It's About Time Working Women Get Straight Answers From John McCain
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Now that the Republican National Convention balloons have fallen, let's get down to some concrete policy talk with John McCain.
The frenzied media circus surrounding McCain's choice for running mate, Sarah Palin, surfaced many questions, some of an unduly personal nature. But some of those personal matters, like her 17-year old daughter's pregnancy, raise legitimate questions about McCain's policy agenda.
We take seriously Barack Obama's eloquent plea that candidates' families -- and especially their children -- be allowed a zone of privacy. And we feel compassion for the two teenagers whose personal lives are being publicly dissected literally around the globe. But any candidate's positions on policy matters -- some of which in this case bear directly on the issues surrounding sex, pregnancy, childbearing and family well-being -- are most certainly fair game for discussion in this election. They affect every American, after all.
So while we agree that Bristol and Levi should be left in peace, John McCain's choice of Palin only intensifies our concerns about his responsiveness to serious issues facing most working women.
Yes, yes, we know that Sarah Palin is herself a working woman. A working woman on steroids, some might argue -- given that she went back to work three days after giving birth to her son, Trig. We're an advocate and academic, respectively, with long-standing passions for economic and reproductive justice for women. We've come to understand the direct and profound interconnections between the two. There's good reason why the words "barefoot and pregnant" have been so frequently joined together historically.
It's positive news that Palin's candidacy has jettisoned these policy matters squarely into the public eye. For we haven't heard anyone question McCain from that intersection of women's lives during the hours of airtime, barrels of ink and glut of blogposts that have been given over to the Palin family's predicament. So we are asking him these questions now, while the glare of voter interest shines light on them:
First, John McCain, do you think women belong in the paid labor force?
This might seem facetious or rhetorical, but it's a very serious, core question. We know your wife, Cindy, chairs the board of her family's company. Until you asked Palin to be your running mate, which tells us you think it's right for women to hold the highest political offices, your most visible surrogate to female voters was Carly Fiorina, until recently a top corporate CEO.
But surely you realize the overwhelming majority of women don't have the resources of these women. Teen moms in particular are more likely to live in poverty because of truncated educational opportunities. And many of these young mothers do not have a supportive family, with financial resources to help them, as Bristol Palin is fortunate enough to have. So they're going to have to enter the workforce to feed their children.
If you accept that most women will spend some of their lives in the labor force, then, do you believe women should earn the same as men, for the same jobs?
Open up whom? And if you support equal pay for equal work, what would you do to guarantee it?
Families where both partners are working for low wages, and especially families headed by single moms, deserve various kinds of support from a compassionate government. These families need access to affordable and high-quality child care. Most of all, they need affordable health care -- for themselves, but especially for their children.
But, Senator McCain, your voting history on children's issues is abysmal. Can you explain to us why you voted -- twice -- against a reauthorization of SCHIP, the immensely popular State Children's Health Insurance Program -- a program supported by many in your own party?
Can you explain why your record on children's issues generally is so bad that the nonpartisan Children's Defense Fund in its 2007 congressional scorecard on children's issues rated you the senator with the worst voting record?
In Palin's convention speech, she said that families with special needs would have a "friend in the White House." Why didn't you vote to increase funding for children with disabilities? And while we're at it, do you think it was right for Palin to slash funding for children with special needs in Alaska during her two years as governor, just as she also slashed funding for programs that help pregnant teens become self-supporting? With friends like these ...
But let's step back to where it all starts, or should start: with planning and prevention. To participate in the workplace, women must be able to plan and space their childbearing. A government study found that 98 percent of heterosexually active American women had used contraception at some point, and a Rand study found that 5 of 6 Americans support insurance coverage of family planning services. Access to contraception, clearly, is a deeply shared American family value.
Your voting record reveals you've cast dozens of votes opposing contraceptive coverage for insured women and family planning funding for low-income uninsured women. Yet when a reporter asked your position on contraception, you stammered that you didn't remember and asked your aide to find out how you had voted. On another occasion, you famously squirmed and mumbled "I'll get back to you" when asked to explain Fiorina's perfectly logical statement that it's unfair for insurance companies to cover Viagra but not contraception.
Did Fiorina fail to get your memo to that in order to curry favor with the Religious Right, your campaign had to adopt a strict anti-birth control policy? Or perhaps the subject of sexuality is so uncomfortable for you that you think your votes for the discredited abstinence-only sex education program are a sufficient response?
If the stakes weren't so serious, your consistent stumbles -- whenever asked about family planning issues -- would be amusing. But it's no laughing matter that you would deny birth control access, quash comprehensive and medically accurate sex education, and yet simultaneously move to outlaw abortion.
We've noticed your flip-flops on abortion, by the way. You identify as "pro-life," as is your right.
Still, why have you abandoned your once-nuanced positions?
In 1999, you were on record as not wanting Roe v. Wade overturned, recognizing -- correctly -- that allowing criminalization of abortion would lead to many injuries, even deaths. Now, you've even picked a running mate who, like you, wants to see Roe overturned. Period. In 2000, you challenged George W. Bush to justify how he could possibly support the Republican Party platform that calls for outlawing abortion with no exceptions -- not for rape, incest, health, even life of the woman!
You were incredulous then that Bush refused to repudiate such extremism. And we are incredulous that now, in 2008, you don't push back against the extremists in your party who show such callous disregard for the lives of women.
What's more, you've chosen a running mate whose views on abortion are in line with those extremists. She has even said that if her own daughter were raped, she would expect her to carry the pregnancy to term.
Senator McCain, where do you stand on these intersecting challenges facing women? Is it really your vision that women should be paid less than men, accept unsatisfactory child care and health care for their children, yet have limited access to contraception and medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that could reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion, and risk possible injury or death, when -- if you are in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices -- abortion becomes once more illegal?
We're waiting for answers. Because if that's your plan for women, you'll be taking "barefoot and pregnant" to a whole new level, and the women of America deserve to know that before they cast their votes.
AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.
Carole Joffe is professor of sociology at the University of California at Davis and a senior fellow at the Longview Institute.
Gloria Feldt blogs at Heartfeldt Politics . She is author of The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back and former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.