Full confession — sometimes I wish I were a conservative so that I could run for office. I will credit the Republicans for their tireless ability to promote women in politics. In fact, they are so enthusiastic about it that the lack of women in congress in many ways is less a sign that people won’t support women in politics than the fact that there are so few women who identify as Republican, and Democrats are much less supportive when women run for office.
So why do Republicans like women holding office so much more? It’s simple public relations — having a female politician promote legislation that is increasingly harmful to families, the poor, anti-education, anti-elderly and anti-woman makes the message softer and easier to accept. After all, it can’t be that bad, can it? There’s a woman advocating for it.
It’s a trend I noticed often in state politics here in Minnesota. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann got her start as the Republican woman who pushed every anti-choice, anti-GLBT anti-public school bill in the legislature. It was another local Republican woman who rallied for the right to conceal and carry guns in our state — after all, if a mom thinks it’s safe, who are we to argue. The Republican women were the ones sponsoring cuts to the health care system for the poor, or to try and get teachers into performance based pay while shutting down schools in the cities. If you had unpopular legislation that went against the grain of the good, socially conscious, primarily progressive voters of Minnesota, you always wanted it introduced by a woman.
This is no doubt the impetus behind the national Republican party’s new “I am a Republican woman” campaign. The GOP has asked their new female freshman to speak out on how good their policies are for the women of America, trying to combat those who are seeing that their agenda is nothing more than a war on women, especially poor women and single women. The theory appears to be that since there are women who support their agenda, that means their agenda can’t be anti-woman.
So how is that working out for them?
As Jess McIntosh at EMILY’S List explains: “I think Republicans are attempting to replicate the success that Democratic women have had in the Senate. Those ladies are among the most effective messengers we have in Congress today, and it’s quite powerful when they speak as a bloc. But one of the reasons why that was so powerful is because it was women standing up to the anti-woman policies of a party of men. That’s compelling. Women speaking on behalf of the anti-woman policies of a party of men just doesn’t deliver the same punch.”
Still, it’s not stopping them from trying. New Republican Representative Kristi Noem from South Dakota states, “The Republican agenda is indeed pro-woman. It is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-family and pro-economic growth.” And other Republican women are claiming they are pro-woman for wanting to change Medicare into a voucher program to “make it last,” that they won’t let teachers have bargaining rights because it raises taxes on families, despite the fact that most teachers are women and need economic security, too.
But if you take each argument one by one, you realize it doesn’t ring true. “Pro-business” has to be about more than tax cuts, it’s about wanting an educated workforce, one that gets paid a wage it can live on and has sick pay in order to not lose a job due to a personal or family illness. Turnover and retraining costs businesses far more than paying living wages do over the long run. Pro-business is also trying to manage and reduce health care costs, one of the greatest expenses a company faces, something Republicans are fighting tooth and nail. Republicans are more interested in seeing business owners, and especially share holders, retain their massive profits than make real economic growth that would improve the jobs climate.
And being pro-family is about more than just not letting women have abortions. It’s about allowing families to decide when to have children and how large their families should be, and giving them the means to support those children, through a healthy job market, with early education, with child care assistance, access to affordable health care and affordable college so they too can become productive members of society and raise their own families if they choose. Denying assistance to those who need it and leaving them to flounder, and denying access to affordable birth control so families can decide how to best thrive, those are not pro-family policies.