The all-out battle for women's votes has begun in earnest, with the respective presidential campaigns each seeking to take advantage of real (and perceived) mistakes by the opposition and its acolytes.
The verbal volleyball match has been interesting to watch, as each camp seeks to prove how its candidate is the only true protector of women's rights.
A brief review: The Obama administration commences a frontal assault on the conscience clause, that heretofore universally accepted exemption for religious institutions that prevented them from being forced to perform procedures and therapies contrary to their religious tenets. The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders raise strenuous objections, which lead the administration to offer a hasty, so-called "compromise" exemption. Many religious leaders are not impressed with the more narrow conscience provision, however. Advantage: GOP.
Shortly thereafter, a major fundraiser for Rick Santorum publicly reminisces about the era when birth control meant an aspirin placed between a woman's legs. This statement was soon joined with the former senator's circa 2006 interview wherein he labeled contraception "harmful to women." Immediately, the Democratic Party pounced: this was the "gotcha moment" operatives had been waiting for. Finally, a chance to prove the GOP's "war on women."
This alleged war has been in the Democratic National Committee's playbook for years. It's a favorite "go to" charge in the abortion debate, so it was no surprise that the mainstream media would run with it. Polls conducted after the Santorum flap reflected a widening GOP gender gap. Democratic fundraisers used the charge in their fundraising letters. Feminists rallied around the latest evidence of how out of touch the GOP is with today's women. Advantage: Obama administration.
Next, another stroke of good luck for Democrats: Rush Limbaugh, the left's favorite punching bag, labeled a Georgetown Law student a "slut" and "prostitute" after her congressional testimony supporting the proposition that her (Catholic) university's health insurance should cover contraception. An empathetic President Barack Obama calls her to offer support, thereby further fueling the fire. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Limbaugh issues an apology after several sponsors pull their advertising from his show. The GOP presidential contenders are again forced on the defensive. Big-time advantage: Obama.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. This political good fortune came to a crushing conclusion recently when Democratic senior adviser Hilary Rosen spoke her mind about how she viewed stay-at-home mom Ann Romney, [who] "had never worked a day in her life." Ms. Rosen gratuitously included a shot at Ann Romney's husband, whom she dismissed as someone who "seems so old fashioned when it comes to women. … He just doesn't really see us as equal."
The exclamation mark to Ms. Rosen's bad day was supplied by none other than Mrs. Romney herself, who responded with a point obvious to all who live outside the far left wing of Democratic Party feminism: stay-at-home moms work as hard as anybody. The response was an immediate home run. It caused an embarrassed White House to quickly throw Ms. Rosen under the bus. It has, for the moment, placed the Democrats on the gender defensive for a change. Advantage: GOP.
The thrust of Ms. Rosen's remarks go to the selectivity of the progressive/feminist perspective. "Choice" has been the mantra of this group forever, except when women choose options contrary to their progressive litmus test. Witness the vitriol directed to Sarah Palin by the likes of former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler for her choice to deliver a disabled child. Witness the character assassinations directed toward conservative women such as Condoleezza Rice, Michele Bachmann and Michelle Malkin.
Such antagonisms run deep. Gloria Steinem once dismissed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as a "female impersonator," while Naomi Wolf notoriously castigated Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick as being "uninflected by the experiences of the female body."
That Ms. Rosen felt comfortable issuing the "mom-at-home" indictment was no surprise. It is by now a familiar charge. Political operatives at all levels should be careful in propagating this line of attack, however. The notion that women interpret the world from a single perspective is ludicrous and insulting to women — and men — who vote.
Here's a thought: Let's stop viewing gender (or race and ethnicity) as a predictor of one's political views. Now that would be advantage: America.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the Maryland chairman of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.