President Barack Obama was in Colorado on Wednesday trying to solidify his lead among women, appearing at rallies with Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who made headlines when Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” (for which he later apologized, in some people’s view because of advertiser pressure) after she testified in favor of insurance coverage of contraceptives.
It was a speech I could’ve written. As a matter of fact, it was a speech I did write, over and over again, in mostly unsuccessful campaigns. I used to joke that when a candidate is giving speeches about what the Supreme Court will look like, you know he’s in trouble.
Obama is not in anything like the trouble my candidates were in back in the days when I was in charge of “women’s issues.” But I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see all these stories about him addressing “women’s issues” in order to get the “women’s vote.”
Does it mean that every other day he is addressing “men’s issues”?
Have you ever read a campaign story about men’s day? Maybe when a candidate visits a firing range or goes hunting or is photographed, as Romney has been in the past, in full hunting regalia? I’m not sure.
If someone had told me back in the 1980s, when this was my turf, that candidates would be giving the same speech in 2012, I would not have believed it. Then again, if someone had told me that women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had yet to break the 5 percent barrier, I wouldn’t have believed that either.
Are we still fighting about abortion?
Could we really be fighting about contraception?
And are these the issues that will drive women’s votes?
The answers, sadly, are yes. If you don’t think so, wait till you compare the two parties’ platforms or, better yet, watch the committees in action. Lee Atwater’s vision of a “big tent” in the Republican Party that would not be divided by the choice issue seems even more remote now than it did a couple of decades ago.
If you look at the polls, it is certainly true that more women want to control their bodies themselves than to give that control to government and the courts. And yet, states keep passing laws making it more difficult for women to do so, and lawsuits keep getting brought, and judges keep making decisions that should not be theirs to make. It saddens me how many decades of my life I have spent litigating and advocating and writing about abortion, long after the time when it was an issue in my life.
Even so, at the end of the day, when women enter the voting booth, I think what they want is pretty close to what men want: jobs, an economy that will support themselves and their children, real security.
I think the gender gap between the parties may have as much to do with the fact that women tend to be closer to the bottom of the economic ladder, that there are so many single mothers trying to support kids on their own, so many elderly women alone and worrying about the future, so many working women who still are not earning enough to make ends meet.
And by the way, there are also plenty of men out there who think personal decisions belong to the person and not to the government, men with mothers and wives and daughters whose lives and futures, hardships and all, they care about as much as their own.
So maybe sometime, in my daughter’s and son’s lifetimes if not my own, we can move beyond “women’s issues” as distinct from just issues — and “women’s days” on the campaign trail as opposed to just calling it “Wednesday.”
— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.