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Sun., Oct. 7, 2012

Jamie Tobias Neely: Women vote their own truth

Women watching the presidential debate Wednesday night heard their truth obliterated in a confetti stream of dubious statistics and false claims.

The debate featured only a few rare moments when one of the candidates made a statement that echoed the lives we actually lead.

One of those moments came early, when Mitt Romney pledged to go after that hapless, doe-eyed bird that we remember fondly for having entertained our children as we dashed around the house tackling overflowing to-do lists.

Another came when President Barack Obama described his grandmother, who, like our own, relied on Social Security and Medicare to help support her during retirement.

And then came the moment when Romney described his preference for buying his own private health insurance plan, which sounded rather like a benign desire to be the one to visit Rosauers’ seafood counter to select the family’s evening salmon.

It seemed reasonable, but it was not. I checked. Replacing our employer-sponsored health insurance plans with similar coverage would cost my husband and me roughly the same as our monthly mortgage payment.

Few women I know could imagine cavalierly absorbing that cost, and more than a few have taken certain jobs or stayed in others largely because the cost of private health coverage was exorbitant.

Of course, women are not a monolithic voting bloc. We vote with both our heads and our hearts. If women have anything in common, it may be an instinct for valuing social and community connections. We may be less likely to thrill to the inherent competition of capitalism, or to entirely trust it.

For some women, a deep dedication to a particular church, community or ethnic group trumps all other concerns. A conservative set of values ties their religious life to their politics.

Others recognize their commitment to the prosperity of businesses. The politics of these women mirrors what they believe best for certain organizations and the families they support.

Yet the majority, if the polls are accurate, is primarily guided by the truth of the lives they lead. For one thing, they know women and children are more likely to face poverty.

Here in Spokane County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33.6 percent of families headed by single mothers in 2009 lived in poverty. Only 4.7 percent of married families did.

Nationally, a gender analysis of new Census Bureau poverty figures by the National Women’s Law Center show that 19.2 million women in the U.S. lacked health insurance in 2011.

Across the country, middle-class and wealthy women have streamed to the progressive side. James Carville, the Democratic strategist, was quoted in Politico recently. He described the Democrats losing the lower-middle class, Southern white male vote.

“We lost Bubba a long time ago; he’s done,” Carville told Politico. “But what we didn’t realize at the time is that we picked up all the post-college white women by the same amount. You walk into any grad school class today, the women are all our voters.”

Most of the women I know are too busy to research every claim and counterclaim the candidates sling. According to, there were many in Wednesday’s debate.

These women are weary of politics and have developed finely tuned malarkey detectors. The “take-back-America (to-the-1950s)” nostalgia makes the hair on the backs of our necks stand. We have few illusions about women’s options during the “Mad Men” era.

We remember times when Planned Parenthood came to a friend’s rescue when no one else would, we have absolutely no concept of an “illegitimate rape,” and we want to live a world where bright young female law students are honored, not mocked, for bravely expressing their opinions.

Women’s truth includes children, parents, siblings and friends who rely on a wide range of government support to maintain middle-class lives. We’re surrounded by people we love who have benefited from Pell grants and free birth control, Social Security and Medicare, veterans’ benefits and interest deductions for home mortgages.

We know that all of those government programs, and quite a few more, are vitally important in the lives of American families.

It’s no surprise that the president, in a recent Pew Research Center poll, held a 56 percent to 37 percent lead among women registered to vote.

And so, if on Election Day the majority of women’s votes reflect their care for others, they’ll be honoring their own truth. Their perspective can’t be denied, even in a presidential-level flurry of misleading numbers.

As Peter Viereck, an emeritus history professor at Mount Holyoke College, once said, “Reality is that which, when you don’t believe it, doesn’t go away.”


Jamie Tobias Neely, a former associate editor at The Spokesman-Review, is an assistant professor of journalism at Eastern Washington University. Her email address is

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