Obama's Arugula Gap

Among women in June 2000, Al Gore was ahead of George Bush by nine points. In June 2004, Kerry was ahead of George Bush by one point in a poll of women voters, and in June 2008, Barack Obama was ahead of John McCain by fourteen points.

But last week, a new ATV/Zogby poll had Obama ahead in the women’s vote by only five points, 43-38%. Obama is losing the gender gap that has usually benefited the Democratic candidate. According to one report, Zogby called the result a “notable turnaround” from Obama’s July lead of 46-36%. What’s going on?

John McCain may be gaining what Obama is losing among women because of Obama’s “Arugula Gap.”

“Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” Obama asked an Iowa crowd in 2007. I had to Google “arugula” to discover it’s a leafy substitute for lettuce in trendy restaurant salads. Most people don’t shop at Whole Foods (which specializes in “organic” foods and other environmentally-fashionable products). And most women, I suspect, aren’t looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of their high school French teacher than of John F. Kennedy.

It’s not as if you have to be Teddy Roosevelt to become president. Women, I’d guess, don’t want to vote for Rambo. But they want someone who emits strength of character and inspires confidence rather than the sighs they may have emitted in tenth grade.

I won’t pretend to speak for women voters. I haven’t even taken an unscientific poll among the women I know because the only lady of my acquaintance who’s even jokingly endorsed a Democratic candidate this year is Ann Coulter. But I can venture an educated guess.

It’s not Obama’s Ivy League bowling skills that are apparently hurting him among women voters. There are at least three factors. Obama is suffering from his effete personality, feminists’ hard feelings about Hillary’s fate, and Obama fatigue.

Obama is an effetenik, a white teacup, pinkie-in-the-air sort. Hillary is more of a shot-and-a-beer guy than he is. Obama is a prig: a moralizer who lectures people, a rhetorician who suffers badly when, deprived of a teleprompter, he’s left to his own devices. In the Pennsylvania primary debate, he fell apart when asked a few serious questions by the ABC moderators. Afterwards, his campaign spent three days whining about his harsh treatment at the hands of Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos.

How can a candidate fail to survive questioning by George and Charlie and still pretend he’s ready to take on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin?

Paris Hilton has put forth a more serious energy policy than Obama has. And he’s running against, in Mizz Hilton’s words, that “wrinkly white-haired dude.”

The wrinkly white-haired dude just put out a campaign commercial that includes remarks he made last week to a big crowd at the famous annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. McCain said he’d seen how Obama had been cheered by hundreds of thousands in Berlin. But, McCain said, “I’ll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day.” As one news report said, “As dozens of engines revved again, he grinned. ‘I recognize that sound. It’s the sound of freedom.’” That’s the sort of reaction you’ll never hear from Barack Obama.

The Hillary dead-enders (to the apparent satisfaction of their idol) want Obama to pay a price for their perception of sexism in the campaign. They are still suffering a case of the vapors over Obama’s slam of Hillary in the New Hampshire pre-primary debate when Hillary said she was “hurt” by a remark about her “personality deficit.” Obama sneered, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.”

The feminists haven’t forgiven that. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd calls Obama “Mr. Darcy” after the haughty hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In a recent column, Dowd quoted Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin, who wrote that “…Barack Obama is like the organic chicken at lunch. Sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool.”

The feminists will have their day (actually their night) at the Democratic Convention on Tuesday, August 26. Hillary will speak and may or may not allow her name to be placed in nomination just to give the feminists their cathartic moment. The Clinton Camp (and, yes, there still is one as always there will be) is stage-managing it to the consternation of the Obama campaign.

What will Obama do to appease them? Will he allow a statement in the Democratic platform that condemns sexist media coverage of presidential candidates? Will he make peace with Hillary and Bill to prevent them from taking over his convention?

Whatever he does, the doubts will linger. Everyone — not just women — is tired of hearing Obama’s moralizing. It’s no longer adequate for him to pronounce, as he did in his Berlin speech, that we “…are a people of improbable hope.” Whatever that means. Obama fatigue has set in.

It can only be cured by doing what Obama does poorly, engaging McCain in free-wheeling conversation, not the side-by-side press conferences of the too-structured televised debates. The press — ever whining in Obama’s defense — bewails the candidates’ failure to talk about “serious issues.” But voters are less interested in policy wonk debates than in the chance to really judge the candidates side-by-side. Women and men alike want to see Obama mix it up with John McCain. No holds barred, let them take each other on, as McCain has offered, in open town hall meetings.

Obama, the organic liberal chicken, doesn’t want to be the main course on McCain’s dinner menu. He is, as Fred Thompson said, George McGovern without the experience. The Arugula Gap may well sink him in November.