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Caryl Rivers Headshot

Barack's Woman Problem

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Maybe Barack Obama ought to go looking for his Inner Atheist, because lately, his spiritual advisers are throwing him under the bus instead of leading him towards a Sweet Chariot.

The performance of a Catholic priest in Obama's Chicago church, mocking Hillary Clinton in a cruel and humiliating way, is just the latest of the slings and arrows Obama's spiritual mentors have inflicted. And the raucous laughter inside the church did not help either, because Barack Obama has a woman problem, and not a small one.

I recently talked to several women that I had never regarded as overtly political, who surprised me by said they were not going to vote for Obama because of the way Clinton has been treated. The rage is wide and deep, as reporters who have been out around the country can testify.

And you can talk yourself blue in the face saying that claims of sexism are exaggerated, that Clinton's problems are of her own making, that women are too thin skinned etc. etc. Women have been shocked by the sexism that has emerged in the media, from their bosses and co-workers, and from some political operatives. The emotion is real, and it is deep. Obama needs to move to blunt this anger if he hopes to be elected president.

He needs to offer Hillary Clinton a high-profile position, so that he can energize her passionate supporters, who will be desperately needed in the fall. He should either put her on the ticket as vice president or proclaim that she will be his first nominee for the Supreme Court.

As to the veep spot, conventional wisdom has it that vice presidents should be chosen for their geographic appeal, because they are popular or have a strong organization in a state that might prove crucial in the general election. Bill Clinton and Al Gore ignored that arithmetic, offering two attractive young Southerners, a team with sex appeal. "Young Guns," a Newsweek cover called them.

Hillary Clinton could offer that sort of sizzle. She has become a mega-celebrity, a politician who has astonishingly turned herself from a cool, commanding "inevitable" candidate into a feisty, scrappy, comeback kid. A lot of people have come to love her, warts and all. She's great in diners, at truck stops and in local bars, places where Obama does not seem comfortable. She's become a tireless, fabulous campaigner, a Yale law grad who can belt down a boilermaker with the boys with gusto. This talent doesn't seem to have anything to do with social class. I saw Nelson Rockefeller working a rope line in his prime and he had the common touch. So did jack Kennedy, a son of Harvard and fabulous wealth. Working-class boy Richard Nixon was uneasy with his peers; wealthy John Kerry seemed to have a tin ear, asking for Swiss cheese on a Philly cheese steak.

Hillary could help the Democratic ticket in Appalachia and the rust belt, areas that elect presidents. Her ability to connect with working-class whites and women could shore up what seems to be a real weakness in the Obama campaign. Die-hard Hillary haters can say that she's the "old politics," that she was too late at being against the war, that her hardball tactics were offensive, that she's not left enough, and so on. But I am tired of purist Democrats who lose. If Al Gore had won his own state, the 4000 American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq would most likely be alive today. (Yes, Gore won the popular vote, but Republican hardball trumped popular sentiment.)

You can argue that Hillary as veep would energize the Republican base, and that's true. But does anybody think the base will not be emerged with all the 527's running constant video feedback loops featuring the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers and chanting "Barack HUSSEIN Obama?"

As to the second option, a great many women would breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Hillary Clinton would be one of the Supremes. Roe v. Wade would be safe, and a fine legal mind would be added to the court. A journalist I know who heard presentations by McCain, Obama and Hillary came away absolutely awed by Hillary's smarts. The others took prepared questions, he said, but Hillary just stood up and took all the reporters' questions and answered them off the cuff.

I could see a Hillary term on the court as harking back to the great liberal, William O. Douglas. He was not content to closet himself in his chambers. He traveled and spoke tirelessly all around the US. An early environmentalist, in his 80s he hiked much of the length of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal and put a very human face on what is too often seen as an austere and unsympathetic institution. As a Justice, Hillary Clinton would be one of the most important and powerful women in the nation.

The Obama-Clinton race has been one of the closest races in electoral history. It has energized Democrats and brought new voters to the party. No matter what you think of her, Hillary has proved herself a fighter, a tireless campaigner and someone who can inspire true passion in her many supporters.

Democrats disrespect her at their peril.