The world will have to wait at least another four years for a female president.
Carol Moseley Braun — the first presidential candidate endorsed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 20 years — pulled out of the race for the democratic nomination and threw her support to Howard Dean. Braun was always a long shot, and even the New York Times called NOW’s race to embrace her fringe candidacy “silly.”
Yet NOW’s endorsement of Braun for president shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. Indeed, both Braun’s candidacy and NOW’s support for it demonstrate that the feminist movement is sadly out of touch with mainstream American women.
Braun ran on a platform of expanding government across the board. She advocated a complete government takeover of health care and a massive expansion of federal involvement in K-12 education. She wants Washington to increase the minimum wage to a “living wage” and supports regulations to micromanage how businesses compensate employees.
No surprise, then, that Braun also opposes reforms that would give individuals control of their lives — everything from school vouchers to personal accounts in Social Security. In short, Braun envisions a caretaker government shepherding its hapless citizens throughout their lives.
NOW’s support for Braun and her nanny-state agenda is testament to the sorry condition of the modern women’s movement. Feminists once fought against legal and social structures that limited women’s opportunities to participate fully in the workplace and in civil society. The movement was about breaking down barriers so that women would be free to rise or fall on their own talents, hard work and ambition. These were women fighting for liberty, not largess.
The modern feminist movement offers a different vision: Women free from dependence on traditional relationships — such as marriage and family — but reliant on government as provider and benefactor. It’s a perverse definition of liberation. Many of today’s feminists would have women reject the voluntary arrangements that have traditionally served as financial and emotional safety nets. But instead of expecting women who forgo those relationships to stand on their own two feet, they seek to have government compel strangers to provide the security once found in family, community and marriage. In their calls for cradle-to-grave welfare, modern feminists have abandoned the values of independence and personal responsibility, implicitly branding America’s women as childlike and helpless, unable to care for themselves.
Former NOW President Patricia Ireland, for example, chastised President George W. Bush for offering tax cuts that “will hurt women’s physical and economic health as well as the safety of women and families.” Feminist Majority Foundation suggests that women have “everything to lose” from tax cuts.
The feminist movement of old was as much about changing society’s views of women as it was about changing laws. Challenging the assumption that women were ill-suited for work outside of the home was an early and worthy goal. Modern feminist seem willing to reverse this presumption of female capability, drawing instead on an image of female vulnerability to build their case for government expansion.
What’s worse, the ramifications of the policies many feminist organizations promote often harm women. Workplace regulations make hiring more expensive and job opportunities scarce. Women would disproportionately benefit from the Social Security reforms NOW opposes that would give women the much needed opportunity to invest part of their payroll taxes. High marginal taxes limit women’s choices by discouraging some married women from entering the workforce, while forcing others who would prefer to stay home with children to go to work to pay the bills. The list goes on.
While the modern feminist movement’s abandonment of independence as a goal is disturbing, Braun’s decision to abandon her presidential campaign is not. Her unpopularity among voters suggests that the modern feminist mantra of “more government now!” doesn’t resonate with most American women.
NOW says that Braun’s campaign failed “because her constituency — millions of women struggling to make ends meet and juggling work and family obligations — didn’t have the luxury of spare cash or spare time.” While that notion may comfort Braun and her supporters, it’s more likely that women recognized that a Braun presidency wasn’t in their best interests.
American women deserve better than the feminist movement’s tired mix of victimization and big government. Instead, it’s time to re-embrace the causes of independence and self-reliance. Those are the dignified values upon which the first female American presidency must be based.