Do Democrats still plan to feature a “war on women” theme at their convention? If they do, I argue in my column today for The Fiscal Times, they may well find themselves hoist with their own petard, after a week of watching accomplished Republican women speaking from the dais in Tampa. Not only does the emphasis entirely miss the issues about which voters care most in this electoral cycle, the entire argument diminishes women to, well, to exactly what Code Pink reduced them in protests at the GOP convention:
The message from the Obama campaign and Democrats in general seems to be that women are somehow incapable of finding birth control on their own unless some paternal entity dispenses it to them, despite all evidence to the contrary. They’re so incapable of this task that employers and schools have to hand it for them, no matter how much income they derive nor how much tuition they manage to pay otherwise. This has already backfired during Team Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign, which offered a creepy, solitary vision of a woman’s life approaching that of the song “Eleanor Rigby.” Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown wrote in The New York Times that “Julia” was “a silly and embarrassing caricature based on the assumption that women look to government at every meaningful phase of their lives for help.”
But it’s even worse than that. The strategy segregates women from other issues as if they only have deep concern in this election over the status of their genitalia. This theme came to ludicrous fruition in demonstrations by Code Pink at the Republican convention in Tampa, when activists showed up dressed as gigantic labia. The scene provided an unintentionally revealing portrait of just how progressives see women in modern American society.
That is the true risk for Democrats who pursue this strategy. After three nights of watching successful and accomplished women in the Republican Party discuss economic policy, job creation, and reform of the federal government for deficit and debt reduction, viewers will tune in the following week to see women considered as interested in little more than sexual reproduction. Voters might well conclude that there is a “war on women,” but that it’s not the Republicans who are waging it.
Here’s a case in point — the HHS contraception mandate that Democrats will be hailing as liberation for women in the workplace and in universities. Sandra Fluke is already scheduled to deliver a major speech at the convention on this topic. But contraception isn’t difficult to find, nor is it expensive to purchase on an individual basis. Almost six months ago, US News researched the individual cost of contraception for all of the options — and found that nearly all of them fell between $150 and $600 per year. Sterilization costs more up front ($4,000-$6,000), but over a 20-year period, the costs are at the lower end of the same range. (In my column, I note that oral contraception can cost as little as $9 per month.) That’s probably why the CDC discovered in its 20-year study that 99% of all women who wanted to avoid pregnancy while being sexually active accessed birth control on their own, and that lack of access didn’t even figure in the reasons for unintended pregnancies. For those who qualify for Medicaid, the federal government already subsidizes contraception through Title X, and has for nearly 40 years.
Democrats argue with their “war on women” strategy that modern women in the workforce can’t figure this out on their own, nor pay for it without the paternalistic mandate that employers and educators foot the bill. Is that a winning argument? I guess we’ll soon see, because this is the contrast that will take place during next week’s convention. Republicans will have presented women as strong, independent, and focused on issues like economics, jobs, national security, education, and fiscal discipline. Democrats will have presented a vision of women like this, solely focused on one thing:
Which approach actually respects women? Voters will get the chance to make that choice, and Democrats might be surprised at the answer.