Until the GOP Changes, Attention on Sandra Won't Be a Fluke

Until the Republican Party changes its rhetoric, people like Sandra Fluke will get attention like Time's Person of the Year consideration.

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Conservatives are very much in arms over the news that Sandra Fluke, she of the uber-expensive birth control problem, is under consideration to be Time's Person of the Year.

Actually, the magazine—even in considering her—has a point, since the award is supposed to go to the person or person who had the biggest influence on the events of the day over the previous year. As the anchor for the liberals' "war on women" attack against Mitt Romney and the GOP, she can arguably be called the public face of the issue that helped turn the election.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

In hindsight, the Republicans didn't realize what was up, at least not until it was too late. The claims made by Ms. Fluke and others regarding the issue of birth control were, to most Americans, so outrageous as to be, if not unbelievable at least wide-open to parody and ridicule—except for a subgroup of women, especially those of college age or in graduate school. They struck right at the heart of what their professors and campus organizations had been telling them about the Republicans: that they hate women, regard them as second-class citizens and baby factories, and do not take them seriously. The media echo chamber's repetition of the comments made by some Republicans and some commentators about Ms. Fluke only helped reinforce that view—which hurt because this election, for Obama, was not about turning out as many American to vote as possible. It was about turning out, in higher numbers than the GOP expected, the right kinds of Americans, meaning those who would vote for Obama.

That may sound like a study of the obvious but Obama and the Democrats spent a lot of time and money to make it happen. The idea that the GOP was engaged in a "war on women" resonated with younger Obama voters and helped drive them to the polls on Election Day.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is There a Republican 'War on Women'?]

Moving forward, the GOP has a lot to do to repair the damage caused by the allegation that there was a "war on women." This does not mean, however, that they should move left. Electing Washington State Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers to lead the House Republican Conference is a smart move, as is making Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn vice chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It will be important in the days and weeks ahead for the party to give its women elected officials—including New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep.-elect Ann Wagner, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and other prominent women within the party leadership, both formal and informal, the opportunity to take their case directly to the American people. There is no GOP "war on women" but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner are not the best ones to make that case.

Once the Republicans become comfortable talking about all issues as though they were women's issues too—issues like unemployment, economic growth, job creation, education, and healthcare as well as the so-called social issues—they will be demonstrating that women have a home in the GOP. Until they do however it will be the Sandra Flukes of the world that continue to carry the day when it counts.

  • Read Leslie Marshall: Sandra Fluke Belongs on Time's 'Person of the Year' List
  • Read Ford O'Connell: Shelley Moore Capito Can Win in West Virginia
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