I've been through enough "year(s) of the woman" to be more than a little skeptical when someone tries to sell me the story that this is really it. Whenever there are more women running (or, as in 1984, woman singular), we hear about "the year of the woman."
For my money, it really will be the year of the woman when women exercise their majority power as voters and as consumers, and we can, once and for all, stop talking about it. After all, when was the last time anyone sold a story based on the "year of the man"?
When men exercise power, we don't call it "men's day" or "men's year." We call it Tuesday.
Even so, there are signs that this year might actually be different — and I don't mean because of the number of women on the ticket.
President Obama clearly made a gross miscalculation in thinking that because the overwhelming majority of Catholic women use contraception, they wouldn't mind his picking a fight with the Church about their obligation to provide it to their female workers. Some people say it was his female advisers who thought this was a good fight to pick, or even a just one; I have no idea. But if it was, it's probably because most women under the age of 60 take the right to use contraception as a given. After all, it was in 1965 that the United States Supreme Court held that the right to contraception was, at least for married women, within the zone of privacy that was later the basis for Roe v. Wade.
In any event, it was the president's problem, even after he came to his senses and said it was the insurance companies, not the church-related employers, who had the duty not to discriminate. Some people might say that's a distinction without a difference, but since contraception costs less than pregnancy, and since we all know that it's private insurers and not employers (or the government, for that matter) who effectively control access to health care benefits, it did make a difference. And as for religious liberty, that's a right that belongs to each of us, not a license for insurance companies to invade our bedrooms.
But it was Republicans who really saved the president. Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory, they decided to make an issue out of contraception anyway. Contraception, not insurance. And once Rush Limbaugh got into it, the battle was on.
For Rick Santorum, the un-Romney, it made perfect sense. Mitt Romney is not a good candidate. Stiff and wooden, a guy who knows owners not workers, whose wife drives two Cadillacs, who as a candidate in Massachusetts wooed and won the votes of liberals, he is never going to be the choice of conservative Republicans, even if he is their only realistic choice. But he does have some credibility on the issue that should, by every rule of politics, decide this election — the economy — and that one would expect any Republican interested in winning to focus on.
Santorum can't expect to match Romney on the economy. His only hope is to play old-fashioned wedge politics, to focus on social issues, to woo the ideological base that has never had as much power as it does in this "reformed" Republican nominating process. So Santorum has every reason in the book to play contraceptive politics, and Romney just doesn't seem to be deft enough to stand up there and say: Hey, guys and gals, that is just not what this election is about. Instead, he flails.
Limbaugh has been saying outrageous things for years, which is why his critics, and sometimes even his supporters, dismiss or describe him as an entertainer. So, sure, why wouldn't he venture into the contraception waters in a big (if stupid) way that was sure to get him quoted by friend and foe and unleash a storm? He's used to storms. He thrives on them. Rather, he used to.
What made this storm different wasn't the criticism from the usual suspects. It was advertisers, feeling the heat of social media, pulling the plug. True, Limbaugh apologized twice, but does anyone doubt why? His first instinct, his old pre-social media instinct, was to stand his ground, as he has so many times before. But the world has changed.
Meanwhile, the pollsters and pundits are pointing to polling data suggesting that Republicans could be in real trouble with both independent and Republican women who just can't believe these men are really calling people names for using contraception, much less arguing that it should be up to the insurance company and not the individual woman. How un-libertarian is that?
2012: the year advertisers figured out that, unless you're selling power tools and lawn mowers, you're probably selling to women, the year candidates realized that women voters actually think they should be the ones making decisions about their personal lives. Could happen. Sex and power. They just might go together.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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