Last week, I offered an analysis of what Republicans need to do at their national convention this week. This week, let’s take a look at what Democrats already plan to do at their national convention, which is to push their “war on women” strategy. The Huffington Post reported last week on a number of women given speaking slots at the event in Charlotte, with prominent emphasis on birth control and abortion issues. These include Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student that testified in Congress for the need to mandate free birth control and sterilization services from employers and universities; Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the abortion chain’s PAC.
The message? As Sam Stein reported, Barack Obama and Democrats want to focus on what they see as a key strength – social issues. The lineup “represents a clear effort by the Obama campaign to drive home the point that one party is tolerant of women's issues while the other is blind to them.” Certainly, the Republican Party followed a similar strategy in 2004 by attempting to drive base turnout with multiple ballot initiatives supporting traditional marriage. The GOP’s 2004 strategy seemed to have worked, as George W. Bush won a narrow victory over John Kerry in a close-fought presidential election.
This, however, isn’t 2004. In every poll taken in this cycle, the economy is the overriding concern for voters, followed by the federal budget deficit and national debt. In their last survey on issues of importance for the electorate, abortion and contraception didn’t even make Gallup’s list, nor did gay marriage or other social issues. While it’s too flip to say that no one cares about these issues at all, they have retreated to low priorities in both parties because of the ongoing economic stagnation during the Obama “recovery.”
For instance, a new study from two former Census Bureau analysts using official Census Bureau data shows that the decline in economic standing has actually accelerated since the start of the “recovery.” The Washington Post reports that median income has dropped 7.2 percent since the start of the recession in December 2007, which should surprise no one. However, despite the economy recovering back to growth levels of June 2009, median income has continued to fall. Prior to the recovery, median incomes slid by 2.6 percent, but in the three years since, they have dropped by 4.8 percent. At the same time, the civilian population participation rate fell from 65.7 percent to 63.7 percent over the last three years.
In this environment, no one outside the progressive echo chamber wants to hear about abortion and contraception. They want to hear how candidates plan to improve the economy, create jobs, and reverse four years of trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits.
Democrats run perhaps an even larger risk with this strategy than merely seeming out of touch, though. The entire “war on women” strategy has had a large streak of paternalism from the beginning, when the Obama administration first required employers and schools to provide free birth control and sterilization services to employees and students. This solved no great crisis in access to birth control, as a 20-year CDC study showed that 99 percent of all women of childbearing age who wanted to avoid pregnancy had access to birth control without putting employers in their bedroom.
As one might deduce from that statistic, the individual cost of birth control isn’t a high hurdle, either. Generic oral contraceptives can be bought without insurance from bothTarget and Wal-Mart for $9 a month. That’s $108 a year. Only sterilization costs significantly more – and amortized over the number of effective years, is still cheap. For those truly unable to afford their own birth control, a federal subsidy already exists in Title X and administered through Medicaid, an option which no one has proposed eliminating or reducing.
The message from the Obama campaign and Democrats in general seems to be that women are somehow incapable of finding birth control on their own unless some paternal entity dispenses it to them, despite all evidence to the contrary. They’re so incapable of this task that employers and schools have to hand it for them, no matter how much income they derive nor how much tuition they manage to pay otherwise. This has already backfired during Team Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign, which offered a creepy, solitary vision of a woman’s life approaching that of the song “Eleanor Rigby.” Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown wrote in The New York Times that “Julia” was “a silly and embarrassing caricature based on the assumption that women look to government at every meaningful phase of their lives for help.”
But it’s even worse than that. The strategy segregates women from other issues as if they only have deep concern in this election over the status of their genitalia. This theme came to ludicrous fruition in demonstrations by Code Pink at the Republican convention in Tampa, when activists showed up dressed as gigantic labia. The scene provided an unintentionally revealing portrait of just how progressives see women in modern American society.
That is the true risk for Democrats who pursue this strategy. After three nights of watching successful and accomplished women in the Republican Party discuss economic policy, job creation, and reform of the federal government for deficit and debt reduction, viewers will tune in the following week to see women considered as interested in little more than sexual reproduction. Voters might well conclude that there is a “war on women,” but that it’s not the Republicans who are waging it.