Remember when John Ashcroft put a drape over the bared breast of the “Spirit of Justice” statue at the Justice Department? The Republicans are now busy trying to cover their own political private parts after flashing a core part of their agenda – their war on women — at an inopportune time.
It’s a motley conservative crew that makes up the Misogynistic Army of the Right. There are those who both fear women and believe them inferior to men. Pining for patriarchy, they seek to subdue and oppress women. There are others carrying water for a health insurance industry eager to save money wherever it can. And others just play for any advantage over Democrats.
Birth control gives women more power over their bodies and their lives, making it harder to keep them in their place. Equal health care costs money. Insurance reimbursement rates (in both private and public sector plans) are intended to drive down utilization. Women are generally more responsible about their health than men, so there’s pressure to reimburse physicians less for treating women than men. Then there’s the anti-Washington, anti-Obama faction that simply condemns anything Democrats are for.
Conservatives have had great success at tuning their racist dog whistles. They’ve learned how to use code to appeal to racial bigots (“welfare Cadillacs,” “Willie Horton,” “Derek Bell,” “voter I.D.”). The conservative chorus is often out of tune when it comes to singing about the subjugation of women.
Regrettably, Democrats have failed to take advantage of the dissonance. Roe v. Wade marked a moment similar to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Oddly, after securing those victories, Democrats began running away from them. In their pursuit of the so-called “swing voters,” Democrats tried to avoid “polarizing” issues, that is, the important ones.
Republicans have been able to hide their antagonism toward women behind the abortion issue, an issue that scares many Democrats and their consultants. I’m not certain why. In Texas, for instance, one hears constantly that pro-choice candidates won’t do well with Catholic Hispanic voters, but I’ve never seen the issue have any influence on election outcomes.
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Last year, a Republican state representative in Texas, Wayne Christian, confessed that he was engaged in a war on birth control. My colleagues and I clipped the interview and posted it to YouTube, where it has received a good number of hits at one source or another.
I tried to convince many Democratic insiders that Republicans were more vulnerable than ever on the issues of women’s health. I didn’t get very far. Of course, I was making the argument at a time when the economy dominated voters’ attention.
Still, state and national polls over the months show that women voters are increasingly uneasy with Republicans. Many women who voted Republican in 2010 seem to be moving back to Democrats.
If Democrats are to take advantage of this momentum, they are going to have to keep talking – shouting – about the issues surrounding women’s health care. Typically, we think that our arguments are so powerful that if we just make them once or twice the reasoning world will accept our views automatically. We can move on to other things.
It doesn’t work that way. The Right is going to keep up its attack on women. There are many Republicans who wish they wouldn’t. They can see they are losing the argument with women voters. But their right wing won’t stop. And if Democrats don’t overwhelm them with progressive voices, sooner or later the right wing arguments will so dominate the media sphere that their views will begin to seem like common sense.