of the items on Malia’s list was ‘you are just the right amount of embarrassing.’” —on The View, May 15. Just the right amounts of egocentric (that is a roast?) and sweetly self-deprecating.

7. “It is a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented, accomplished women. It makes me feel right at home.  Although usually, I’ve got my wingman Bo with me.” —White House forum on women and the economy, April 6. Broad but gentlemanly. Plus, Bo is cute.

6. “Is it possible that Congress would get more done if there were more women in Congress? I think it’s fair to say: That is almost guaranteed.” —White House forum on women and the economy, April 6. Borrows the best of the Mama Grizzly ethos.

5. “Until there are women who tell her, ignore our pop culture obsession over beauty and fashion — (applause) — and focus instead on studying and inventing and competing and leading, she’ll think those are the only things that girls are supposed to care about. Now, Michelle will say, nothing wrong with caring about it a little bit. (Laughter.) You can be stylish and powerful, too. (Applause.) That’s Michelle’s advice.” —Barnard Commencement, May 14. Solid fluency in third-wave feminism, even more solid understanding that women think his wife is pretty damn cool.

4. “Well, you know what’s fun is when the women basketball players come in, because they’re all gorgeous and they’re all 6-foot-5 and wearing high heels.” —Bill Simmons’s podcast, March 1. This one wasn’t actually on purpose, and that’s what made it charming.

3. “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.” —Barnard Commencement, May 14. Someone’s been watching Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk!

2. “I’ve got to say, you set a pretty high bar given the past three years. (Applause.) Hillary Clinton — (applause) — Meryl Streep — (applause) — Sheryl Sandberg — these are not easy acts to follow. (Applause.)” —Barnard Commencement, May 14. Truth.

1. “Clooney and Me” —fund-raising e-mail sent April 24. Solid gold.

Obama’s Best Attempts at Pandering to Women