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Why pay equity keeps tripping up conservatives
Red State Women PAC leader Cari Christman
By Steve Benen
Over the weekend, RedState Women's executive director, Cari Christman, sat down with WFAA in Dallas, and fielded questions about, among other things, Republican opposition to measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Christman argued that women "want real-world solutions to this problem, not more rhetoric."
It was an odd thing to say. Federal laws that empower workers facing wage discrimination to seek remedies in the courts aren't "rhetoric," they're the opposite.
But as Laura Bassett reported, Christman's argument got worse from there.
When asked what her proposed solution to the gender pay gap might look like, she began repeating the point that women are "busy." "If you look at it, women are extremely busy," she said. "We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether working from home, and times are extremely busy. It's a busy cycle for women, and we've got a lot to juggle. So when we look at this issue we think, what's practical? And we want more access to jobs. We want to be able to get a higher education degree at the same time we're working or raising a family."
Hmm. The Democratic position to help ensure pay equity is passing measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. According to Christman, these legal protections are a mistake ... because women are "busy."
What does one's busyness have to do with wage discrimination in the workforce? I haven't the foggiest idea.
The point, of course, is not to pick on Christman's on-air clumsiness. Rather, the larger significance is that Republicans routinely struggle to explain their opposition to pay-equity measures. It's worth appreciating why.
Last summer, for example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said women don't want federal laws to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. Rather, Blackburn argued, women "want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions themselves."
As a substantive matter, this was gibberish, though Blackburn didn't seem to care.
More recently, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, was asked whether she agrees with President Obama's position on laws mandating equal pay for equal work. "Yes, absolutely," she responded. But in reality, McMorris Rodgers, like nearly every other congressional Republican, voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
It was soon followed by this exchange on Fox News between Martha MacCallum and Alan Colmes about Obama's comments on the issue.
MacCallum: I think most women do not want to be treated as sort of a special class of citizens. They want to go to work every day, they want to get paid for being a professional, for doing their job really well. And they don't want to be treated like some group of people who have to be, you know, given a little special handout just to make sure that they're okay. Colmes: It's not a special handout. It's equality. It's equal pay for equal work. MacCallum: Many women get paid exactly what they're worth, Alan.
What are these conservatives talking about? The answer, I suspect, comes down to the roots of Republican ideology.
It seems unlikely that any of these GOP lawmakers, pundits, or activists actually want women to receive unequal pay for equal work. The trouble is, to combat workplace discrimination, policymakers need to pass laws regulating what's permissible and creating opportunities for the aggrieved to seek legal remedies. In other words, to prevent and discourage discrimination against women, it's necessary for government to intervene in the marketplace.
And for the right, that's always a bad idea. The result is a problem for Republicans for which there is no easy answer: they want to be against discrimination but they also want to reject employment regulations and safeguards.
The ensuing awkwardness is hard to watch, as Christman's interview helped prove.