Charlotte Hays

Why do Republicans insist upon giving the Democrats more ammo for their phony “war on women” rhetoric?

The Republican male either cowers and pretends that he hasn't been attacked by binders full of women when he is accused of waging a war on women or says something outrageous. Neither course of action is productive.

Ironically, the most recent Republican, who falls in the second category, to shoot himself (and his party) in the foot did so at a GOP gathering convened especially to talk about how to--well--talk about the “war on women.”

Yes, I refer to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a man of principle and considerable charm, who nevertheless inflicted a wound on his party. That would be the party that did not need an overwrought former Southern governor speaking floridly about women’s libidos.

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America,” Huckabee said, “by making them believe they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

The Republican National Committee quickly distanced itself from the governor's remarks, but many of my fellow conservatives have defended Huckabee, who clearly wasn't saying he though women couldn't control their libidos. But I am less tolerant of Huckabee's mishap, which set us back in fighting the phony war on women. He led the news on many shows, and was reduced to defensively claiming that he is married to a “strong woman” and that “Uncle Sugar” is a term all southerners understand. I’m from down home, too, and I have a piece of advice in terms that I know Mr. Huckabee will understand: Mike, if you persist in talking like that, you’re going to be as lonely as a pine tree in a parking lot.

Mike Huckabee forgot Clausewitz's First Principle for Fighting the "War on Women:" Know thine enemy.

A portly Republican male talking about the libido is catnip to Democrats, and Huckabee should have known that. Poor innocent Huckabee, however, thought contraception has something to do with—you know—sex. In the context of the "war on women," contraception involves two forces stronger than the human sex drive: feminist ideology and the drive to win. Contraception as an issue has been golden for Democrats. Any news cycle devoted to the topic or any remark that can be contorted into a discussion about whether conservatives want to limit access to contraception (never mind that they don't) is a win for Democrats.

Democrats don't really get the vapors when the libido is mentioned. Heck, this is the same bunch of folks who embrace Beyonce as a "role model" for girls--First Lady Michelle Obama's words--and fail to see the irony if the role model and her hubby, Jay-Z, the troubadour who sings of women as "bitches" and "hos," put on a show Grammy night that had half the parents in flyover country putting their hands over their children's eyes. Beyonce was considered a perfectly suitable contributor for The Shriver Report, a 400-page feminist manifesto put out by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress. With no sense of irony, she informed us that gender equality is "a myth." But they are on constant gaffe control for slip-ups from conservatives.

Let's face it: We live in a world of double standards. Democrats can freely insult women in degrading sexist terms and it’s shooed away as a meaningless slip of the tongue. It's galling, but Huckabee shouldn't have needed a focus group to tell him that he could expect no such tolerance and every utterance would be interpreted in the least charitable light. He is to be commended for trying to take the war to the enemy. But he needs to know more about the enemy.

This brings us to Clausewitz’s Second Principle for Waging the War on Women: Conservatives should talk about contraception only in terms of religious liberty and the very real negative consequences which will follow from the Health and Human Resources Department contraception mandate. There are plenty of arguments to make. The mandate will very likely make contraception more expensive for the uninsured, and it will restrict women’s ability to customize their health insurance, (for more see this amicus brief filed by the Independent Women’s Forum). It violates the fundamental idea that the government ought not force people to violate their religious convictions. A cogent, hard-hitting, policy-oriented attack is harder for Democrats to refute. Huckabee was right not to be timid, but he would have done better if he'd stuck with facts.

Others in the GOP should take note. They cannot continue to give Democrats openings like this. Don't make the mistake of misunderstanding the stakes. We got a look at how the Democrats plan to play the “war on women” game for the midterms and beyond during President Obama’s soporific State of the Union address. The women in the president’s party looked as if they were attending a funeral until the president mentioned the phony 77-cent gender wage gap.

Women legislators, who heretofore had been spending the longest hour in American political life trying—often unsuccessfully—not to get caught on camera looking as if they were attending their best friend’s funeral, came to life. They jumped to their feet. They clapped their hands. They hugged each other. The previously glowering Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who is co-sponsoring the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, was wreathed in smiles.

I suspect a lot of the women in the House chamber Tuesday night know that the 77-cent figure, widely debunked by the Independent Women’s Forum, feminist scribe Hanna Rosin, and the U.S. Labor Department, among others, is obsolete. Who cares? Dang, that 77-cent gap sure is phony, but we love it!

Clausewitz Principle Three: Correct these misstatements but be responsive to the idea that many women are not on board with our policies--yet. It was arguably a missed chance when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger, who gave the Republican response to the SOTU, didn't set the record straight. But we'll have all too many opportunities to do this, and she accomplished something more important. She projected an optimistic, upbeat image and she made the case for Republican principles. She didn't get us a news cycle devoted to Republicans being forced to talk about what-she-really-meant-to-say.

Clausewitz Principle Four: The "war on women" is a phony war. It was concocted cynically as political strategy. Don't hesitate to say this--just don't say it quite like the Huck said it.


Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.