On a recent evening over watermelon martinis, a group of Long Island women went around the table voicing their nonsupport of Hillary Clinton. They’re a left-leaning group, ranging in age from mid-40s to early 60s — supposedly part of Clinton’s natural constituency.
“She’s rich,” one said. “I always distrust rich people, how they made their money.”
Another cited Clinton’s campaign contributions from Monsanto, the big developer of genetically modified foods. A third woman derided the Clinton White House-era limits on welfare and passage of the 1994 crime bill, which helped to fill our prisons. A fourth said Clinton has no charisma.
On Thursday, as Clinton takes the stage to accept the Democratic nomination for president — the first woman in a major American party to do so — shouldn’t she by right enter the embrace of this generation of women as the zenith of our aspirations? However, if this critical group is any measure, Clinton still has some winning-over to do. These women aren’t ready to hand her that pointy glass-shattering hammer just yet. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 52 percent of registered female voters from both parties support Clinton, but that number fell to about 35 percent among white women ages 35 to 64.
Can Clinton build enthusiasm tonight? Possibly. She needs to remind us that she’s like us. We’ve known her in public life for decades.
And yet, she must also show that she’s not too much like us. She must be extraordinary enough to claim this historic first.
Her husband laid the groundwork Tuesday night. It’s the job of the spouse at a party convention to humanize the candidate and also to remind people of her history. Bill Clinton described first noticing Hillary on campus at Yale Law School in a way that showed she was like other women: thick blond hair, big glasses, no makeup. But he also claimed that even in 1971, she was extraordinary. Magnetic and self-possessed to the point that he hesitated to touch her back to get her attention and introduce himself.
Tonight, Clinton must make that case for herself.
She cannot answer my friends’ every concern. A disadvantage of a long public life is a host of positions, and detractors can choose among them as a basis for disapproval.
But Clinton can talk about her life and ideals. She was born into a middle-class family in which her dad made custom drapes and her homemaker mother told her she could be a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Many Americans can relate to humble beginnings and high aspirations, but not all of us persevered until we were the Democratic nominee for president.
Clinton can remind Americans that her early instinct was to advocate for migrant laborers, battered children and the legal rights of minors. She later wrote a book about relying on community, and on the campaign trail at the Brooklyn Navy Yard last month continued to speak about “prosperity that lifts everyone who has been left out and left behind.”
She could point out that, when thwarted in her 1990s White House health care overhaul, she took to the road as first lady to advocate for women’s rights around the world. Then when she was a U.S. senator from New York in the 2000s, many of her staff were women whom she accommodated through their pregnancies and early motherhood.
As history-making as Clinton’s acceptance speech on Thursday will be, her most potent message to women voters of my generation will be to remind us of the road we’ve traveled together, the aspirations we’ve held for ourselves, our country and our children.
It’s not her zenith, she must recollect, it’s ours.
Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.