No, Obama and the Democrats aren’t unfairly ganging up on the honest and direct and generally faultless Republicans. It’s just when your opponents hand you an issue, you go with it. If the opposing pitcher throws you what he thinks is a nasty curveball, but it doesn’t break and floats rather slowly right down the middle of the plate, well, you’d be a fool not to hit it out of the park. And this is like that. The Republicans may think they’re not waging a war on women – all the talk about defunding Planned Parenthood and the evils of birth control, when it used to be just about the evils of abortion, is really all about religious freedom and getting the government off our backs, and all about what is good and right and proper. That was the nasty pitch, and Obama was going to be frozen at the plate and not even swing, struck out and embarrassed. But that curveball didn’t break, and Obama hammered it.
Of course stuff like this doesn’t help:
In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed the “war on women” meme as a concoction of Democrats and their sympathizers in the news media.
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlets talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus said.
And the Democrats pounced:
President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, issued a statement contending that the RNC chairman’s “comparison of Republican attempts to limit women’s access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception to a ‘war on caterpillars’ shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health.”
And the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore had this to say:
Priebus’ remarks are an illustration of how completely Republicans have tied themselves into knots on cultural issues. To hear him today, GOPers never, ever talk about anything but the economy and the fiscal situation. Not two months ago, of course, they were tripping over each other to scream about the administration’s contraception coverage mandate as a central campaign issue – nay, a veritable “war on religion.” Did we all just imagine that, or were all the militant words somehow an invention of Democrats or the MSM? And are all the continuing Republican efforts at the state level to restrict abortion rights and harass women – er, excuse me, caterpillars – with hoops they must jump through to exercise those rights somehow a fiction?
This was pretty pathetic:
What’s really going on, of course, is that Republicans want to divide up the electorate and offer different messages to different segments of voters. If you are, say, a Catholic Democrat or independent who leans left on economic issues but is ambivalent about abortion and/or defensive towards the prerogatives of your church, then by God this election is about the “war on religion.” But if the close association of the GOP with theocrats gives you the willies, then all this culture-talk is an invention of the Democrat Party and the MSM, because Republicans never, ever think about anything but jobs, jobs, jobs, budget, budget, budget, and freedom, freedom, freedom.
There’s nothing particularly novel about utilizing targeted and sometimes conflicting messages to different audiences, but it would be nice if GOPers stopped squealing like little piggies every time they get called on it, and projecting their dishonesty onto everyone else. Maybe the reaction of “caterpillars” to Priebus’ fable will teach them a valuable lesson.
And then things got worse for the Republicans, as, on Thursday, Obama weighed in on whether women should be admitted as members to the all-male Augusta National Country Club. Yes, it’s time again for the Masters tournament. And this year a woman, Virginia Rometty, is the chief executive of IBM, the longstanding sponsor of the tournament, and all previous IBM chief executives have been admitted to Augusta – but not her. So Obama was tossed another softball, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president’s “personal opinion is that women should be admitted.” And then, in a subtle reminder of Daryl Issa’s all-male panel on why employers should not have to offer health insurance policies that cover contraception to their female employees, Carney twisted the knife, adding that Obama thinks “it’s long past the time when women should be excluded from anything.”
That trapped the Republican presidential candidates, as they sort of had to agree with him on something:
“I’m not a member of Augusta. I don’t know that I would qualify – my golf game is not that good – but certainly if I were a member and if I could run Augusta of course I’d have women in Augusta,” Romney said while campaigning in Pennsylvania.
And former House speaker Newt Gingrich declared via Twitter that he would like to see his wife admitted. “I think Callista would be a great member #Augusta – maybe she would let me come and play,” he tweeted.
But, really, there no war on women at all:
“I find it offensive that the Democratic National Committee is using a term like that to describe policy differences,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “It’s not only bad, but it’s downright pathetic they would use a term like ‘war’ when there are millions of Americans who actually have engaged in a real war. To use a term like that borders on unpatriotic.”
But they were the ones who invented Obama’s War on Religion, out of thin air. And Johnson had his War on Poverty and Reagan his War on Drugs, and each year it’s Bill O’Reilly’s reports on the War on Christmas, which no one has yet noticed. There’s always a war on something. But Sean Spicer had to say something.
And Romney remained in full spin-mode:
Asked about the latest polling on Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor said, “My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”
Ann Romney, along with the wives of two of her husband’s rivals, Callista Gingrich and Karen Santorum, will headline a luncheon next week with women of the National Rifle Association.
Perhaps the idea is that women care about guns more than anything, but whatever they care about, Mitt is sure his wife will tell him about it. He promises to take notes.
And on the other side of things:
Obama, meanwhile, is losing few opportunities to show his feminist side. On Monday, he raved to CBS Sports about his love of coaching his daughter Sasha’s youth basketball team.
During halftime of the NCAA men’s college basketball championship game, Obama told analyst Clark Kellogg that he gets more joy out of that than he felt when he played.
And he is working this:
Last month, the Obama campaign sent mailers promoting the administration’s achievements for women to hundreds of thousands of female voters in swing states.
And it’s all in the details:
In a background briefing on the conference for reporters, administration officials said the budget plan passed by the Republican House would disproportionately harm women with its proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The argument goes that because women generally live longer than men, they rely more on those programs. And in his stump speeches, Obama often notes that the first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, gave women greater leeway in filing suit to receive equal pay for equal work.
Well, all those things are all true, although the Republicans say it’s really not fair to point out such things, or something. This hardly seems a fair fight, or to return to baseball, Obama’s been hitting .400 or so in the Majors, and now he’s facing ten-year-old Pee Wee League pitchers. And Joan Walsh summarizes the damage done to Romney:
The latest Gallup poll shows how bad things have gotten for the former Massachusetts moderate. He now trails President Obama in 12 swing states, largely because of the defection of independent women. Female independents now back Obama 51 to 37 percent – and that’s a 19-point swing just since the end of 2011, when they preferred Romney.
And there’s this:
Only two in 10 independent women polled by Gallup even knew Romney’s stance on contraception. Those who did disagreed with Romney 2-1. More independent women – four in 10 – knew about Obama’s contraception position, and they were divided about evenly. Still, 60 percent didn’t know either candidate’s stance. That suggests contraception matters, but it’s not the only thing driving independent women away from Romney and the GOP. But that’s not good news for Republicans, either.
But she notes it’s their own damned fault:
Democrats didn’t make the GOP presidential field back “personhood” laws that would criminalize some forms of birth control. They didn’t force the newly elected House GOP to make defunding Planned Parenthood their first legislative goal. And they didn’t propose the Blunt Amendment that would have allowed employers to withhold health insurance coverage not only for contraception, but for any treatment they disapproved of – or make every Republican senator vote for it, except the outgoing Olympia Snowe.
And when you’re handed an issue, you go with it, which explains Good Friday at the White House:
President Obama delivered a personal appeal Friday to female supporters about his commitment to advancing issues that matter to them, declaring that the national political debate over women has been “oversimplified.”
Speaking at a White House conference on women and the economy, Obama defended his administration’s record on fighting for equal pay for women and health care coverage for contraception and mammograms.
And he drew a contrast with Republican approaches to women’s issues, emphasizing calls by some in the GOP, including presidential nomination front-runner Mitt Romney, to end funding for Planned Parenthood.
He kept hammering them, and then, oddly, said the whole War on Women thing was stupid, and putting it that way had done a disservice to women:
“Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn’t be treated that way,” Obama said to a crowd of mostly women in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
And they cheered, at the idea this is bigger than political pissing contests – this is real life. But that only made the Republicans look worse – as petty isn’t pretty, as they say.
But there was a response:
The president’s rivals fought back Friday, with Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day ripping Obama over new jobs report figures that showed the economy adding 121,000 new jobs in March, well below the 200,000 that analysts had predicted.
“Across America, women are feeling the pain of the weak economy – in the job market and at the kitchen table,” Day said in a statement. “President Obama and his fellow Democrats love to say they stand for women, but women can no longer stand the Obama economy. Women deserve better, and in November we will hold him accountable.”
Well, at least, unlike her co-chair, Reince Priebus, she didn’t mention caterpillars. It takes a man to do that. And Obama didn’t talk about caterpillars either:
In his remarks, Obama recited his personal history to show how closely his views are shaped by women, noting that he was raised by a single mother who struggled financially, and that he is married to a successful lawyer and is raising two young daughters.
“As a father, one of my highlights is asking my daughters about their days,” Obama said. “They drive me when I step into the Oval Office. Every decision I make is so that all our daughters and all our sons grow up in a country that gives them a chance to do anything they set their mind to.”
Do the Republicans want to argue against any of that? What can they say? He shouldn’t think about his kids’ future, no one should do that sort of thing? Well, they’ve been throwing him junk pitches. Why not hit one out of the park?
But this was just cruel:
He also took a swipe at Capitol Hill, noting that fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.
“Is it possible Congress would get more done if more women were in Congress?” Obama asked. “I think it’s fair to say that is almost guaranteed.”
Yes, this was pandering. But what’s the counterargument? That it’s man’s work and women are lousy at it? Consider the effectiveness of the last two House speakers – Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Which more effectively managed the factions in their own party and got things done? Case closed. And Obama was having fun.
But there are some caveats here. The National Journal’s Ron Brownstein looked more closely at all that polling data and noticed that the shift to Obama was coming from a specific subset of the female population, college-educated white women. And Brownstein sees them as a special case:
They are consistently the portion of the white electorate that shows the most receptivity to activist government and also tend toward the most liberal positions on social issues, from abortion to gay rights to the availability of contraception.
And Steve Kornacki considers that:
In other words, the contraception debate (and, probably, the national controversy over Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law) is probably at the heart of Romney’s – and the GOP’s – gender problem. The hopeful spin from Republicans is that it will go away once Romney is clear of the GOP primaries and the national conversation is again focused on the economy. It may turn out that there’s something to this.
But it’s also possible the gender gap could get worse for the GOP. For that to happen, the party would have to do something to turn off blue-collar, non-college-educated white women – “waitress moms,” as Brownstein refers to them. Right now, these women seem largely unmoved by the contraception debate, and by Democratic efforts to paint the GOP as culturally extreme. But what if there were an issue that ties gender and the economic interests of waitress moms together?
And Greg Sargent note that just happened with the news that Scott Walker has quietly overturned Wisconsin’s equal pay law:
Walker has signed a measure repealing the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which is designed to deter employers from discriminating against workers by giving them an easier way to challenge discrimination in the courts.
Business groups support repeal on behalf of “job creators,” but Dems have denounced the move, claiming it will badly limit women’s access to a remedy against unfair pay and will “turn back the clock on women’s rights in the workplace.”
This could loom large in the battle to recall Walker – injecting women’s issues into that contest – but it may also have repercussions in the presidential race.
No, really. Sargent reached out to the White House and got a response:
Obama campaign spokesperson Liz Smith sends over a statement calling on Romney to take a position on repeal of this law:
“As he campaigned across Wisconsin, Mitt Romney repeatedly praised Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, calling him a ‘hero’ and ‘a man of courage’. But with his signing yesterday of a bill make it harder for women to enforce in court their right to equal pay, Walker showed how far Republicans are willing to go to undermine not only women’s health care, but also their economic security. Does Romney think women should have ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers? Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?”
Damn. This is the last thing Mitt needed now, as Sargent notes Romney thought he had done the right thing:
Romney has fully embraced Walker and his agenda in recent days, proclaiming him a “hero” and vowing to campaign for him in his recall election. That alone ensures that Walker’s agenda will figure in the presidential race, since Romney’s support for it could be a factor in the battle over Wisconsin, a state that Republicans may need to take back from Obama to get to 270.
But there’s more:
The Romney campaign has rolled out Ann Romney to argue in multiple forums that the battle over contraception and cultural issues won’t hurt Mitt, because women mostly care about jobs and kitchen table concerns. But here is a gender issue that’s an economic issue, and if Romney takes the wrong side of it, Ann Romney’s argument won’t work in this case.
So everyone knows what’s coming:
Because of all this – and because Obama officials hope repeal of the Wisconsin law will resonate among women nationally – you can expect the Obama camp to press Romney hard to take a position on this one.
And Steve Kornacki adds this:
Romney will have to choose between spitting in the face of a conservative icon and causing himself immense intraparty grief, or giving Obama an opening with waitress moms.
Notably, the last Democratic president to win reelection did so on the strength of a gender gap comparable to the one measured in the new swing state poll. In the 1996 election, Clinton managed to extend his appeal to blue-collar women with a stream of relatively noncontroversial initiatives – school uniforms, the V-chip, an end to “drive-through” child deliveries – that showed waitress moms that he was mindful of their concerns.
In 2008, Obama won 41 percent of the white working-class women’s vote – a good showing for a Democrat these days. But he was more popular overall back then and the national playing field was tilted decidedly in his favor. Winning back the blue-collar women he’s lost (and winning over new ones) is one of Obama’s general election challenges.
But Ed Kilgore sees no problem, as the counterargument is absurd:
Don’t Democrats understand that repealing pay equality laws has nothing to do with women per se, but is instead a relief measure designed to help job creators do their noble work without the extra wage costs or red tape involved in having to comply with bureaucratic anti-discrimination rules?
As Ann Romney, the GOP candidate’s wife, has taken to saying – “Do you know what women care about? Women care about jobs. Women care about the economy.” Surely they understand that accepting lower wages than men is a necessary sacrifice to make sure they still have some sort of job, right?
No, you don’t want to argue that, and Joan Walsh adds perspective:
President Obama, meanwhile, was hosting a White House summit on women and the economy Thursday. Predictably, Republicans howled that the president is merely courting another “interest group” and playing politics. There was no doubt some politics at play during the summit; at one point participants chanted, “Four more years!”
But really, when Republicans are repealing equal pay laws and proposing federal budgets that disproportionately hurt women, as well as restricting funding for contraception, who is playing politics with women’s issues?
And her take on the news from Wisconsin:
When GOP poster boy Scott Walker is repealing equal-pay protections for women, why shouldn’t Obama remind us that he signed the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act? Since the Ryan budget repeals “Obamacare” and slashes Medicaid and Medicare – both of which disproportionately serve women – is it unfair to talk about how the Affordable Care Act provides cost-free contraception, preventive care like mammograms and Pap smears, and outlaws charging women more for insurance?
Yes, it’s an election year, so everything the president does will be scrutinized for its political agenda. That’s fine. But I continue to find it hilarious that Republicans insist that their troubles with women are the fault of nasty Democrats.
Her final assessment:
Mitt Romney and the GOP just don’t get it. Everything about the way they’re approaching these issues is backfiring.
Well, yes, but think of it like baseball. When you’re facing a good hitter, who seems to be on a hot streak – and your fastball has lost its zip, and your curveball won’t curve and your slider won’t slide, and you don’t have a sneaky slow change-up as there nothing to change from – you just walk the guy. But then the manager comes out and pats you on the butt and sends you to the showers. In politics that’s what voters do.