09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Can't Hillary Deliver Women the Way Oprah Does?

As originally published on in the blog MORE from the Floor

Before I got to Denver, I watched the TV talking heads (mostly men) wonder aloud if Hillary, like some sneaky, skeevy Eve Harrington from All About Eve, would pull a last-minute power grab to disrupt the nomination. Would she go for a roll-call vote in which her delegates would somehow refuse to move over to Obama, unleashing chaos on the floor? What were her motives? Why couldn't she just hand the spoils to the victor and get on with it?

Since all's fair in love and politics, I bought the Obama side's frustration. Get the hook, I thought, and get her off the stage. Next!

But after spending nearly all of yesterday covering the Hillary Express--first at WomenCount, then at Emily"s List, and finally at the Pepsi Center watching her address the convention--I saw that the task of reprogramming Hillary voters is not so simple. At WomenCount, a mostly off the record event, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said in her introduction that "Hillary's race was the best of times and the worst of times.... because we saw the dark misogyny of sexist stereotyping ....Women still have more barriers facing them." And Hillary urged the group to "stand up against the pervasive bias we saw in the media." The women in this crowd weren't just voting for a generic Democrat; Hillary speaks to and embodies something powerful and emotional in their own lives: their own decades-long struggles against anti-womanism. And Hillary knows her audience. Speaking at the WomenCount lunch, she didn't even mention the Democratic candidates by name (though she did later, at an Emily's List event that was more public). When Rep. Maloney called HRC a "lioness," she wasn't exaggerating the view of Hillary's supporters. There were a lot of tears in that crowd and you could tell by the hoots and hollers that those cubs were not yet ready to be weaned.

And that's where Oprah comes in. I'm not talking about O the magazine (which is in the same competitive field as More, the magazine I edit). I'm talking about TV-star Oprah who is able to mention a book or beauty product (or, on one occasion, a key-lime bundt cake) on her show and immediately create a feeding frenzy in the stores. For the last few years, TV-Oprah has led America to think of women as a monolith, a group that can be easily turned into buyers by the Woman They Adore (WTA). All she has to do is ask them.

So everyone is shocked and annoyed when Hillary, another WTA, can't just twitch her nose like Samantha in Bewitched and--poof!--hand over the female vote. The truth is that getting women to buy a book or bundt cake is one thing. Getting them to completely change their emotional allegiance is another. And on the emotional level, Barack and Hillary are completely different products. Did Barack Obama agree that his career would take a backseat to his wife's, even though he was equally qualified for big things? No...but Hillary did, and so did many of her female supporters. Did Barack support his wife through years of campaigning and a tumultuous eight years in the White House, while his spouse cheated on him with a partner who was, to put it mildly, not his equal? No, but Hillary did. And did he come back after a great humiliation, construct his own career at last, and make his admirers feel he was taking them back to the top along with him? No, but Hillary did. So why should it be easy for them to just pull Obama's lever? After all, Oprah never asks her biggest fans to stop watching her emotional, inspirational, totally woman-centered show and start watching, say, Jon Stewart.

Women just aren't that shallow. During Hillary's convention speech I ended up sitting with the delegates from West Virginia, a state she carried overwhelmingly in the primaries. Before Hillary spoke, Shelby Leary, 72, told me how, whenever a Democratic solicitation for money arrived at her house, she would write back defiantly, "Put Hillary on the ticket!" As we sat awaiting Hillary at the Pepsi Center, Leary said, "Many women I've talked to say they won't vote for him. I think there is a lot of hurt; they wanted it so bad." In other words...It's the emotional investment, stupid.

Many of us, I think, have come to believe that if the right person does the asking, a shampoo, a car, even emotional allegiance can easily be repackaged and resold. What may be truer is that women are not a monolith, and that "the women's vote"--or at least a good portion of the 18 million who gave their hearts to Hillary--will never be able to be stamped "New! Improved! And now VOTING for Barack Obama!"

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