The 2014 election season marks the moment when the “War on Women” campaign ploy lost its political punch. Democrats had counted on a substantial lead among women voters—particularly single women voters—to give them the edge in key elections once again, and trotted out all of the old hits, accusing their opponents of waging a “War on Women” and being secretly dedicated to rolling back women’s progress. It didn’t work.
Political analysts will sift through the data and pour millions into follow-up studies to identify the reasons for Democrats’ crushing midterm election losses, and specifically why so many women changed allegiances, or, at the very least, failed to support their steady partner, the Democrats, during their time of need. Many factors likely played a role: renewed concerns about terrorism and national security issues; fear of Ebola and other alarming health outbreaks; continued economic anxiety and rising prices; and, the overwhelming sense that government is increasingly both incompetent and corrupt, from the IRS to the Secret Service to Veterans Affairs to the ObamaCare roll out. Surely all of this contributed to women’s dissatisfaction with the party at the helm during this time of disturbing American decline.
Yet one hopes that this election also reflects a rejection of hackneyed, over-the-top political ploys. As IWF’s Charlotte Hays put it, the “War on Women” jumped the shark this election season. The overblown rhetoric that Democrats hoped would enthuse the base instead often elicited laughter. Colorado’s Mark Udall earned the nickname “Mark Uterus” for his obsessive invoking of women’s reproductive issues and attempts to paint his opponent as a crusader bent on eliminating women’s access to birth control. That charge became increasingly laughable as Republican Corey Gardner highlighted his support for making contraceptive pills available over-the-counter.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz epitomized another particularly offensive aspect of the Left’s War on Women mantra – conflating conservative political beliefs with actual violence against women. “Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark. I know this is direct. But that is reality.” She continued: “what tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back.”
She claimed “that is reality,” but of course, it’s not reality, and voters knew it. In fact, it was a pathetic attempt to demonize a candidate with different political beliefs as a monster. Such casual use of such violent imagery should be abhorrent to anyone who takes violence against women seriously and who believes that our country needs honest debate about real issues and different policy alternatives.
And perhaps this season the public, particularly women, did finally have their fill of this kind of politics. Perhaps with real threats back in the news—beheadings by ISIS, mysterious contagious illnesses, riots in the Midwest—the trumped-up rhetoric lost all appeal.
The public ought to have always been skeptical of the “War on Women” charges. After all, if the GOP really has long been secretly dedicating to eroding women’s rights, why don’t women remember the early 2000s, with a President Bush and Republican Congress, as a dark age when they suffered a catastrophic loss of access to birth control and were shunted from the workplace? If the GOP really wanted to throw seniors into the streets, denying them Medicare and Social Security, and end assistance for needy women and children, why did none of this come to pass when they had power before?
Hopefully America finally saw these scare tactics for what they are—politics at its worst—and want a more sober conversation about the challenges that are facing this country. Politicians may soon find that it is better and more effective to acknowledge the rationale behind their opponent’s positions, while explaining why they believe their path will prove more effective. Just as Republicans can turn off voters by characterizing liberal plans as nothing more than vote-buying devices designed to expand the ranks of those dependent on government, Democrats should recognize that it isn’t enough to call those who oppose expanding government regulations or benefit programs “anti-woman”. Rather, they should acknowledge our concerns about how government intrusions are eroding economic opportunities and discouraging job creation, and then present their counter-arguments to the best of their ability.
I’d presume that such a fact-based discussion of the real tradeoffs that come with different policy approaches would favor conservatives. But surely liberals who believe in the efficacy of their arguments ought to feel similarly confident in their ability to win a fair fight. Yet more importantly, certainly America would benefit if we paid more attention to the actual tradeoffs between different policy options, rather than having to hear politicians smearing the other side. Let’s hope that a more substantive discussion of public policy—and particularly how policies impact women—starts today.