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We Just Don't Talk Anymore: Bush's Communication Problem with Women
Published on Friday, June 25, 2004 by
We Just Don't Talk Anymore: Bush's Communication Problem with Women
by Heather Wokusch

Despite the president's campaign pledge that "W stands for Woman," Bush tends to bomb out with the fairer sex. Unsurprisingly, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has registered women voters favoring Kerry over Bush by a full 12 percentage points.

So it's no wonder that the Bush campaign is working overtime to nab critical female voters, enlisting wife Laura and various female administration members to carry Bush's message from the Oval Office to the powder room.

But Bush just doesn't seem to get it. "What women want" is to be heard, not to receive a message. Women want to be asked questions and to be given honest answers - and that's precisely the area over which Bush is losing female voters.

While the president's opposition to abortion rights and his curtailing of family planning options has alienated many voters, arguably even more damaging for Bush among women is the perception that he has tuned them out.

Just ask a disgruntled woman voter where it all went wrong with Bush, and chances are she'll name three communication areas that died, taking the relationship along with it:

1. He closed women's offices

One of Bush's first acts as president was to shut down the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, which had monitored policy initiatives, helped coordinate federal programs and served as a liaison for outside groups since 1995.

Then in late 2001, only public outcry saved ten regional offices of the Department of Labor Women's Bureau the administration had planned to axe. Ominously, Bush has proposed reducing funding to the Women's Bureau itself in FY2005.

2. He fudged the facts about women

Information affecting women in crucial areas ranging from pay equity, to breast cancer to HIV has been distorted on governmental web sites and publications during Bush's term - even worse, data has sometimes disappeared altogether. The list is extensive, but includes:

- The National Cancer Institute changed its web site to suggest that abortion and breast cancer were linked, even though studies had found they weren't. The web site was changed back only when Congress insisted.

- The Department of Labor has eliminated essential publications on the rights of women workers, such as Don't Work in the Dark - Know Your Rights, and Fact Sheets on women workers.

- The Department of Health and Human Services altered information on its web site to make "abstinence-only" programs seem more effective than evidence indicates.

3. He made questionable appointments

When running for president, Bush was asked if his personal opposition to abortion rights would be reflected in his administration's judicial appointments. Bush replied: "Voters should assume that I have no litmus test on that issue or any other issue."

Immediately upon assuming office, however, the president began elevating abortion foes to critical offices: John Ashcroft became attorney general, Tommy Thompson became Secretary of Health and Human Services, and a slew of similarly-minded appointees were soon drafted into the lower courts.

Crucial women-oriented advisory committees have met a similar fate. Case in point: Dr. David Hager, who has refused to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women, is only one of three religious conservatives Bush named to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs.

But back to the president and his difficulties with women voters. The lesson here is that when an administration seems more focused on its own political agenda than on honest communication, women will start looking for greener pastures.

In other words, Mr. Bush, take some advice about dealing with women: LISTEN. Ask questions, and then LISTEN some more. TELL THE TRUTH. And please, save the slogans for a different target group.

Heather Wokusch is the author of "The Progressive Woman's Political Primer:100 Easy Steps to Owning Your Power and Making a Difference," to be released in the fall. She can be reached via her web site:


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