Commentary Magazine


Topic: women

Lift the Combat Ban, Keep the Standards

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, on his way out the door, to lift the ban on women serving in combat units has engendered much consternation among traditionalists both in and out of uniform. On a recent visit to Quantico, the base near Washington where Marine Corps University is located, I got an earful from combat veterans who fretted that standards would be lowered to allow women to serve in combat units. The concern is especially acute when it comes to infantry units, because infantrymen have a particularly arduous and important specialty, one that has long accounted for the majority of casualties suffered in America’s wars. I supported Panetta’s decision to lift the ban but I have to acknowledge that the concerns are valid. How they are addressed will determine whether lifting the ban is a success or not.

A New York Times reporter who was allowed to observe the Infantry Officer School at Quantico found out why two recent female candidates washed out—and why future female candidates are likely to face steep barriers. Literally. As James Dao notes: “It all begins with the Combat Endurance Test, a slog through rolling forests that requires physical strength, endurance, military knowledge and willpower. Students must swim, assemble weapons from jumbled parts, navigate from point to point and carry weight over distances.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, on his way out the door, to lift the ban on women serving in combat units has engendered much consternation among traditionalists both in and out of uniform. On a recent visit to Quantico, the base near Washington where Marine Corps University is located, I got an earful from combat veterans who fretted that standards would be lowered to allow women to serve in combat units. The concern is especially acute when it comes to infantry units, because infantrymen have a particularly arduous and important specialty, one that has long accounted for the majority of casualties suffered in America’s wars. I supported Panetta’s decision to lift the ban but I have to acknowledge that the concerns are valid. How they are addressed will determine whether lifting the ban is a success or not.

A New York Times reporter who was allowed to observe the Infantry Officer School at Quantico found out why two recent female candidates washed out—and why future female candidates are likely to face steep barriers. Literally. As James Dao notes: “It all begins with the Combat Endurance Test, a slog through rolling forests that requires physical strength, endurance, military knowledge and willpower. Students must swim, assemble weapons from jumbled parts, navigate from point to point and carry weight over distances.

The endurance test is no anachronistic remnant of a sexist culture—it is the closest approximation possible in training conditions of the kind of stress and challenges that infantry marines will encounter in battle. Those who cannot pass the test in training should not be allowed to lead marines in battle: lowering the standards endangers lives on the battlefield.

Lifting the ban on women in combat makes sense only if it does not result in a distortion of the hard standards that combat soldiers must pass. If women can make the grade, by all means let them in—but the standard must be the same for men and women because the battlefield does not discriminate based on gender. The odds are that, if standards are maintained, few if any women will be able to qualify for the infantry—but they will still be able to serve on the battlefield, as they do today, in a variety of billets from military police to intelligence to pilots.

The fact that Chuck Hagel has served in battle as an enlisted man gives him perspective unique for a secretary of defense in making the crucial decision about whether to redefine the standards or not. If he maintains current standards, he can still offer opportunities to women without endangering the combat performance of the armed forces. But if he knuckles under to pressure to change the standards, he will be doing serious damage to the forces that he once served in and now leads.  

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“The Life of Julia”

The Obama campaign released an interactive chart today called “The Life of Julia,” which purports to show “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime – and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”

We first see the fictional cartoon Julia at age three, enjoying the Head Start program that Obama says he has “taken steps to improve.” Under Romney, we’re told, budget cuts to Head Start would result in 200,000 fewer slots per year for young children. Thanks to Obama’s birth control mandate, the 27-year-old Julia is able to “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Romney, on the other hand, supports legislation that would “place Julia’s health care decisions in the hands of her employer.”

The chart goes on to describe how Obama’s policies would help Julia and Romney’s would hurt her at various ages. As you can imagine, most of it is wildly dishonest. But instead of rebutting all the falsehoods, I’d rather take a look at how Obama’s policies would impact Julia throughout her life, based on another chart the White House released, buried within Obama’s FY13 budget proposal.

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The Obama campaign released an interactive chart today called “The Life of Julia,” which purports to show “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime – and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”

We first see the fictional cartoon Julia at age three, enjoying the Head Start program that Obama says he has “taken steps to improve.” Under Romney, we’re told, budget cuts to Head Start would result in 200,000 fewer slots per year for young children. Thanks to Obama’s birth control mandate, the 27-year-old Julia is able to “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Romney, on the other hand, supports legislation that would “place Julia’s health care decisions in the hands of her employer.”

The chart goes on to describe how Obama’s policies would help Julia and Romney’s would hurt her at various ages. As you can imagine, most of it is wildly dishonest. But instead of rebutting all the falsehoods, I’d rather take a look at how Obama’s policies would impact Julia throughout her life, based on another chart the White House released, buried within Obama’s FY13 budget proposal.

It’s the chart showing the trajectory of publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP if Obama’s FY13 budget was extended through 2084. And while it’s much more optimistic than the conservative estimates, it’s still not pretty:


Let’s catch up with Julia at her various ages and see how the publicly held debt will be doing at that point:

Age three: That’s this year, 2012. According to Obama’s chart, publicly held debt is roughly 80 percent of the GDP.

Age 17: It’s 2029, and publicly held debt is now nearly 90 percent of the GDP. Fortunately, Obama’s Race to the Top program means that Julia can “take the classes she needs to do well.” Unfortunately, both liberals and conservatives have blasted Race to the Top as a failure, and interest in refunding it has reportedly been dwindling.

Age 25 – It’s 2037, and publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP is now hovering around 100 percent. But the good news is that Julia’s personal debt burden will be reduced, as President Obama will keep interest low on student loans.

Age 37 – It’s 2049, and publicly held debt is now 130 percent of GDP. However, Obama says that Julia’s kindergarten-age son Zachary will still be able to take advantage of Race to the Top program. (Note also that even under the most generous circumstances, it has now been at least 33 years since President Obama’s last term in office).

Age 42 – It’s 2054, and publicly held debt is now 140 percent of the GDP.

Age 65 – It’s 2077, and publicly held debt is now 180 percent of the GDP. But Julia will still be covered by Medicare “as we know it,” at least if President Obama was reelected in 2012. That’s right, no Medicare reform for the next half-century, according to Obama.

Age 67 – It’s 2079, and publicly held debt is now 190 percent of the GDP. And thanks to President Obama’s 2012 reelection, Social Security is miraculously still solvent and unchanged.

Age 72 – Obama’s Life of Julia chart only shows us her life up until age 67. That’s too bad, since Julia hits a milestone around 2084, when publicly held debt will be just about 200 percent of the deficit – and rising.

We all know why debt will continue to careen out of control in the coming years. It’s entitlement spending, and even the White House acknowledges it in its FY13 budget. And yet Obama’s Life of Julia chart pretends that we can continue along the current path without fundamental changes. Instead, any reform proposals are demagogued as an attack on women’s health or children’s education.

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Are Women Hurt the Most in Job Market?

Mitt Romney said yesterday that women lost 92.3 percent of all jobs lost under the Obama administration, a claim that earned the suspicious distinction of “true but false” from the Washington Post fact-check team. The reason for this contradictory finding? While WaPo conceded the statistic was mathematically accurate, they added the odd, squishy disclaimer that it “may simply [be] a function of a coincidence of timing — a brief blip that could have little to do with ‘Obama’s job market.’”

But while it might be unfair to say Obama’s policies are fully responsible for the disproportionate impact the recession has had on women, there’s no denying that fact that women have been hit hardest. Even WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes this in his analysis:

In other words, men did lose more jobs in the recession. Now that the economy is growing again, men are recovering jobs at a faster pace than women.  In fact, the latest employment report shows that male participation in the work force was up 14,000 while female participation fell 177,000, in part because women tend to work in retail or government jobs (such as teaching), which have been cut in recent months.

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Mitt Romney said yesterday that women lost 92.3 percent of all jobs lost under the Obama administration, a claim that earned the suspicious distinction of “true but false” from the Washington Post fact-check team. The reason for this contradictory finding? While WaPo conceded the statistic was mathematically accurate, they added the odd, squishy disclaimer that it “may simply [be] a function of a coincidence of timing — a brief blip that could have little to do with ‘Obama’s job market.’”

But while it might be unfair to say Obama’s policies are fully responsible for the disproportionate impact the recession has had on women, there’s no denying that fact that women have been hit hardest. Even WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes this in his analysis:

In other words, men did lose more jobs in the recession. Now that the economy is growing again, men are recovering jobs at a faster pace than women.  In fact, the latest employment report shows that male participation in the work force was up 14,000 while female participation fell 177,000, in part because women tend to work in retail or government jobs (such as teaching), which have been cut in recent months.

They’ve been cut in recent months because they were either temporary jobs (retail) or because stimulus money that once shielded certain jobs is now running out (education). This was an outcome many warned about and will likely continue as the year goes on. While the recent drop in unemployment has been encouraging, most of the job growth has been in low-wage sectors and temporary positions.

Romney is right to criticize Obama for the job-loss gender gap, particularly because Democrats have been falsely claiming that the GOP has been waging a war on women. But Romney also needs to explain why his policies would address the high job loss among women, and why Obama’s have so far failed to do so.

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Opposition to ObamaCare High Among Women, Youth

During the past year, opinion polls have consistently shown widespread public disapproval of President Obama’s health care reform law. The Hill has a new survey out reaffirming this, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the law later today.

The most interesting takeaway from the poll is that the disapproval for ObamaCare is spread across most voting demographics, including two key groups that Democrats have argued benefit most from the law: young people and women. From The Hill:

By a 52-percent-to-39-percent margin women are more opposed to it than men, who oppose it 48 percent to 45 percent, a difference that matches the poll’s 3-point margin of error. …

While even the youngest voters oppose the law (47 percent to 42 percent among those aged 18-39), opposition grows to 53 percent among voters aged 65 and older.

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During the past year, opinion polls have consistently shown widespread public disapproval of President Obama’s health care reform law. The Hill has a new survey out reaffirming this, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the law later today.

The most interesting takeaway from the poll is that the disapproval for ObamaCare is spread across most voting demographics, including two key groups that Democrats have argued benefit most from the law: young people and women. From The Hill:

By a 52-percent-to-39-percent margin women are more opposed to it than men, who oppose it 48 percent to 45 percent, a difference that matches the poll’s 3-point margin of error. …

While even the youngest voters oppose the law (47 percent to 42 percent among those aged 18-39), opposition grows to 53 percent among voters aged 65 and older.

While President Obama didn’t personally commemorate the two-year anniversary of his health care law last week, his campaign has been emphasizing the supposedly positive impact the law will have on women and young Americans. Obviously, the numbers in The Hill poll complicate that message. The fact that women are more likely to oppose the law than men is particularly interesting, and gives the GOP an opening to try to frame this as a women’s issue.

But the poll also bolsters one of the main arguments we may hear from Democrats if the Supreme Court does end up overturning the law or portions of it. While voters want to see the law repealed, they also believe the justices’ eventual decisions may be politically motivated:

Although voters want the Court to strike the law, they don’t necessarily trust the justices’ motivations. Fifty-six percent of likely voters believe the justices are swayed by their own political beliefs, while just 27 percent believe they “make impartial decisions based on their reading of the Constitution.”

Skepticism about the justices relying on their political beliefs ran consistently among age, racial and philosophical categories, with a majority of whites (54 percent), blacks (59 percent), Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (59 percent), conservatives (54 percent), centrists (56 percent) and liberals (59 percent) expressing the same viewpoint.

When people decry “judicial activism,” often they’re really using it as a euphemism for a decision they don’t like or don’t agree with. If the law is struck down, the health care issue will likely become an election-year motivator for Democratic voters, and the blame will no doubt be pinned on conservative activist judges.

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Obama’s Approval Rating Among Women Drops 12 Points

Here’s more evidence suggesting that the New York Times “trend” story on how women are bolting from the GOP and flocking to the Obama campaign was complete fantasy. And the latest contradictions come from the New York Times’ own poll:

In the head-to-head matchups, Mr. Obama also maintained much of the advantage he had built in the last year among important constituencies, including women, although he lost some support among women over the past month, even as the debate raged over birth control insurance coverage.

Mr. Obama appears to be retaining much of his gains among important demographic groups, erasing inroads that Republicans made in 2010, especially among women. But his falling approval rating in the last month extended to his handling of both the economy and foreign policy, the poll found.

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Here’s more evidence suggesting that the New York Times “trend” story on how women are bolting from the GOP and flocking to the Obama campaign was complete fantasy. And the latest contradictions come from the New York Times’ own poll:

In the head-to-head matchups, Mr. Obama also maintained much of the advantage he had built in the last year among important constituencies, including women, although he lost some support among women over the past month, even as the debate raged over birth control insurance coverage.

Mr. Obama appears to be retaining much of his gains among important demographic groups, erasing inroads that Republicans made in 2010, especially among women. But his falling approval rating in the last month extended to his handling of both the economy and foreign policy, the poll found.

“He lost some support among women” is apparently the New York Times’ nice way of saying Obama’s approval rating dropped 12 points among women during the past month, from 53 percent to 41 percent. Needless to say, the Democratic Party’s “war on women” rhetoric doesn’t seem to be working:

In recent weeks, there has been much debate over the government’s role in guaranteeing insurance coverage for contraception, including for those who work for religious organizations. The poll found that women were split as to whether health insurance plans should cover the costs of birth control and whether employers with religious objections should be able to opt out.

Poll respondents said 51 percent to 40 percent that companies should be allowed to opt out for religious/moral reasons. Women said companies should be allowed to opt out, 46 percent to 44 percent.

Those numbers are even more favorable to conservatives when you specifically ask whether religiously-affiliated employers, like schools and hospitals, should be forced to provide birth control coverage. Poll respondents said these institutions should be allowed to opt out, 57 percent to 36 percent. Women said these institutions should be allowed to opt out, 53 percent to 38 percent.

It sounds like the Obama administration has seriously miscalculated its “war on women” strategy. Either women are in favor of religious opt-out rules, as the Times poll suggests (and in that case, are possibly offended by the way the Obama administration has handled the controversy); or, women care so little about this issue that they haven’t even been paying close attention to the debate. Even if the latter is true, that doesn’t mean this strategy was cost-free. According to the Times poll, Obama has further alienated religious voters, and received no political gain with women in exchange. His support has dropped to 37 percent with Catholics, 26 percent with white Protestants and 18 percent with white Evangelical Christians.

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Are Women Really Ditching the GOP?

Are Republicans losing female supporters because of the Democratic Party’s incessant attempts to smear them as anti-women? Polls say no, but when do liberals ever let statistics get in the way of a good narrative? The truth vigilantes at the New York Times put seven reporters across the country on the case, and, after “dozens of interviews in recent weeks,” managed to track down five female Republicans and one independent who displayed varying degrees of disappointment at the GOP candidates’ recent comments on social issues. The result was this headline: “Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans.”

The Times reports:

In Iowa, one of the crucial battlegrounds in the coming presidential election, and in other states, dozens of interviews in recent weeks have found that moderate Republican and independent women — one of the most important electoral swing groups — are disenchanted by the Republican focus on social issues like contraception and abortion in an election that, until recently, had been mostly dominated by the economy.

And in what appears to be an abrupt shift, some Republican-leaning women like Ms. Russell said they might switch sides and vote for Mr. Obama — if they turn out to vote at all.

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Are Republicans losing female supporters because of the Democratic Party’s incessant attempts to smear them as anti-women? Polls say no, but when do liberals ever let statistics get in the way of a good narrative? The truth vigilantes at the New York Times put seven reporters across the country on the case, and, after “dozens of interviews in recent weeks,” managed to track down five female Republicans and one independent who displayed varying degrees of disappointment at the GOP candidates’ recent comments on social issues. The result was this headline: “Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans.”

The Times reports:

In Iowa, one of the crucial battlegrounds in the coming presidential election, and in other states, dozens of interviews in recent weeks have found that moderate Republican and independent women — one of the most important electoral swing groups — are disenchanted by the Republican focus on social issues like contraception and abortion in an election that, until recently, had been mostly dominated by the economy.

And in what appears to be an abrupt shift, some Republican-leaning women like Ms. Russell said they might switch sides and vote for Mr. Obama — if they turn out to vote at all.

The Times is careful to note that “[to] what extent women feel alienated remains unclear: most interviews for this article were conducted from a randomly generated list of voters who had been surveyed in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, and their responses are anecdotal, not conclusive.”

Fortunately, there have been actual polls conducted on whether women have become disenchanted with the Republican candidates. Today’s Washington Post/ABC poll found “no measurable effect at this point” showing that women are moving toward the Democratic Party. In fact, President Obama actually appears to have lost ground with women in a general election matchup against Mitt Romney:

Compared with last month, disapproval of Obama’s job performance is up slightly among men, and there’s no increase in approval among women. And on vote preference vs. Romney, Obama did better among men and women alike last month, and has lost ground slightly among both sexes this month. In the latest results Romney has a 12-point lead among men who are registered voters; among women, it’s Obama +6.

So the only evidence that Republicans have lost support among women at this point is in a few cherry-picked anecdotes from the New York Times.

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