The art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters. People turn out to vote when they think they’ve got it straight – who stands for what and why. That’s never all that clear, because one news story crowds out another, one right after the other, hour after hour, day after day, and it’s easy to lose the thread of what you were thinking about this politician or that, and what you think of the political party that has decided that particular person is really hot stuff. Nothing stays hot very long, or at least no politician does. Fourteen months ago Marco Rubio was the Republican Savior – and now he’s not. His comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate, and the House wouldn’t even look at it. Send the damned wetbacks back where they came from, because America should be for Real Americans. Rubio had listened to the business wing of the party, which wants cheap labor that’s legal for a change, and to the party establishment, worried sick that no one even vaguely Hispanic, or who had Hispanic friends, or who even liked tacos and salsa, would ever vote for a Republican again – but the Tea Party folks in the House didn’t care. They decided that Rubio wasn’t one of them after all and instead decided to love Ted Cruz for leading the party in last year’s government shutdown to force the end of Obamacare, or who at least dragged the party kicking and screaming into that. That shutdown accomplished nothing and made them all look like fools, so now they love Rand Paul, the libertarian who thinks government itself, as a concept, is stupid – except he’s not big on military intervention at the slightest perceived disrespect for America, a baseline requirement for the base, so maybe Paul Ryan will save the party, except he’s a boring numbers guy, with a new budget they neither like nor understand, but certainly doesn’t cut enough spending, and what it does cut it cuts too gradually. He won’t do, and Chris Christie could end up in jail, or end up with everyone in America wondering why he isn’t in jail – and Mike Huckabee is a goofball. It’s hard to get a fix on the Republican Party.
Maybe they want it that way, because it’s best to obfuscate a few clear trends. People will follow the intraparty disputes and miss the big picture, that the so-called Republican War on Women wasn’t really a few assholes here and there saying stupid things about legitimate rape and how those lady-parts really work. In the first go-round over the Obamacare contraception mandate, Rush Limbaugh was on-air day after day calling Sandra Fluke a slut – because any woman who uses birth control pills is a slut, and especially one who advocated for it, and the government shouldn’t pay for slut-pills. But that was Rush. The party itself insisted that it was talking about religious freedom, the freedom employers should have to ignore that part of the law and not participate in what they think God told them about the moral evil of sexual activity not related to procreation. The courts will sort that out, although many women weren’t happy with being told that their severely pious employer, who thought he got God’s word just right, and no one else did, could deny them a federally guaranteed benefit – and it’s even worse that the Supreme Court will probably rule that a corporation, an abstract entity formed for business purposes, can be severely pious too, because corporations are people too, so they can have sincere religious beliefs, which should be respected. That all this will be decided by old white men didn’t go unnoticed. The original hearings on this matter, called by the Republicans, excluded women from the discussions, by design – this wasn’t about women, this was about religious freedom, and that was none of their damned business. Women noticed. Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by a wide margin. This wasn’t going to help matters.
Mike Huckabee tried to fix this – “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.” You see, women who support the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate “cannot control their libidos” – or Democrats assume that, but good women can, and the party respects good women who have the self-respect to not give into any sort of sexual urges ever, unless absolutely necessary, to generate babies. The party is actually empowering women to be pure and proud, or something.
No one knew what to make of that, but the assumption seems to be that women hate everything that has to do with sex, or at least good women do, so if women slip up and have sexual urges now and then, they should be ashamed of them, and the Republican Party will be there to help them out, by making sure no slut-pills are available to them, empowering them, obviously.
Yes, this seems absurd, and condescending. That’s not the way to win the women’s vote, and now it seems to be Chris Christie’s turn:
The 360-page report released Thursday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s legal team that examines the George Washington Bridge lane closures in Fort Lee, N.J. is getting backlash because of its depiction of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, as an overwhelmed, possibly scorned woman who was nonetheless so devious that she, alone, masterminded the scandal that has rocked the governor’s office.
Hey, her boyfriend dumped her and it was probably that time of the month, so she lost it and did stupid spiteful things. Women are like that. All men know that. Case closed, other than the implication that women really should not be in the workplace, or at least not in positions where they have any authority. They’re not rational. They can be dangerous. Chris Christie knows that the men of New Jersey, and all of America, will understand. There was backlash from the flighty silly little women of course, but women are like that.
Taking that position might be political suicide – women finally did get the right to vote after all – but there’s a pattern here:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Tuesday responded to former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, who claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair’s investigation into the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program was “emotional” and not necessarily “objective.”
Feinstein said Hayden’s remarks were “nonsense” and “stereotypical,” according to The Hill. She said that Hayden’s reaction to her criticisms of the CIA was “an old male fallback position.”
“And there is no question that there are a lot of people out there – I suspect one of them is former CIA Director Hayden – that does not want that report to come out,” she said on MSNBC, as recorded by The Hill. “So one of the things you do is you try to blur the reputation of someone connected to the report.”
Michael Hayden was only doing what Chris Christie did, point out that women are kind of useless in the real life of getting things done and getting them done right, but that position has its costs:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday blasted Hayden for his comments about Feinstein.
“For this man to say that because she criticizes tactics led by General Hayden, that was torture, she’s being too emotional. I don’t think so. Does this sound like a person or a party that respects women?” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Well, duh! There is a pattern here, and if the art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters, this was that day:
President Obama on Tuesday signed two executive measures intended to help close longstanding pay disparities between men and women as Democrats seek to capitalize on their gender-gap advantage at the ballot box in a midterm election year.
Mr. Obama, standing in front of a platform of women in a picture-ready ceremony in the East Room of the White House, said his actions would make it easier for women to learn whether they had been cheated by employers. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would take more significant steps.
“America deserves equal pay for equal work,” he said. Noting that it was “Equal Pay Day,” he said a woman who worked in 2013 had to work this far into 2014 to catch up to what a man earned by the end of last year.
“That’s not fair,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s like adding another six miles to a marathon.” He added: “America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody.”
Why not invent something called Equal Pay Day? It’s a way to clarify matters, and to let the other side dig in deeper:
“We all support equal pay for equal work and know there’s a problem that must be addressed,” said Kirsten Kukowski, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee. “But many are questioning the Democrats’ motives as they continue their dishonesty about the issue and their own gender gap.”
The Senate is set to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday, and a memo distributed by the Republican National Committee and two other party committees ahead of the vote noted that it was already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. It said Democrats “always seem to wait for an election year to push another empty promise.”
The committees released statistics showing pay gaps in the office staffs of several Democrats up for re-election this year, including Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Mr. Obama responded to the critics. “Some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn’t even exist,” he said. “They say it’s a myth. But it’s not a myth. It’s math.”
The president lambasted Republicans for opposing “any efforts to even the playing field for working families.” He added: “I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men and then deny that that’s not always happening out there. If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that in fact they do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow.”
It was game-on, to clarify matters, and Obama made the first move, a minor move, staged precisely:
The executive order he signed bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries and an executive memorandum he issued instructs the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from such contractors.
But the White House staged a ceremony with the sort of profile usually reserved for a major bill signing. Aides arranged for Mr. Obama to be introduced by Lilly M. Ledbetter, who has become a symbol of the pay gap issue since the Supreme Court ruled that her discrimination case had been filed after the expiration of a statute of limitations. Congress passed a measure named for her changing the deadlines for filing such suits and Mr. Obama made it the first bill he signed after taking office.
Ms. Ledbetter said the executive order signed by Mr. Obama would have made a difference in her case. “I didn’t know I was being paid unfairly and I had no way to find out. I was told in no uncertain terms that Goodyear, then and still a government contractor, fired employees who shared their salary information. It was against company policy.”
Salon’s Joan Walsh notes the countermoves:
Fox News may be the funniest, insisting there’s no such thing as pay inequity – except at the White House, where an American Enterprise Institute study found women still earning less than men. From the Heritage Foundation comes this wisdom: “Equal pay and minimum wage: Two ways to hurt women in the workplace.” No really, that’s the headline. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called the pay gap “nonsense,” while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called it “bogus.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called equal pay “the left’s latest bizarre obsession” and accused Harry Reid of “blowing a few kisses” to advocates.
Walsh has links to all that, should you want to drill down and see the details, but the general idea is clear. There is no pay gap. There are laws about equal pay already, so Obama is playing games with everyone. At least no one was arguing that demanding equal pay for equal work was simply unladylike, and that most women really don’t want to be paid as much as men, because if they’re honest with themselves they really do know that they’re moody and flighty and kind of useless, which is quite charming and something they’d rather not throw away. Well, no Republicans made that argument. They aren’t THAT dumb, but Walsh notes that they are in trouble:
Pay inequity means that women lose an average of more than $400,000 in wages over the course of their lifetimes. The infamous “77 cents on the dollar” figure approximates the overall difference between men and women, and conservatives like to claim it compares apples and oranges: Female teachers to male congressmen, for instance. The truth is, multiple studies by the American Association of University Women and others show that the gap exists across all professions and all education levels. In some fields, it’s wider, in some it’s smaller, but it’s omnipresent. And it’s much worse for African-American and Latino women, who make 62 and 54 percent of white men’s wages, respectively. (Asian American women suffer the smallest wage gap, earning 87 percent.)
Democrats believe they can ride those issues to victory in 2014, despite a tough climate for vulnerable incumbents and the propensity of its base to turn out for presidential elections but skip the midterms. One key will be turning out unmarried women, who have become one of the party’s most reliable constituencies after African-Americans. A recent survey by Democracy Corps shows that unmarried women are less likely to vote in 2014 than in 2012 – but that a strong women’s economic agenda could send many more of them to the polls.
Obama knew it was time to clarify matters, and link things up:
Pay equity plus equal health insurance are the policies that score highest among unmarried women voters in the Democracy Corps poll. Right behind are proposals for paid family leave and affordable access to childcare. Democracy Corps found those issues had the capacity to significantly increase the turnout of unmarried women in 2014. Once they were read a list of women’s economic agenda policies favored by Democrats, the percent saying they were “almost certain” to vote in the midterm jumped from 66 to 83 percent.
And although those zany Heritage Foundation scholars last week told Republicans that the secret to solving their problems with unmarried women was to get more of them married, Democracy Corps found that unmarried women were skeptical of GOP policies to encourage marriage. Two-thirds favored greater emphasis on policies that enable work-family balance, to help women and children rise out of poverty, as opposed to 24 percent who backed policies that encouraged marriage.
That’s why President Obama signed two executive orders to narrow the wage gap.
Good policy that continues and extends the process where everyone is treated more fairly is also good politics. Doing good is a good idea:
The Democracy Corps poll also makes clear what many Democrats have suspected: Women like the fact that the Affordable Care Act prevents insurance companies from charging them more than men. Rep. Paul Ryan, who insists the GOP will still push to repeal Obamacare, is handing Democrats another weapon, the poll found.
There was one other interesting finding in the Democracy Corps survey: Unmarried women are very concerned about preserving Medicare and Social Security. That led pollsters to advise Democrats to include those issues in their women’s economic agenda. It makes sense: Women live longer, and are more economically insecure at every stage of life. Unmarried women in particular rely on Social Security and Medicare in old age. It’s just another reason centrist Dems should avoid the lure of the “grand bargain” that ensnared the president and his allies for years.
That may be a bit much to tackle on the one day devoted to the issue of equal pay. To clarify things, Obama said it’s time to close the pay gap, and the Republican shot back saying there’s no such thing, and Walsh sees their folly:
Earlier this year, a CNN poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe Republicans don’t understand women. That increased to 64 percent among women over 50, who represent a pillar of the GOP base. So smart, aggressive messaging on women’s economic issues could not only help Democrats turn out their base, but conceivably cut into the GOP’s. Republicans are unlikely to help their cause with a strategy that essentially calls women who worry about pay inequity “liars.”
That’s what Chris Christie called Bridget Kelly, and that was a bad move.
On the other hand, Margaret Carlson at Bloomberg View says women can’t afford to celebrate what Obama signed on Equal Pay Day:
Would a guy tell a girl his salary around the water cooler? It’s more likely he’ll overshare details of his sex life. Men don’t think information lifts all boats even if they’re not necessarily going to be paid less if women are paid more.
Why take a chance? In that way, men are in cahoots with management: They share a fear that fairness will cost them. There’s going to have to be a law, and there’s one being voted on in the Senate this week, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which expands the president’s executive orders beyond federal contractors to cover all employers.
As with great health care and so many other goodies, Congress already enjoys paycheck fairness. Because salary information is public there, Senator Dianne Feinstein doesn’t have to look at male colleagues to her left and right and wonder if they’re making more. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for unfairness.
But lawmakers are unlikely to spread the joy. Congress has killed the Paycheck Fairness Act twice, and probably will do so again.
Yes, but Republicans have just lost the presidency, twice, and probably will do so again. The art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters, which just happened. Republicans had nowhere to hide. Shouting BENGHAZI ain’t gonna cut it now. Some attempts at clarification work better than others. All you need is something indisputable to work with, something that half of all registered voters actually care about.
How can the Republicans respond if the data on the pay gap show that it is real, as seems to be the case? Ah! Women don’t really WANT equal pay for equal work because they know they’re overly emotional and moody little fluffs and just not worth it, and they don’t want contraception coverage in their health plan either, because they know their boss or the corporation they work for has spoken with God about such matters and they haven’t – and they know that they do have sexual urges now and then, which shame them, deeply. Maybe they shouldn’t even be allowed to vote.
Okay, try selling that. The only other option is to stop the other guy from clarifying things. It’s always best to obfuscate clear trends that get you in trouble with the voters, when you can, for as long as you can. And then you run out of time. That just happened.