Michelle Obama chums it up with Gloria Steinem

Michelle Obama is not to be outdone by her husband. Last night in New York City, the Mister delivered some fantastically partisan rhetoric to a fundraiser full of ticketed attendees, each of whom shelled out approximately $38,500 just for the privilege to be in the president’s presence. So, to make her presence felt, Mrs. O first descended on the city in a neon getup that HuffPo style bloggers hailed as “awesome,” but which taught me to understand why fashion icons like Oscar de la Renta and Karl Lagerfeld have criticized the First Lady’s choices of attire.

Then, today, Michelle hosted a fundraiser headlined by the feministest feminist of all, Ms. Gloria Steinem (emphasis on the “Ms.” because men’s titles don’t change according to marital status, so why should women’s?). Also joining the party were: Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards, EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock and, my favorite, DWS herself.

The fundraiser comes at a particularly needed time for the president — just as Ron Suskind’s controversial book Confidence Men has raised questions about whether the Obama White House is or has been a hostile work environment for women. If that type of talk persists, Obama’s approval rating among women might stand to suffer. As The Fix’s Chris Cillizza put it in a recent headline, “Barack Obama doesn’t have a ‘women’ problem. At least not yet.” The clear implication is that he could lose the female vote — and it’s precisely that outcome that this fundraiser and other efforts were designed to stave off, according to a Huffington Post article previewing the event.

“Women are a really important constituency for us,” said an Obama campaign aide. “Their involvement and support was integral in 2008 and we are not taking their support for granted in 2012. The idea behind this fundraiser is engaging women, on a wider scale, to get involved and energized about the political process and the 2012 election.” …

Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, said Obama needs strong turnout from women in order to win in 2012.

“He needs the women’s vote. There’s no question,” said Lawless. “What’s up for grabs right now is the extent to which women are energized and ready to mobilize for him. In every presidential election since 1980, there’s been a gender gap with women more likely to support the Democratic candidate than men. Without the women’s vote — because women comprise the majority of the electorate — it’s virtually impossible for a candidate to win the election.”

In 2008, an analysis by the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics found that women were a “significant factor” in Obama’s victory. He won 56 percent of women’s votes, whereas his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), won just 43 percent. Men split their vote about evenly between the two candidates.

A recent AP-GfK poll found that less than half of all women approve of the job Obama is doing. That’s a significant drop from the 100-day mark of his presidency, when 68 percent of women approved of his performance. Fifty percent now say he deserves reelection.

No wonder the president has so conscientiously sided with Planned Parenthood against the states.

Whether Michelle’s fundraiser will do her husband much good on the female vote front remains to be seen, but the president is smart to not take core constituencies for granted. Republicans should take note. As I wrote yesterday (and will probably continue to pound between now and November 2012), to win the election, voter turnout must, as ever, be a top priority.

In the meantime, I continue to be flummoxed by the Democratic Party’s hold on women.

First, full disclosure: I swing especially far to the right on this. Truly, little saddens me so much as the popular relinquishment of femininity, the widespread abandonment of certain bounds of propriety and the demonization of the cult of domesticity, as though it was never a joy and always a prison to be the queen of one’s own home, cooking, cleaning and child-rearing on Husband’s dime. Honestly, it always seemed more like a raw deal for men to me, but, like I said, I swing very far to the right on this. Plus, I tend to be hopelessly romantic and idealistic. I’ve been working to better understand the need for the women’s lib movement and I recognize a need did exist. Still, it especially aggravates me that feminism eventually veered so far to the left as to effectively leave women with just one “acceptable” option: To work and to attempt to prove not just equality (which I adamantly assert) but absolute similarity (which I don’t) with men. I happen to think more girls might like “the domestic life” if they’d had half an exposure to it.

But even if I wasn’t old-fashioned about premarital sex, birth control and cohabitation, and even if I wasn’t an almost unequivocal fan of traditional marriage and stay-at-home motherhood, I would still maintain many women would be more comfortable in the conservative movement than they have been cavorting with the Democrats.

As my friend Hannah Sternberg has documented, conservative feminism is not an oxymoron. In other words, you need not be as traditional as I am to see that conservative solutions benefit women.

Take just one example: When’s the last time you’ve heard a Democrat tout marriage as a solution to the poverty of some single mothers? And, yet, research shows marrying the father of their kids is the No. 1 thing such mothers can do to lift themselves and their children out of less-than-ideal living circumstances.

Or, to look at it from an entirely different angle, when’s the last time you’ve heard a Democrat touting solutions that would truly benefit small-business owners? Some 400 businesses are started by women every day. You’d think those women, at least, would vote Republican.

All of which is to say: I hope women — indeed, all voters — think through the issues at play in the 2012 elections from the prism of their own personal life experiences and not according to any preconceived identity politics — and then cast their votes accordingly.