Republican candidate Thom Tillis is trailing Sen. Kay Hagan in the North Carolina Senate race—a race Republicans desperately need to win to take control of Congress. The latest Rasmussen poll among likely voters shows Hagan leading Tillis 45 to 39 percent. This is a reversal from a month ago, when Tillis led by five points. An American Insights poll shows Hagan up by nine points and leading among men, women, and Independents.
Hagan’s lead broadened after her debate with Tillis, in which she hit him hard for his opposition to abortion and Obamacare’s free contraception mandate, dismissing his new advocacy for over-the-counter birth control pills as “politicking.”
A total of 69 percent of Republicans saw Tillis as the winner of that debate, while 83 percent of Democrats considered Hagan the victor. Significantly, 55 percent of Independents gave Hagan the win, compared with 36 percent for Tillis.
According to Rasmussen, “Hagan, who was elected to the Senate in 2008 with 53% of the vote, has long been considered one of this year’s most vulnerable incumbents, in large part because of her support of Obamacare which remains unpopular in North Carolina. But she has made the so-called ‘war on women’ a centerpiece of her campaign, hammering Tillis for state budget cutbacks in the women’s health area and his opposition to the contraceptive mandate in the health care law.”
The War on Women Counter to Obamacare Self-Destruction
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. We’ve been here before. The “war on women” strategy proved effective in the 2012 presidential election and the Virginia governor’s race, in which Ken Cuccinelli lost to Terry McAuliffe, as predicted, after a firestorm of ads highlighting women’s issues hit the airways. After the Cuccinelli loss and as Republicans were getting excited about the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, I wrote an article in November 2013, arguing the Left would turn Obamacare into a women’s issue and perpetuate the “war on women.” Allow me to excerpt myself at length.
Republicans believe they have a winning message with Obamacare. The rollout has been a disaster, and people are waking up to see that they’re actually going to have to pay for the ‘Affordable’ Healthcare Act. The Obamacare debacle even had an impact on the Virginia race, as McAuliffe saw his lead among women shrink in the days leading up to the election. The truth about Obamacare was winning the day, leading many Republicans to believe that they can win if they just stick with this message….Except for one thing: The Democrats already have a plan in place and they’re going to neutralize the GOP Obamacare advantage among women by convincing them that Obamacare itself is a ‘woman’s issue.’ The war on women will not be lessened by the healthcare act; it will be intensified and even strengthened. The GOP’s greatest advantage could become its greatest weakness.
Liberal culture warriors are already on the move: Stephen Colbert—the news guru for many young women in America—mocked Fox News this week for being “outraged” that under Obamacare ‘women are equal to men.’…The Los Angeles Times and other media are already exposing how heartless conservatives are for not wanting women to have maternity coverage…. Liberal activist groups are already in motion. A campaign called #GetCovered is being promoted by organizations hell-bent to convince women that no matter the costs or failings of Obamacare, it’s worth it because it’s about protecting women’s health and their rights.
After the rollout, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted, “Being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition.”
This will be repeated from now until election day 2016. And it will resonate. It will resonate because women will become convinced that Republicans who want to delay, defund, repeal, or fix Obamacare want to take away their reproductive health coverage—nasty Republicans want women back in the kitchen, barefoot, pregnant, and uninsured.
…This is it. This is the narrative. It’s about women’s rights. The GOP wants to take those rights away. It’s the ‘old debate’ and it’s ongoing (the left will never let it go as long as it’s working). Under the ‘old system,’ women were taken advantage of by men. Under Obamacare, women are protected and given equality. And conservatives are angry about it!
Conservatives are the enemy, ladies, and don’t you forget it. The problems with Obamacare—the higher prices, limited choices, lower quality of care—pale in comparison to angry conservatives wanting to take away your equality and your rights. Don’t let them. Vote for Democrats. #GetCovered.
Why Birth Control Trumps Everything
Democrats have been busy like little bees concocting a way to turn Obamacare against the Republicans, and they’re succeeding in North Carolina. Everyone thought Hagan’s “stand by your man” devotion to Obamacare would be a noose. After all, she parroted, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” But when you set “women’s rights” up against keeping your doctor—well, for a lot of women, that’s a no-brainer. Women’s issues trump worries about who your doctor is most every time—especially among single women, who say “fighting social issues with economic issues just doesn’t work. . . . While women care about pocketbook issues, they don’t want to elect an extremist.” Single women often equate anyone who’s against abortion and free birth control as an “extremist.”
Why is that? How is someone who’s against just the “free” part of free birth control suddenly “an extremist”? Why are women so prone to abandon common sense—and, more importantly, personal liberty, the great American value of freedom—for a trumped-up women’s issue like free contraception?
It’s not because they’re seduced by sexualized messaging, as some would say. It’s much deeper and more dignified than that. Abortion and birth control are inextricably bound to the ideals of independence and equality in the minds of women, particularly single women. If they see abortion and birth control messaging in any other light (that’s it’s just about manipulation and politics or sex), then the war on women doesn’t work and they find it distasteful, as Karl Rove pointed out recently. The problem is that the Left pushes the war on women narrative in terms or fairness, equality, and justice: “Don’t let men put you back in the kitchen!” If women are afraid—even slightly—that this is true, then they will turn on those who are against abortion and free birth control in a heartbeat.
Valuing Equality More than Freedom
That’s because American women currently tend to value justice and fairness (as they perceive it) over everything else; they value equality even over freedom—something Alexis De Tocqueville observed about people in general in “Democracy in America.”
Tocqueville wrote that while people have an “instinctive taste” for freedom, there is a hunger born of a “depraved taste for equality” that relentlessly drives them: “[T]hey dash toward freedom with a rapid impulse and sudden efforts, and if they miss the goal they resign themselves; but nothing can satisfy them without equality, and they would sooner consent to perish than to lose it.”
Women have had their minds drenched in feminist dogma for years. They’ve been taught from the time they were old enough to watch a Disney movie that men have disenfranchised them, and they’re not treated fairly. What they deserve—what is their right—is equality and justice. And they would rather perish than lose it.
Of course, the desire for equality (in particular, equality under the law) is perfectly legitimate and should inflame such passions in the hearts of men and women. But many issues have been presented as being about “equality” when they really aren’t. What they’re really about is promoting feminist power through the centralized state—not equality of opportunity in the classic legal sense, as first-wave feminists understood it.
The Left has painted women’s social issues—free birth control and abortion—as about equality and justice. Contraception allows women to be free from children to pursue their dreams as men do. Abortion is the same. Therefore, free birth control and abortion trump all else because they are about equality—just as de Tocqueville observed. If you want to see people fly into a rage, put them into a situation in which they think they’re being treated unfairly. We see this with children who don’t get the exact same amount of ice cream as others. “He has more! It’s just not fair!” The anger is palatable. Loss of freedom, especially when it is slow, doesn’t incite the same passion—not until freedom has been lost altogether, and then it is too late.
America, the Feminized
Celinda Lake, in her book “What Women Really Want,” observes that what women want is equality, to have America finally reflect their image instead of a man’s. (Of course, this sounds like a step beyond equality, but domination is not the overt messaging that has soaked the feminine psyche in America—equality is.)
Lake writes that, for the past 85 years, America has become “women-centric.” It’s happened “almost stealthily,” and it’s affecting the voting habits of women, especially single women, across the country.
As a not-so-silent majority of women—from seniors to boomers to Generations X and Y—confront the singular challenge of recasting the nation in their image, they are shaking the culture to its core,” Lake wrote. “Some grew weary of pounding at the seemingly immovable fortress of the male norm. Some gave the male norm the heave-ho altogether. As pollsters and analysts, we’ve noticed the shifting patterns in family and work practices, lifestyle choices, and voting trends for many years. But when we probed more deeply, we discovered a fundamental new reality that statistics alone couldn’t measure. Women from all walks of life and political persuasions are saying, in effect, that they no longer define issues in accordance with male standards. Women have become the norm, and they want an America that better reflects their image.
In an article I wrote relating Lake’s findings to the war on women strategy, it’s not a surprise that Mitt Romney’s emphasis on the economy (which is about freedom, prosperity, and doing what you want) didn’t work with women. They were fixated on issues that “have to do with them.” This is evident in two interviews from before the 2012 presidential election. One is with a woman who supported Republicans in 2004 and 2008 when she was married. But in 2012, she was divorced, struggling financially, and conflicted about whether to vote for Romney or Obama:
Marisa Hannum is an abortion opponent, worried about her finances and concerned for friends who can’t find jobs. She’s dumbfounded that anyone is questioning birth control access in 2012. And she has only a glimmer of an idea of how she’ll vote in November.
‘Now I am a little bit better informed. But I am really on the fence,’ says Hannum, 30, an assistant restaurant manager.
For Hannum, the economy and social issues vie for primacy on her political priority list. She’s the only woman on a three-manager team at an upscale Italian restaurant in Reston. She has a red Volkswagen Jetta and bills that she alone is responsible for. She worries that gas has risen above $3.99 a gallon in Northern Virginia, and says she could not afford any kind of pay freeze or cut. ‘I can barely afford life as it is now,’ she says.
Start Talking About Me
To appeal to this woman and others like her, Romney’s campaign highlighted his business experience and his plan to restore economic growth so women could have more money. What do you think was her response to that message? It’s disappointing and a source of frustration for many:
‘I’m reading about a man who’s accomplished a lot,’ she said. But she noted that his statement did not mention women, health care or birth control. ‘If you’re trying to win me, put something in there that has to do with me.’ (emphasis added)
Then, after listening to Republicans and Democrats on issues like birth control and gay marriage, Hannum became more definitive: “‘Because of how I feel about some of the social issues, at this point, I would definitely vote Democratic over the Republicans,’ says Hannum, though she left open the possibility that she could be swayed.”
An article in the New York Times just after the presidential election observed that, in an election focused on the economy, single women like Hannum present a complicated case:
They already earn less than married people and single men, and they have not fared well during the Obama administration. They have had a harder time than married women paying rent, getting medical care and finding jobs. While the jobless rate for married women has stayed relatively low, at 5.6 percent compared with 2.6 percent before the recession, the rate for unmarried women has risen to 11 percent, from a prerecession level of 6 percent.
Still, polling and focus groups show that single women are reluctant to blame Mr. Obama for their economic woes and tend to approve of a greater role for government in crises. Their reliance on programs like welfare, food stamps and Medicaid has grown significantly since 2007. In 2010, 55 percent of their households got some form of assistance, not counting school lunches, compared with 18 percent of married women’s households.
According to Lake, one of the problems Republicans have is presenting their message. It doesn’t reflect the single woman’s image; she doesn’t see herself in the message. “How many campaigns start out with an ad that shows a happily married candidate, perfect kids, and talk about the marriage tax credit?” Lake asked. “And you wonder why single women don’t turn out to vote.”
Women Are Worried
Opinion research shows single women are not as interested in issues that have no immediate relevance to their daily lives, such as corporate tax rates or the federal debt. Tabitha Farr, 32, divorced mother of two whose income as a waitress has fallen dramatically since the recession, agreed. “Deficit?” she said. “No. I think about, ‘Can I pay for my child care this week?’”
You would think financial worries like this would motivate women like Farr to vote for the party most capable of creating greater job opportunities for them. But this isn’t always the case, because many single women don’t believe either party can create a better financial environment for them. As one woman said, when it comes to lack of money and the hope that politicians can make a difference, “We just have to deal with it.”
Democrats have capitalized on this pessimism—as well as women’s driving desire for fairness, for equality as they see it. If single women think neither party can do anything for them when it comes to jobs and paying for child care, then the only thing government can do is secure their rights to free birth control and abortion. It’s all women have left—and it is most important to them. It’s the image they see of themselves in the political landscape. And it secures their votes.
This view is borne out by statements like those from Diane Jackson, 61, a former financial planner who is looking for work: “I don’t think a new president will do much to help the economy. But I do see Obama at least protecting us from a radical takeover on social issues.”
What to Do
So, what is the solution to the GOP’s women problem, and can anything be done before the November election? Obviously, addressing the large-scale influence of feminist thought that advances feminist power and its concurrent statist agenda by putting birth control and abortion through the grid of “equality” and “social justice” will take time. It will involve more than just political tactics. It will require conservatives and libertarians fully engaging the culture war that radical feminism has dominated for decades.
At the grassroots level, individuals need to confront feminist propaganda with the truth. Conservatives need to have courage (and bravely stand up to charges of sexism) and fervently oppose the lies and half-truths that hide statist agendas in the wrappings of equality. Free birth control will not bring women the equality they think it promises. Quite the contrary, because when government is centralized, women will have neither equality nor freedom. If women want to be empowered, they need to be self-sufficient and free from the control of men and the state—that means less government, not more.
Conservatives also need to rebuild trust with women. This can most effectively happen on a personal, nonpolitical level in our day-to-day lives. We, as fellow students, coworkers, and family members, need to help women deal with real struggles they face in the modern, feminized world. We need to show we care as individuals—so they can begin to think as individuals, and not always look to the state for answers. We need to stand for strong conservative principles in politics as we live out those principles compassionately in our daily lives. This will promote localism—which is so integral to a return to Constitutional governance.
If women want justice, they need to have a voice in the public square, not just to ensure their access to free birth control and abortion, but to secure educational freedom for their children by ridding states of Common Core and expanding school choice; they need to secure their rights to protect themselves by advocating their right to bear arms; and they need to be free to create more opportunities by starting businesses, which can happen only when lawmakers reduce government regulation.
Most importantly, conservative principles of smaller government, where women can have a voice in the local sphere and be active in caring for themselves and others; sanctity of life, which promotes the dignity of women; faith in the individual, not the collective; peace through strength, promoting the security women are very much concerned about; the importance of family; rights to our own property; and personal responsibility—candidates and conservative citizens need to promote these with passion and confidence.
Conservatives don’t need to run from what they believe in the face of the war on women. They need to embrace it, be proud of it, and communicate it to women in a sympathetic way women will understand—in terms or real equality, real justice, and real happiness.