Last Wednesday, after Ohio and Texas, we were confronting a perennial question: what to do to make the new issue add to the sum of human knowledge—or at least to illuminate a subject, the presidential campaign, in which our readers are immersed. Before arriving at the office, I had worked out what I thought was a strong cover conceit about whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama stood the best chance of defeating John McCain in November—essentially testing, through historical data and on-the-ground reporting in key counties in swing states, which candidate could most plausibly improve on Al Gore's and John Kerry's numbers.
It was a perfectly fine idea, but hardly startling. As the day went on, a persistent theme emerged in both passing and more-formal conversations. Many of our writers and editors, particularly but not exclusively women, believed Senator Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas were the most vivid expressions yet of a female backlash against what they believe to be a sexist bias among male voters and in the mainstream media.
The conversations were passionate, heartfelt and smart; Kathy Deveny, an assistant managing editor, said men talked about Clinton in ways they would—could —never talk about African-Americans or Jews. Julia Baird, the senior editor who runs our science and ideas coverage (and who wrote a book about female politicians and media) pointed out that even Margaret Thatcher had felt compelled to play on gender stereotypes in her rise to power. Deidre Depke, the editor of Newsweek.com, argued that Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" cri de coeur—"bitch is the new black"— represented the unspoken feelings of swaths of the country.
It became clear that there was so much energy around the topic of gender and class that the right thing to do was to toss aside my initial idea and try to capture the vigor and the complexities of the debates we were having in the office.
In this week's cover, then, you will find essays by 13 women from both inside and outside the magazine (not counting Anna Quindlen's column, or Mark Miller's contribution to the forum, or Jonathan Alter's piece about his mother's political career in Chicago). Tina Brown, who is at work on a book about Clinton and was already out on the trail for us, writes our lead essay; Dahlia Lithwick, a columnist for Slate, makes her debut as a regular NEWSWEEK contributor (going forward, Dahlia will be writing a biweekly column on culture and legal affairs). Monica Crowley offers a conservative view.
The campaign is, naturally, about more than identity politics. Clinton is not simply the "women's candidate." One can oppose her on political and policy grounds without being a retrograde sexist who wants to keep women in their place, just as one can oppose Obama on political and policy grounds without being a racist. One can even—and I know this sounds radical in this fervid Democratic moment—be a Republican, and favor McCain on his own merits.
But that is an argument, and a cover, for another day. Our essays are a window into the world of Democratic or Democratic-leaning women. They are designed to offer many, but not all, perspectives: conservatives will find themselves more often arguing with these personal pieces than nodding in agreement, but one of our jobs is to provoke debate, and we would rather raise complicated issues than handicap the horse race (though in an interview with Suzanne Smalley, Clinton sounds determined about claiming delegates from Michigan and Florida—always, always Florida). But enough from me. The roars begin on page 28.