GOP can’t win the ‘War on Women’ if they don’t fight it
posted at 2:01 pm on July 1, 2014 by Noah Rothman
This week, Democrats received something they desperately needed and have spent months struggling to manufacture: an issue that will get their base voters excited about turning out in November.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not sweeping, rested on existing law, and cannot reasonably be construed as an example of judicial activism. That is not stopping the usual suspects from declaring it a step towards theocracy and the legalization of discrimination against women.
“This isn’t a win for religious liberty,” The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote, “it’s an affirmation of privilege for advocates of conservative sexual morality.”
“Yesterday, we saw five old conservative men tell women that discrimination against women is not discrimination at all, it’s just religious freedom,” Mic.com Senior Editor Elizabeth Plank told MSNBC. “Now we have more old, conservative men telling women – the 27 million women who’ve already benefited from this birth control mandate – that this might just go away.”
MSNBC.com’s Irin Carmon offered the best synopsis of how the Hobby Lobby decision fits into the grand Democratic strategy aimed at energizing liberal women: “The context of this is an all-out assault on access to contraception and access to other reproductive health care services.”
And Democrats are not letting this godsend of an opportunity pass them by.
“The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from their employees’ health care coverage based on their own religious views that their employees may not even share,” White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest said in a statement rife with sins of omission.
“Can’t believe we live in a world where we’d even consider letting big corps deny women access to basic care based on vague moral objections,” wrote an outraged Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
“[The] Supreme Court took an outrageous step against the rights of America’s women,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) echoed.
“This is the reason women need to vote in the midterm elections,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) added. “In order to protect their health.”
Many Republicans and conservatives will dismiss these hyperbolic, logically deficient, and morally vacuous statements offhand. They will see them as baseless, cynical, overwrought, and unworthy of the precious breath that would be expended in refuting them. And in a perfect world, they would be right.
But it is not a perfect world, and it does not take much effort to find examples that support this axiom.
In January, The Federalist’s Daniel Payne fumed over U.S. News and World Report journalist Susan Milligan equating Mike Huckabee’s infamous “uncle sugar” comment with rampant, legally protected gang rape in India. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen here. But similar attitudes are on display, albeit in a tamer way,” she wrote in reference to Huckabee.
Yet drawing a parallel between the India gang-rape and Mike Huckabee’s statements is entirely incomprehensible, and indicative not only of a journalist’s poor analytical skills but, as well, how successful the “narrative” of the War on Women has been. It has been a stunning success, one of which it is difficult to find a corollary, and one that has been wholly bolstered by the current legal dust-up over the birth control mandate.
Payne is correct to call the Democratic strategy of stoking a sense of victimhood among women a success, though some conservatives disagree.
In a compelling bit of analysis in The Wall Street Journal in April, conservative radio host Michael Medved argued that the War on Women was an electoral failure. Based on his parsing of the 2012 exit polling, Medved noted that Mitt Romney won white and married women, and that Obama’s edge came from minority voters of both gender. He insists that the GOP should be focused on appealing to minority voters rather than single women.
That may be true in a presidential election and the GOP should be reaching out to all voters of every demographic. Polling this year, however, indicates that women may end up being central to Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate.
Via NBC News:
Turning from the White House and Congress to yesterday’s big Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court, we observed that Democratic candidates seemed more excited to talk about the Hobby Lobby case than immigration. Of course, one of main reasons is that the Latino vote will only be a factor in one Senate contest THIS November: Colorado’s. But women — whether they live in Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, or Oregon — are going to be the key voting bloc this year, and Democrats see the Hobby Lobby case and contraception in general as wedge issues with female voters. Indeed, back in our March 2014 NBC/WSJ poll, 48% of men said that employers should be able to be exempt from covering birth control on religious grounds, while 46% of them said they should NOT be exempt. By comparison, nearly six-in-10 women — 59% — said employers should NOT be exempt, versus 35% who said they should. Overall in that NBC/WSJ poll, 53% of all respondents said employers should not be exempt, and 41% said they should be exempt.
Republicans stand to lose more than they will gain by being casted, however unfairly, as the party opposed to common contraceptives. A few solidly conservative lawmakers know good politics when they see it and have begun openly supporting loosened restrictions on access to non-emergency contraceptive medication. Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and Colorado Senate candidate and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) are already supportive of a measure which would allow for over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives.
“Making oral contraceptives available over the counter would also be safe, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,” the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein wrote. “Philosophically, it’s consistent with limited government principles. It removes unnecessary government regulations and increases choice. It doesn’t impose new burdens on businesses or religious institutions, nor does it require an increase in government health care spending.”
The argument against combating the War on Women narrative with proactive and empathetic approach to the issues young suburban and exurban women regard as critical is a bit like hoping that conspicuous lump you just noticed will simply go away. Many Republicans feel even acknowledging these attacks on their party as being wholly opposed to family planning lends them undeserved legitimacy. Still others believe the party would be better off not appealing to a voting bloc for whom access to taxpayer-funded contraceptives is of primary importance.
That is a small-tent strategy. Like it or not, many young women believe that Republicans are hostile to their wellbeing, and no one is willing to listen to you if they think you don’t care about what is important to them or look down on their life choices. If there is one lesson from the Obama years that the GOP must internalize, it is that the party’s core coalition is not large enough to win the presidency. A double-digit gender gap in favor of Democrats will almost always deliver the White House. Party building is a project for the off years. If the GOP waits for 2016 to appeal to nontraditional GOP voters, it will already be too late.
A conflict of necessity rather than one of choice, the GOP must mount a counteroffensive in the War on Women. Unfounded as those attacks on the party may be, they will fire up a deeply dispirited Democratic base and may rescue Obama’s imperiled second term.
Young, single women are too often willing to assume the worst of Republicans. It is incumbent on the GOP to give them a reason to rethink that position.
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