This week, many American women will take their first serious look at the presidential race. Party leaders hope to inspire all voters to support the Kerry-Edwards ticket at the Democratic National Convention, but are particularly interested in energizing women.

After all, Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000 by more than a 10-percent margin had only women been voting. Four years earlier, Bob Dole would have beaten Bill Clinton if only men cast ballots. No doubt, Democrats see women leading the way to the White House once again. As Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) said, “Historically, it has been the Democratic Party that women have turned to, because it is the party of inclusion, equality and compassion…”

It is also the party of dependence. And before women once again pull the Democratic lever, they should take a serious look at the party’s agenda.

The Democrats’ platform promises greater intervention in our economy and civil society: from government-provided healthcare and steeply progressive taxes to myriad new regulations dictating how businesses must compensate employees.

At the same time, they pledge to fight proposals that return resources to individuals: from Social Security reform that allows workers to control more of their retirement savings to education policies that give parents more choices about their child’s schooling.

This big government agenda is in lock-step with the groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) that claim to represent women. But women should recognize that NOW and other leftist feminist organizations are increasingly a fringe in American politics. Instead of promoting women’s equality, these groups view women as a special interest group and lobby for government subsidies and rewards. Their goal is seemingly to create a “Daddy-state” providing for all of women’s needs.

At first, some women may find it appealing to have government as their benefactor, offering free daycare services, healthcare, and forcing employers to give extra paid leave and higher wages.

But women beware: there are unintended consequences to these policies. Subsidized federal childcare could crowd out private providers and leave women with fewer childcare options. Expensive mandates on employers make hiring more expensive and job opportunities scarce.

The endless expansion of government services comes with a price. Lavish government spending must be paid for by higher taxes, leaving families with less to pay for important needs. High taxes on income have a particularly damaging impact on married women: they discourage some married women from entering the workforce, while forcing others who would prefer to stay home with children into the workplace.

Putting aside the policy implications, women should also consider the underlying message sent by this agenda: that women are de facto wards of the state. This view of women is hardly novel. Throughout much of history, society assumed that women were incapable of self-sufficiency. Women were viewed as their father’s property until they married, at which time they became their husband’s charge. Early feminists fought this notion, believing that women are able to live and compete on their own.

Today, feminists have dropped the goal of true independence for women — instead pursuing policy that would replace dependence on husbands and fathers with dependence on Uncle Sam. The Democrats have internalized much of the mentality of the dependency divas at NOW and join them in offering women a caretaker government.

Don’t take the bait. Women must recognize that dependence on government is not independence.

Instead, women should embrace candidates with the vision of women as independent and capable, and who will put power and responsibility back in women’s hands.