WHEN I listen to President Obama speak to and about women, he sometimes sounds too paternalistic for my taste. In numerous appearances over the years — most recently at the Barnard graduation — he has made reference to how women are smarter than men. It’s all so tired, the kind of fake praise showered upon those one views as easy to impress. As I listen, I am always bracing for the old go-to cliché: “Behind every great man is a great woman.”
Some women are smarter than men and some aren’t. But to suggest to women that they deserve dominance instead of equality is at best a cheap applause line.
My bigger concern is that in courting women, Mr. Obama’s campaign so far has seemed maddeningly off point. His message to the Barnard graduates was that they should fight for a “seat at the table” — the head seat, he made sure to add. He conceded that it’s a tough economy, but he told the grads, “I am convinced you are tougher” and “things will get better — they always do.”
Hardly reassuring words when you look at the reality. According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, about 53.6 percent of men and women under the age of 25 who hold bachelor’s degrees were jobless or underemployed last year, the most in at least 11 years. According to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the age group to 18- to 29-year-olds, an estimated 37 percent are unemployed or out of the work force, the highest share in more than three decades.