Women represent 53% of the voting electorate. Vital as it is for Republicans to gain female votes in 2014, that need will reach critical mass in the 2016 Presidential election. Despite a recent 100-page RNC post-mortem prescribing greater outreach, rather than heed that advice, today’s Republican Party continues to shoot itself in the foot with offensive remarks and legislative actions that flout their aims.
Continued male dominance of the party is reinforced by Rep. Darrell Issa, who invited male witnesses to testify before a mostly male panel on women’s contraception and Rep. Chris Smith, who convened an all-male panel on cuts to abortion funding without a single female Congressional member or witness. This only adds to the perception that Republicans are stuck in an episode of Mad Men.
Decrying the "war on women" narrative, Republicans accuse Democrats of pandering to women as one-issue voters. Such tactics work well for Democrats at election time as they hold women hostage threatening the loss of reproductive rights should they not prevail. Yet Republicans’ obsessive preoccupation with contraception and abortion plays right into liberal hands.
As to the "War on Women," many of us despise being used as a political football every election. In the words of Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, "Every issue is a woman’s issue." Though Democrats did not pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in January, 2009, even when they had a near super majority, their one-issue strategy has not lost its effectiveness. 2012 proved it. Despite this, Republicans in Congress seem to be doubling down and with every action, make the Democrats’ case when they appeal to women’s fears.
As there are significant percentages of pro-choice Republicans and pro-life Democrats, this is not to argue the rectitude of one position or the other, more the manner in which we are having the debate.
The exclusion of women from a prime seat in the discussion sends the message that we are not equal under the law and not invited to the table on an issue that concerns our bodies and our life choices. This is a civil rights issue and an equal rights issue. If you told a man he was not allowed to have a vasectomy until he had an invasive ultrasound (imagine where the probe will be inserted), watched a deterring video, or endured a doctor talking him out of the procedure, he’d likely knock your block off. Why are women then to be patronized and treated like irresponsible, amoral children?
Cut to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose unfortunate remarks about women being "unable to control their libidos" have gone viral. Since liberal pundits were accused of taking his statement out of context, here it is, in context:
"I think it's time for Republicans to no longer accept listening to Democrats talk about a war on women. Because the fact is, the Republicans don't have a war on women. They have a war for women. For them to be empowered to be something other than victims of their gender. Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable doing anything anyone else can do. Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That's not a war on them. it's a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let's take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say, Enough of that nonsense." [emphasis mine]-- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to RNC members. 1/23/2014
Some notes for Mr. Huckabee:
Women are allowed to have a libido. Contraception is not about "self-control," lest we discuss why insurance pays for Viagra. Mr. Huckabee’s condescending comment makes it seems as if women who have sex, whether they are married or single, are somehow bad. "Uncle Sugar" is also wildly off key and insulting.
Second, some women use contraceptives to alleviate painful medical conditions. It has also been shown to protect against certain life threatening cancers and alleviate endometriosis. Women have the right to plan their pregnancies and their lives. Being the party of small government and working to legislate a woman’s life choices seems inconsistent. Contraception is a less traumatic, not to mention a far less expensive, alternative to later having an abortion or carrying an unexpected pregnancy to term and, unable to afford the child, needing government assistance in order to survive. Two issues Republicans fight against tooth and nail.
Finally, the exclusionary tactics of the current party leadership belie Mr. Huckabee’s comments on them working "for" women. If they believe that women are "smart, educated, intelligent, capable doing anything anyone else can do," Republican men would not debate women's futures while excluding their input. Inviting women’s perspectives on all of the above is advisable. Optics count.
While no one doubts that President Obama runs a boys club and there have been past complaints about the same; the numbers don’t lie: there are far more Democratic women in positions of authority.
New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce's newly released book in which he states that wives should "voluntarily submit to their husbands" is likewise unhelpful.
This brings us to Senator Rand Paul, who, over the weekend, shot himself in both feet. He first started spit balling that government should cut funding from women with too many kids, but didn’t know how we would legislate that. Note to Senator Paul: If you want women to have fewer kids, then perhaps you’d better make affordable contraception available. It will be much cheaper for you.
He also argued that claims of misogyny in America are overblown, that "the women he knows are doing great" and are "conquering the world." Actually, women outnumber men in poverty 3 to 2, and hold most of the minimum wage jobs. That is not even to mention the violence perpetrated against millions of women per year.
Senator Paul fancies himself a contender for the Republican nomination in 2016, and when he is not sniping at Chris Christie for being "too liberal," he launches grenades at Hillary Clinton. On Meet the Press this weekend, he trotted out President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky from 16 years ago. While Senator Paul said he was not "blaming Hillary," he practiced guilt by association at every turn, stating it was "hard to tell them apart."
Next note to Mr. Paul: Women, regardless of political stripe, might not take kindly to being blamed for their husband’s bad behavior. FOX News just quoted a study that close to 70% of men cheat. That is a lot of wives to alienate.
As to "hard to tell them apart," Senator Paul may be surprised to find that women treasure having their own identities and do not consider themselves the appendage of a man. A loving, successful relationship allows for the individual identity of both people.
Again, this is not about politics or party – but about respect.
Lastly, National Journal’s Alex Roarty shares the lament of some GOP operatives: "that Republicans Don't Have a Single Woman Running a Battleground Senate Campaign." In the battle for the Senate majority in the upcoming midterms, only 2 out of 33 campaigns featured women in charge. By contrast, National Journal reported that 5 out of 13 campaigns in key Democratic senate races are managed by women.
No one doubts Republicans may pick up seats in the midterms, but as Mr. Roarty notes, it is in the general election that Republicans "most struggle to connect with female voters." Did I mention that 26 Republicans just voted against confirming the very qualified Janet Yellen as Fed Chair?
Having more women with prominent roles in setting the agenda and platform and getting the perspectives of women can only help in pulling the party back from its current track when it comes to more than half the electorate. In 2012, a Fourth Estate study logged in 51,000 quotes in print and news media where men’s opinions were solicited and quoted 5 to 1 over women, even on women’s health issues. We were also outnumbered in discussing the economy and foreign policy by 3 to 1 and 4 to 1, respectively. So, clearly, Republicans aren’t the only ones with a woman problem. But they have an optics problem that the behaviors described above do little to alleviate.
Per WaPo’s Jessica Valenti, the power of social media has grown exponentially over the past 6 years. Offensive sound bites and a viral call to action may create a different environment vis a vis the treatment of women next time around. The notion of inclusion and respectful dialogue is going to have to be about more than lip service, but about real, live women sitting at the table – on every issue.
Molly Ball of The Atlantic posits that Republicans don’t need to change a thing and are well positioned going forward because of their work growing party infrastructure. But the changing demographic, with more women as head of household at all economic levels, indicate that attention must be paid.
In the past two weeks, we have had a number of incidents of Party tone deafness. Republicans referred to 2012 Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about "legitimate rape," as an aberration, but we are hearing too many of them from different representatives around the country to believe that is so. Perhaps the sensitivity training Speaker Boehner advised was not such a bad idea. But if you want to know how to talk to us, don’t ask other men for advice.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé deconstructing the biased media coverage that derailed Hillary's 2008 campaign and the sexism plaguing women who dare to lead.
Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. #1 on Amazon's Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.
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