Party platforms reveal

Published 6:31 pm Saturday, August 23, 2008

By Staff
attitudes toward women
We’re rolling toward the national party conventions, where the poobahs will gather to bloviate, preen, and pander to the American public in hopes of getting their votes in November. In the long past, conventions were for picking the nominees. Now, they’re just costly coronations with the added benefit of a chance to party hearty.
But there is still one piece of serious business that goes on — adoption of the party platforms. The platforms are the central message-giving instruments about party philosophies and plans. It is in those documents where we find out who and what they consider deserving of government attention, and what kind.
The contrasts are interesting. Let’s just take one constituency as an example. This constituency also happens to be the majority of the population, the majority of registered voters, and the majority that actually turns out on Election Day. That means this majority — female voters — can control any election.
The Republicans don’t talk about women too much in their platform — except as carriers of fertilized eggs, which in their view should have more rights than women. Taking away women’s basic right to control their own reproduction (and just incidentally their medical privacy) is front and center. The Democrats, on the other hand, want to preserve the right to abortion, while cutting down on the need for it by putting in some programs like comprehensive sex education in the schools. (For those out of the loop, we’re presently spending $170 million of our tax dollars annually for abstinence-only sex education, and teen pregnancy is up for the first time in 15 years. The Bush administration sees “no connection.” The current Republican platform calls for doubling the funding, even though the government’s own research shows the programs don’t work.)
Women beyond their reproductive years haven’t escaped attention. The Republicans want to privatize Social Security, women’s main retirement money, without which over 50 percent of elderly females would live in poverty. The platform doesn’t say what happens in case of a divorce, or bad investments in these glorious private accounts. Are the kids and grandkids going to write the checks every month? The Democrats are staunch in defending the system as is. Their standard-bearer also wants to raise the earnings cap subject to Social Security taxes, so the rich pay more of their fair share.
There are other differences. The Republicans don’t want women in combat, the Dems say let them perform any job for which they are qualified. The Democrats call for stronger equal-pay laws. The Republicans want to reward “individual responsibility and compassion” for family members (mostly women) providing long-term care for a relative. They deliver this “reward” through a tax deduction worth a few hundred dollars a year at most — talk about low-wage work!
None of this wrangling over what women can and can’t have, and can and can’t do, would be necessary if we had an Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The Republicans put the need for an ERA in their platform in 1940 — and took in out in 1976. The Democrats retained their ERA plank until 2004, when it disappeared without explanation.
For the Democrats, putting equal constitutional rights for the majority back in the platform would be a heck of a way to pull in the Hillary Clinton loyalists. If the Republicans did it, they could slow the steady exodus of female voters from their ranks. It remains to be seen whether either one will have the guts — or just party on and ignore the majority once again.