COMMENTARY | Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh spends a lengthy show calling a Georgetown law student a "slut" and "prostitute" and demands to watch sex tapes of her. Rick Santorum's financial backer calls for women to put an aspirin between their legs to avoid getting pregnant. An Indiana GOP state representative labels Girl Scouts the militant wing of Planned Parenthood. All seem to be taking the Republican Party back 20 years.
The year 1992 was considered "The Year of the Woman" for the success enjoyed by women in several political races. Thanks to Limbaugh's foolish rants and several other misguided misogynistic comments, the same thing can happen 20 years later.
During the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings, Anita Hill accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexually harassing her. But Thomas' actions and his subsequent confirmation weren't the real factors that set off women. It was the relentless badgering and belittling of Hill during the Senate confirmation that turned most men and women off.
As a result, women rallied to make history, boosting their tiny numbers in Congress. Several, like Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray are still in the U.S. Senate. They helped reverse a decade or more of Democratic setbacks in presidential races by electing Bill Clinton.
Many of the Democratic Party incumbents trying to keep their seats are women (Feinstein in California, Kirsten Gillibrand in New York, Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Maizie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and Marie Cantwell in Washington). Others home to win open seats (like Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Chellie Pingree in Maine, Susan Bysiewicz in Connecticut, and Shelly Berkley in Nevada). Still others hope to knock off a seat or two in GOP hands, like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.
The GOP also has a few women running, in Missouri, Hawaii, and Connecticut (in each case, possibly against another woman). But news about these candidates has been eclipsed by the retirement of the prominent Olympia Snowe, pushed to leave office when polls showed she would struggle to win reelection in a Republican primary.
Limbaugh's ill-advised rant may do more than just hurt the uphill battle the GOP nominee was going to have to face for the White House. It may take a tenuous Democratic Senate lead and even solidify it, the way the Clarence Thomas hearings did for Democrats in 1992.