Don't Wave the White Flag in the Gender Wars

Charlotte Hays

4/24/2012 12:01:00 AM - Charlotte Hays

A chorus of right-thinking columnists is emerging to advise the Romney campaign that it’s time to get back to the real issues. Don’t get bogged down in these imaginary gender issues, they urge.

Do not listen to this siren song. To be sure, the “war on women,” supposedly being waged by Republicans, is a phony war. But, as historians know, phony wars can inflict real casualties. The GOP needs to win this phony war because, in a close election, the return of the gender gap, which vanished in 2010, could be a decisive factor in November.

Some of these above-it-all columnists happen to be among my usual favorites. Thus I was dismayed to read this from Ramesh Ponnuru, in his Bloomberg column:

“The RNC has been especially eager to repeat former aide Anita Dunn’s claim (which she later said was taken out of context) that although Obama himself was blameless, his White House was ‘a genuinely hostile workplace to women.’"

As one of the many bloggers who has gleefully repeated Ms. Dunn’s charge, I rise to our defense. First of all, if Dunn is right, this shows a White House with a case, albeit likely a comparatively mild one, of Teddy Kennedy Syndrome: Sufferers from this malady say all the things feminists want to hear, but don’t necessarily treat women with the utmost respect. This phenomenon is always well worth noting.

If, however, Ms. Dunn’s charge is false, as I a strongly suspect to be the case, it is even more important to repeat. It makes a point: that our feminist friends live in an imaginary world where they see slights where they don't exist. If you want to defeat their legislative agenda—the vast extension of government to counter imaginary sexual discrimination—Anita Dunn has handed you a talking point. Don’t be too good to use it.

After joining Ponnuru in mocking us Anita Dunn aficionados, the normally sage Heather Mac Donald opines at National Review Online.

“Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones.” Et tu, Heather!

Of course, I jumped right on this one, too, and defend the leap. This is a charge well worth repeating. It doesn’t just make the point that the White House, which advocates more government intrusion into setting wages in the private sector, is hypocritical. It makes a more important point: Even the White House needs flexibility to decide its own pay scale. The White House must know, deep down, that employers must be allowed to determine salaries, based on various factors, not on the abstract arguments of lawmakers and bureaucrats whose goal is gender parity.

In a way, the White House’s paying female employees less is the same kind of story as Prince Charles and Al Gore’s jetting to global warming conferences on executive jets, making larger carbon footprints in one hour than a humbler non-recycler makes in several moons. These delicious stories don’t just reveal Mr. Gore and the Prince of Wales as hypocrites.

Such reports make the larger point: What Prince Charles and Al Gore advocate is simply not workable in the modern world. Prince Charles knows he can’t take the slow wagon train to the ecology conference in Copenhagen and get there in time to release his own royal brand of hot air. He knows he has to take a jet. And in so doing, he makes our point for us: Your Royal Highness, your ideas bear little relationship to reality. In the same way, the White House makes our point that government meddling in pay scale issues won’t work in real workplaces. Of course, it is tempting to urge female employees in the Obama White House to avail themselves of the president’s beloved Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act!

The Readers Digest used to have a column headlined “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.” In politics, laughter is lethal. To win the phony gender war, we must address it and show it to be ridiculous. Hilary “Ann Romney Never Worked a Day in Her Life” Rosen helped the GOP immensely in this endeavor. But the Democrats, grasping for something in a year when their man can’t run on his record, aren’t through with the gender wars.

Mac Donald and Ponnuru are right that the Romney campaign’s thrust must be a focus on serious issues, the economy, job-creation, and our treasured liberty. But it can’t afford to wave the white flag in the gender wars, and give up the opportunity to expose liberal hypocrisy and unworkability for what it is.