The new Republican House majority had no sooner settled into their offices than they proposed savage restrictions of women’s reproductive rights. Americans might question the GOP actions, since the new laws have nothing to do with Republican campaign promises to create jobs and reduce the Federal deficit. But it’s consistent with their archconservative ideology, yet another brutal attack in the three-decades-old Republican war on women.
During the Reagan regime, conservatives developed an ideology with three essential elements: unlimited military spending, unwarranted faith in the free market, and exaggerated emphasis on “traditional” values. Whatever we may think of the intellectual merits of their strategy, it reaped political rewards, producing twenty years of Republican Presidents. The GOP tenets recognized changing social mores: the desire of Southern Whites for an alternative to the Democratic Party they had come to see as favoring people-of-color and “undesirables;” the longing of many Americans for a simpler time; and widespread rural anger at coastal “elites” and their so-called “sixties values.”
Contemporary Republicans are still promoting the ideology that has worked for them if not for Americans, in general. Republicans maintain that it’s essential for the US to have the world’s largest military. And, despite the disastrous consequences of the Regan-Bush economic policies, the GOP dogmatically pursues the same flawed notions: low taxes for the wealthy, limited government, and an unregulated market place. And Republicans persist with their traditional values agenda.
There’s no reason to believe the GOP traditional values agenda has broad political appeal. Over the past decade attitudes about abortion have remained relatively static: three quarters of Americans believe that abortion should be available in some circumstances and only one quarter feels it should not be permitted at all. But abortion foes are primarily Republicans and, therefore, abortion has become a litmus test for GOP candidates; if a politician is not aggressively “pro life,” there is little chance that he or she can achieve national power in the GOP – that’s one of the reasons why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t touted as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate.
Abortion and rejection of same-sex marriage are the most visible manifestations of the Republican traditional values agenda. They are the banners that herald a conservative world-view that is radically different from that of progressives. In his landmark book, Moral Politics University of California Linguistics Professor George Lakoff examines the elemental differences between Republicans and Democrats. Most Republicans/conservatives favor a “strict father” family system, while most Democrats/progressives support a “nurturant parent” model. Lakoff explains how these alternative worldviews shape the divergent opinions about hot-button issues such as reproductive rights and pay equity.
Men and women are viewed quite differently in the competing worldviews. The conservative “strict father” family model casts the man as the unquestioned leader of the family: father, breadwinner, and protector. Women are subordinate to men, caregivers for the children and father.
This deep-seated paternalism has prompted Republican opposition to legislative measures to promote gender equality including ratification of the CEDAW treaty (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). At the November 18, 2010, Senate CEDAW hearing, only Steven Groves from the archconservative Heritage Foundation spoke in opposition. Groves claimed CEDAW has a clandestine pro-abortion agenda, “[seeks] the modification of the roles of men and women as husbands, wives, caregivers, and breadwinners,” and “supports the concept of ‘comparable worth’ to address allegations of gender discrimination in compensation.” As a consequence, no Republican Senator supported the ratification of CEDAW and it never came up for a full Senate vote.
The Republican traditional values agenda is the bulwark of their three-decades-long war against women, an absolute repudiation of the notion of gender equality. There are three aspects of this campaign of which the attack on reproductive rights is the most visible. Conservatives believe that women’s access to contraception and reproductive services has undermined the family. Recognizing that a strong majority of Americans wants abortion to remain legal and affordable, Republicans have been chipping away at it bit by bit (That’s the purpose of the “Smith bill” H.R. 3 and the “Pitts bill” H.R. 358.)
But there are two equally important wings of the traditional values agenda. Republican oppose pay equity. That’s why they show so little regard for employment discrimination, the fact that women typically earn 23 percent less than men for comparable work.
Finally, Republicans seek to diminish the number of women in American politics and in the 2010 elections they turned back the tide of slow but steady progress. After the mid-term elections there were fewer women in the House of Representatives and fewer women in state legislatures.
In the final analysis, contemporary Republican ideology has three interlocked components: promoting a permanent state of war; favoring the interests of the rich over those of the poor; and relegating women to be second-class citizens whose rights are subordinate to those of men.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at email@example.com