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This week on Freak Out And Carry On, Ron Suskind and Heather Cox Richardson look at what happened in the 2016 presidential campaign with Jay Newton-Small, contributor to TIME magazine and the author of "Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works". They discuss Hillary Clinton's new memoir, the impact of white non-college educated women voters, and the legacy of the first female U.S. cabinet member, Frances Perkins.
Ron Suskind: We are back re-litigating the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton lays it out pretty bare in this memoir, "What Happened". People are both outraged by it and grabbing it and reading it, page by page, ferociously. Some people are embracing it, loving it. Let's just think of the life of Hillary Clinton. Ever since she stepped up as the graduation speaker at Wellesley, right into working on the Watergate Committee. She's been there for almost every great moment across the second half of the 20th century. She marries Bill Clinton and moves to Arkansas. She is as important in Arkansas as he is. He loses, he wins, he comes back, he becomes president. She becomes the most active first lady, certainly since Eleanor Roosevelt. Remembered she did health care. You know some people say that was a mistake but she ran the biggest policy initiative of that man's presidency. She's there during the days of horror, the American heartbreak of the Lewinsky scandal. She gets knocked down. They call Bill Clinton the comeback kid but she's the comeback kid. She runs for the United States Senate in New York. She wins. She becomes a signature legislator during the first part of the 20th century, crossing the aisle, doing bipartisan legislation. She runs against Barack Obama in the ferocious, head-to-head struggle of the 2008 election. She loses. And then she makes her final comeback in 2016. This woman has lived in the psyche of American life. And here we have her last turn on the public stage, probably. Here she is, with this book, to talk about the great loss of 2016. The Clintons are fading now. So I think it's a good time to think about their legacy. Jay Newton-Small, what happened?
Jay Newton-Small: Right before the election, I wrote a piece about white non-college educated women and how that vote was swinging pretty heavily towards Donald Trump. It actually ended up being the decisive vote that put him over the top and he won them by an historic margin, 28 percentage points. This was a group of women that really voted strongly for Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton. I wrote about that trend right before election, saying it was a very worrying trend. But it was really shocking that she did lose that race. In this book she lays a lot of blame on others: Trump, Russia, misogyny, sexism. But she also lays blame on herself. When I interviewed her for "Broad Influence" at the beginning of her campaign she talked about how hard it was being a female candidate. I think that she still feels that way and writes very clearly in this book that if she had been a man she would not have lost. Non-college educated women was the one demographic that swung throughout the election. If you look back during the campaign men didn't move almost at all throughout the election. They were always pretty strongly for Trump. College-educated women did not move very much during election, they were always very strongly for Hillary. The only group that really swung was non-college educated women. For example right after the Khizr Khan speech at the Democratic National Convention they swung very hard away from Donald Trump. Then Donald Trump hired Kellyanne Conway as his campaign manager. She got him a message. He trotted out a women's agenda with Ivanka, they sent him out to black churches in Detroit to show non-college educated white women that he wasn't racist and that worked. And by the time he went into the first debate they were almost tied. That was thanks to non-college educated white women swinging back towards Donald Trump. Then came the groping scandal and they swung very hard against Donald Trump for that. In her book, Hillary talks about how she believes that James Comey's reopening of the investigation of her e-mails, in the final days the election, gave them an excuse to vote against her. The reason why I think that non-college educated white women voted against Hillary, or women in general, is they're much more empathetic voters than men. So men look at a candidate, male or female, and they like them or they don't. Women do the same with male candidates but with female candidates they actually imagine themselves in that woman's place and they say, "if I were her I would not have made those decisions." They're much more judgmental about women candidates than they are about any other candidates, male candidates. So in Hillary Clinton's case it's a variety of reasons, whether it's Benghazi or e-mails or Monica Lewinsky and standing by her man, you name it. There's just so much baggage there. They just say, I would never make those decisions or she is too elite and I can't see myself in her shoes. I don't relate to her. Women empathize too much. And that becomes a real liability for a female candidate.
Heather Cox Richardson: Well one of the things that I think is a problem when we try to re-litigate the 2016 election is that there's so many moving pieces. Right now, we're looking white women and how they swung. But of course women in general broke very heavily for Hillary Clinton and not for Donald Trump. And we also have the problem of disfranchisement in a lot of states and different demographics that are being moved in certain ways. We got the problem that we really haven't been able to factor in yet of how white women were moved by Facebook. So it's a little hard to sit here and look at the 2016 election, I think, and make comments about America based on that. Again remembering the fact that she did win the popular vote. So to sort of say Americans are all miserable because they turn against Hillary Clinton and in favor of a sexist is really not entirely fair. But Hillary Clinton has written a book and the vitriol is bubbling up again over this particular individual. Why? Is she being treated differently? I can't remember anybody saying that Mitt Romney should shut up and go away. Bernie Sanders wrote a book himself and he didn't even win the nomination and is still seemingly welcome to pontificate about what the direction of a party to which he doesn't even belong. And yet when this woman, who has had a front seat to American history in the late 20th and 21st century and has been a major player in politics, dares to write a book the hatred that is being heaped on, I don't think I've ever seen this before.
Jay Newton-Small: I do think that there is a very strong reaction. Her campaign debated this enormously on the inside, about how hard should she push the woman angle, the historic nature of her campaign. She wrote that President Obama pushed her to promote that angle and said that she hadn't done it enough in 08 the way he had as the first black president. They made the calculation that by pushing it they wouldn't alienate men and that they would bring on board enough women to win the election because women make up 53 percent of the electorate. What they didn't expect and I think didn't realize is that it's like Hillary says, the more successful you are, the harder people judge you. Younger voters were really put off by her because they just didn't feel that she made the case well enough. She really struggled to soar in the same way that Barack Obama did in 2008. Obama could talk every day about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice and people would swoon. He could soar at 30,000 feet. When we elect women to the executive office we never elect women who soar. That just has not happened in this world. So you think about the women who've been elected: Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff. These are leaders who are very pragmatic. They are women who get the job done. They are women who are seen as fixers and who control the purse strings and are very responsible and sober but they do not deliver soaring oratory and they do not inspire to that level. That is really hard for women to do actually. It's one of the most difficult things a woman can do as a speaker. Bernie Sanders can yell at you for 40 minutes and you'd be like, "yeah yell at me for 40 more!" Hillary would raise her voice and everyone would go, "oh my gosh, why is mom screaming at me?" The hairs on the back of our neck kind of raise. We're not used to hearing women raise their voice in power. That's what really challenging and hard to do for her: to run a historic campaign as a woman when we are so stymied as a society from appreciating and celebrating powerful women.
Heather Cox Richardson: The thing that's interesting about this moment is it's this unique moment when there has been this extraordinary gender gap in voting. It's a 24 point gender gap, meaning that women and men have a 24 points different spread between voting for Trump or voting for Clinton. This is fascinating as a political historian because the whole concept originally of women voting came from the idea that they would vote like their husbands. And in fact they did so until 1980. Women did not have the vote before the Civil War. Immediately after the Civil War, after women had participated in the war as spies, working in factories and of course giving their sons and brothers to the cause, they felt that they should have a say in their society. Wyoming took them at their word and the territory of Wyoming gave women the vote in 1869. People joked at the time because they said, there's only three women out there, so it doesn't make any difference anyway. The argument was we might as well give them the vote because maybe more women will come out here and the men who live in Wyoming might find wives. Well the next year, in 1870, Utah gave women the vote. Utah gave women the vote with the idea that women would go to the polls and vote against polygamy. That's when polygamy was still legal in Utah and they wanted to get rid of polygamy. But women go to the polls and they vote like their husbands and they vote in favor of polygamy. That was the first moment at which people thought maybe women really are simply going to echo the votes of their husbands. And from 1870 on, women's voting drops down for a while. But the assumption is that you want to give women the vote so long as they're going to vote like their husbands. You basically give their husbands two votes. That changes in 1980. For the first time in 1980 we see a gender gap in voting. Women vote against Ronald Reagan and vote for the Democrats and you start to see a split toward the Democrats. And that continues to increase until this election. You've got women sliding heavily toward the Democrats. And this is one of the reasons that I identify this moment as this crucial moment for women taking the fore in politics when you have a gender split that extraordinarily high between the Republican and the Democratic candidates. At this moment, you have women siding for a particular political vision, the one that is advanced by Hillary Clinton and the democrats.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the participants and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.