On outreach to women, conventions offer stark contrast


By Ben Adler

Charlotte, N.C. — In an effort to reduce the gender gap, Republicans focused much of their national convention last week on outreach to women voters. They stacked their speaking lineup with what seemed like every woman they could find—including the wife of the Governor of Puerto Rico, hardly a bold-face name. 

The problem? The party’s actual agenda has little to attract women and much to worry them: To take only the highest profile example, the GOP platform calls for banning abortion with no exceptions. And instead of talking about policies that could assure equal rights, Mitt Romney and other RNC speakers resorted to vague, condescending platitudes about how they know and appreciate that women bear the brunt of child-rearing.

The first night of the Democrats’ convention in Charlotte also featured appeals to women voters, and the contrast with the GOP could not have been starker. For one thing, Democrats have no shortage of women officeholders. In fact, they have so many that they crammed a bunch of congresswomen into a group address, led by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.

More important, Democrats actually have relevant policy achievements and plans to offer women:

• Rep. Rosa DeLauro extolled the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to fight pay discrimination. (Ledbetter herself later reinforced the message.)

• Rep. Carolyn McCarthy highlighted the access to preventive services provided by Obamacare, as well as the law’s regulations benefiting women. “Soon, for the first time, no longer will being a woman be a pre-existing medical condition,” she declared.

• Rep. Gwen Moore hit the GOP on its opposition to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and for trying to narrow the definition of rape so as to further limit abortion rights.

***WATCH ABOVE: Chris Matthews talks with New York City City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Salon.com’s Joan Walsh and The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman about the prominence of women at Tuesday night’s Democratic National Convention.***

And of course, Democrats continued to milk Republican Senate nominee Rep. Todd Akin’s mind-boggling claim that women who are raped cannot get pregnant. “We believe that a woman should make health care decisions with her family, her doctor, and her God,” NARAL President Nancy Keenan said. “And we believe that there’s no place in that room for politicians—especially politicians who don’t know how women’s bodies work.” 

By contrast, Mitt Romney’s efforts to reach out to women were hampered by his apparent unawareness of his own privilege. He said that when his wife Ann stayed home to raise their children, her job was more important than his, but seemed oblivious that most American women just can’t afford to do that. Ledbetter exploited that obliviousness Tuesday night, noting that women still earn 77 cents for every dollar men do, then adding, to wild cheers: “Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account.”

And of course, for the finale, Democrats brought out one of the most popular women in the country, Michelle Obama. And unlike Ann Romney, she didn’t just talk about the rewards of staying at home, but the struggle for gender equity in the workforce.

“Barack was raised by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills, and by grandparents who stepped in when she needed help,” she said, before going on to tell the story of her husband’s grandmother, who worked for years in a bank but saw less-qualified men promoted ahead of her.  

“So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother,” the First Lady added. 

If Democrats were worried that the Republican convention threatened their strength among women, they pushed back hard on Tuesday. And, unlike the Republicans, when it comes to women’s issues, the facts are on their side. 

Ann Romney, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

On outreach to women, conventions offer stark contrast