News & Politics

Skirting the Issues


NEW YORK—Jittery over the women’s vote, George W. Bush’s campaign will dump all its heavy-duty female firepower into New York. In an event called the “W Stands for Women” event at the Waldorf-Astoria on Monday afternoon, the dais will be full to overflowing with his mom, Barbara Bush; his daughters, Barbara and Jenna; his sister, Doro; and Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne (with her straight daughter, Lyn).

Bush can focus on women because he probably thinks he has a lock on the other gender. Young white men in the South are said to love him because of the president’s swaggering “Fuck You” style. Not to mention the Washington press corps, which gets down every time it gets to see Bush shifting his balls around like an Alabama state trooper.

However, most women may not see things in quite the same light. Many of them view Bush as a disaster for themselves and their families. More women than men vote. They potentially are a force that can be easily energized to support lackluster politicians, even, when push comes to shove, the mind-numbing Kerry. If Kerry could pull his ear away from the drones at the Democratic Leadership Council long enough to attend to a few of their interests, women might very well turn out to be his secret weapon.

In the 2000 election, women represented 52 percent of the total electorate, but 22 million unmarried women didn’t bother to vote, according to the Kerry campaign, which claims that 73 percent of that group now want a change in leadership.

According to the August 25 USA Today, a survey of Gallup polls over the first half of 2004 show that, overall, registered women voters are evenly split between Bush and Kerry. Married women tend to support Bush, but unmarried women tend to support Kerry.

There are signs that Bush is ready to move to some sort of compromise with pro-choice Republican women. Earlier this week, the party’s platform committee voted 74-18 for language stressing that the GOP is the party of the “open door,” contending that its members “respect and accept” that Republicans “have deeply held and sometimes differing views.”

“We are encouraged that pro-choice Republicans and social conservatives are finally at the same table,” said Jennifer Stockman, national co-chair of the Republican Majority for Choice, a group that might well cause problems for Bush’s re-election campaign. Stockman added, “We are obviously disappointed with the strong anti-choice language throughout the party platform. We have a long way to go to end the intra-party fighting, but this is a positive step in the right direction.”

The Republican right’s direction, however, has been well-known, particularly its anti-abortion stance. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Bush’s entire social policy is organized around sex roles, so that you qualify for things like welfare, tax breaks, unemployment insurance, and health care based on where you do it, how you do it, when you do it, and, of course, with whom you do it. To the Christian fundamentalists, fucking makes the world go ’round.

And there are other aspects of Bush’s social policies that hit women where they live. Last night, The Feminist Press, which published a collection of essays on administration policies called The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women, edited by Laura Flanders (, held a symposium on the subject. At the event, as in the book, one author after another rattled off the different ways women have suffered under the current administration. A few examples:

  • More older women than men spend their last years mired in poverty. While Bush breezily says that eliminating taxes on dividends will “help America’s seniors make ends meet,” fewer than one-quarter of older Americans—and only one-fifth of older women—ever see a stock dividend. Only 6 percent of black and Hispanic women live in families that receive any stock dividend.
  • The large numbers of women who don’t have health insurance (huge numbers among blacks and Hispanics) put off getting care for diseases in their early stages and often seek treatment after it’s too late. For the cost of Bush’s $726 billion “growth” package, perhaps the nation could provide health insurance for all poor Americans.
  • Contrary to the notion that women have weathered recessions better than men, the truth is that women’s unemployment rates have grown faster than men’s, and long-term unemployment among women has increased.
  • Perhaps the most insidious attacks on women have come from Bush’s clever manipulation of government reports. For one thing, the government doesn’t do the number of studies and reports, especially on health issues, that it once dead. Even worse is simply an absence of information—a sort of disinformation by omission.
  • The National Council for Research on Women’s recent report Missing tells in detail just how the government goes about the process of manipulation and of eliminating key information from public scrutiny. Among the most egregious examples occurred when the government sought to make an unconvincing and unsupportable connection between abortion and breast cancer. Only after furious complaints was the propaganda about a connection removed.
  • And there’s Bush’s ceaseless prodding and pushing against condoms. “Despite research, the government is now unwilling to state that condom use is important to protect women against HIV and sexually transmitted diseases,” according to Missing. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet that focused on the advantages of using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases was revised in December 2002 to cast doubt on condom effectiveness, calling evidence on condom use and transmission of HIV and other STDs “inconclusive.” The new version focuses exclusively on abstinence, warning that “condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD.” A straightforward guide to the correct use of condoms disappeared, as did a “Programs that Work” section, which listed successful comprehensive sex-education programs and cited peer-reviewed studies that showed no increase or earlier occurrence of sexual activity among teens taught about condoms. Similar changes in information about condoms appeared on the web site of the USAID, which funds programs around the world.

Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese

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