January 20 2008
If I were running for president, this is what I would say
If I were running for president, one of the many questions I would ask is, "What do women want?"
Women, after all, are the majority of voters in the United States.
The answer is quite simple: Women want policies that improve the lives of our families and increase the safety of our nation. Women want an America that is, as Abraham Lincoln stated, "the last, best hope of Earth."
Earlier this month, women from around the country met in Manchester to participate in Lifetime Television's "If I Were President" Forum. This nonpartisan coalition of women sought answers from the candidates about how they would handle many of the domestic and foreign-policy issues of particular concern to women.
Candidates who listen to women find that women aren't that different than men: Women want policies that generate the stability and security necessary for women to successfully balance family and professional life.
Women want a prosperous economy with low interest rates and stable prices. Jimmy Carter's era of "stagflation" demonstrated how important it is to get the essentials right. That means not letting the subprime loan mess turn into an excuse for government to wreck the credit market, and promoting a marketplace that rewards entrepreneurship and hard work.
A big tax hike would strike hardest at businesswomen, particularly those starting their own businesses. The burden of federal regulation remains far too high - at more than $1 trillion, it exceeds the total amount collected in federal income taxes.
The looming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security also concerns women, especially those who rely on these programs. These programs' $90 trillion unfunded liabilities will eventually have to be paid if we are to keep faith with our elderly. We need reform now to protect those currently collecting benefits while providing better options for younger workers.
Health care is also a critical issue for women. The U.S. medical system offers unparalleled quality, but leaves some people behind. Women want a system that builds on the strengths of American medicine, emphasizing the role of patients as consumers. Women want an end to the bias for employer-provided health insurance, which hurts women who are more likely to move in and out of the workforce and don't want to risk losing insurance or changing doctors with each job change.
Women care deeply about education. We want our daughters and sons to be taught to be good citizens. We also want our children prepared to succeed in an increasingly global economy.
Real reform requires more than throwing money at poorly performing schools. Real reform is holding schools accountable for their performance. Real reform is ending the public school monopoly and giving parents a genuine choice as to where their children attend school.
Although women are thought to be more interested than men about the home front, it is for this reason that national security is also a women's issue. Any woman who grieved after Sept. 11, 2001, or who watched 186 children killed at the Beslan school siege in Russia cares not only about domestic policy, but about national security and terrorism.
Yes, we want our husbands, sons and daughters home from Iraq. But we also want a peaceful, democratic Iraq that improves the lives of the Iraqi people and the security of the American people. We want responsible leaders to balance the freedoms that make America great with the policies necessary to prevent new attacks on the United States.
Women insist on policies to deal with a potentially dangerous world. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Russia is growing more antagonistic. The brightest hope for democracy in Pakistan has been assassinated. Women don't want war, but we do want to be ready if conflict is forced upon us.
There is one other issue. Elections in America always have been competitive; campaigning always has been vigorous. But women, again like most Americans, are tired of the vicious bickering in Washington that makes it harder to meet the serious challenges facing our nation.
Throughout our history, we Americans have consistently overcome obstacles in our way and surprised our enemies. We will continue to do so. But first, we need to remember that we are Americans before we are Republicans or Democrats.
If I were running for president, I would recognize that women want what all Americans want: a better life for ourselves and our countrymen.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum and author of "Women's Progress: How Women and Are Wealthier, Healthier, and More Independent Than Ever Before."