September 19 2008
Originally published by National Review Online
It's been a rough couple of months for establishment feminists. Their dreams of seeing Sen. Hillary Clinton become the first female president - or even vice president - were dashed. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and its sister organizations did everything they could for the Clinton campaign, providing a full-throated endorsement and launching a "Make History With Hillary" Political Action Committee. But it wasn't enough. Hillary Clinton won the overall women's vote among Democratic primary voters, but didn't close the delegate gap with Sen. Barack Obama.
This anemic show of strength was a prelude to a greater blow to their image as power brokers. Senator John McCain's nomination of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska - a conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun, mother of five - to be his running mate was greeted with a 20 percentage point surge of support among white women. From her policy beliefs to her personae, Governor Palin is the antithesis of NOW's vision for the American woman. Yet she is the one who is energizing American women and who has had such a sizeable impact on this campaign.
This week, the old guard feminist groups sought to reassert their relevance by endorsing the Obama-Biden ticket. Democrats should hope that Obama isn't counting on this to reverse his slide in the polls.
After all, the Obama campaign revolves around his promise of change and a new kind of politics. Yet the press conference held by the graying grand dames of NOW, Feminist Majority, and a handful of other women's groups may as well have been held under a disco ball. They trotted out retread rhetoric casting women as the victims of systemic pay discrimination and in desperate need of government protections.
Obama makes their tired claims his own in his campaign's new ad. He repeats the misleading statistic that women make "77 cents to the dollar a man makes," and charges that McCain opposes "equal pay for women" because he doesn't support giving the federal government the power to regulate private sector wages.
One might think the recent news coverage of the gender breakdown of his own staff might cause Obama to consider the problem with these statistics. An analysis of the salaries paid to Obama's staff revealed that his female employees make just 83 cents for every dollar he pays a male staffer. In contrast, McCain's staff includes numerous women in senior management and his female employees actually earn more than their male counterparts.
Does this statistics show that Obama, already suspect due to his "sweetie" and "lipstick" comments, is a closet sexist? No. Instead it reveals some of the problems with making these comparisons. The make-up of Obama's staff tell us nothing about the pool of candidates he interviewed or the work that they perform. I'd bet that Senator Obama simply chose the best of those who applied for jobs in his office and negotiated salaries with them, and it just happened that he ended up with more highly paid men.
Yet if Obama recognizes the problems with the "83 cents on the dollar" statistic to assess his office, he should also recognize how misleading the feminists' "77 cents on the dollar" statistic is to the American economy. When producing that statistic, the Department of Labor doesn't take into account factors such as occupation, years of experience, hours worked, education, or the many other factors that we all know affect how much someone is paid. Analysis of this statistic have found that the individual decisions that women make - not discrimination - explain the majority of the so-called pay gap.
Obama shouldn't use this misleading statistic in an advertisement. Not just because it's wrong, but also because it won't be effective. American women know from personal experience that they take many factors into account when they seek and accept a job. They know that these decisions affect how much they are paid. Most simply women don't feel like victims. Just ask Sarah Palin.
- Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.