The Republican War Against Women
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Republican women have become a not-so-subtle weapon for breaking apart the Democratic coalition, grounded in the women's vote, that gave Democrats control of the House and Senate in 2006 and 2008 and made Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. This year for the first time since 1982, Democrats did not have a voting advantage with women. Men supported Republicans by a margin of 12 percent and women by one percent.
This month's mid-term elections were a watershed for women's electoral politics. The national GOP is no longer trying to win votes from the backlash to the women's movement. Instead it has embraced the movement's call for more women elected officials.
In fact, national Republican strategists have finally decided that electing women, especially women of color, brings power to the party. This time around the strategy brought them some victories, but don't be fooled: The Republican party is not championing the feminist policy agenda. Instead, GOP strategists are escalating the Republican War Against Women that has been going on since the 1980s and they've organized a second front led by women to oppose the feminist agenda.
Numbers do not tell the whole story. While Democrats continued to win women of color and unmarried women this year, they lost big among white women. In 2006, they voted for Republicans by 50 percent to 49 percent for Democrats. This year the Republicans won white women by 57 percent compared to 40 percent for Democratic candidates.
Yet overall, despite this huge switch to Republican candidates, women voters are the reason why the U.S. Senate remains Democratic.
In many races, Democratic candidates who supported women's issues couldn't overcome independent white women's anger over the poor economy.They voted for a change hoping Republicans would make a difference even as polling data indicated that a majority agreed with Democrats on social issues.
The Real Story
So forget for a moment the angst that has swept the feminist community since Sarah Palin's entrance on the national stage. Forget those many agonizing articles about right-wing women stealing feminism; focus on what's really going on:
Palin and her mama grizzlies are a twenty-first century upgrading of the backlash against women and minorities strategy that put Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bush II in the White House. These angry women are the bait, stirring a pot of discontent against the Obama Presidency. Their candidacies are the first act in a plan by the Republican right—now joined by its Tea Party allies and supply-side libertarians—to run the Republican party .
Their goal is the White House and a radical redirection of American government that will rollback much of the New Deal and Great Society policies. They seek repeal of many of the laws of the last thirty years that opened opportunities for those left out of America's mainstream— women, minorities, gays and immigrants.
It is engineered by a new generation of Republican tacticians who have built their strategy on the foundation laid in the original Republican War Against Women. That earlier crew—composed of Reagan's campaign team, new right and religious right leaders—orchestrated the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, opposed affirmative action, federal money for child care and numerous policies aimed at making life better for women and their families.
The centerpiece of this war has always been women's reproductive health. Through the 1970s and 1980s, abortion was its principal issue. Now they have expanded their opposition to stem cell research and contraception.
For these 2010 angry women candidates, opposition to abortion remains the keystone of their political philosophy. But they downplayed abortion in their campaigns, instead attacking big government spending and high taxes.