09/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Do Hillary Women Want?

I'll tell you the secret about what many of the millions of women who voted
for Hillary really want: acknowledgement. Yep. That's it. Well, that's not
all, of course. But that's the secret part, the part that appears to be
eluding the leaders of the Obama campaign and making their efforts to win
the allegiance of Hillary supporters so dangerously ineffective. The onus
for winning over Clinton supporters is not on the Clintons, contrary to
current conventional wisdom, but rather on Obama himself.

You've no doubt heard the media reiterating talking points about how the way
to win the votes of women is to hit hard on economic issues since those are
the issues that impact families with painful immediacy. There's some
validity to that point. After all, many of the women who were and who remain
most strongly identified with Hillary are mothers. We care about our loved
ones. We carry the burden of trying to make it work when the ends don't meet
the middle. We worry about the future. A lot.

However, if you listen closely, you'll also hear the unwritten assumption
that appears to constitute the Obama campaign's strategy toward this large,
critical and, usually, faithfully Democratic demographic: "Well, who else
are they going to vote for anyway? Let's focus our energies on the
Independents" I think of this as the "we've got them by their Roe v. Wade"
presumption. The thought also has some validity since the stakes are
certainly very high. However, especially with McCain's campaign aggressively
courting Hillary supporters, Obama cannot afford to presume anyone's
automatic support.

This was no ordinary primary season for Democrats. Women and people of
color have been disenfranchised and taken for granted by the Democratic
Party for years. This time, however, we were able to back candidates
(candidates who actually had a chance to win) with whom we could personally
identify. Whether you are a woman, a person of color, some other kind of
"other" or some combination of the prior groups, the experience of
witnessing a biracial man and a woman as the two final potential Democratic
presidential candidates was powerful.

What continues to make it hard for many of us to commit to the Obama cause
is his very lack of overt commitment to us. He and his campaign have focused
too much on Hillary Clinton herself and missed countless opportunities to
reach out directly to those of us who supported her. He seems to feel it is
sufficient to lump us into his idealistically inclusive "we," and, in doing
so, he fails both to respect and to witness the enormity of our loss. For it
was our loss as women, not just Hillary Clinton's. The reality is that we
are not bitter. We are grieving.

For all of us, not just Obama supporters, this Democratic primary season
evoked intense emotions. We were called upon to be hopeful and we were. We
dared to set free longings and desires so deep and personal that they have
been contained historically in the secret places within our individual and
collective psyches. And, now, some of those longings have been at least
partially fulfilled. And some have not. The grief of those of us whose
longings were once again thwarted accounts for much of the continuing
resistance of Hillary supporters.

So what do we grieving women want from Obama? We want him to acknowledge
that our hope was as valid as the hope of his supporters and that our
longing will not go unrecognized. We want him to claim our loss as his own
on behalf of his daughters and to speak to women's issues directly. In a
very real sense, Hillary's loss is a loss for all of us. I celebrate the
fact that countless children of all races and skin color will now see a
world with new possibilities. But I mourn to my core that my daughter, like
Obama's daughters, will most likely not see a woman president within my

So, with all due respect to Michelle Obama (and I do mean real respect:
she's strong without apology and we love her for it) and even Hillary
herself, we do not want only to hear campaign surrogates giving us lip
service. No, we want to hear from the man himself that he will represent and
defend our interests and the interests of all of our daughters with
ferocity. We want him to commit to us overtly and specifically, because the
unfortunate reality is that we do not yet live in a society that transcends

Barack Obama has the opportunity in both his acceptance speech and the
campaign ahead to do what he has not yet done: to recognize and respect the
intensity our grief by speaking directly to us and our issues ­ and then to
challenge us to partner with him to mobilize that intensity to bring about
change for all of our daughters. The onus is on you, Senator Obama. Speak to
us. We'll be listening.

Leah McElrath Renna is a mother, a professional psychotherapist and a
Managing Partner of the communications-consulting firm, Renna

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