The media is awash in stories about feminists pitting themselves against one another in the nomination fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. If you believed all you read, you'd think older feminists are mired in a short-sighted, self-defeating battle over which candidate would be better for women if elected, and young women are just swooning for the cool guy — with both jeopardizing their candidate's chances of actually winning at all. But there's a much bigger battle looming, and it's not between the Obama and Clinton camps. Female voters, with huge turnouts in the Democratic primaries, are clearly paying attention to it, while the media is missing what's in plain sight. It's this: women have suffered incredible setbacks under the Bush Administration, and whether that path continues after November is in women's hands.
A lot of the Bush damage to the country in general, like the war and the tanking economy, is front and center. But much of the damage to women has been under the radar. Presidential appointees can do tremendous harm, mostly out of the public eye. Take Wade Horn, one of Bush's Health and Human Services Assistant Secretaries. Horn founded the National Fatherhood Initiative to promote marriage as the solution to poverty, loudly touting the his belief that "the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church." Then he gave the group $12.38 million of taxpayers' money to push marriage instead of funding job training and educational programs to women get off welfare. But the marriage money is peanuts compared to the megabucks Horn poured into "abstinence-only" sex education in the public schools. That tab now comes to $176 million per year, even though the government's own research shows the programs don't work and teenage pregnancy is up for the first time in fifteen years.
Not to be outdone, the Bush appointees over at the Department of Education have stayed busy dismantling Title IX, the law protecting girls from discrimination in educational programs, including sports. Courts have for decades upheld Education Department's rigorous criteria for compliance as valid. But no matter. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued a Title IX "clarification," allowing schools to refuse to create additional sports opportunities for women based solely on email interest surveys. Failure of female students to answer email surveys is now routinely counted by colleges as a lack of interest in participating in sports. Neither the standard nor the email survey method of limiting opportunities applies to male students.
Even the women holding up Bush's precious wars have not escaped. Almost one in seven members of the military serving on active duty are women, and they make up a nearly identical percentage of National Guard and reserve units. Though the Air Force uncovered scores of rape accusations, a rising trend of reported abuses, and the most basic shortcomings in tracking the crime and attending to its victims in 2004, the Defense Department has been slow to pursue the allegations. And Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has yet to formulate a policy for dealing with contractors who commit rape.
The damage done by most political appointees can be undone by the next president or the next Congress if they're so inclined. Not so with the Supreme Court, where judges sit for life. If the Republicans regain the White House — or even Senate — and continue down the Bush path, we can probably kiss reproductive rights goodbye, and expect to lose any hope of redress in the courts for employment discrimination.
That's because the next president will likely make at least two Supreme Court appointments. Two is enough to do a lot of damage, as Bush lackeys John Roberts and Samuel Alito have shown. They've already tipped the balance, resulting in decisions upholding the first federal abortion procedure ban, and the severe curtailment of women's ability to sue for discrimination at work. The Court's only woman and strongest women's advocate, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, spoke out strongly in her dissent on both cases. She is 74 years old. Her colleague John Paul Stevens – another pro-woman vote – is 87.
So the real choice for women is not between race or gender, show horse or work horse. It's between continuing the Bush policies or voting in November for a candidate who can and will turn those policies around, and who will get rid of the anti-woman poison in Washington.
Women are not a "special interest." They are the majority – of the population, of registered voters, and of those that actually turn out. It's no wonder candidates are trying so hard to woo them. We've all heard the expression "buyer beware." As political buyers this year, women must be warier than ever.