Remarks by Sabrina Schaeffer



at the

Independent Women’s Forum

2014 Barbara K. Olsen Women of Valor Dinner


November 19, 2014


I am so humbled to be here this evening and to be surrounded by the entire Independent Women’s Forum family.

I look around this beautiful hall and see colleagues, supporters, board members, mentors, friends, as well as many new faces – all of whom have had a profound impact on the growth and formation of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Together we have built something incredible over the last few years.  

One of these friends that I want to recognize right away is our Chairman Heather Higgins, who has devoted more than 15 years to serving on the IWF board. Perhaps Heather’s greatest contribution has been her unwillingness to settle – to always seek out a better a message, a stronger strategy, a more purposeful mission.

I first crossed paths with Heather when she was serving as chairman of the board of the Hoover Institution. Still many of you have known Heather in a different capacity: some through her years of service to the world of philanthropy; others for her commitment to coalition building, political strategy and advocacy work in the field.

And of course, many of you know Heather through her work leading IWF’s sister organization, the Independent Women’s Voice.  Just this year Heather and IWV targeted 22 districts in 14 states in a comprehensive field campaign to educate voters about the damage caused by Obamacare.

Through phone calls, direct mail, and grassroots door-to-door canvassing IWV talked to voters about the burden Obamacare will have on our economy and on health care in America. As the creator of the Repeal Pledge and, IWV remains a go-to organization for lawmakers and allies both on and off Capitol Hill.

Thank you Heather, and our friends at the Randolph Foundation, for your unwavering support.

On behalf of everyone at IWF, I offer a sincere thank you to our many dinner sponsors – some long-time supporters, others new to the organization. IWF depends on your generosity, and we are grateful for your financial support of this dinner and your intellectual support of our efforts throughout the year to bring a message of liberty and limited government to women.

Still a lot of what makes IWF a success is the great work that happens behind the scenes. That’s why I want to offer a special thank you to all the members of our board of directors who are here tonight. And I’d like to welcome IWF’s newest board member Lisa Gable.

And of course the entire IWF staff deserves recognition for all the incredible work you do every day. We literally wouldn’t be here without you.

The room does feel a little empty, however, without IWF’s managing director Carrie Lukas who can’t be here tonight because she just welcomed a new baby into the world.



After a long period of frustration, and for many people despair, about the direction of our nation, I think it’s safe to say most in this room tonight are feeling cautiously optimistic about the future.

And that’s exactly how we should be feeling right now.

But there is so much work to be done.  After all, the Progressive movement did not make its gains with women overnight – or, by accident.

In 1995, political scientist Robert Putnam wrote a seminal paper, concluding that Americans were “Bowling Alone,” – that civic organizations and traditional social networks were no longer the force influencing our belief systems and motivating people to the polls the way they had been in years past.

Other researchers questioned the idea that people vote in a rational way that reflects their self-interest.

There was a general sense of confusion over what makes voters tick.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, two political scientists at Yale University – Don Green and Alan Gerber – set out to discover what really motivates people to vote.

What psychological forces, what messages and tactics influence their opinions and drive them to the polls?

They wanted a real-life look at Get-Out-the-Vote efforts, so they partnered with a local chapter of the Connecticut League of Women Voters to execute one of the first true political science field experiments in many years. 

They randomly assigned a pool of Connecticut voters to one of three conditions. Just like if they were testing a new pharmaceutical in a clinical drug trial, one group received a piece of mail, another a robo-call, the third a visit to their door by a canvasser. And a final group – the control or placebo – received nothing at all.

In this early experiment, their mailer had very little impact, their call had no effect, but the door knock increased turnout by more than 8-points – a pretty shocking impact at the time. 

But Gerber and Green’s academic experiment had ramifications far beyond the findings of this project. . .and far beyond what either of them could have imagined.

Democratic political operatives recognized the implications of their research—that making adjustments to messages and outreach methods could have a massive impact on the political and ultimately policy landscape.

Soon they began partnering with, and recruiting, academics to test and refine their efforts to turn out more of their voters. . . especially women.

An initial partnership with the League of Women Voters unleashed more than a decade and a half of rigorous research to understand and change public opinion and voter behavior.

Women’s groups, especially, soon began testing not just turnout techniques, but persuasion efforts with which they have been successfully reengineering public opinion and vote choice for years.

I mention this story because the “woman-as-victim” mantra, and the War on Women narrative, did not come about by chance.

With the women’s groups at the helm, the left has raised tens of millions of dollars, built an arsenal of information, and shared it widely with like-minded groups.

Following in the footsteps of the Connecticut League of Women’s Voters, feminist groups like the National Organization for Women, National Women’s Law Center, National Council for Research on Women, Women’s Voices Women Vote, Catalyst, Emily’s List, She Should Run, the American Association of University Women and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research … to name a few

… have invested significant resources into studying gender and politics – into figuring out how to persuade, mobilize, and reshape the electorate for Democrats.

Of course their message is insidious, and wrong. It tells women that life in America is inherently unfair. That society is hostile to women. And it perpetuates the myth that our schools and the workplace systematically discriminate against women and girls.

The progressive women’s movement has created a tug-of-war between the genders that pits women against men. Feminists tell us women are failing because the game is rigged. And they’ve painted a picture of society in which women are the perpetual victims of misogynist forces and predatory men.

Of course those misogynist forces were supposed to be conservatives. Though this week feminist-favorite Nancy Pelosi refused Rep. Tammy Duckworth – a pregnant, war veteran who lost both her legs while serving – from voting by proxy, so it’s hard to know!

And all the left’s alarmism about the state of women in America comes despite the clear success of women and girls in recent decades across all walks of life.

Too often the media and popular culture reinforce and amplify this message. Women’s political publications like Jezebel virulently attack women who don’t fit the liberal, feminist mold. Mainstream women’s glossies like Cosmo offer vacuous endorsements of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act. And more and more activist groups like work to spread the woman-as-victim message.

And until recently it’s worked.

But this year, the Progressive feminists and their allies in Congress ran up against the limits of their propaganda.

Liberal feminists have over-played their hand, destroying what was once a meaningful movement for universal rights and dignity, and turned it into an ideological extremism that most reasonable women reject.

In fact, some of you may have heard that readers of Time Magazine recently voted – by a large margin – to eliminate the word feminism from our national dialogue altogether.

For good or for ill, politics never stands still.

And this year, the Right finally chose to fight back. Candidates like Tom Tillis in North Carolina and Cory Gardner in Colorado and Ed Gillespie right here in Virginia didn’t stand quietly in a corner, hoping the issues would go away when the Left unleashed the War on Women attacks.

They actively addressed “women’s issues.” They advocated for giving women more control over their health care choices, for over-the-counter birth control, and responded definitively on questions about equal pay.

And they did this while managing not to make these issues the core of their campaigns like the desperate, and ultimately embarrassing, effort of Democratic Senator Mark Udall in Colorado.

Instead, they offered positive economic platforms and actionable reform agendas.

Now this isn’t to say the War on Women rhetoric didn’t work anywhere, or with some voters.

A 5-point gender gap remains nationally, and an even bigger, and perhaps more serious, 16-point marriage gap persists. The left still overwhelmingly wins unmarried women, a growing segment of our population.

And the left is surely picking through the wreckage, designing research plans to readjust, and make their message effective once again.

But in 2014 the War on Women narrative largely collapsed. And that is something to be applauded. [applause]

A strategy like the War on Women only works when your opponent does what you expect. But it can turn disastrous when your opponent starts to pay attention and fight back.

And progressives underestimated the liberty movement’s willingness both to fight and to engage with women.

But we did.

And I’m so proud that IWF is the thought leader on the right working to educate more women about the benefits of liberty and limited government.

IWF starts by having a presence – by providing a counterpoint to the progressive feminist message.

All issues are women’s issues, but we know that women deserve – and want – a better conversation about everything from the nanny state and sin taxes to energy exploration to intellectual property policy to workplace regulations.

Rarely a day goes by when IWF isn’t appearing somewhere to make the principled case for liberty and limited government in a reasonable tone.

This year already, IWF spokeswomen have conducted more than 600 television interviews and nearly 500 radio interviews; we’ve filed almost 300 op-eds at national outlets like USA Today and online magazines like The Federalist; and we’ve run more than 1,100 blog posts so that readers have original content and fresh ideas daily.

Sometimes IWF responds to a news story; but more often IWF helps set the agenda and drive the conversation.

Last spring IWF played a critical role in debunking “Equal Pay Day,” the fictitious holiday liberal women’s groups created to bring attention to the faux wage gap statistic.

We presented sophisticated experimental messaging research to guide leaders on how to frame and discuss the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act, without which some on our side were in danger of accepting in concept.

You all have a copy of Lean Together, IWF’s positive agenda for women and their families, which is 12 chapters, tackling everything from tax policy to the culture of alarmism, all written by women.

But here’s what’s most important:

Public opinion can be influenced greatly by elite conversation. That’s just a fancy way of saying that most people turn to others for guidance on what they should believe.

Too often conservatives get upset when the American public doesn’t automatically understand why government-run health care is a bad idea. Or why raising the minimum wage would hurt the part-time working mother it’s intended to help. Or why – as nice as it sounds – mandating paid maternity leave is a cost most businesses can’t absorb, and a policy that’s likely to keep more women from moving up the professional ladder.

Most voters don’t have clear ideologies. And not because they’re stupid as Jonathan Gruber has suggested. They simply haven’t spent hours – or years like some in this room — thinking about different policy prescriptions because they’re busy running businesses, taking care of their families, and living their lives. And that’s a good thing.

Let’s be honest: We’re the odd-man – or, woman – out.

Most people’s political opinions are based on what’s being discussed at that moment – Ideas that are “at the top of their head.”

So the perspective a voter may have heard on O’Reilly last night or overheard in the kitchen while getting her morning coffee at the office, can have a significant impact on her opinion on complicated issues like fracking or the wage gap.

That’s why IWF takes seriously the idea that we must communicate. We must engage. We must be out there on the airwaves and in people’s living rooms to be sure our message is heard.

Because too often the communication about the workplace or our culture of alarmism have been entirely one-sided, directed by liberal women’s groups, and we have witnessed huge shifts in opinion as a result.

But this is why our side remains in a precarious position with women.

When it comes to a political debate over health care, or a cultural conversation over street harassment, the left’s message that women are a victim-class in need of constant protection is still too often the leading narrative.

But as IWF’s research shows – and as the Midterms confirmed – we know that when we engage and women receive a competing argument, it’s disrupting.

Voters hearing new information begin to question their previous understanding of the issues, and are ultimately more likely to seek our more information, and to consider changing their beliefs and behavior.

And this is how IWF is helping win the battle of ideas.***

Tonight we’re feeling optimistic. Tonight we’re here to celebrate. And after a number of difficult years of feeling rather hopeless, we need to hold onto this feeling of optimism.

But we have to take seriously that this recent victory is fragile.

Now that we have the breathing room, we must take the opportunity to invest wisely, build our own arsenals of information, and take this moment to shift the conversation definitively away from Progressives.

If we do that – if we take gender differences seriously – we can ensure this moment is not another brief reprieve from a long decline, but rather a stunning turning point for our country.


Thank you all so much for being here with us tonight. Enjoy your dinner and the wonderful company that is in this room. We have a great program in store. And you’ll want to stick around for a little fun being served with dessert.

Thank you.