Whether there’s a War on Women being waged by politicians around the country is open to debate. There is definitely a War over the War On Women, and Washington has a top commander on both sides of the battle lines.
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Field marshal for the Democrats is Sen. Patty Murray, who has been using the phrase "War on Women" for months, often in fund-raising appeals for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In simple military terms, the committee’s strategy is to elect as many Democrats to the Senate as possible; its tactic, raise as much money as quickly as possible. Its favorite cruise missile is an e-mail appealing for immediate contributions to prevent an imipending disaster of apocalyptic dimensions.
Remember that no political party, business PAC or environmental organization ever raises money by saying things are a wee bit off kilter, and could a few folks please send a little money, if they can spare it, so we can nudge things back on track. You wouldn’t get bus fare to the unemployment line with a pitch like that.
They warn that Absolute Disaster will occur in the Next Election unless You and Only You agree to Send Money. By Midnight.
In floor speeches, press releases and letters to other elected folks, Murray has consistently criticized various Republican initiatives or statements to restrict access to contraception, block reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or eliminate Planned Parenthood as clear signs the GOP is waging a WOW. She is, in every sense, fully locked and loaded for this fight.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers became the new brigadier general in the field last week, assigned to turn the tide for the Republicans. Trying to switch to offense from defense, she wrote a guest column for a conservative news website, took to the microphone at the House GOP leadership press conference and went on the Chris Matthews Show to declare there is no Republican WOW. It’s a big Democratic myth, she said, designed to camouflage the fact that the economy is bad, gas prices are high and President Obama’s ratings with women are low.
House Republicans, she said, are concentrating on things women really care about, the economy and the budget.
As the highest-ranking person in House GOP leadership without a Y chromosome, and often the only person in a dress standing behind Speaker John Boehner at press conferences, McMorris Rodgers is the obvious person to be assigned this counterattack. She was armed with polling that shows women think religiously affiliated institutions should be able to opt out of government mandates to provide contraceptives, which runs counter to the Obama administration’s policy.
To wage this WOWOW, Murray would seem to have the better strategic position. First of all, polls can be interpreted to say almost anything you want, and if one poll doesn’t suit you strategy, you find another that does. Second, some Republicans keep saying things that give the other side ammunition, and make McMorris Rodgers’ position vulnerable to a flanking maneuver.
For example, Idaho legislators spent time last week considering a bill to require invasive ultrasounds before a woman has an abortion. When the issue of exceptions for rape came up, one senator – guess the gender here -- said a doctor should ascertain whether the pregnancy might be the result of normal marital relations rather than the rape.
Asked about such comments, McMorris Rodgers shot back that in Washington, Democrats were pushing a social agenda from the other side, passing same-sex marriage legislation and trying to expand coverage for abortion. The contraception debate is really about allowing religious institutions and employers with deep religious convictions to opt out of coverage to which they object, she said.
She’s got a defensible position when stating that most women aren’t single-issue voters. But Republicans seem open to easy counter-attack by mentioning only contraception or abortion on the conscience clause. If it’s really about religious freedom, why not demand that Jehovah’s Witness employers can refuse coverage for blood transfusions, or Christian Science employers cover only practitioners rather than doctors? Such exceptions should be allowed under federal law, too, she acknowledged.
The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget may shift the battlefield from contraception and abortion to taxes and Medicare. If so, McMorris Rodgers could get a campaign ribbon for a small battle that gave House Republicans some breathing room until the troops get redeployed.
Winning that battle, however, is not winning the war. Or even the war over the war.