"We've never had a mother who ever ran or was elected president…"
That was Hillary Clinton speaking earlier this week, when she appeared on the television show The View. Don't think for a minute that she was just making an interesting historical observation. No, Hillary doesn't work that way. She never says or does anything that hasn't been perfectly scripted and endlessly polled beforehand. She had a message, a new strategy to try out. So look for the new "Mom Strategy" to be the anchor of her presidential run.
Forget Soccer Moms and Security Moms; now it's going to be all Moms all the time with Hillary as the biggest Mom of all.
The "Mom Strategy" is key to presenting the latest iteration of Hillary. She needs to move out of the center space that she populated in her last reincarnation as a moderate. That's over. Because democratic primary voters are squarely at odds with her positions on the war in Iraq, she needs to move on. The "Mom Strategy" gives her a credible way to tack to the left on the war. She's already begun. Last week, she told an NPR audience that she would have voted against the war if only she had known then what she knows now. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
In furtherance of the new Mom strategy, she has re-released her best-selling book It Takes A Village. This time, she is pictured surrounded by adoring, well-groomed and respectful children on the cover. Just like Mom. This is no coincidence; it's an element of the strategy. The subliminal message: I'm a Mom and I'm running for president. Moms take care of people, they're compassionate and don't want wars. The fact that the book isn't selling well in its re-release Amazon ranks it at 5,000 doesn't matter. It's the cover photo that resonates.
Hillary the Hawk may ultimately be the way to win the centrists who dominate the general electorate. But Hillary, the Mom, another Mother for Peace, is the way to capture the left that runs the Democratic primaries. And that's exactly what she's doing.
Gender stereotypes are still alive and well in America and cut across men and women in all ideologies. Survey research shows that all voters believe that women are more compassionate, more focused on children and education, and more pro-peace than men. By tapping into this helpful stereotype, Hillary can flank her rivals on the left, even though her record of support for the war and collusion with the right wing on flag burning speaks loudly to the contrary.
Mom as a metaphor carries all the right messages: empathy with other mothers (particularly the heavily Democratic single moms), a commitment to education, and family values.
Now that Illinois Senator Barak Obama has threatened to bring a newer "first" to presidential politics the first black may trump the first woman Hillary answers by labeling herself as the first mother to seek the presidency.
(Actually, she's not. While Elizabeth Dole who ran in 2000 has no children, another woman, who had two children, ran for president in 1872. Victoria Woodhull, an early suffragette and mistress of Cornelius Vanderbilt ran as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party).
Hillary's new strategy echoes the 1996 Bill Clinton strategy in pushing a "fatherhood" agenda. Embracing the idea of taking responsibility, enforcing child support, promoting school uniforms and curfews, and fighting against teen smoking and sex and violence on TV, President Clinton promoted the idea of his fatherhood in his bid for re-election. He began his political career as Arkansas' boy Governor. When he ran for president, he was everyone's buddy eating at McDonalds and jogging in baggy shorts but as president he needed to grow up and project the subtle image of America's father. In carefully choreographed photos, he was deliberately surrounded by adoring children looking up at him as he pushed his new message.
Now Hillary is seeking to run for president as America's Mom pro-peace, pro-family, pro-children. And it started last week on The View. Stay tuned.