The Republican Party Needs YOU! (But do you want them?)
Suzannah von Strandmann
The centrality of women at this year’s Republican National Convention will not have escaped the attention of even the most inattentive of onlookers.
From the delicate sensibilities of Ann Romney’s appeal to the “silent majority” of mothers, wives, grandmothers and daughters, to the capable edicts of the former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, women were important. Why so?
This manoeuvre, carefully orchestrated by the Romney-Ryan campaign, was intended to tackle a serious image problem that exists between female voters and their prospects’ high hopes for office.
In May, Mitt trailed Barack by 20 points with female voters – a situation undoubtedly compounded by Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” comments.
Though the Romney campaign would have us believe that Akin is an extreme right outlier, he and Romney’s new running mate have stood toe to toe on several issues that show sympathy for his opinions, including a bill that would have narrowed the definition of rape to mean ‘forcible rape’.
In the recent past, however, the Republican party did not have the same patriarchal tendencies that it appears to have now. The Grand Old Party was the first to mandate that women be equally represented in its national and executive committees – a move not followed by the Democrats until three decades later.
In like manner, Prescott Bush, progenitor of the illustrious Bush dynasty, was treasurer for the first national Planned Parenthood fundraiser. Ironic, then, that the Romney-Ryan campaign plans to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s birth control programmes – a vital healthcare service for millions of women across the US.
Limiting the definition of rape and restricting access to contraceptive programmes – is it any wonder that they need the pragmatism of Condi Rice or the bathos of Ann Romney to provide a crutch to the campaign?
This, however, is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, has rued the consequences of the Romney-Ryan campaign’s intention to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act: “When breast cancer survivors like me have to choose between radiation or chemotherapy because they can’t afford deductibles and co-pays, that’s a thing of the past under Obama.”
The ideology of the Republican Party relies heavily on the ideal of individual actualisation of the American Dream – free from State intervention.
Unsurprisingly then, it is those most vulnerable sectors of society that are hardest hit by the Romney-Ryan intention to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants and other programmes that women disproportionately rely on for retirement security and healthcare.
It is this disproportionately negative effect on those that are most vulnerable in society, that led to numerous protests outside the convention centre.
The social justice movement Code Pink: Women for Peace were in force for the duration of the conference. Twice their activists interrupted the opening night pageantry with the protestations: ”You only talk about business. You only talk about corporations, not people. We need to support people over profits.”
It was not, however, supporting people that was at the forefront of Paul Ryan’s mind when he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act earlier this year.
Although Mitt Romney has remained suspiciously silent on the issue, it was the Republicans that defeated the 2007 version of the bill. “Romney and the New Hampshire Republican Party should also consider this isn’t just about women. It’s all about families and their economic security,” said Ledbetter, the inspiration for the equal pay act.
Republican reticence towards State intervention in social matters does not extend, however, to women’s corporeality. “Get Your Mitts Out of My Pants” read one placard outside the convention centre, no doubt reacting to a Republican back proposed personhood amendment which would criminalise abortion nationwide.
This would offer no exceptions for incest, rape – “legitimate” or otherwise – or to protect a mother’s own life in those pregnancies where she was in danger.
Although Romney has flip-flopped on the issue of abortion, Ryan, once again, made his position clear by voting to support a ban on federal funding to any clinic that performs abortions and denying payment for abortions via federal insurance vouchers or Medicaid.
A recent poll showed that only 38% of women wouldn’t vote for a candidate who differed from them on abortion rights – maybe it’s the equal pay, or the reduction in healthcare services, or restricting access to contraceptives that’s the problem for the Romney-Ryan campaign?
State intervention may not be high on the political agenda for Republicans, but policing women, both their welfare and their bodies, seems to be.
No matter how coyly Ann Romney reaches out and reassures that her husband will bear the needs of women and families in mind, the eradication of female personal autonomy under a Republican government is being made abundantly clear to voters.
When taking the formal lid off their formal political language, it is deeply disconcerting to see what lies in the Republican mind beneath.
One highly concerning example is that of the actions of two attendees at this years’ conference who sparked outrage by throwing nuts at a black female camera woman, jeering: “This is how we feed animals!”
The convention swiftly ejected them and publicly denounced the behaviour as ‘deplorable’, but it is important to see that the actions were not necessarily isolated from the arena in which they occurred. To borrow Jezebel’s take on it:
“(N)ow’s the time to take a shower and sober up because this is the sort of bullshit, however isolated this incident may be, that makes everyone realize that inflammatory GOP rhetoric is doing its part to herd voters away from the 21st century we’re all clearly now inhabiting.”
Mitt’s team may have realised that the female vote is central to their success, but control over the female body is the tip of the iceberg to that which is central in their ideas.