The Conversation

Why the GOP's 'War on Women' Riposte Makes Sense

Over at the Atlantic Garance Franke-Ruta has a thoughtful article arguing that the GOP's current "war on women" response is ill-considered at best.

Five different Republican committees this morning released a joint memo pushing back on the "Democrats' War on Women" messaging to highlight the sex scandals of a group of Democratic men and argue that Democrats are hypocrites who only care about women when it is politically convenient.

It's a fine message as far as it goes, which is as a kind of a summer doldrums GOP base-riling play, reminding Republican women that there are a bunch of Democratic men out there who they -- and others! -- think are creeps.

Two things about this. First, Democrats underestimate how much stuff like this really gets under the skin of people on the other side. The entire "war on women" campaign is offensive to GOP women and to men who have wives and daughters.

But making a political point by crafting an obnoxious bit of hyperbole is something Democrats excel at lately. Whether it's comparing the GOP to hijackers or terrorists over budget negotiations, the party has fully embraced argument by demonization. I'm not talking about a loose comment here or there, which always happens on both sides, I mean a coordinated campaign from the top down which includes the President.

Franke-Ruta argues that instead of acting on our entirely justifiable irritation with the left's obnoxious memes we should design a more reasoned campaign built around women and security issues. I think it's well intended and probably even a good idea. But--and this is point two--it fails to appreciate the extent to which policy arguments are merely backdrops for more energetic attacks in our elections these days.

To give a current example, these "no slutbags" flyers appearing around NYC are going to do more to hurt Anthony Weiner than any policy argument about his 64 points for a strong middle class. And the same applies to the 2012 election.

The left is kidding itself if it thinks the "war on women" was about expanded funding for birth control. It was about Rush calling Sandra Fluke a slut. That was the headline and the source of outrage onto which all the policy baggage was later loaded. Similarly, Todd Akin's comments about rape did more to make the war on women a reality than any policy papers posted by the DNC. Populist outrage first, policy backstopping afterwards.

Don't believe me? Have a look at this move on ad from last year. Notice the focus is on offensive statements not policy arguments. In fact, American Crossroads tried to respond with their own "war on women" policy arguments, not unlike what Franke-Ruta is suggesting the GOP try now. But as we all know, those arguments did not get nearly the same level of media or popular traction.

Rush and Akin's comments are to Democratic cultural politics what Jaws was to movies about killer sharks. The fascination on the left may have devolved into Sharknado-level parody by now, but there's no doubting that a new genre was spawned. And to extend that metaphor, there's no point responding to these memes with policy prescriptions anymore than there is giving the Sharknado sequel a stern and serious negative review. There is no policy response to "binders full of women." None that matters.

Filner, Weiner and Spitzer give the GOP an easy (and potentially effective) opportunity to respond in kind. It may not be a reasoned policy argument but as we learned in 2012 that's not what wins elections.


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