In Case You Were Wondering…

In case you were wondering whether women will save America, as Morton Marcus and I argued in our recent book, or whether the GOP has radicalized a sufficient number of female voters  to prevent a Blue Wave and block necessary reforms…

A few days ago, I wrote about the misnamed “Moms for Liberty,” and noted that the activism of rightwing women isn’t a new phenomenon. And that’s true–a “quick and dirty” list of reactionary women’s organizations  would include at least the following:

  • The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), which has  historically attracted conservative-leaning women and  supported right-wing values.
  • The National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW), which serves as a grassroots network supporting Republican Party candidates and their increasingly radical policies.
  • Concerned Women for America (CWA) is a (truly scary) conservative Christian women’s organization supporting a fundamentalist list of “traditional family values”– it  opposes  abortion, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ rights, among other positions.
  • Turning Point USA (TPUSA) isn’t an exclusively female organization, but it has a significant female following. It focuses its efforts on those “liberal” college campuses.

And of course, we now have “Moms for Liberty.”

On the other hand, there is an unmistakable and growing gender gap in American electoral politics: the Pew Research Center’s analysis of nationally validated voter data reported that, in 2020,  57% of women supported Biden, while 42% supported Trump. (I personally find it difficult to understand why any sentient American would support TFG, let alone 42% of women, but facts are facts….)

When it comes to policymakers, the differences between male and female legislators are pretty stark. On the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, the Guardian ran an article–with pictures!–of all state-level legislators who had voted to ban or dramatically restrict abortion, and as the headline pointed out, they were “mostly men.”

To be precise, there were 1292 Republican men, 214 Republican women, 53 Democratic men, 11 Democratic women, and 2 independents.

Those numbers do reflect a considerable gender gap, but one that–I would argue–doesn’t reflect some inherent aspect of gender identity so much as individual experience. If American males had lived under a government that controlled what they could do with their bodies, while allowing women to control theirs, the gap would probably be reversed.

As I have repeatedly argued, Americans aren’t arguing about whether or not an individual woman should be able to abort a fetus. The issue is far more fundamental: What should be the limits of government authority over individual citizens?

“Moms for Liberty” is such a ridiculous title because giving government at any level–school boards or state legislatures or federal agencies–the authority to tell parents what their children can read or learn is the antithesis of liberty.

Giving government the power to force women to give birth, handing over to government the power to overrule the medical judgments of doctors and the considered decisions of parents, allowing government to overrule businesses’ decisions about diversity and  inclusion–handing such broad authority to government is the opposite of liberty.

Our government was founded on the libertarian principle that people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives–their goals, their beliefs, their telos–so long as the individual is not harming the person or property of someone else, and so long as they are respecting the equal rights of others.

We can certainly argue about the nature of the harms that justify government interference, but that principle precludes defining “religious liberty” as the privileging of  (selected) Christian beliefs. It precludes imposing the policy preferences of legislators on businesses that are otherwise behaving lawfully. It precludes empowering some parents to dictate to others what their children may read or what medical interventions are appropriate. It absolutely precludes forcing women to give birth.

Actual liberty demands a lot of people–first and foremost, the ability to live in a society where people who don’t always agree with you have the same right to personal autonomy that you do.

Women and men who understand the fundamental nature of the MAGA assault on liberty will vote Blue in 2024.


Men, Women And Politics

What was that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars? Recent polling data suggests that tongue-in-cheek title may reflect real differences. (And no, I don’t mean “differences” in the “viva la difference!” sense.)

Thomas Edsall’s columns in the New York Times are always heavily indebted to academic research. In a recent one, he considered what research tells us about the political gender gap. Here’s his lede:

In one of the most revealing studies in recent years, a 2016 survey of 137,456 full-time, first-year students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States, the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute found “the largest-ever gender gap in terms of political leanings: 41.1 percent of women, an all-time high, identified themselves as liberal or far left, compared to 28.9 percent of men.”

While there is a lot of research confirming the existence of that gender gap, a problem with surveys of this sort becomes apparent from Edsall’s description of another poll. This one asked the following  question: “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a diverse and inclusive society or protecting free speech rights.”

Male students preferred protecting free speech over an inclusive and diverse society by a decisive 61 to 39. Female students took the opposite position, favoring an inclusive, diverse society over free speech by 64 to 35.

There are all kinds of things wrong with this question, not least the absence of a third option that would allow respondents to indicate they found these values to be equally important. But the biggest problem with using this framing to demonstrate that men and women are politically different is what we know about levels of civic literacy.

I am absolutely confident that few of those surveyed really understand how communications are protected by  the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, and against whom.

And that brings me to a persistent gripe I have about Americans’ love of labeling opinions “left” and “right” based on questions of this sort. Not only have the definitions of liberal and conservative changed rather markedly over the past decades (I have the same basic political philosophy that made people label me “very conservative” in 1980, and now I am routinely identified as liberal/pinko/socialist), but a number of policy preferences don’t neatly fall into a black and white, liberal/conservative framework.

I will concede that–at this time– there is a significant political gender gap, and it seems to be growing. Differences in party identification have been evident since the early 1980s, and as Edsall says, we can now see that “the political engagement of women is having a major impact on the social order.”

When Edsall asked a couple of scholars to be more specific about the nature of that impact, most responded that most women are less violent and warlike than most men.

“We find that the evidence is consistent with the view that the increasing enfranchisement of women, not merely the rise of democracy itself, is the cause of the democratic peace.”

Put another way, “the divergent preferences of the sexes translate into a pacifying effect when women’s influence on national politics grows” and “suffrage plays a direct and important role in generating more peaceful interstate relations by altering the political calculus of democratic leaders.”…

There are broad value differences between men and women. Women score higher on values defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations.

The column highlighted gender differences with respect to the use of force–differences in how the sexes approach conflict and competition, and how, as more women have entered the political realm, the lived experience of those women has contributed to what scholars term “the feminization” of government and politics.

I don’t want to quibble with the scholarship displayed in this column, which is sound, but permit me a  caveat.

As with all studies and polls, these conclusions are  at best snapshots–accurate (assuming that they are) at a particular point in time. As women enter more fully into national life, including political life, we tend to get more like the men with whom we interact.( I’ve run across some pretty belligerent/warlike women…)

And of course, this goes for the men, too, who benefit significantly from interacting with us. (I don’t like the term “feminize”–sounds wimpy. How about “humanize”?)

I don’t think women are necessarily more “liberal.” I think our life experiences may have made at least some of us a bit more human--and I think we’re making you guys a bit more human too.

And unfortunately, there’s probably not much of a gap when it comes to the ability to accurately describe the operation of the Free Speech Clause…


Fifty-One Percent

In a recent New York Times column, Gail Collins observed “the thing that makes our current politics particularly awful isn’t procedural. It’s that the Republican Party has become over-the-top extreme.”

She left out “mean-spirited and patriarchal.”

I was an active Republican for 35 years, but the party I belonged to no longer exists. There is no more striking evidence of that fact than the poisonous brew of policies that have been collectively dubbed the “war on women.”

The party I belonged to made at least some room for good-faith disagreements about abortion. Today’s GOP not only uses opposition to reproductive rights as an absolute litmus test, it proposes to deny thousands of poor women access to basic health services provided by Planned Parenthood, because that organization spends 3% of its own money on abortions.

Sorry you’re dying of breast cancer, sister, but hey—we’re “pro-life.”

Recently, the extremists have ventured well beyond attacks on reproductive choice. The recent fight over access to contraception was a wake-up call. The fact that Rick Santorum has been taken seriously as a Presidential candidate by a major political party, despite criticizing both birth control and women who work outside the home, is simply chilling.

It’s not just the unremitting attack on women’s right to control our own bodies.  A larger message is that women and children (at least those no longer in utero) are simply unimportant.

In Washington, the GOP defends subsidies for big oil while it proposes deep cuts to social programs that primarily serve women and children.

Speaking of sending a message: in several states, Republicans have championed deeply offensive bills requiring women to submit to demeaning trans-vaginal ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy, and they have proposed “personhood” amendments that would redefine most widely used birth control methods as abortion, and outlaw their use.

These and literally hundreds of other efforts—silly and serious—convey a breathtaking condescension to those who comprise 51% of the voting population. That condescension was perfectly captured by Rush Limbaugh—he of the “if you want birth control you’re a slut” rant—when he dismissed the idea of a war on women by protesting that Republican men simply want to “protect” us.

When I first went to law school in 1971, I encountered this sort of patronizing, belittling attitude everywhere. But I have news for today’s smug lawmakers: women are no longer willing to smile sweetly and seethe internally.

Pundits talk a lot about the gender gap. It is going to grow.

Here in Indiana, a group of Democratic women did some electoral research, and discovered that over 400,000 Hoosier women who had voted in the 2008 Democratic primary failed to vote in 2010. Had they done so, a number of results would have changed.

There is always a fall-off in voting in non-Presidential years, and a significant number of those women will probably return to the polls in 2012, but this group isn’t taking that for granted. They have formed a “51% Club,” with the express purpose of making sure women vote in May and November. The 51% Club held its first event last week.

I go to lots of fundraisers, but I have rarely been to one as well attended as this one. There are a lot of angry women—and men—right now.

Gail Collins was right. “You can try to fix that [GOP extremism] by working from within to groom a more sensible pack of future candidates, or from without by voting against the Republicans’ nominees until they agree to shape up.”

Those are the choices. A lot of us have made ours.