Paul Ryan and the Republican problem with women

Are nuns' objections to his social agenda an indicator?

August 15, 2012|Susan Reimer

Well, I'm pretty sure Mitt Romney's VP pick cost him the nun vote.

Fourteen women religious embarked on a nine-state bus tour this summer to protest Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal — which he successfully pushed through the House before it was beaten back in the Senate — because of the drastic, some say catastrophic, cuts it would make to programs that benefit the poor, the sick and the hungry.

Pretty much a nun's constituency.

The nuns stopped the bus in Mr. Ryan's home town of Janesville, Wis., but he wasn't available to meet with them, although he has jousted with Jesuit priests at Georgetown University, who also criticized him, and the Catholic bishops, who did, too. Dissing nuns doesn't do much for the Republicans' problem with women.

The thinking is, in Democratic circles anyway, that the nuns' objections to Mr. Ryan's economic principles are a bellwether for what other women voters may think of this man once they get to know him. Women, especially women with families and children, generally find the deprivation of other families and their children to be untenable.

Add to that, Mr. Ryan's uncompromising beliefs about abortion: Not even in the case of rape or incest. He also co-sponsored a bill that would grant "personhood" to a fertilized egg, making abortion and some forms of birth control the statutory equivalent of murder. (It didn't get any further in Congress that it did in Mississippi, whose voters defeated a similar law.)

He supports a constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage and voted against the lifting of the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. Mr. Ryan may be a libertarian in matters of government spending, but not, apparently, on the role of government in social issues.

But it will probably be his proposal to shift Medicare to a voucher-to-buy-insurance system that will set off the most alarms among women. After all, women represent 56 percent of the Medicare recipients (we generally outlive our spouses), and it is the women, the daughters, who are most likely to step in to care for their aging parents. Mr. Ryan would move Medicaid to a block grant to states, too, and while Medicaid was designed for the poorest among us, it is now often used to pay for the nursing home care of the formerly middle-class.

You know. Our parents. Probably our mothers.

He's voted regularly to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides birth control, STD testing and cancer screening for poor women and the uninsured. And he voted against the Fair Pay for Woman Act.

He voted to deny birth control coverage for federal employees and to cut off funds to National Public Radio, most of whose listeners are women.

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC poll shows that President Barack Obama leads Mr. Romney 54 percent to 39 percent among women, and 63 percent to 32 percent among college-educated women.

Since women generally outvote men, Mr. Ryan would appear to be a silver stake through the heart of the Republican ticket.

But I don't think that gives women nearly enough credit.

Democrats would like us to see Paul Ryan as a dangerous ideologue who will push the malleable Mr. Romney to make the kinds of cuts in food stamps or education or transportation, let alone Medicare and Social Security, that would be a shock to American expectations in just about every area of life.

But I think Mr. Ryan is really smart guy who has been a sometimes brilliant student of economics and public policy since he was a kid in college, and I think he knows more about the U.S. budget than anybody else in the room, mostly because nobody else has been willing to spend the time to learn what he knows. Including the president, who, admittedly, has a lot of other stuff on his desk.

It could be that he is right. That this country is spending too much money on the retirement benefits of an enormous and growing population of old people — which will include me in about 10 minutes — and we can't possibly afford it.

And this brings up another thing you need to know about women voters. That we would somehow grab what we have coming to us with no mind to what happens to those behind us is unthinkable because those behind us are our kids.

We are the same women who cheerfully give up our pork chop when the growing boy at the dinner table is still hungry after eating his. And that boy doesn't even have to be our child.

We want all children to come to the dinner table and be fed and full even though we know we don't have the money in our checkbook to pay for all those groceries. It is a conundrum of the heart that we struggle to resolve.

There are lots of reasons to vote against Mitt Romney for president. I have no idea what the man believes, I don't think he does either, and that scares me. But Paul Ryan's insistence that we take a hard look at our entitlement programs isn't one of them.

Although I don't think you will be able to convince the nuns.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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