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Globe Editorial

What do women want?

August 26, 2008
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DENVER
ONE OF this city's historic personages is Margaret Tobin Brown, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown, who survived the wreck of the Titanic. Brown, who married into a gold-miner's fortune at 19, went on to join the women's suffrage movement and ran for US Senate from Colorado in 1914. You can bet that if Hillary Clinton were the 2008 Democratic nominee, dozens of Unsinkable Hillary parties would be scheduled at the restored Molly Brown House and Museum here. In the event, the museum is featuring a somewhat modest exhibit, "No pink tea," after Brown's own description of her feisty - albeit failed - campaign.

Today is the 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, and the distaff Democrats will be out in force. A parade and rally celebrating Clinton's achievements will be sponsored by a group called 18 Million Voices, for the number of primary votes Clinton received. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama will join Clinton at a gala sponsored by EMILY's List, the fund-raising powerhouse for female candidates. Clinton herself is scheduled to speak in prime time.

Despite official calls for party unity - including from Clinton herself - there is a poignancy here, even among women who aren't Clinton bitter-enders. Older women especially feel their moment has slipped by. A convention volunteer from California festooned with Barack Obama buttons didn't hesitate when asked if she had been with him from the start. "I made the switch this morning," she said, "when they gave me the T-shirt."

Of course, nothing could make the Republicans happier, and they are doing what they can to stoke the disappointment. A new campaign ad for nominee John McCain highlights Clinton's primary campaign criticisms of Obama. The Republican National Committee hosted a "Happy Hour for Hillary" last night at a downtown bar.

So the effort to placate Clinton supporters continues its delicate dance. Will they be satisfied with the cathartic, if symbolic, gesture of placing Clinton's name in nomination tomorrow? What do women want?

It's the wrong question for such parlous times. McCain can try to aggravate tensions between Clinton and Obama supporters, but he's got a lot of ground to make up on the issues that have historically motivated women voters: issues of the economy, education, healthcare, equal opportunity, war and peace. In the end, women, like all voters, need to choose a president based not on the lens of gender or other identity but on the real policy differences between two candidates who happen to be men.

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