Commentary Magazine


Topic: war on women

GOP Hoof-in-Mouth Outbreak Helps Dems

Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

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Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

Let’s be clear that the distortions of Huckabee’s words, just like the similar treatment afforded Limbaugh, are unfair. Neither Huckabee nor Limbaugh was seeking to oppress women or deny them any rights. Limbaugh erred by attacking Fluke personally; his correct opposition to Fluke’s disingenuous advocacy of free contraception could easily have been made in a way that didn’t insult the student. But while Huckabee avoided singling out any specific woman, his statement that without ObamaCare’s help women may be unable to control their sexual urges, he made the same mistake as Limbaugh.

That’s a shame, because the content of his speech was otherwise a laudable description of the inherent dangers of an administration policy that sees all women as the mythical “Julia” of the 2012 Obama campaign commercial whose life story could be told through the government programs, including ObamaCare, that funneled benefits to her. Rather than waging a war on women, conservatives are, as Huckabee rightly pointed out, fighting for their empowerment and against a paternalistic Democratic mindset that sees them only as victims or grateful recipients of big-government largesse.

But politics is, as Huckabee ought to know by now, a contact sport. Conservatives who have no compunction about exploiting gaffes by liberals cannot cry foul when liberals play the same game.

Conservatives have an excellent case against the ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers—including religious institutions and businesses owned by people of faith—to pay for services that offend their consciences and are directly contrary to their religion. To claim that opposition to the mandate is merely an attempt to deny women the right to seek any contraception is a lie. One needn’t share the beliefs of such individuals to understand that a government mandate of this kind is an attempt to roll back First Amendment rights of religious freedom. But when leading conservative figures use language that is open to interpretation as demonizing women who use contraception, that makes the Democrats’ case for them.

The same thing happens when conservatives who rightly oppose late-term abortions and support sensible restrictions on the procedure, which are supported by the vast majority of Americans, discuss abortion and rape in ways that are clearly offensive and allow liberals to blast them as Neanderthals who hate women.

There is no Republican war on women. Conservatives speak for the majority of Americans when they oppose ObamaCare. There is no constitutional right to free contraception and it is no offense to women to state this just as it is not an insult to women to oppose the butchery of viable infants that takes place in the name of abortion rights, as we saw in last year’s Kermit Gosnell murder trial.

But it’s no use whining about unfair liberal pundits distorting their words when conservatives themselves employ arguments that place the focus on sexuality rather than the Constitution and individual rights. That’s not evidence of a Republican war on women. It is, however, indicative of an outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease among Republicans. Far greater discipline is necessary when anyone on the right discusses this explosive issue. Off-the-cuff comments such as these can spell disaster in November, in a year when Democrats have an uphill fight against the backlash of the millions hurt by ObamaCare. Conservatives must learn from Huckabee’s self-inflicted wound and ensure that such discourse doesn’t become another epidemic of the kind that helped Democrats win in 2012.

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Can Democrats Win on Abortion in 2014? Not Necessarily.

Pro-life activists are streaming into Washington for tomorrow’s annual March for Life on the Mall marking the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Weather permitting, Republicans will be out in force to join the pro-lifers, while liberals continue to hope the issue will work in their favor this year as it did two years ago. After successfully persuading many voters that the GOP was waging a “war on women” in 2012, many Democrats believe the issue could help stave off an electoral disaster in this year’s midterm elections. As the New York Times reports, both parties traditionally look to abortion to help mobilize their bases, but for Democrats it has become a rallying cry to convince women that their freedom depends on turning out to defeat conservative Republicans.

Are they right? Given the impact that Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s ignorant comments on abortion and rape had not only on his own losing race in 2012 but on the entire GOP that year, it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that the faux war on women meme was a big winner for Democrats. The demonization of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinielli that helped him lose the women’s vote in November also points to the way liberals have manipulated abortion to their advantage. But the assumption that the Democrats can play this card again this year may be wrong. Moreover, Democrats may also be underestimating conservatives’ capacity to present the issue in a way that will help boost their turnout and diminish sympathy for candidates who march under the pro-choice banner.

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Pro-life activists are streaming into Washington for tomorrow’s annual March for Life on the Mall marking the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Weather permitting, Republicans will be out in force to join the pro-lifers, while liberals continue to hope the issue will work in their favor this year as it did two years ago. After successfully persuading many voters that the GOP was waging a “war on women” in 2012, many Democrats believe the issue could help stave off an electoral disaster in this year’s midterm elections. As the New York Times reports, both parties traditionally look to abortion to help mobilize their bases, but for Democrats it has become a rallying cry to convince women that their freedom depends on turning out to defeat conservative Republicans.

Are they right? Given the impact that Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s ignorant comments on abortion and rape had not only on his own losing race in 2012 but on the entire GOP that year, it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that the faux war on women meme was a big winner for Democrats. The demonization of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinielli that helped him lose the women’s vote in November also points to the way liberals have manipulated abortion to their advantage. But the assumption that the Democrats can play this card again this year may be wrong. Moreover, Democrats may also be underestimating conservatives’ capacity to present the issue in a way that will help boost their turnout and diminish sympathy for candidates who march under the pro-choice banner.

The electoral facts of life on abortion have always been focused on each party’s base and not the political center. It’s a litmus test for single issue voters on both ends of the spectrum. But most Americans don’t base their ballot choices solely on the issue of abortion.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority doesn’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade or to criminalize abortion. But they also demonstrate that a clear majority approves of significant restrictions on the practice, such as requiring parental consent and enacting bans on late-term procedures. The latter point is a crucial weakness for liberals because the advances in medical science, particularly sonograms, since the court ruled on Roe in 1973 make such abortions look more like infanticide than a woman exercising her “right to choose.” Last year’s gruesome Kermit Gosnell murder trial in Philadelphia opened the eyes of many Americans who had never understood exactly what late-term abortion meant or the possibility that such horrors involving the slaughter of babies born alive as a result of botched procedures might be more common than they had realized or than the liberal media had ever sought to inform them.

Thus, messaging is the key to whether the discussion of abortion can stampede voters away from Republicans or, as the GOP hopes, help boost their turnout in a year in which Democrats can no longer count on President Obama’s coattails. That’s why GOP gaffes such as the one committed by Akin are fatal to Republicans and tarnish the national image of conservatives. But the notion that Democrats can keep their stranglehold on the women’s vote ignores the way sonograms and the Gosnell case influence public opinion on late-term abortion. Though Wendy Davis vaulted to national liberal stardom last year on the strength of a filibuster against a bill that banned late-term abortions after 20 weeks—the period after which most fetuses become viable outside the womb—if the GOP can focus its candidates on this issue, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that it will work against them. Republicans also think they have another, related winning issue in the attempts to push back against the ObamaCare mandate forcing employers to pay for abortion and/or requiring the use of public funds to pay for them.

As long as Democrats can portray Republicans as troglodytes who think, as Akin did, that women’s bodies magically protect them from pregnancy in cases of rape, they are on firm ground to pursue their war on women theme. But if Republicans can manage to stay on message on late-term procedures and the impact of ObamaCare, there’s every reason to believe widespread concerns over  abortion will attract more voters to their candidates.

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How “Inevitable” Is Chris Christie?

These are heady times for supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is heading for a landslide reelection on Tuesday with polls showing his expected margin of victory ranging between 19 points and a staggering 33 percent over Democrat Barbara Buono. Thus is it no surprise that more than a few Republicans are pointing toward Christie’s impressive performance in office as well as his bipartisan electoral appeal as the party’s model for how to win in 2016. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Christie agrees with this analysis. When asked about it yesterday by NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell he responded with characteristic candor:

Asked by O’Donnell if it’s fair to say that Christie, who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender on the GOP side, is planning for a message that extends beyond New Jersey, Christie replied, “I’m not planning for it, I just think it’s inevitable.”

In the interview, which aired on “Meet the Press,” Christie added, “I think you people look at elections, and they try to discern things from them about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple of years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope they do.”

Christie is right about the significance of what he’s accomplished. While many on the right nurse grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama last year or resent his sensible rebuke of Rand Paul’s isolationism on foreign policy, his ability to govern as a conservative in a blue state illustrates that the alternative to the Tea Party activist model is one that holds out the hope of general-election victory. It’s obviously premature to anoint him as the frontrunner more than two years before the primaries and caucuses begin, but it isn’t too soon to speculate whether the arrogance Christie showed with O’Donnell is as much of an obstacle to his presidential hopes as the resentment of the right.

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These are heady times for supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is heading for a landslide reelection on Tuesday with polls showing his expected margin of victory ranging between 19 points and a staggering 33 percent over Democrat Barbara Buono. Thus is it no surprise that more than a few Republicans are pointing toward Christie’s impressive performance in office as well as his bipartisan electoral appeal as the party’s model for how to win in 2016. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Christie agrees with this analysis. When asked about it yesterday by NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell he responded with characteristic candor:

Asked by O’Donnell if it’s fair to say that Christie, who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender on the GOP side, is planning for a message that extends beyond New Jersey, Christie replied, “I’m not planning for it, I just think it’s inevitable.”

In the interview, which aired on “Meet the Press,” Christie added, “I think you people look at elections, and they try to discern things from them about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple of years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope they do.”

Christie is right about the significance of what he’s accomplished. While many on the right nurse grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama last year or resent his sensible rebuke of Rand Paul’s isolationism on foreign policy, his ability to govern as a conservative in a blue state illustrates that the alternative to the Tea Party activist model is one that holds out the hope of general-election victory. It’s obviously premature to anoint him as the frontrunner more than two years before the primaries and caucuses begin, but it isn’t too soon to speculate whether the arrogance Christie showed with O’Donnell is as much of an obstacle to his presidential hopes as the resentment of the right.

The argument against Christie’s inevitability is that he is too moderate to win the nomination of a party that has grown steadily more conservative. The notion that a union-bashing conservative like Christie is a closet-liberal stems from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in which he embraced Obama and then attacked House Republicans who held up a bill that aided the victims. Neither of those incidents will mean much in 2016, but there are issues on which the right will have a bone to pick with Christie. He is clearly out of step with those who regard immigration reform as a threat to the GOP because it will mean more Hispanic voters. And he has also outlined a position on foreign policy that will put him at odds with Rand Paul’s libertarian wing of the party.

Yet the assumption that the Tea Party will have a veto over the GOP nominee exaggerates their considerable influence. As the last two nomination fights illustrated, conservatives have great sway over the party, but there are plenty of states that are winnable for a moderate, especially if, as was the case for Mitt Romney, the bulk of the field is fighting for conservative votes. Nor should the right dismiss Christie as another Romney since his consistent pro-life stand makes him harder to paint as a blue state flip-flopper.

That said, the snippet aired on NBC may reveal the governor’s Achilles heel. The tough-guy persona is at the core of Christie’s appeal, but the brusque manner that he used to become a YouTube star may not play as well on a national stage.

After Tuesday, the rules are about to change for Christie. Up until now he’s been the darling of the press which lauded his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats and his willingness to tell off the right wing of his own party. But once he becomes the putative GOP frontrunner—albeit years in advance of a possible run for the presidency—he will become the No. 1 target of the same mainstream liberal media that has given him so much love. At that point, they will dismiss his ability to get support from minorities and start trying to make the case that the pro-life, tough-on-teachers’ unions Christie is the enemy of women.

This faux “war on women” will be just as much of a fraud as the one the Democrats and their media enablers used to such good effect last year. But they will use Christie’s manner to bolster it. Thus, the challenge for the governor may not be so much his need to convince conservatives that he is not only their best bet to beat the Democrats, but also one of them. Instead, the real danger for Christie may be the attempt to paint him as a bully who is not ready for the presidency. As the last few election cycles show, he wouldn’t be the first Republican to be felled by this tactic. Avoiding that trap may be the real obstacle to his inevitability.

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Obama Subsidizes Egyptian War on Women

The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

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The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

As the Times details, Morsi’s governing party has several bones to pick with what might otherwise be considered an anodyne resolution condemning violence against women.

According to the Brotherhood, men should not be liable to being charged with the rape of their waves or be subjected to harsh punishment if they were called to account. They also say that women should not have equal rights of inheritance or be allowed to work, travel or use contraception without their husband’s permission.

Given that the group believes women are generally at fault when they are beaten by their husbands, this is hardly a surprise.

Morsi’s official spokesperson, who is still trying to convince the Western press that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization that has no intention of subjecting the entire nation to Islamist interpretations of religious law, tried to distance the Egyptian leader from his party’s declaration. But Egyptians understand which way the wind is blowing.

That the Brotherhood would issues such a salvo against women’s rights right at the time when the regime is encountering increased resistance to its rule and with new parliamentary elections in doubt is telling. Rather than moderate their stands, they are doubling down on their effort to use their newly acquired power not just to dominate every branch of the government but to transform society in their own image.

Part of the Brotherhood’s confidence stems from their belief that there is virtually nothing they can do that would prompt President Obama to cut off the more than $2 billion in U.S. aid that the country continues to receive. The administration has bought into the idea that, as Vice President Biden claimed last week in his speech to the AIPAC conference, there is no alternative to engagement with Morsi and his crowd. But what non-Islamist Egyptians are discovering is that bolstering the regime with the hundreds of millions more in U.S. funds, such as the big check Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Cairo earlier this month, is only worsening the situation.

Unlike the Obama re-election campaign theme, the Brotherhood’s war on women is not a partisan farce aimed at demonizing opponents but a genuine wave of repression that will set back human rights in that country. That the same administration that was re-elected in part because of its pro-women policies and which trumpeted its concerns for women’s rights abroad is subsidizing a regime that oppresses women in this fashion is more than merely hypocritical. It is an indictment of a president and a State Department that have lost their moral compass.

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PA May Not Be Site of Next War on Women

The “war on women” meme was a useful tool for Democrats in 2012. It probably wouldn’t have had as much impact on the voting had not Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about rape and pregnancy encapsulated the stereotype of a misogynist GOP that liberals had labored so hard to publicize. But even without Akin, whose idiotic statement helped drag down many another Republican last fall, the Democratic effort to try to brand their opponents as hostile to women was a potent factor. Having worked once, it is no surprise they will be trying to duplicate that success in 2014, but assumptions of that sort when applied to individual state races may not always work out. Hence, Politico’s preview of next year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial contest may not hinge as much on women’s issues as readers might think.

On the surface, the race for the executive suite in Harrisburg has the potential to be a repeat of what happened in Missouri when Akin’s case of hoof-in-mouth turned liberal Claire McCaskill from a certain loser to an easily re-elected incumbent. Republican Governor Tom Corbett has not only had a rocky first two years in office but has also been credited with some particularly obtuse quotes about women seeking abortion that will be easily exploited by the Democrats. His likely opponent is Representative Allyson Schwartz who has the smarts and the ability to raise the money needed to fund a campaign that will paint the otherwise dull-as-dishwater Corbett as a Keystone State version of Akin.

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The “war on women” meme was a useful tool for Democrats in 2012. It probably wouldn’t have had as much impact on the voting had not Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about rape and pregnancy encapsulated the stereotype of a misogynist GOP that liberals had labored so hard to publicize. But even without Akin, whose idiotic statement helped drag down many another Republican last fall, the Democratic effort to try to brand their opponents as hostile to women was a potent factor. Having worked once, it is no surprise they will be trying to duplicate that success in 2014, but assumptions of that sort when applied to individual state races may not always work out. Hence, Politico’s preview of next year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial contest may not hinge as much on women’s issues as readers might think.

On the surface, the race for the executive suite in Harrisburg has the potential to be a repeat of what happened in Missouri when Akin’s case of hoof-in-mouth turned liberal Claire McCaskill from a certain loser to an easily re-elected incumbent. Republican Governor Tom Corbett has not only had a rocky first two years in office but has also been credited with some particularly obtuse quotes about women seeking abortion that will be easily exploited by the Democrats. His likely opponent is Representative Allyson Schwartz who has the smarts and the ability to raise the money needed to fund a campaign that will paint the otherwise dull-as-dishwater Corbett as a Keystone State version of Akin.

But there are two problems with this scenario that may turn the war on women routine on its head. First is the very real possibility that Corbett will not survive a primary challenge next year. The other is that the assumption that a pro-choice woman will be more than a match for a pro-life man in Pennsylvania is far from certain. Particularly when the women is not just an advocate for reproductive choice but someone who made a living at what her opponents will call an abortion mill. Under these circumstances, there’s really no telling what may happen next year in Pennsylvania.

Let’s start with the fact that Corbett, who won easily in the big Republican year of 2010, may be the most vulnerable Republican governor in the nation. Corbett is seen as a weak leader who has done little to help the state’s economy and has been blasted by both the left and the right for being part of the same old partisan establishment problem in Harrisburg rather than the solution.

However, Politico focused more on Corbett’s unfortunate comments about abortion than any of that. By itself Corbett’s support last year for a bill that would have required women to have an ultrasound before an abortion would have been enough for the Democrats to play the war on women theme. But he made it worse when he said that any women who didn’t want to look at the image of a living fetus produced by the machine could simply “close your eyes.” You don’t have to be a political genius to understand how opponents for the rest of his career will hang this around his neck.

Yet Corbett’s biggest problem is his association with the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. It took the state attorney general’s office three years to charge pedophile Jerry Sandusky in the case after allegations came to their attention. Most of that period encompasses the period when Corbett was attorney general before being elected governor. It’s far from clear that this was the result of any wrongdoing, but Pennsylvanians are so mad about the case and the impact that it had on the beloved Penn State football team and the late Joe Paterno that anyone even tangentially involved in it has become political poison. The probe of Corbett’s conduct in the case ordered by current Attorney General Katherine Kane, who is a Democrat, is a potential game changer in the governor’s race.

Though defeating an incumbent governor is a formidable task, this knowledge has penetrated Republican ranks to the extent that a primary upset of Corbett is not out of the question. The most likely candidate to oppose him is an old foe, Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor, who was narrowly beaten by Corbett in a 2004 attorney general primary. Corbett has taken full advantage of his incumbency to raise enough money from major corporate backers—including from some Democrats—to be able to outspend any opponent inside or outside his party. But if Castor can position himself as the reform/Tea Party favorite in a GOP contest, all the pundits’ assumptions about Corbett being the Akin of 2014 go out the window.

But even if Corbett does survive a bitter primary, Schwartz has her own set of vulnerabilities. Pennsylvania may be in the northeast and has not voted for a Republican for president in a generation. But outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it is a generally rural state with a strong pro-gun culture as well as a significant pro-life constituency. Democrats do best when perceived as pragmatic centrists (as was the case with former Governor Ed Rendell) and/or have pro-life and pro-gun stands (as remains the case with Senator Bob Casey Jr.).

As Politico rightly notes, social issues will cut both ways in a Corbett-Schwartz tussle. Schwartz is not well known statewide and is viewed as a stereotypical Philadelphia-area liberal even if she claims to be a moderate on fiscal issues. In 2000, she lost badly in a Senate primary to a little known Pittsburgh-area congressman largely because of her limited appeal in the rest of the state. Though her stature has grown since then, it’s not clear that has changed much.

While her background working at the Planned Parenthood-run Elizabeth Blackwell Center endears her to liberal women, it could be a liability in a general election. Though most voters are not sympathetic to extreme anti-abortion statements, what liberals in the media often forget is that abortion is still viewed with distaste even by many who would not wish to repeal Roe v. Wade. That will complicate any effort to rerun the war on women theme.

If all politics really is local, then national reporters looking to Pennsylvania as turning on a national issue like abortion may be in for a surprise. The Sandusky case may trump it and remove Tom Corbett from the equation before Democrats have the chance to fit him for the Todd Akin clown suit.

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Romney Closes Gender Gap

Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

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Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas,” Obama said in an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday. “Let me make a very simple proposition, rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me.” … 

“This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care decisions,” he told Leno, without mentioning Romney by name. “Women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors, and for politicians to want to intrude in this stuff often times without any information is a huge problem. And this is obviously a part of what’s at stake in this election.”

There’s no defense for Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comment (“even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen”), which was at best poorly-phrased and at worst stunningly insensitive. Whatever his stance on abortion or religious views, a potential senator should know better than to publicly muse that rape is just part of God’s plan.

That said, Obama’s characterization of the comment is unfair and misleading. Mourdock never suggested that rape wasn’t rape, or that it wasn’t a crime. To say Mourdock came to his position on abortion because he doesn’t believe “women are capable of making these decisions” is another straw man. Like most pro-lifers, his views are based on religious and moral convictions, not misogyny.

Will Obama’s “war on women” revival move the dial? Maybe, but Molly Ball’s report seems to indicate undecided women voters see these transparent political tactics for what they are. If a full year of this rhetoric hasn’t turned women against Romney, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s last-minute push will make a difference.

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Akin’s A Gift That Keeps Giving

In recent weeks, some conservative Republicans have revolted against the party’s mainstream consensus that held that no effort should be made to help Rep. Todd Akin’s doomed Missouri Senate candidacy. Deceived by polls that showed him within range of unpopular incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, they rallied to his side with fundraising and moral support. Their efforts were a misallocation of scarce Republican resources, but there were some who thought it possible that Akin could overcome the opprobrium that had rightly rained down on his head after his shockingly stupid and offensive comments about pregnancy and rape.

This past weekend, Akin dug himself a little deeper with comments that likened McCaskill to a dog. While not all that terrible in of themselves — most politicians have been called worse things than little dogs who play fetch — this latest gaffe ought to be a wake-up call for any conservative inclined to waste any more time on his behalf. Akin is the gift that keeps giving for Democrats, and Republicans would be well advised to follow the Romney campaign’s example and ignore the congressman’s forlorn campaign until it finally goes away of its own accord on Election Day.

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In recent weeks, some conservative Republicans have revolted against the party’s mainstream consensus that held that no effort should be made to help Rep. Todd Akin’s doomed Missouri Senate candidacy. Deceived by polls that showed him within range of unpopular incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, they rallied to his side with fundraising and moral support. Their efforts were a misallocation of scarce Republican resources, but there were some who thought it possible that Akin could overcome the opprobrium that had rightly rained down on his head after his shockingly stupid and offensive comments about pregnancy and rape.

This past weekend, Akin dug himself a little deeper with comments that likened McCaskill to a dog. While not all that terrible in of themselves — most politicians have been called worse things than little dogs who play fetch — this latest gaffe ought to be a wake-up call for any conservative inclined to waste any more time on his behalf. Akin is the gift that keeps giving for Democrats, and Republicans would be well advised to follow the Romney campaign’s example and ignore the congressman’s forlorn campaign until it finally goes away of its own accord on Election Day.

It is a tribute to McCaskill’s unpopularity that Akin remains not all that far behind in some polls. But for all of the attempts by some on the right to either rationalize what he said or to pretend that he has a chance, it’s obvious by now that the majority of Missouri voters have no intention of putting him in the Senate, even if means re-electing McCaskill.

McCaskill spent a lot of her own campaign funds on ads that helped Akin win the GOP primary over more electable opponents, and right now that investment seems like the best political money spent in any race in the country. Akin’s dog comment is also a reminder that the rape/pregnancy atrocity that he uttered was not an unusual event. He is an ongoing embarrassment who is not only responsible for single-handedly costing the Republicans a certain Senate pickup but has become the poster child for liberal efforts to brand the entire GOP as morons as part of their faux war on women theme. That even now he doesn’t understand that he needs to be on his guard against comments that denigrate women shows the depths of his cluelessness.

The sooner Akin goes away for good the better it will be for conservatism. That’s a message his bitter-end enablers should have learned by now. Just because a man is attacked by liberals doesn’t make him a victim or a hero. Sometimes a fool is just a fool, no matter what his political label might be.

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The War on Women at MSNBC

As Bethany noted earlier this afternoon, the White House’s hypocrisy about the treatment of women gives the lie to their criticisms of Mitt Romney’s “binders” comment at the presidential debate. But the administration isn’t the only liberal entity that has not been practicing what they are preaching about equal pay for equal work. During an interview broadcast today on her “Andrea Mitchell Reports” show on the MSNBC network, Mitchell admitted that men are paid more than women at the hardline liberal outlet.

While interviewing Romney advisor Barbara Comstock about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the following exchange took place:

“I mean for Lilly Ledbetter, this was not just a legal issue,” Mitchell said. “This was the fact that she was not permitted to sue for equal pay because the statute had ran out and the law said if you didn’t know the men you were working with were making more money, which many of us don’t know, we don’t have access to those confidential —

“We know here at MSNBC the guys get paid more,” Comstock jumped in, laughing. “We know that.”

“We certainly do,” Mitchell replied.

“So this is one of the places where you need to be a little bit more public with it,” Comstock said.

As, Politico reported, at the close of the interview, Comstock returned to the issue.

“You get after MSNBC here, Andrea,” Comstock said. “Make sure the women make the same here.”

“Thank you very much,” Mitchell replied.

Mitchell later issued a statement to Politico saying it was all a misunderstanding: “I was referring to the industry as a whole. This remark has been taken out of context.”

Like heck it was. This is just another illustration of how liberal concern for women is often nothing more than mere posturing. Mitchell has already compromised her integrity in this campaign by becoming just another liberal talking head, and was even outed as a shrill partisan by the Democrats when they included her misleading post-debate comment about Romney’s tax plan in an ad. But even she knows that taking potshots at Romney exposes MSNBC to criticism for its own “war on women.”

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As Bethany noted earlier this afternoon, the White House’s hypocrisy about the treatment of women gives the lie to their criticisms of Mitt Romney’s “binders” comment at the presidential debate. But the administration isn’t the only liberal entity that has not been practicing what they are preaching about equal pay for equal work. During an interview broadcast today on her “Andrea Mitchell Reports” show on the MSNBC network, Mitchell admitted that men are paid more than women at the hardline liberal outlet.

While interviewing Romney advisor Barbara Comstock about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the following exchange took place:

“I mean for Lilly Ledbetter, this was not just a legal issue,” Mitchell said. “This was the fact that she was not permitted to sue for equal pay because the statute had ran out and the law said if you didn’t know the men you were working with were making more money, which many of us don’t know, we don’t have access to those confidential —

“We know here at MSNBC the guys get paid more,” Comstock jumped in, laughing. “We know that.”

“We certainly do,” Mitchell replied.

“So this is one of the places where you need to be a little bit more public with it,” Comstock said.

As, Politico reported, at the close of the interview, Comstock returned to the issue.

“You get after MSNBC here, Andrea,” Comstock said. “Make sure the women make the same here.”

“Thank you very much,” Mitchell replied.

Mitchell later issued a statement to Politico saying it was all a misunderstanding: “I was referring to the industry as a whole. This remark has been taken out of context.”

Like heck it was. This is just another illustration of how liberal concern for women is often nothing more than mere posturing. Mitchell has already compromised her integrity in this campaign by becoming just another liberal talking head, and was even outed as a shrill partisan by the Democrats when they included her misleading post-debate comment about Romney’s tax plan in an ad. But even she knows that taking potshots at Romney exposes MSNBC to criticism for its own “war on women.”

The much-vaunted Lilly Ledbetter Act is itself an example of this hypocritical behavior. Equal pay was already the law of the land before Obama signed it. Rather than an advance for women, the Act was a lollipop for the president’s trial lawyer bundlers. It was about making it easier for them to sue companies long after the statute of limitations had expired–meaning that it was about lawyers making money, not ordinary women seeking fair employment.

Mitt Romney is being roasted for his “binders” comment even though the anecdote in which it came up demonstrated that, unlike the president, the Republican candidate means what he says about treating all persons equally. Another point that is omitted from that discussion is that Romney didn’t need to be prodded to include women in his administration after the fact since he had already chosen a female, Kerry Healy, to be his lieutenant governor.

But don’t expect liberal talking heads on networks that don’t give equal pay to women for equal work to mention that.

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War on Women is in Egypt, Not the GOP

Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

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Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

As the Times reports:

Those broader efforts at shaping a conservative religious society, played out over decades by the Brotherhood, were seen as partly responsible for helping elect Mohamed Morsi president in June. At the time, Mr. Morsi, who resigned from the Brotherhood after taking office, gave assurances that he would protect the rights of women and include them in decision-making. Less than three months into his presidency, though, Mr. Morsi has not fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a woman as a vice president. …

Many analysts and critics of the Brotherhood see that kind of philosophy, one that gives women independence so long as they maintain their traditional obligations, as effectively constraining women to established gender roles. …

Free from the restrictions of the government of Hosni Mubarak, which outlawed the Brotherhood, the movement’s social outreach programs have mushroomed since Mr. Morsi’s election. In less than a year, Family House expanded from a single office to 18 branches around Egypt and is developing a plan to encourage all couples to attend.

Though they may be moving cautiously, it should be remembered that the Brotherhood is a movement with social goals for transforming Egyptian society as well as the political system. As was the case in Iran over 30 years when the Islamic revolution stifled secularism, women’s rights will be sacrificed along with political freedom.

Though Washington has no good options in Egypt these days, the irony of the Obama administration’s embrace of an Egyptian government that is waging a real war on women while it runs for re-election accusing Republicans of the same charge should not be lost on the nation.

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Dems See Women as Objects, Not Voters

At the Democratic Convention this week in Charlotte, we’ve learned what mainstream feminism has become. What was once a movement to fight for equality for women in every sector of society has somehow turned into a parody of itself. Since the feminist movement began in the mid-1800s, feminists strove to move past the era where women were seen merely as sexual and reproductive objects. These feminists fought for women to have roles outside of their marriages and their homes, to have equal opportunities in education, the workplace and the political arena.

Cut to Charlotte in early September 2012 and these “feminists” are representing themselves solely as human beings with female reproductive organs. At the DNC this week, women are promoting the Democratic agenda by walking around the convention wearing pins that read “I’m a slut and I vote” in addition to dressing up in costume as birth control dispensers and vaginas. These female reproductive organs, devoid of any other identifying characteristics, are duty-bound to vote for Democrats in order to protect themselves from government (while simultaneously demanding governmental involvement in their reproductive choices). Democrats demand that government respect their “right” to abort or obtain birth control and at the same time demand that government also pay for these decisions. The lack of awareness at the inconsistency of this position is astonishing.

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At the Democratic Convention this week in Charlotte, we’ve learned what mainstream feminism has become. What was once a movement to fight for equality for women in every sector of society has somehow turned into a parody of itself. Since the feminist movement began in the mid-1800s, feminists strove to move past the era where women were seen merely as sexual and reproductive objects. These feminists fought for women to have roles outside of their marriages and their homes, to have equal opportunities in education, the workplace and the political arena.

Cut to Charlotte in early September 2012 and these “feminists” are representing themselves solely as human beings with female reproductive organs. At the DNC this week, women are promoting the Democratic agenda by walking around the convention wearing pins that read “I’m a slut and I vote” in addition to dressing up in costume as birth control dispensers and vaginas. These female reproductive organs, devoid of any other identifying characteristics, are duty-bound to vote for Democrats in order to protect themselves from government (while simultaneously demanding governmental involvement in their reproductive choices). Democrats demand that government respect their “right” to abort or obtain birth control and at the same time demand that government also pay for these decisions. The lack of awareness at the inconsistency of this position is astonishing.

It appears the Democratic party would like to send the feminist movement back to its earliest stages–back to when women were sexual objects. Unfortunately for these Democrats obsessed with portraying an imaginary Republican War on Women, women are not single-issue voters. American women have wallets, they are employers and employees, they were and continue to be affected by the economic crisis that has worsened under Obama’s presidency. American women are taxpayers who, like men, will be horrified to watch the national debt surpass $16 trillion as the Democratic convention gets under way. Women are parents who want to provide their children with quality health insurance, a quality education and a life better than their own. As much as Democrats might want the feminist movement to regress, it’s too late. Women won’t be voting as a bloc, mindlessly obeying leaders who call themselves feminists into the voting booth. The legacy of genuine feminism has guaranteed that.

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DNC Really Wants You to Know Women Will Speak at its Convention

The Democratic Party is fighting hard to revive that tired “war on women” meme. Today it announced its list of 10 female convention speakers, which CNN described as part of an “attempt by Team Obama to woo women away from the Republican Party”:

Nine additional Democratic women, many with ties to specific voting blocks, will address the national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention Committee said Wednesday.

The list includes Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Georgetown student Sandra Fluke; Caroline Kennedy; Lilly Ledbetter; Eva Longoria, a co-chair of the Obama campaign; former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Did you get that? Democrats want the world to know they’re going to have women speaking at their convention, which is apparently considered some sort of accomplishment in DNC-land. This may come as a shock to them, but the RNC has the same number of women slated to speak. That wasn’t widely promoted in a press release because, in 2012, Americans have become accustomed to women being involved in the political process. But kudos to the DNC for continuing that long-held tradition.

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The Democratic Party is fighting hard to revive that tired “war on women” meme. Today it announced its list of 10 female convention speakers, which CNN described as part of an “attempt by Team Obama to woo women away from the Republican Party”:

Nine additional Democratic women, many with ties to specific voting blocks, will address the national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention Committee said Wednesday.

The list includes Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Georgetown student Sandra Fluke; Caroline Kennedy; Lilly Ledbetter; Eva Longoria, a co-chair of the Obama campaign; former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Did you get that? Democrats want the world to know they’re going to have women speaking at their convention, which is apparently considered some sort of accomplishment in DNC-land. This may come as a shock to them, but the RNC has the same number of women slated to speak. That wasn’t widely promoted in a press release because, in 2012, Americans have become accustomed to women being involved in the political process. But kudos to the DNC for continuing that long-held tradition.

Note that “Georgetown student” Sandra Fluke graces the top of the list (wait, didn’t she graduate?). She’s back to playing a role in the Democratic Party’s strategy, and Jake Tapper reports that the Obama campaign has started sending out fundraising blasts in her name:

The Obama campaign will later today send out a mass e-mail to supporters from abortion rights activist Sandra Fluke criticizing the comments of embattled Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., and trying to tie them to the GOP presidential platform, ABC News has learned.

The email will be just the latest attempt by the Obama campaign to link the presumptive Republican presidential ticket to Akin, whose widely condemned (and scientifically false) remarks about rape have been disputed by both Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in addition to almost every national Republican official with a pulse.

Fluke may rally the pro-choice base, but I have a hard time believing that the vast majority of American women remember who she is or really care about what she has to say about anything.

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Romney Needs to Sister Souljah Akin

Despite pleas from leading Republicans, Rep. Todd Akin announced today that he would not step down as Republican Senate nominee in Missouri. The statement, which came on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s radio show, is very bad news for the Republican Party. As I noted earlier today, Akin’s staying in the race not only turns a likely GOP Senate pickup into a likely Democratic hold, it also places in jeopardy any chance Republicans might have of repealing ObamaCare next January. It will provide ready ammunition to the Democrats’ disingenuous attempt to convince the country that the GOP is waging a war on women.

All of which makes it imperative that Mitt Romney speak out personally on the matter. If there was ever a time for a Romney Sister Souljah moment, this is it. The Romney campaign has issued a statement disagreeing with Akin and reportedly vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan who serves with the Missourian in the House called him yesterday urging him to quit. But that is no longer enough. Romney has to come out in front of the cameras and the press and declare in no uncertain terms that Akin should end his Senate run and that he and all Republicans repudiate his views. An he must do it immediately in order to lessen the impact of the deluge of negative ads stemming from this fiasco that the Obama campaign will soon be issuing.

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Despite pleas from leading Republicans, Rep. Todd Akin announced today that he would not step down as Republican Senate nominee in Missouri. The statement, which came on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s radio show, is very bad news for the Republican Party. As I noted earlier today, Akin’s staying in the race not only turns a likely GOP Senate pickup into a likely Democratic hold, it also places in jeopardy any chance Republicans might have of repealing ObamaCare next January. It will provide ready ammunition to the Democrats’ disingenuous attempt to convince the country that the GOP is waging a war on women.

All of which makes it imperative that Mitt Romney speak out personally on the matter. If there was ever a time for a Romney Sister Souljah moment, this is it. The Romney campaign has issued a statement disagreeing with Akin and reportedly vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan who serves with the Missourian in the House called him yesterday urging him to quit. But that is no longer enough. Romney has to come out in front of the cameras and the press and declare in no uncertain terms that Akin should end his Senate run and that he and all Republicans repudiate his views. An he must do it immediately in order to lessen the impact of the deluge of negative ads stemming from this fiasco that the Obama campaign will soon be issuing.

Romney doesn’t have the power to make Akin end his now quixotic quest for a Senate seat that seems destined to ensure that a faltering Claire McCaskill will be re-elected even though most of her state wants her out. But Romney does have the standing to put the congressman in rhetorical Coventry by declaring that he personally as well as the rest of the party believe Akin has forfeited his place in national politics.

It is true that the Democrats were going to keep playing the war on women card even if Akin had never said rape victims could not get pregnant. But by saying it, Akin not only fulfilled McCaskill’s hopes that he would self-destruct. He also became the living embodiment of the cartoon version of the GOP that the Obama campaign is selling the public. Nothing short of an outright condemnation and demand that Akin step down from Romney can ameliorate the damage that is about to be done to the GOP.

Republicans are worried that a hurricane might disrupt their Tampa convention next week. But though the weather there next week is worrisome, it’s a minor consideration when compared to the disaster that is unfolding in Missouri.

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Campaign to Demonize Ryan Won’t Work

The Democratic effort to change Paul Ryan’s image from one of a choirboy intellectual to a monster threatening the rights of women is in full swing. As Politico reports, liberals are concentrating their fire not so much on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s plan to reform entitlements as on his part in the faux Republican “war on women” that they launched earlier this year. Instead of Ryan pushing granny off the cliff as part of the Mediscare smear, we’re likely to hear a lot more in the coming weeks about Ryan’s stand on abortion and efforts to depict his budget proposal as hurting women. But the question liberals need to be asking themselves today is not just if these sort of attacks will work but whether they might backfire with a crucial constituency the Democrats need desperately if President Obama is to be re-elected.

The primary obstacle to the Ryan demonization campaign is that it is difficult to whip up hatred for someone who is basically likeable. Ryan’s thought-provoking proposals are controversial because he isn’t afraid to take on hard issues and prescribe bold solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But politics is about personalities and the idea that a person like Ryan, whom has always been described even by his political foes as reasonable, cordial and respectful, can be transformed into a sinister figure is a stretch. It’s certainly not going to be accomplished by hysterical appeals from the left-wing groups or snarky columns by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd who today wrote of the GOP veep candidate as a Catholic version of arch villain Dick Cheney. The utility of this sort of cheap bile may be to rile up the liberal base. Yet the more Democrats go down this road, the danger is that they will not so much rally women to their cause as they will alienate working class Catholics, a demographic group that Democrats need to win elections.

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The Democratic effort to change Paul Ryan’s image from one of a choirboy intellectual to a monster threatening the rights of women is in full swing. As Politico reports, liberals are concentrating their fire not so much on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s plan to reform entitlements as on his part in the faux Republican “war on women” that they launched earlier this year. Instead of Ryan pushing granny off the cliff as part of the Mediscare smear, we’re likely to hear a lot more in the coming weeks about Ryan’s stand on abortion and efforts to depict his budget proposal as hurting women. But the question liberals need to be asking themselves today is not just if these sort of attacks will work but whether they might backfire with a crucial constituency the Democrats need desperately if President Obama is to be re-elected.

The primary obstacle to the Ryan demonization campaign is that it is difficult to whip up hatred for someone who is basically likeable. Ryan’s thought-provoking proposals are controversial because he isn’t afraid to take on hard issues and prescribe bold solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But politics is about personalities and the idea that a person like Ryan, whom has always been described even by his political foes as reasonable, cordial and respectful, can be transformed into a sinister figure is a stretch. It’s certainly not going to be accomplished by hysterical appeals from the left-wing groups or snarky columns by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd who today wrote of the GOP veep candidate as a Catholic version of arch villain Dick Cheney. The utility of this sort of cheap bile may be to rile up the liberal base. Yet the more Democrats go down this road, the danger is that they will not so much rally women to their cause as they will alienate working class Catholics, a demographic group that Democrats need to win elections.

Liberals always think waving the bloody shirt of the culture war works to their advantage. That’s because everyone in the circles in which they move view Americans who share Ryan’s views in the same way that candidate Barack Obama did in 2008 when he candidly dismissed them as proles “clinging to guns and their religion.” But just as President Obama is smart enough to understand that advocating restrictions on gun ownership is a political death wish in which in which the vast majority oppose such proposals, his media cheerleaders should not deceive themselves into thinking that the electorate will turn on a politician merely because he is a social conservative.

The attacks on Ryan are politically tone deaf because it is not enough to merely target a man’s views to get voters to put them down as an extremist. Those attacks must be linked to something in the candidate’s personality, demeanor or record that strikes the public as disqualifying. But in Ryan, Democrats are confronted by a person with a positive vision, intellectual depth and integrity and a nice personal touch that has been able to transcend partisan differences both in Congress and in his Wisconsin Congressional district where he has consistently won the support of Democrats and independents. Negative ads can be useful but in Ryan, Democrats may be confronting a target that is just too smart and too appealing to besmirch with impunity. Nor can they be sure that by doing so they are not hurting their party with Catholics who might otherwise be enticed to back Obama in November.

The Paul Ryan who toured Florida this week with his 78-year-old Medicare recipient mother is not one that will be so easily trashed as a threat to old people. Expecting female voters to fall in lockstep with Obama merely by screaming about abortion may be equally futile.

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Dems’ Plan B: Resurrect War on Women

So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

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So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

In case some people were left wondering whether this was just a shameless political ploy to try to turn women against the GOP, Sen. Barbara Boxer clarified it with all her usual subtlety:

“As I look at the record of Republicans on women, it is not good,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Personally I say it’s a war on women, and the more they protest it the more I say it. Because I really, truly believe it. They filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act before. They left millions of women out of the Violence Against Women Act. They launched repeated attacks on women’s health including denying affordable access to birth control. They want to criminalize a woman’s right to choose. And they tried to repeal health reform, which prohibits discrimination because of gender — not to mention, makes investments in prevention.”

The legislation obviously puts Republicans in a tricky position. While the debate about the birth control mandate earlier this spring didn’t seem to cause any lasting damage for the party, it was still a major distraction that ate up a month of time that could have been spent talking about the economy. The GOP likely has no interest in rehashing that again.

But Senate Democrats have also put themselves in an awkward position. The Washington Free Beacon reports today that Senate Democrats – including some of the female lawmakers who participated in the news conference – pay their female staffers significantly less than male staffers:

Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.

Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 35.2 percent.

That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.

That’s probably not because Sen. Murray and others are paying female staffers less for doing the same work as male staffers. It’s likely that men simply have more upper-level positions in the office, which come with higher salaries. But that hypocrisy is something these senators should have to answer to if they’re going to bash Republicans for opposing pro-women policies.

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Abortion and the Failed War on Women

Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

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Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

Partisan loyalties are a good predictor of views on abortion. Though this issue cuts across most demographic groups, 72 percent of Republicans are pro-life, while 58 percent of Democrats are pro-choice. Just as important is the fact that independents are split, with the pro-life side having a 47-41 point advantage. Yet, while an appeal to social conservative views is essential for a GOP primary and the president needs to remind his own base that he shares their values and their fears about the right, it will be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win in November by seeking to demonize those who oppose abortion.

As Gallup notes in its analysis, this has implications for related issues such as the dispute between the administration and the Catholic Church about compelling religious institutions to pay for insurance on contraception even though its use violates the church’s religious beliefs. A country where the majority sympathizes with the pro-life movement is not fertile ground for an Obama re-election campaign whose goal is to draw bright lines between the differing camps on social issues.

Of course, politicians have always tended to pander to the extremes on abortion because that is where the votes are, as only those holding to absolute views on its legality have used it as a political litmus test. But a belief that an attempt to portray Republicans as out of touch with the country on social issues seems to be a partisan trap that will do nothing to help the president win independent voters even if they do not have extreme views on abortion or contraception.

The Democrats’ ability to change the subject from ObamaCare’s assault on the religious freedom of the church to outrage about Rush Limbaugh’s insult of Sandra Fluke fooled them into thinking the war on women theme could be a game-changing election issue. But Gallup’s polling provides an explanation why in the last few weeks the president has lost ground to Mitt Romney, especially with women. The question now is whether Democrats will get the message and start crafting a more effective economic message before they dig themselves a hole the president won’t be able to crawl out of.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

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More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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Doubling Down on the War on Ann Romney

Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

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Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

Goldberg complains that the outrage about the incident was feigned. But that is no truer than the Democrats’ crocodile tears for Seamus the dog’s rooftop ride to Canada or the boy Mitt Romney may have hazed in high school 47 years ago. She also complains that many of the comments made about her gaffe on Twitter and e-mail are rude. No doubt they are, but for someone who writes on the Internet to complain about that sort of thing is pretty weak. As anyone who does this for a living knows, anything one writes, no matter how bland the topic, may provoke nasty comments.

But Goldberg’s not apologizing for a reason. What she resents about Ann Romney is her ability to undermine the Democratic theme of a fake Republican war on women. It that quality that is frustrating the left:

For the record, I don’t believe that Ann Romney is either Hitleresque or Stalinesque. Rather, I think she is a calculating political wife who once struck me as fairly likeable, but who is now determined to play up the idea that’s she’s being victimized for being a stay-at-home mom. Her op-ed was part of that effort. Unfortunately, if the messages I received on Monday are any indication, it’s an effort I might have assisted.

While I don’t think anyone ever accused Goldberg of being a brilliant political observer, trying to gin up an effort to portray a woman as generally admired as Ann Romney as a political villain is about as dumb an idea as has come down the pike in a long time.

As I wrote earlier today, polls seem to indicate that the voters aren’t buying the war on women as a substitute for a defense of President Obama’s failed economic policies. Neither is the war on Ann Romney.

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War on Women Backfiring on Obama

The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

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The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

Like last week’s Gallup poll, the CBS/Times survey also shows that the gay marriage decision is likely to cost the president some support. More voters say they are less likely to vote for the president as a result of his statement than those who say they are more likely to back him by a 22 to 14 percent margin.

Not all the results in the CBS/Times poll were unfavorable to the president. His job approval figure of 50 percent was the highest in two years other than the month Osama bin Laden was killed. And there is more optimism about the economy, with 36 percent saying they think it is getting better, a number that is also the highest in two years.

And yet despite the sense that the economy is not as bad as it has been, Obama is still losing to Romney and even losing among women, a group that has skewed heavily to the Democrats in the past two decades. What can account for this declining gender gap after a period when the president and his campaign have sought to emphasize the difference between the two parties on what they think are women’s issues?

The answer isn’t all that complicated. Though some liberals may be convinced there is a GOP war on women, most aren’t buying it any more than they believe the president’s flip-flop on gays was a principled stand. Whatever their positions on social issues, most women seem to believe that the economy and the well-being of their families is their primary concern and on that score, Obama has lost their confidence. And it’s not clear that it can be won back by ginning up fake controversies that are transparent attempts to demonize Obama’s opponents.

Even more to the point, after three and a half years in office, President Obama may have just worn out his welcome with many voters. Having made it to the White House as part of symbolic election in which all Americans could take pride in righting some great historic wrongs, there is no such rationale for his re-election. Tactics that seem to be merely a way to trick the voters into thinking ill of the GOP are falling flat. The poll may be a wake up call to the Democrats to drop their phony war on women and start concentrating on the bread and butter issue of the economy, which 62 percent of those surveyed say is the most important in the election (the second most is the federal deficit at only 11 percent) where Romney seems to have a strong advantage.

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Put an End to the War Metaphor

Several decades ago, Lyndon Johnson declared the “war on poverty.” Since then, the war metaphor has been turned on its head, with those involved in political debates insisting that their opponents are waging war on the subject de jure. In the last few weeks, for example, liberals have said that Republicans are declaring a “war on women.” Conservatives, on the other hand, have said the president and Democrats are now declaring a “war on marriage.”

The martial metaphor is inappropriate as a general matter — but particularly when real wars are being fought around the world and real servicemen and servicewomen are being killed in combat.

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Several decades ago, Lyndon Johnson declared the “war on poverty.” Since then, the war metaphor has been turned on its head, with those involved in political debates insisting that their opponents are waging war on the subject de jure. In the last few weeks, for example, liberals have said that Republicans are declaring a “war on women.” Conservatives, on the other hand, have said the president and Democrats are now declaring a “war on marriage.”

The martial metaphor is inappropriate as a general matter — but particularly when real wars are being fought around the world and real servicemen and servicewomen are being killed in combat.

So perhaps both sides will put on the shelf the war metaphor, right next to the comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany. These are examples of (at best) lazy thinking, and at worse they’re meant to libel opponents.

It’s a tired rhetorical trick and, I suspect, an ineffective one. Let’s hope it comes to an end.

 

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Romney’s Biggest Problems

The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

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The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

The so-called war on women theme was thoroughly debunked by Contentions’ Alana Goodman in the latest issue of COMMENTARY. The lesson here is not so much the charge that Romney and the Republicans are attacking women’s rights is wrong as the way the story developed. It shows how quickly a weakness for the president — the way ObamaCare was being used to discriminate against the Catholic Church violated the principle of religious freedom — morphed into a disaster for the right simply because Rush Limbaugh made an offensive quip.

The willingness of a broad consensus of mainstream media outlets to accept the liberal spin of this fake issue should concentrate the minds of both the Romney people and conservatives on their dilemma. Allegations of liberal media bias don’t win elections, but successful counter-attacks against spin offensives will make the difference between victory and defeat for the Republicans. That was demonstrated by the subsequent ability of the conservative blogosphere to turn Obama adviser Hillary Rosen’s attack on Ann Romney into a defeat for the Democrats that had them on the defensive for days.

But a perhaps an even greater problem for Romney is the one that every challenger to a sitting president must learn to live with: the power of incumbency. Being the president as opposed to just running for the presidency carries with it the capacity to make decisions or to create events that can dominate news cycles and reduce even the savviest opposition candidate to a helpless bystander. The president’s trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday is a classic illustration of how even the most hapless of administrations can command the undivided attention of the public. The event, in which the president signed an agreement with the Afghan government, was a skillful way of bringing up the bin Laden killing anniversary without the sort of foolish attacks on Romney that undermined the administration’s obsessive focus on the episode in the last week. Instances of the use of the power of the presidency like this are virtually bulletproof. Nothing Romney could say or do could diminish the impact of the president’s largely unremarkable speech. And even if there were flaws in Obama’s handling of the issue, the bin Laden anniversary helped bring home to the GOP that this wasn’t the best moment to bring them up.

Of course, along with the advantages that come with incumbency are some drawbacks. Obama can play the commander-in-chief any time he wants but along with it comes a measure of accountability. Speeches in front of the troops in a military setting are always political winners. But that also means it is impossible to blame others when things go wrong. If, as appears likely, the virtually non-existent economic recovery continues to falter as gas prices rise this summer, no amount of presidential posturing will enable the president to shift the blame for the state of the nation from his own shoulders.

A pliant and even obsequious media and the power of incumbency should be a foolproof formula for an Obama victory. But they will be of little use if Romney and the GOP persuade Americans they must cut short a failed presidency.

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