Stay the Course

Column: We will win this war on women

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April 13, 2012

As a political slogan, "war on women" is so broad as to be meaningless. The very notion is ridiculous, absurd—a gimmick to quicken the heartbeats of Democratic activists and political correspondents. How can a political party that won the allegiance of half the country in the most recent election be fighting a "war" on a particular sex? Who started this war? Where are the fronts? Who are the soldiers? Will it end by treaty? Why isn’t Rand Paul demanding a formal declaration?

Does anyone seriously believe that opposing abortion is the same as opposing the Nineteenth Amendment? What about the many pro-life Democrats in this country? Are they Quislings? Will Planned Parenthood pursue charges against them under the military code of justice? And on which side are those famous lovers of women Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Eliot Spitzer? "War on women," "99 percent," "Buffett Rule"—they are all focus-grouped catch phrases designed to stick in the ear and dominate a news cycle or two. They are the inevitable consequence of an incumbent president with no popular record and no agenda but tax hikes.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York may have originated the phrase in a 2011 floor speech, but it was the Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, appointed Democratic National Committee chair that spring, who kept up the attack. Based on a close reading of Wasserman Schultz’s public statements (and you think your job is tough), as well as a careful study of my favorite MSNBC contributor, Krystal Ball, the war on women is based on Republican opposition to Obamacare and efforts to restrict abortions and eliminate public funding for them, both directly and indirectly. As it happens, large majorities oppose Obamacare and support its repeal in part or in whole, and 51 percent of the country, according to the Gallup Organization, believes that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances, while 47 percent of Americans identify as pro-life and 47 percent identify as pro-choice. These are not "extremist" positions.

What the war on women really amounts to is a battle for political power between a group of pro-life, pro-religious liberty men and women and a group of men and women who want to maintain abortion on demand and the government provision of abortion, contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures as mandated under Obamacare. On one side are people such as Sarah Palin, Mitt and Ann Romney, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers; on the other side are Wasserman Schultz, Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, Hilary Rosen, and others. If this is the war on women, we should accept nothing less than unconditional surrender.

What are the origins of this war? The gender gap in American politics has persisted since the 1980 election. In 2010, however, something unusual happened: Republicans actually won the female vote, by a single point. Independent women went AWOL on the Democrats. The disappearance of the gender gap helped contribute to the GOP’s best performance since 1946.

One of the first votes the GOP House took was to repeal Obamacare. Shortly thereafter, the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider.

This terrified Democrats. Not only did they lose women in the 2010 election, the new Republican House majority was targeting a major Democratic donor with laser-guided legislation. A GOP victory in 2012, especially one based on a narrow gender gap, would endanger seriously the abortion lobby and feminist establishment in the United States and, by extension, the future of the Democratic Party.

What to do? Win women back, either affirmatively, through a booming economy and popular initiatives, or negatively, through striking fear in the hearts of women by suggesting that Republicans want to strip them of their rights. An affirmative argument was out because the economy is not booming and Obamacare is unpopular with both sexes—and possibly with the Supreme Court, as well. That left the terror tack.

Wasserman Schultz prepared the battlefield. But it was not until recently that Wasserman Schultz’s catchphrase became Democratic mantra, echoed by Democratic officials and talking heads on MSNBC and in other Democrat-friendly media outlets. Even more recently, Republicans began to fire back.

After the initial skirmish, a March Washington Post poll showed Obama faring worse among women. The president’s approval rating may have improved in some polls in recent weeks, but the rise does not coincide with any new counteroffensive by the Democrats. The war on women has already been waged for months, and the presidential race remains competitive in polls of likely voters. Indeed, the latest Fox News poll shows Obama’s approval at a low and Romney edging out Obama in a head to head matchup. As amazing as it might seem to liberals, voters neither care about nor are aware of supercilious arguments on cable news. Their behavior is driven by the actual conditions on the ground: the economy, the deficit and debt, and the Sword of Damocles that is Obamacare.

Wars ebb and flow. If the war on women was launched with Republican votes against Obamacare and Planned Parenthood, the liberals struck back when Limbaugh was forced to apologize for referring to left-wing activist Sandra Fluke as a "slut." But this week brought new developments from the front, when Mitt Romney pointed out correctly that more women than men have lost their jobs under Obama, when the Free Beacon reported that women are paid less than men in the Obama White House, and when Democratic adviser and overpaid consultant Hilary Rosen insulted stay-at-home moms across the country by saying Ann Romney has "never actually worked a day in her life."

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign had ordered and carried out the political equivalent of a summary execution, distancing itself from Rosen and forcing her to make a humiliating and half-hearted apology on the war’s primary battleground. It is too soon to say, however, whether Rosen’s gaffe was the war on women’s high-water mark, a turning point, or just another skirmish in a long, hard slog.

Fighting to win the White House and Senate, to overturn Obamacare, to reinstate the Mexico City policy, and to defund Planned Parenthood is, as Reagan once described another just war, a noble cause. There will be setbacks. There will be casualties. A surge of forces may be required. But there is one thing we will be able to say when we get back home, and we may thank God for it. Thirty years from now, when we are sitting around our fireside with our granddaughters on our knees, and they ask us, "What did you do in the great war on women?" We won’t have to say, "Well, I shoveled dirt on MSNBC."