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White Women Take the Gloves Off

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The woman who shouted "McCain in '08" at the Democratic rules committee was speaking for a multitude. After mounting for months, female anger over the choreographed dumping on Hillary Clinton and her supporters has exploded -- and party loyalty be damned. That the women are beginning to have a good time is an especially bad sign for Barack Obama's campaign.

"Obama will NOT get my vote, and one step more," Ellen Thorp, a 59-year-old flight attendant from Houston told me. "I have been a Democrat for 38 years. As of today, I am registering as an independent. Yee Haw!"

A new Pew Research Center poll points to a surging tide of fury, especially among white women. As recently as April, this group preferred Obama over the presumptive Republican John McCain by three percentage points. By May, McCain enjoyed an eight-point lead among white women.

What's dangerous for the Democratic Party is that, for many women, the eye of the storm has moved beyond Hillary or anything she does at this point. The offense has turned personal.

They are now in their own orbit, having abandoned popular Democratic Websites that reveled in crude anti-Hillary outpourings -- and established new ones on which they trade stories of the Obama people's nastiness.

But worse than the online malice has been the affronts to their faces.

Tara Wooters, a 39-year-old mother from Portland, Ore., told me that wearing a Hillary sticker around town has become an act of defiance. She recalls one young man telling her, "I'd rather vote for a black man than a menopausal woman."

"We don't hurl insulting, berating remarks at Obama supporters, or at Obama himself or his family," Debbie Head, a 40-year-old from Austin, Texas, complained to me.

Remember Peggy Agar? The women do. They can't stop talking about the Detroit TV reporter who asked Obama a serious question at a Chrysler factory -- "How are you going to help American autoworkers?" -- to which he answered, "Hold on a second, sweetie."

The women are angry at the ludicrous charges of racism leveled against Clinton by the Obama camp -- amplified in the supposedly respectable media -- and projected onto themselves.

Jean B. Grillo, an "over 50" writer in lower Manhattan, was pretty straightforward: "I am so tired as a white, ultra-liberal, McGovern-voting, civil-rights marching, anti-war fighting highly educated professional woman who totally supports Hillary Clinton to be attacked and vilified as racist and or dumb."

Shauna Morris, a 44-year-old lawyer from Largo, Fla., told me, "I am upper-middle class, and I still can't stand him -- and it has nothing to do with race, believe me."

The women talk of being taken for granted by a party leadership that never spoke out on some of the outrageous Hillary bashing -- and despite the close race, joined the early rush to crown Obama.

"Many of us feel slighted," said Lynn Eyrich Harvey, 76, from Los Gatos, Calif. "We feel that years of supporting the party is unimportant, that we are to sit down and shut up -- but be sure to vote Democratic in November."

Passions can change, one supposes, but the women I hear from do not see the rampant sexism, particularly toward older women, as isolated gaffes but as a systemic dismissal of them -- an enormous voting bloc that has been reliably Democratic.

"How Obama's campaign has treated Hillary will not be forgotten," Janet Rogers, 55, who runs a Bed and Breakfast in Medina, Ohio, wrote me. "I will vote for McCain if Hillary is not the nominee. My husband and friends all feel the same way."

Indeed. McCain in '08 has suddenly become a more likely prospect.

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