Reports that Democrats are abandoning their demagogic ‘war on women’ trope must come as news to Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose Democratic opponent has flooded Kentucky’s airwaves with ads that essentially accuse him of favoring violence against women. Alison Lundergan Grimes has repeated this attack on the campaign trail in an unsubtle bid to open up a decisive gender gap that has yet to materialize, according to a recent poll. McConnell’s campaign is up with a response ad starring McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao:
“Have you ever noticed how some liberals feel entitled to speak on behalf of all women, as if every woman agrees with Barack Obama? … Supporting the Obama agenda isn’t pro-woman. It’s anti-Kentucky.”
The spot highlights the fact that McConnell co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act, and that he supported alternative versions of the recently-updated law, which the ad says would have provided “stronger protections for women than Obama’s agenda will allow.” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball looked into why some conservatives objected to the re-authorization of VAWA in recent years, and discovered that — surprise! — they harbored substantive concerns about a handful of elements within the bill’s legislative language:
The act’s grants have encouraged states to implement “mandatory-arrest” policies, under which police responding to domestic-violence calls are required to make an arrest. These policies were intended to combat the too-common situation in which a victim is intimidated into recanting an abuse accusation, or officers defer to the “man of the house” and fail to take an abuse claim seriously. But Villegas and other critics say mandatory-arrest laws can backfire. A 2007 study found that states with such laws saw increases in intimate-partner homicides — perhaps because they made victims, who may have wanted the police to intervene without making an arrest, less likely to report abuse before it could escalate out of control. Villegas points to this as an example of VAWA funds being distributed in ways that are well-intentioned but not necessarily best for victims.
Critics also say VAWA has been subject to waste, fraud, and abuse because of insufficient oversight. For example, a Department of Justice audit found that out of 22 randomly selected VAWA grantees, 21 had violated the terms of their grants. Another controversy surrounds a provision in this year’s reauthorization to give tribal governments criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations. Proponents of the bill say this closes a loophole that allows non-Native American men to abuse Indian women with impunity. But critics say the tribal courts are underresourced and have a history of failing to provide adequate legal protections to defendants. Other controversial new proposals in reauthorizing the act have included a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and an expansion of the visa program that grants permanent residency to immigrant victims of abuse. Villegas and others say this latter change opens the door to immigration fraud. In the Senate hearings on VAWA, an American woman testified that her Czech husband falsely accused her of spousal abuse in order to gain residency when they divorced. Because of the law’s protections for “victims,” Julie Poner claimed, she had no recourse to rebut the allegations, and her children were taken from her and put in foster care.
Other Republicans called into question a provision involving Native American tribal courts and US legal sovereignty. In other words, lawmakers like McConnell raised legitimate issues, including documented unintended consequences and verifiable fraud. Grimes is counting on Kentucky women to jump to her misleading conclusion that the Senate Republican Leader simply isn’t interested combating misogyny and violent abuse. Chao is an effective voice in her husband’s defense; she puts a woman’s face on the other side of the issue, and counter-attacks by relentlessly linking Grimes to the deeply unpopular president. In a fit of pique over the new ad, a Democratic operative in the state posted explicitly racial tweets questioning Chao’s status as a true Kentuckian:
Ms. Groob’s Twitter account has since been deleted. A liberal group came under fire last year for attacking Chao’s ethnicity, fulminating that she could be the reason why Kentuckians’ jobs “moved to China.” Chao is from Taiwan. Another major Grimes supporter — state House Speaker Greg Stumbo — compared McConnell to Nazis earlier this year. He refused to apologize, and Grimes declined to condemn the incendiary remarks. Perhaps Grimes’ greatest asset in this race is her maiden name. She’s the daughter of a prominent Kentucky Democrat. She certainly hasn’t demonstrated a strong grasp of the issues; last week, she ignorantly claimed that Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system has helped repel Hamas’ tunnel attacks. At another rally, she urged supporters to put bumper stickers in their yards — a silly, but ill-timed, mistake. On a more substantive level, Grimes is an abortion extremist, even opposing bipartisan efforts to restrict abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy. Her behind-the-scenes rhetoric on a range of ‘progressive’ issue has won Grimes the ardent backing of lefty hardliners like Elizabeth Warren. If Grimes overcomes both her own liberalism and Obama’s unpopularity in the state to defeat McConnell, Republicans can likely kiss the prospect of a Senate majority goodbye.