The Hillary Conundrum: The "Glass Curtain" Challenge

I begin with full disclosure. Peter Hart, the Wall Street Journal/NBC Pollster, is a family friend, one whose political analyses never fail to shed light. Leave it to Peter to solve my Hillary Clinton conundrum with clarity: Why, I have asked myself again and again, as well as discussed with others, do so many women dislike Hillary Rodham Clinton? Why aren't we universally proud of what she has accomplished (against great odds!) - not only for herself but also for all women.

Of course, it has always been far easier to understand why many men dislike Hillary, even when they do not spell it out. To be sure, some do not agree with her policies or her decisions. Yet, the strongest reason among those I have met is that many men cannot deal with her combination of brains, guts, and determination. To quote a male friend who agrees with Hillary on most political and social issues: "I dislike her because her balls are brassier than those of most guys I know. Maybe even mine."

However, considering Hillary Clinton's experience and competency I have difficulty understanding why women are not easily banding together in support of her candidacy. With her presidential election success, when we tell our daughters and granddaughters that a woman can achieve whatever she wishes, we can point to a living example. When we tell our sons and our daughters that with hard work and diligence, everything is possible, we can point to an example of one who refused to give up her dream and succeeded in realizing it.

Peter Hart's recent study, however, clarified my Hillary conundrum. This November he published findings from two focus groups (one men, the other women) conducted in Ohio as part of a project to bring to light dynamics in the upcoming presidential election, as well as voter attitudes toward Hillary Clinton. This analysis, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, was conducted three days after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and two days following the Democratic debate in Iowa. Composition was half Democratic (both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters), and six of the dozen who participated were Republican or Independent. The study concludes that, despite Hillary Clinton's professional skill, abilities and stamina, a gulf exists between her and women in Ohio and the nation. He labels this challenge Hillary's "Glass Curtain."

That Hillary is seen as having the competence and grit to smash a "Glass Ceiling" (which she describes as her challenge in many speeches) is highlighted in this recent study. Both men and women participating in the focus groups found her experience and professional abilities "formidable," that she had the ability to be tough and would not take "crap;" and 11 of the 12 believed "Hillary Clinton could do the job" (although male reaction was more indifferent). To quote one male participant, "I think it will spark controversy, but it's something that we need to get over and get past. There isn't going to be a perfect time to do it."

Women believed a woman president at this time would be "a historical achievement" and "refreshing" (be the choice Clinton or Fiorina). They underscored the qualities a woman would bring to the office, such as "organized," "determined," "good listener," and "multitask-oriented."

The "Glass Curtain" description was coined because despite Hillary Clinton's competence and experience, many said they could not relate to her or trust her. Although she is always referred to by her first name, as is Jeb Bush, a familiar link and comfort is missing with both candidates. Even those who supported Hillary had reservations about connecting with her. These assessments led Hart to believe that voters are waiting for her to stumble so that they can find a way to relate to and identify with her.

This assessment speaks to me: I have shared my belief in other blogs that Clinton would not have become a New York Senator without Monica Lewinsky. Her fall -- the pain and humiliation she suffered -- allowed other women to sympathize and identify with her. Her popularity soared, but the identification was short lived. Peter Hart's analysis reveals the root of an enduring problem - a lack of trust and positive identification. Can Hillary Clinton pierce the "Glass Ceiling" without crashing the "Glass Curtain" perceived as surrounding her is a question at the heart of this election.