President Barack Obama weighed in on what many have characterized as the "War on Women" in a press conference Tuesday, criticizing Rush Limbaugh for his incendiary comments about Sandra Fluke and speculating about which issues will matter to women in the 2012 elections.
Asked whether he believed Limbaugh's apology to Fluke, made after a number of advertisers had already severed ties with his show, was sincere, Obama said he wasn't going to comment on the "economics and politics" of the situation. But he did take a minute to explain why Limbaugh's comments struck a very personal chord for him as a father of two daughters.
"I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology," Obama said. "What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree on, that the remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse. And the reason I called [Fluke] is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about--even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way, and I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they are being good citizens."
Obama said he called Fluke personally on Friday because he wanted to thank her for having the courage to speak out, but also to send a message to all young people that they shouldn't be intimidated by Limbaugh's incendiary remarks and discouraged from taking a stand on issues that are important to them.
"I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her and that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate," he said. "We want you to be engaged, and there is a way to do it that doesn't involve you being demeaned and insulted."
Limbaugh's comments sparked an enormous controversy partly because of the way in which they fit into a larger political narrative currently unfolding, as primarily Republican legislators in multiple states push legislation targeting women's access to abortion and contraception. The women's vote was a huge part of Obama's win in 2008, and many have speculated that the politicization of contraception and other women's issues will give him the same voter boost in 2012.
When asked about the so-called "War on Women" and whether it will help him and the Democrats in the next election, Obama stressed the fact that women are not going to be single-issue voters, but added that Democrats "have a better story to tell."
Women are going to make up their own minds in this election about who is advancing the issues they care most deeply about. One of the things I've learned being married to Michelle is I don't need to tell her what it is she thinks is important, and there are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issues. It's not going to be narrowly focused just on contraception, it's not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer. It's going to be driven by their view of what's most likely to make sure they can help support their families, make their mortgage payments, who's got a plan to ensure that middle class families are secure over the long term, what's most likely to result in their kids being able to get the education they need to compete, and I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women about how we are going to solidify the middle class and grow this economy, make sure everybody has a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, and we got a fair set of rules of the road everybody has to follow. So I'm not somebody who believes that women will be single-issue voters, they never have been. But I do think we have a strong story to tell when it comes to women.
Moment's after Obama made his comments, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) fired back with a Facebook post calling attention to "Real Time" host Bill Maher's donation to an Obama-allied super PAC. Maher has made several gender-based verbal attacks against Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) during his stand-up comedy routines.
"Pres. Obama says he called Sandra Fluke because of his daughters," Palin wrote. "For the sake of everyone's daughter, why doesn't his super PAC return the $1 million he got from a rabid misogynist?'