Political InQueery: A Low Bar for Women's Rights
I spent two hours standing in line today to hear President Obama and Senator Murray rally the troops for her reelection bid. In the University of Washington's Huskies stadium, there were reminders of the basketball court under our feet, the Democrat's passage of student loan reform, and several rounds of the wave that people do in sports arenas. So imagine my surprise when the AP wire put out a story that today's rally was all about getting women to the polls on November 2. Uh, what?
I'd wandered over to Seattle's U District because I wanted to hear President Obama's stump speech first hand, and heck, I've never seen a sitting President in person before. There was that Valentine's Day run-in with Bill and Hillary in 2005, but he'd been long out of office at that point. And that's another story. I wasn't sure what I'd hear, but I'd learned of some of the talking points he's mentioned this election cycle: the car metaphor about how the GOP ran America into a ditch, the Democrats pushed it out, and now the Republicans want the keys back. We heard from a couple of Washington Congressmen who gave us anecdotes from the Hill and told us stories about Huskies basketball. I found the metaphor about Murray "batting away" bad GOP ideas like jump shot balls particularly clunky, given that Patty Murray is short in stature. But political rallies often pull in mental models from everywhere.
There was talk about what the Democrats have done for the people, and since we had gathered on a public university campus, we were reminded almost constantly that we had these people to thank for reforming the student loan process. Between Murray and Obama the phrase "a woman's right to choose" was uttered three or four times; another easy selling point for college-age women, as pollsters tell us. The State of Washington got a loud cheer for being the first and only state to elect all women at once to the governor's office and both senate posts. But to call this a rallying cry for women—only 54 percent of whom, nationally, say they feel inspired to vote this year—seems a far stretch.
Digging into media reports, I see that it was the President's own staff who put out a press release saying there would be a focus on women in today's events. So the reporters who came up with the headline, "Fearing Rout, Dems Reach out to Female Voters" didn't invent the concept out of nothing. And apparently the "backyard" event focused much more on why women should vote in this election. According to Obama:
The economy has changed where women have made such enormous strides that they now constitute fully half of the workforce. And so when you talk about what's happened in the middle class, part of what you're talking about is what's happening to women in the workforce.
Bringing the larger economic mood back to individual experiences, he also said:
...things like equal pay for equal work aren't just women's issues; those are middle-class family issues. Because, you know, how well women do is—will help determine how well our families are doing as a whole.
These would have been fantastic statements to make to the assembled group of 10,000 in the stadium, but he held them until the much smaller backyard meal. I'm glad the press were there to take note of these ideas, however it strikes me as too subtle to make a significant shift in how many women will come out to vote next month. And why keep positing women as only middle class? With half of the country's population, ought progressive politicans not be interested in working class women as well? I know, elections bring out the middle class rhetoric. I just go to that place of reminding myself that there are all kinds of families in America, and that while parenting is important for many women, I'm not sure we need to value women vis a vis their families. What Obama is talking about when he ties together women, families and the economy comes in part from a very recent report that shows that many more women are the breadwinners in their households. Again, a subtle reference. Why not highlight this more clearly?
For me, to see "a woman's right to choose" phrase thrown out at a rally and have some later conversation about how women's successes will shore up our family units. . . well, I'm not convinced that's the way to get women to the polls.
Here are just a few messages that I would love to talked up or committed to by earnest progressive-type politicians:
- Create training programs and education specifically for women in or entering the workplace
- Tout the benefits of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
- Remind voters about education parity gains for women, especially minority women and explain what goals will be met next
- Describe specifically any ideas for shoring up reproductive rights in the next congressional session
Twelve days remain until the 2010 midterm elections are finished. What do all of you want to see brought up and discussed by the candidates?
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