WASHINGTON — How many years of the woman have we had? Let me count.
To the extent that women’s votes count more than men’s, it’s been the year of the woman since at least 1964 — when women began outvoting men.
In 2008, 10 million more women than men voted, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The operative assumption, obviously, is that women pick winners and losers as a voting bloc. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that more women are trending toward Barack Obama over Mitt Romney — but this is only partly owing to the usual, so-called “women’s issues.” And it is, potentially, temporary.
Thanks to certain outspoken members/supporters of the GOP, the Democratic Party has been able to capitalize on a fiction created by the Obama campaign — the alleged “war on women.”
It is not helpful when people such as Rush Limbaugh call Sandra Fluke a “slut” for her position that insurance should cover contraception. Then there was Todd Akin’s strange intelligence that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant, a flourish of rare ignorance. Check the birthrates in countries where rape is employed as a weapon. Finally, some Republican-led states have waved one too many ultrasound wands at women.
While these incidents and anecdotes provide handy faces for dart practice, they constitute a war on women only if all women find these positions reprehensible. And, only if all women care more about contraception and reproductive rights above all other issues, which is not the case.
This also happens to be the year of the fiscal cliff, when automatic spending cuts go into effect at the same time Bush-era tax breaks expire. It’s the fourth year of a $1 trillion budget deficit. It is also the year that the number of unemployed Americans is still too high and economic recovery too slow.
It is the year that al-Qaida caught its breath and began gaining traction again, and when terrorists murdered one of our ambassadors. It is another year when America’s standing as the world’s brightest light continues to dim; and that the Arab Spring descended into an extremist winter.
These are things that women care about, too.
Women, in other words, recognize the gravity of the problems this nation faces and likely will pick a candidate based on these issues rather than on a party’s platform on abortion and contraception.
In fact, women, who are not a monolithic group any more than men are, don’t really rank reproductive issues at the top of their concerns. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that fewer than 1 percent of respondents mentioned women’s health or birth control as top election-year issues. On access to birth control and abortion, attitudes tend to reflect party affiliation rather than gender. A USA Today-Gallup poll earlier this year found that women split on abortion in numbers comparable to the country as a whole, which is 49 percent to 45 percent favoring abortion rights.
Topping women’s concerns are the same things that are men’s highest concerns — the economy and jobs. The smartest candidate will recognize this sooner rather than later.
In Virginia’s Senate race between former Govs. Tim Kaine and George Allen, Kaine, the Democrat, has tried to merge the issues. Abortion and birth control are fundamentally economic issues, he says. Few seem to recall that in one of the early Republican primary debates, Romney responded to a question about contraception as follows: “It’s working just fine. Just leave it alone.”
This doesn’t sound like a call to arms against women.
When subsequently asked what he thought about the gender gap, Romney said he wished his wife, Ann, were there to answer the question. Romney benefits greatly from his better half, as he would put it, but he errs in thinking a woman would do a better job answering the question than would a man.
Women do not require special handling because for the most part they do not think of themselves first or primarily as women. This is the big news for those men who failed to take note.
Women think of themselves as breadwinners and job-seekers. They think of themselves as parents who want good schools for their kids and enough money to send them to college. They think of themselves as Americans who worry about national security and the nation’s image abroad.
These are the issues that matter to women, the vast majority of whom will cast their votes accordingly. How about we ditch the gender nonsense and declare this the year of the American?
Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is email@example.com.