Oh how John McCain courts women. With Sarah Palin at his side and our unpopular president sidelined, he promises huge, glass ceiling-shattering change.
What is the substance behind his symbolism? On every issue of concern to women -- from education to equal pay, health care and physical security to retirement and financial security -- John McCain and George W. Bush are identical and abysmal. It is their best-kept secret.
How can this be?
Lipstick doesn't just differentiate the hockey moms from the pit bulls, as Palin joked in her convention speech. Lipstick conceals the harsh, anti-woman actions of McCain and Bush. Bush searched high and low for women, preferably attractive ones, from groups opposed to such things as equal pay, health care for all, contraception and shelters for battered women. Then he handed them the reins of government. McCain approved his Cabinet appointees, who have now quietly dismembered federal programs near and dear to women. Their favorite tools are executive orders, rule changes and unfunded mandates, which do not require congressional approval and rarely grab headlines. They excel at doublespeak. When congressional action is needed, McCain votes with Bush 95 percent of the time, and now he's recruited Bush's lipstick crew to his team.
On the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the federal law requiring equal opportunity for females in education, Bush's Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, held a warm, fuzzy news conference to celebrate the law's successes. Then she silently weakened the rules for Title IX compliance, threatening sports opportunities and scholarships for women. McCain tacitly approved. Not only is the slice for females getting smaller, the whole pie is shrinking because Spellings, who regulates the federally guaranteed student loan program, ignored the inspector general's advice and refused to recoup the hundreds of millions in excess profits that predatory college loan lenders siphoned from funds meant for students.
On top of the overall financial insecurity squeezing middle-class families, women still earn only 77 cents to every dollar made by men. Despite strong evidence that some women are segregated into low-paying occupations, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a Bush economic adviser from the Independent Women's Forum, voiced the administration's opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, arguing the wage gap stems from women's different "choice of occupation." While there might be some truth to that, it's not the whole truth. Lilly Ledbetter worked for decades at an Alabama Goodyear plant doing the same job as her male co-workers. After she learned the men received better pay, she sued and a jury awarded her fair compensation. Rather than pay a modest sum to a wronged employee, Goodyear pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court. There Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Bush II appointees approved by McCain, reversed the verdict. Their decision paves the way for companies to commit rampant pay discrimination. With the devil buried in the details of a lengthy court decision, McCain and Bush cloak their complicity in the economic harm that Ledbetter v. Goodyear will cause women for years to come. When pressed on the subject, McCain did admit he supports the ruling and opposes reparative legislation. He also promises to fill future court vacancies with "clones of Alito and Roberts."
Without minimal Social Security benefits, more than half of elderly women would live in poverty. Yet Bush and McCain tried, with the help of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, to put a friendly female face on their plan to privatize Social Security. Their proposal would have shifted funds to Wall Street, cut basic benefits and worsened harsh effects our system has on lower paid workers (mostly female), widows, divorced women and the average woman, who spends 15 years out of the paid work force to care for others.
What did "compassionate conservatism" do for women's physical safety? Approximately 1,200 women are killed and 1.3 million physically assaulted each year by an intimate partner. In 1994 Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act to fill gaps in state prevention efforts. To oversee the act, Bush appointed Nancy Pfotenhauer to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. In her earlier role as president of the Independent Women's Forum, Pfotenhauer waged a bitter fight against the entire act, claiming it would encourage "vulnerable women to mistrust all men."
With Ms. Trust Your Batterer pulling the strings, it is not surprising that right after a photo op authorizing its renewal, Bush cut the act's funding. McCain voted against restoring those funds and opposed programs to aid children affected by domestic violence. With one hand, Bush and McCain deplore the murder of pregnant women and "unborn children." With the other hand they scrap promising federal efforts to prevent such murders.
Military women suffer alarming levels of sexual violence. Yet our commander in chief compounds their plight by selectively enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays in the military. In 2007 women composed 15 percent of the Army but accounted for 45 percent of the discharges stemming from this policy. The whole thing is a trap: A woman who spurns a man's advances risks accusations that she is, God forbid, a lesbian. Yet if she winds up pregnant, she'll have hell to pay. McCain voted for "don't ask, don't tell" and says it works well.
Though most women believe everyone should have affordable health care, the number of uninsured climbed from 36 million in 2000 to 47 million today. McCain voted against coverage for 10 million uninsured kids, and when a bipartisan majority in Congress passed the measure, Bush vetoed it because he considered it a step toward "federalizing" medicine. McCain applauded Bush's veto, earning "The Worst Senator for Children" rating from the Children's Defense Fund.
American teens suffer high pregnancy and chlamydia rates, yet McCain and Bush oppose medically accurate sex education. Instead, McCain panders to the far right, vowing to continue the Bush tradition of doling out hundreds of millions of tax dollars to fundamentalists who preach "abstinence only" and don't want young people to know about condoms.
Medical science recognizes contraception is central to women's health. Without it, the average woman would bear a dozen or more pregnancies. It's strange that Bush and McCain oppose all efforts to make contraception affordable, whether in health plans, programs for the uninsured, drug pricing, drug approval, international assistance, etc. But they don't want sensible folks to know about it. In July a reporter asked McCain a contraception question. His pregnant pause, memorialized on YouTube, sparked more dementia jokes. But voters deserve a straight answer.
Our next president's views really do matter because contraception, which most of us take for granted, is at risk.
That lipstick crew has been working behind the scenes. Some would turn the clock back half a century to when contraception was a crime. Take, for example, Dr. Susan Orr, author of "Real Women Stay Married." She equates contraception with "a culture of death." Bush appointed her to lead Title X, the program that subsidizes contraception and cancer screening for the uninsured. Orr brought the program to its knees. McCain earlier voted to abolish Title X altogether. Today 17 million uninsured women need these services.
Even women with health insurance may lose their contraception because a Bush appeals court judge issued a precedent-setting ruling last year against female workers who sought contraceptive coverage. Their health plan covers all other preventive care, drugs and even Viagra and Rogaine for men. The decision erases hard-fought gains women won just a few years ago. McCain voted against contraceptive coverage legislation.
Before leaving office, Bush will issue rules to boost a trend among pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraception because of religious objections. Some Montana women must drive 80 miles to find a pharmacy willing to sell the pill. By blurring the line between contraception and abortion, Bush's proposed rules will thwart state laws meant to assure proper care for sexual assault survivors.
Don't believe for a second that McCain and Palin will "change" anything. Palin's group, Feminists for Life, not only opposes all abortion, even for rape victims, it fosters this bizarre, unfounded notion of birth control pills as murder weapons. The group's Web site refers to contraception as an "abortofacient," a favorite code word of the far right. It means they're gunning for your birth control.
The gradual re-criminalization of abortion has, of course, begun. The new Supreme Court, in yet another 5-4 ruling, recently upheld an abortion restriction that McCain approved and Bush signed. As though high-risk pregnancy is a walk in the park, the ruling eviscerates the women's health protections of Roe. McCain promises to appoint judges who will overturn Roe entirely. As the far right blurs contraception with abortion, who knows where it will end?
McCain may have a woman on the ticket, but he does not have the interests of women at heart.