Political Junkie: Delegate Grab-Bag, Clinton's Odds? Political writer Matt Bai talks about Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama and the delegate grab-bag in Michigan and Ohio. Author Leslie Bennetts addresses a question that has been rearing its head in the political sphere: Should Clinton drop out of the race?
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Political Junkie: Delegate Grab-Bag, Clinton's Odds?

Political Junkie: Delegate Grab-Bag, Clinton's Odds?

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Political writer Matt Bai talks about Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama and the delegate grab-bag in Michigan and Ohio. Author Leslie Bennetts addresses a question that has been rearing its head in the political sphere: Should Clinton drop out of the race?


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Michigan joins Florida to quash a revote. Former candidate Bill Richardson finally ends the guessing game. Hillary Clinton criticizes Barack Obama's former pastor and admits she misspoke about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia. John McCain says it's not the government's job to bail out banks or small borrowers either. And Senator Obama takes a vacation.

It's Wednesday and time for another edition of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of past political speeches)

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Representative GERALDINE FERRARO (Democrat, New York): My name is Geraldine Ferraro.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, Where's the Beef?

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont): Byaah.

CONAN: And the big news this week is that Ken Rudin is in political rehab. He's drying out in Florida, but no fear, we have a worthy guest junkie with us, Matt Bai, of The New York Times magazine, joins us to digest the week's political news issue this week: Governor Richardson endorsement, Senator Clinton's attack on Reverend Wright, Senator McCain on the credit crunch, the fate of Michigan and Ohio delegates still up in the air and the increasingly daunting arithmetic for Republicans in Congress.

A bit later, we'll focus on a question that's been floating around the political jabber-sphere: If Hillary Clinton's chances to win the nomination range between slim and none, should she drop out for the good of the party? We'll talk with a writer who says, you've got to be kidding.

Later in the hour, sure, they liven up bumper-to-bumper commute, but do political bumper stickers actually work? And of course, we live in a town that puts on bumper stickers the day after the election.

But first, we'll catch up on the week's political news. If you want to get in on the conversation, 800-9898-255. E-mail us talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our blog too, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Matt Bai is with us here in the Studio 3A. He covers politics for The New York Times magazine and wrote "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

Thanks for coming in and being courageous enough to step in to Mr. Rudin's shoes.

Mr. MATT BAI (Columnist, The New York Times Magazine; Author, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics"): I'm glad to help out. I hope Ken's having a good time on some beach some place.

CONAN: We're in a bit of a campaign lull with Pennsylvania still weeks away, enough of a lull for Senator Obama to go on a Caribbean vacation at least for a few days. But not before he received the endorsement of former presidential candidate Bill Richardson, who is, of course, being heavily wooed by both candidates. Is this a big deal?

Mr. BAI: Well, I don't know that the endorsement is a big deal at this point but the timing was certainly helpful. Obama's made a pattern of this, and I think it's very smart. What they've done is there've been moments where the strength of his candidacy as sort of an anti-establishment figure has been in peril and they have been able to draw on establishment figures from Ted Kennedy, which was a huge one, but also a lot of governors who are very well thought of, to come out of those moments and sort of reassure people and say this is the guy I'd still vote for, I'd still support. It's important with voters and it's important with superdelegates. And so here he had just gone through this race trauma, and it really was a difficult moment for the campaign. It wasn't clear which way it's going to go, it's still difficult. But for someone like Bill Richardson at that moment to step forward and say, you know, I'm still with the guy, I still think he's a credible candidate and I'd still vote for him. I think that the timing of that means more than it does the endorsement because I don't how many people are going to run out and vote the way Bill Richardson tells them to.

CONAN: Didn't stop James Carville from calling him Judas.

Mr. BAI: Well, James is James. He's going to say - he's going to tend toward the outrageous, and we journalists like that about him. But I do think he actually articulated probably the emotional stance inside the Clinton world. I mean, this is a guy, Richardson, who Bill Clinton gave not one but two very big jobs, just stood by him when he had a very rocky tenure at the Energy Department. And I'm sure you could understand putting yourself in the Clinton shoes, how they would say, you know, how much ingratitude can you show? And I think, I don't think it's only Governor Richardson who they feel this way about him, there're a lot of Democratic figures who they feel owe them better than they've gotten during this campaign.

CONAN: And you mentioned the race problems for Senator Obama. This, of course, Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, Junior I should say, his former pastor after being quiet for quite some time. Last night, Senator Clinton responded and said, look, we can't choose our relatives, we can choose our pastors in our churches - he would not have been my choice.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, and you can see what they are thinking here. I mean, look, they have a very, as you said in the beginning of the show, they have a very narrow pathway now to the nomination. And the most likely route that they have because she's not going to catch him in delegates, she's not going to catch up in popular vote, is that at the end of this thing, she comes out pulling ahead of him that his campaign seems imperiled and that she's able to say look, you know, I'm ahead in the national polls, we basically had to draw in the delegates, you know, do the right thing by the party and go to me.

And so, I think, you know, they need to weaken him. They need to weaken him dramatically and this is an issue that resonates. It's a problem for him because it goes to the core of his argument, to Democratic voters, which is that he is a unifying force, a bridger of racial divisions. This was a bad moment for him and they're going to try to escalate it because, I think, they have no choice.

CONAN: The other Hail Mary pass, the hopes that maybe Michigan and Florida might revote and give her another chance to maybe catch up a little. Well, that seemed to have fallen incomplete.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, this is a - they're going to have to do something about this problem. You know, it'll take smarter people (unintelligible) to figure out what but they can't realistically go to the convention with these empty seats on the delegate floor and have all these cameras showing it. And I think Howard Dean kind of needs to step up here. I mean, I'm told that, you know, pretty reliably that he's trying to do this behind the scenes. He has an aversion as chairman of the party to press coverage. He thinks he's more credible doing this behind the scenes and maybe he's doing that and that's fine. But I think this is getting to the point where it's going to be very, very linked to his legacy as a party chairman. He's already under fire for not raising enough money for the Democratic National Committee. If this thing gets more twisted and really is a meltdown for the party over this two states, people are going to be asking why the chairman of the party didn't either himself or by appointing some sage within the party get to this sooner and find a solution at the table because this really does have volcanic possibilities.

CONAN: Our guest political junkie this week is Matt Bai. And again, if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

Let's go to Lou(ph), and Lou is calling us from Medford in New Jersey.

LOU (Caller): Hi. I'd like to know if Matt has any insight as to why John Edwards has not endorsed either Obama or Clinton. And as a follow-up question, what about John Edwards' delegates in either case?

CONAN: John Edwards did come out of seclusion to appear with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," but didn't endorse anybody.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, it's a good question Lou raises because that is one of the few remaining endorsements out there, I think, Edwards and perhaps Al Gore, that could have a real influence in the race. I only know - I've not talked to Senator Edwards and he hasn't talked to very many people. I only know what I've heard. And what I've heard, and I think it's pretty reliable, is that he's actually a little torn on this because he was never a big fan of the Clintons. He made a strong argument against her and for change. He - in particular against the war and for some of the issues that Senator Obama's more likeminded on with him. But that he really has doubts about Senator Obama's candidacy that he feels he's inexperienced and…

CONAN: Also, the voters that he was trying to appeal to, the lower income, blue-collar Democrats - they're voting for Hillary Clinton.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, some of them are although he also had a very strong progressive activist base and so most of those people went to Senator Obama. So I think it's a case where he's caught a little bit in between and probably, frankly, keeps more cache by holding on at this point and not endorsing. So I don't expect him to endorse anytime really soon.

CONAN: The other part of Lou's question: Are the delegates that John Edwards won in Iowa and other places, are they effectively superdelegates now?

Mr. BAI: I don't know that I would put it that way, he's not, to my knowledge, he's not sort of released them which is a technicality. He's not said go vote for whoever they want.

CONAN: Well, they could vote for whoever they want anyway?

Mr. BAI: They can but traditionally how this works is that they might hold on or at least most of them, and he might be able to swing them one way or the other before the convention. And I presume if there's an obvious nominee, he would swing them that way. So, you know, yes, if this thing comes down to the convention and every delegate count, I suspect those votes may count in the same way as superdelegates. But I can also see, prior to that time, Senator Edwards sort of throwing his support behind what would most likely be Senator Obama if it appears that he's kind of summing the thing up.

CONAN: Lou, thanks very much for the call.

LOU: Thank you.

CONAN: And interestingly, Matt, in a way, might the most interesting political news of the week be playing out on the streets not of Pittsburgh or Pottstown, Pennsylvania, but on the streets of Basra, in Iraq where the prime minister there, Nouri al-Maliki, is challenging Muqtada al-Sadr? All of our assumptions about this race are that the Iraq War remains more or less where it is now?

Mr. BAI: Right. I mean, much as I love conspiracy theories that ascribe to the media all the power to decide what campaigns are about, the truth is that they're almost always swayed by things we can't foresee. And in fact, Iraq has already made and remade this presidential race because in the initial phases, if you recall, when Iraq was, really seemed to be a mess, it was - John McCain was in very bad shape, Rudy Giuliani was riding very high, John Edwards was doing quite well in opposition. And then you had this period after the surge, where I really think the race was remade because people sensed that the violence was receding, it wasn't in the headlines, the economy was taking over as the key issue, I think without that, Senator McCain would not have been able to rise, become the nominee.

And so there is always the danger that it moves back again, right, that Iraq falls into greater chaos, which would be very bad news, I think, for John McCain because he is really riding on the idea that he had the right strategy, that he stood behind it when it mattered, and that he knows how to control things in Iraq.

And of course, any worsening of the situation is just bad for Republicans, generally, and better for the Democrats who have opposed the war. So it's a great unknown, just like terrorism is a great unknown, and has the potential to remake the campaign once, maybe twice more before we're done.

CONAN: Speaking of unpredictability, imagine terrorism, the conventional thinking all along has been, should there be - God forbid - another attack, it would help the Republicans.

Mr. BAI: Yeah. I don't know - I really don't know that that's true anymore. I think that that has been true in the past, but I think there is such distrust and dissatisfaction with Republican foreign policy of the Bush administration, that at this point should and we all hope, it's not going to happen, but should there be another terrorist attack against Americans, I think a lot of voters would probably look and say, you know what, all this we've put up with, and you didn't keep us safe.

I think that's the one thing that Bush has held onto, that this president has held onto is the notion that he has kept the country safe from another attack. And I'm not at all sure that another terrorist incident would play to the Republican strength. I think, at best, it would be awash.

CONAN: Let me ask about the congressional races now, New York Republican Representative Tom Reynolds, who represents a district in Buffalo, New York, announced he would not seek reelection this year to the seat he's held for five terms, a close race for him.

Last time around, he was once considered, well, maybe another speaker of the House. As more and more Republicans decide not to run for reelection, this, Matt, gets very difficult for them.

Mr. BAI: Very difficult. In the Senate and in the House, it's a bad year for Republicans, conceivably the worst since - after Watergate. And this is critically important, actually. This is going to lose a lot of oxygen though. People aren't going to pay as much attention to this during the presidential, but it is critically important because what we're talking about a presidential race - particularly for Democrats are some very sweeping programmatic changes, right, in health care and in the economy…

CONAN: Immigration.

Mr. BAI: …taxes, immigration, we're talking about some big legislation that has almost zero chance of passing under the current legislative conditions. If Democrats were to get a 10-seat majority in the Senate, a bigger majority in the House, then they might be able to put together the numbers necessary to do some of the more sweeping things that they're talking about. And then, you know, what these policies are and how they break down is really important. So I think it's important anyway but it becomes much more realistic if - well, as you start to see those numbers tilt toward Democrats.

CONAN: Coming up, more with our guest political junkie, Matt Bai and a question for all you mini-junkies out there: As Senator Clinton's odds of winning the Democratic nomination get longer, does encouraging her to drop out short-circuit the democratic process? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us talk@npr.org. And again, you can go check out what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's Political Junkie day, and though Ken Rudin is on vacation at an undisclosed vacation, we've got guest junkie Matt Bai working hard. There's been a bit of a drumbeat in recent days that it will soon be time for Senator Clinton to accept that she's unlikely to win the nomination and cease what some observers fear would be a scorched-earth, last-ditch campaign that would just divide the party and make life easier for John McCain and the Republicans.

Of course, that comes before Pennsylvania primary, Senator Clinton is widely expected to win. Throughout it all, Senator Clinton's been remained adamant that she will not drop out. Yesterday, campaigning in Pennsylvania, she repeated her point.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): Wait and see is what happens in the next three months, and there's been a lot of talk about what if, what if, what if, let's wait until we get some facts. People are going to vote over the next months. Millions of people are going to vote, and we should wait and see the outcome of those votes.

CONAN: Senator Hillary Clinton speaking yesterday in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. So should she really think about quitting or is this just a ploy from the Obama camp? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And joining us to discuss this is Leslie Bennetts, the author of "The Feminine Mistake," who wrote an op-ed earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times called, "Go Away, Why Should She?" Leslie Bennetts joins us from our bureau in New York.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. LESLIE BENNETTS (Author, "The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?"): Thank you.

CONAN: And you argued that there's all kinds of reasons that Hillary Clinton should ignore all of this talk and just stay in the race?

Ms. BENNETTS: Well, several weeks ago, when I wrote that op-ed, she had just done very well in Ohio and Texas, and she's been running neck and neck with Obama. He does have a slight lead, but what I find fascinating about this whole debate is that I think that it is largely motivated by deeply entrenched double standards that we hold for women that are largely unconscious.

If a man were running neck and neck with Obama, I don't think - a white man, let's say, I don't think people would be calling for him to sacrifice his own interest to the good of the party, whereas the model of female self-sacrifice is something that is deeply embedded in our culture. And we have David Brooks yesterday in The New York Times saying, well, her chances of winning the nomination are down to 5 percent, so she should step aside for the good of the party and sacrifice her goals.

Now, in the male world, the model of competition in whether it's in sports or politics is, you fight to the finish, you never give up, you don't call the World Series in the sixth inning of a decisive game because one team is leading. If they'd done that in the Super Bowl, the Giants would not have won the Super Bowl.

So we're very familiar with the model when we're talking about male competitions that it ain't over until it's over. And yet when a woman candidate comes along, suddenly, just as in marriage, people expect women to sacrifice their own economic, professional, intellectual and creative interests for the good of the husband's career or for the good of the family or for taking care of the elderly parents or whatever. You know, on a national level, we're watching Hillary and all of a sudden, everybody thinks that the woman should sacrifice her interests.

Now, what are her interests right now? She is, indeed, widely expected to win the Pennsylvania primary, a major state, and you know, some people have pointed out that the states that she has won are ones that any Democrat is going to need to win the general election.

So if her interest right now, as we seem to have been given clues by the Clintons that may be gravitating from thinking that she's going to be the first person on the ticket to maybe getting the number two slot, she certainly would have greater leverage to be considered as a vice presidential candidate on the Obama ticket, let's say, if she had just clobbered Obama in Pennsylvania. So her own self-interests very clearly lies in staying in this race for a while.

And yet, we have near unanimity at this point with the sort of conventional wisdom of the punditocracy is, oh, Hillary should step aside for the good of the party. Now I think that people are mixing up two issues that we should not mix up.

If you want to say that the Clinton and Obama camps should stop sniping at each other and slicing and dicing and having their underlings do name-calling and snide innuendo and start conducting themselves like ladies and gentlemen, or shall we say simply like grown-ups so that the Democratic Party doesn't, you know, eat itself alive before the general election, I think that's an extremely legitimate point and one that everyone on whatever side should consider. But it's really a different argument. I don't see any reason why Hillary couldn't stay in the race and have the democratic process play itself out according to the rules. As she said, millions of people still has not had a chance to vote yet, so why not see what the outcomes are, and then we'll make our determinations.

I don't see why the lady should step aside.

CONAN: And Matt Bai, I guess that's an analysis that is fine as far as it goes, if you accept that the candidates are actually neck and neck?

Mr. BAI: Yeah. And I don't - I actually - I don't have a problem with that part of the argument so much. I mean, this is a separate question about whether she should in fact get out, and I think you can make an argument that they're pretty close to neck and neck.

It's going to go superdelegates either way and neither of them are going to have a majority of delegates necessary prior to that, so I don't know that she should be immediately considered the loser here. I do find the argument of a certain misogyny at play here, very unpersuasive.

Ms. BENNETTS: I think it's subconscious. I'm not saying that this is conscious at all. I think it kicks in with the women commentators, as well as men. But somehow, self-sacrifice is something we only seem to demand of women.

Mr. BAI: Well, that's just not true, Leslie, I mean, if you look in the history of political campaigns, there's always calls for the person running second to get out, and they've always been men, actually.

That's never been any different in any presidential candidate. Parties always want unity. They always want the second person to get out. It's very hard to argue that she has received unfair treatment as a woman when her opponent is an African-American man. African-Americans would be, you know, certainly have as much claim to oppression as women do in the political culture and in the society as a whole.

And also, you know, I think you have to remember that Hillary Clinton held herself out for at least 18 months or two years as the inevitable front-runner of her party. The woman…

Ms. BENNETTS: Clearly an error.

Mr. BAI: …who was going to get the nomination. It was an error but…

Ms. BENNETTS: Tactical mistake.

Mr. BAI: But that's the campaign they ran. And so if she gets a higher level of scrutiny or is, you know, seems to have - seems to be less successful than Senator Obama has in the eyes of many pundits or Democrats at this point, it is because they chose to elevate her above the rest of the field, and when you do that, you do risk a higher level of scrutiny and you do risk a different perspective when you start to lose.

Ms. BENNETTS: But, I think scrutiny is a really, really key word right here. Who, you know, I've been covering presidential campaigns since the 1970s, and the first thing you learn as a political reporter is that, one 24-hour news cycle is an eternity in politics and none of us know what's going to happen tomorrow.

Who would have predicted a month ago that Eliot Spitzer's career would have been blown up before Easter, and that he would be completely removed from the political landscape? He is gone, and you know, Hillary Clinton learned this lesson very early when she announced her Senate race, everybody scoffed because Rudy Giuliani was expected to be the much stronger candidate, and to be the next senator from New York. And then he developed cancer, and he dropped out of the race, and the Republicans put up a very weak candidate to oppose her, and all of a sudden, she was the senator from New York. And the lesson she must have taken from that race, if she had not learned it previously, is that it ain't over until it's over, and you never know what's going to happen tomorrow.

The Jeremiah Wright thing has just blown up and has done significant damage to Obama. And as she has been pointing out for a long time, she has been vetted relentlessly for at least the last 16 years, and we're really just starting to scrutinize Obama. We don't really know what might pop out of his past or among his associates. And you know, I don't have a crystal ball; I don't know what's coming up. But in politics, the whole point is, you never know. And I think that biding her time and seeing how it goes and waiting until people vote and preserving her options is, quite obviously, the best strategy for her.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we could get a caller in on the conversation. This is Colby(ph). Colby with us from Chicago.

COLBY (Caller): Hi. (Unintelligible) question about the short-circuiting of a political process. And while I'm not necessarily a proponent or a non-proponent of her dropping out of the race, my question is, if it's clear that she can't win the popular vote and it's clear that she can't win the delegate vote, what do we say to all of these young voters across the country who have come out and for this election, if the perception is that she won on superdelegates? I have a great fear that the great groundswell of new interests we have in political process from the younger generation, a lot of which, we can credit to Obama, that younger generation is going to feel cheated, feel left out, and feel like we're back, you know, to politics as usual? I'll take my answer off the air. Thanks.

CONAN: All right. Colby, thanks very much for the call, and meanwhile, reinforcing Matt's earlier point, it's going to come down to the superdelegates for either candidate. If Senator Obama wins, he's going to win with the votes of superdelegates, as well as if Senator Clinton wins, she's going to win with the votes of superdelegates. The popular vote is another issue, but anyway, Leslie Bennetts, what do you think?

Ms. BENNETTS: Well, you know, I think that Hillary right now is not thinking in her secret heart of hearts, about being the nominee. I think she's reconsidering her options, you know, I'm just watching as we're all watching. She hasn't told me this personally, I haven't interviewed her in several years, but I think that her, you know, judging by what the Clintons have been floating lately, I think that they're trying to respond to changing circumstances and the goal is becoming different. So, you know, I think that Obama probably will be at the top of the ticket and all of those young and hopeful, eager beaver Obama, you know, would-be voters will not be disappointed. But, you know, if the question is, should she bail out, well, she would like to stay in the game in some capacity, which I think mostly highly competitive, you know, political animals would.

CONAN: Let's go to Hilary. Hilary is calling us from Rock Hill, South Carolina.

I assume your last name is not Clinton?

Ms. HILARY YOST (Caller): It is not Clinton, it is Yost.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

Ms. YOST: I just wanted to say, I've been on a lot of the blogs and on her Web site, a lot of woman writing in. I think one of the big reasons that she's still in and has to stay in is her core base. You're talking about the entire gender here. And women have always known, they need to work twice as hard, they need to just show that they can do it, and I really feel like she does need to stay in exactly for the point that was made earlier. Look at Eliot Spitzer, we don't know what will happen. And I just feel like were just forgetting about the fact that Obama for a long time escapes scrutiny. And so she has had just, you know, so many things to deal with and I just feel like, she has to stay in. She has to stay in, she needs to stay strong and, you know, there's just no other way about it, and she has so much support.

And I'd also like to make one point, he is not alone with the youth vote, she has a lot of young people for her, a lot of very thoughtful people for her. And you know, I just think she's got to stay in. And I have tried to say, okay, could I go ahead and vote for Obama if it ends up being him. There have been comments, Hillary, you're likable enough. Things that have got, you know, get yelled at her. He's never addressed a lot of the stuff that she takes that he's never had to take. And I think, if he acknowledged that, I might have a little more respect for him, but overall I just feel she has to stay in. And that's the same point that your female guest made - women for too long, you go ahead be the good sports, step out.

Ms. BENNETTS: You know, in the L.A. Times, the essay in which I argued that Hillary should stay in the race. I talked about the fact that, you know, dropped out on this conversation a lot of the time is a simple issue of representation. Everybody is so concerned about these young people who are very important to the country's future, who are in many cases Obama's supporters but for some reason nobody seems terribly worried about the 54 percent of the electorate, 52 percent of the population, that are women whose interests are really not represented adequately in our political dialogue, in the policies that are candidates are talking about or, you know, in terms of their leverage with our elected leaders.

And that there are huge numbers particularly of older women who are deeply, deeply upset about the state of affairs who are very angry about the way that Hillary has been treated in this race. As the female caller just said, nobody is standing in, you know, the audiences and yelling anything at Barack Obama comparable to iron my shirts, which a young man yelled at Hillary the other day. And, you know, the sexism of the way that she has been treated is for the most part not commented on, again by the punditocracy which is dominated by males.

And there's a, you know, what we see is kind of the tip of the iceberg. I think that the larger body of the iceberg out there are the millions and millions of women of all ages, but particularly older woman who are economically disenfranchised and feel very, very vulnerable, you know, who are really fed up with their interest not being represented and who identify with Hillary, and particularly identify with Hillary when they feel she's being mistreated.

CONAN: Hillary, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

HILLARY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Leslie Bennetts, who wrote an op-ed on the Los Angeles Times, "Go Away, Why Should She?" And of course, with our guest political junkie, Matt Bai.

You're listening to the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

So, Matt, does this argument cut ice for you?

Mr. BAI: You know, I have to say the notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what it's like to have people say things to you like iron my shirts which I - and I don't think there's a giant iron-my-shirts movement out there against Hillary Clinton - strikes me as really kind of out of a touch. I mean…

Ms. BENNETTS: I never said that Barack Obama had never suffered any kind of discrimination…

Mr. BAI: I mean for what's it like…

Ms. BENNETTS: Please don't put words into my mouth.

CONAN: Okay, but let him answer, we let you talk.

Mr. BAI: I mean, I do think, there's a glossing over here what it's like to be an African-American candidate in this country and to be marginalized automatically, I think - I just don't think there's a huge dichotomy here, a double standard based on, you know, racial or gender identity. You know, this…

Ms. BENNETTS: Well, cite for me some examples…

Mr. BAI: …this…

Ms. BENNETTS: …of things that people have said that are racist.

Mr. BAI: …this (unintelligible) to me of sort of the old identity politics, right, which is people aren't voters, they're just voters, they're segments of voters like they're segmented. I think we should treat women as voters not as women. And, you know, when you look - sure, there are sizeable contingent of women and older women who feel very invested in the Clinton candidacy. There are a sizeable contingent of African-Americans, overwhelming, who feel very invested in Obama's - there are sizeable contingents of white voters on either side who feel that his candidacy. But ultimately this is about, not pockets of voters, gender and race, this is about Democratic voters as a whole. And right now, I do agree, it's a - I think it's a very, very close race. And I do think there's a rationale for her staying in, I absolutely do, and I can see why in her position she would feel that way. But I don't see this is as a face-off between women and men, between black voters, white voters, white man, black woman, whatever it is, I think, we've moved beyond that plane of politics or at least are beginning to.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Laura(ph). I would love for Hillary to be a president. I actually think she would be the better candidate. I contributed to her campaign, however, I think she should step down. Obama is likeable; there are people who hate Hillary. I believe this hate is based on sexism but I really worry about having another Republican president. Honestly, I just think Obama's more electable.

And Leslie Bennetts, we'll give you the last 30 seconds.

Ms. BENNETTS: I think that sexism is really the last prejudice that remains politically acceptable in this country. Everybody knows that it would be entirely unacceptable for somebody to stand in the audience and yell hateful racist things at Barack Obama. But people treat it as a joke when somebody manufactures a Hillary nutcracker with a metal spike between its legs or, you know, does some of the other really hateful things that have been directed at her. And I think it's very easy for men to laugh off these things and say that we're all just people. But when women feel that they're the last category of people who can be insulted like this and nobody thinks it's an issue. Well, some of us mind.

CONAN: Leslie Bennetts, author of "The Feminine Mistake." Her op-ed called "Go Away, Why Should She?" appeared in the March 9th edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Thanks very much for your time today.

And Matt Bai, sitting in for political junkie Ken Rudin, thanks very much for coming in today. We really appreciate it.

Mr. BAI: Glad to do it. Thank you, Neal.

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