Channeling the voice of Sen. Barack Obama

Published 9:59 am Monday, June 2, 2008

Somewhere in the waning hours of this interminable primary, I found myself channeling Barack Obama as he began a long overdue and eagerly anticipated conversation … on gender.

“Tonight, I want to talk directly with the women of America.

“First, let me repeat what I said in Iowa about my deep respect for Sen. Clinton. She has indeed ‘shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age.’ There is no one in this country who better understands Senator Clinton’s tenacity, resilience, and commitment to public service than I.

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“So I want to thank the millions of women who voted for me without ever believing they were betraying the dream of full opportunity for women. But I also want to recognize those millions of women who voted for Hillary Clinton — women who invested their passionate hope to break the glass ceiling, to complete a symbolic journey to equality.

“In any hard-fought campaign, disappointments are real and there are lingering wounds. But I know those women didn’t just support Sen. Clinton because they share her gender. They believed that she shares their life experience, and understands their needs. They believe that she hears them.

“Well, I stand before you today as the son of a woman who traveled the astonishing arc of an entire generation. The American dream transformed this young mother into an accomplished international worker with deep ties to her own children and profound empathy for the poor families of the world. My mother knew that women’s rights were human rights.

“I also stand before you as a partner in a two-worker marriage. Michelle and I have lived the struggles of balancing work and family, paying for child care and the mortgage, finding time for our jobs and our children. We too, even now, juggle our own ambitions and our family time.

“I stand beside you as well, as a father, fully invested in my daughters. I share a commitment that their lives will not be limited by an unfinished revolution.

“And so I, too, hear you.

“I hear the older women of American who, like Lilly Ledbetter, worked a lifetime without getting equal pay for equal work. Women who went into retirement with unequal pensions. I say enough of that.

“I hear women who spent decades taking care of others to find that this work diminished their security and opportunities. I hear women who work for modest wages and spend evenings with their husbands — or without any husband — trying to decide whether to pay for health insurance or keep the car running. I say we can do better than that.

“I hear the mothers who look at their growing children and wonder if they will have to fight in Iraq. They want to know how to keep those children protected. They want someone who has the strength to combat terrorism but also the strength to avoid the next military misadventure. I say there is a different path.

“I know that poverty most often wears a female face. I hear women of all races speak the same language when they worry about educating their children, or a media culture that undermines their own values. I say we can stand together.

“But I don’t just hear you. I will promise you. I will promise that in an Obama administration, helping to bail out families will be more important than bailing out Bear Stearns. Child care will be not be an afterthought, but as basic as school. Family medical leave will be, at long last, expanded to every worker.

“An Obama administration will trust American women to make their own moral and medical decisions about child-bearing. We will not say that the government knows best. An Obama administration will restore our belief in government as an aid, not a hindrance. And we will have women as decision-makers at every table, at every level.

“I don’t make these promises because they fit on the platter of ‘women’s issues.’ This I know, from the dreams of my mother and the dreams for my daughters: Most men share these concerns. And I am one of them.

“There’s a long way between now and November and I need your help. You want a president who hears you and shares your hopes. I will be that president. I will be your president.

“Thank you for listening.”

Ellen Goodman writes for the Boston Globe. Her e-mail address is