Most years, Labor Day means a long lazy weekend of barbecues, fishing trips, and picnics before school and fall weather overtake us. But this year, deep into a presidential election, with a slumping national economy putting the pinch on workers, Labor Day's traditional meaning spotlights questions about working women that we want to ask John McCain.
Why are we questioning McCain and not Obama? We've listened carefully to the two candidates and we've examined their voting histories. Obama's record and rhetoric reassure us that, when it comes to the challenges facing working women, he gets it. But we're downright alarmed by what we've learned about John McCain..
Barefoot and Pregnant?
We're an advocate and academic, respectively, with longstanding passions for economic and reproductive justice for women. We've come to understand the direct and profound interconnections between the two. There's good reason why the words "barefoot and pregnant" have been so frequently joined together historically.
We haven't heard anyone question McCain from that intersection of women's lives, so we are asking him these questions:
First, John McCain, do you think women belong in the paid labor force? This might seem facetious or rhetorical, but it's a very serious, core question. We know your wife, Cindy, chairs the board of her family's company. And we've noticed your most visible surrogate to women voters is Carly Fiorina, who was until recently one of the top corporate CEOs in the country.
But surely you realize the overwhelming majority of women don't have the resources of these two women. So if you accept most women will spend some of their lives in the labor force, do you believe women should earn the same as men, for the same jobs? You've opposed the equal pay measure stalled in Congress-the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act --because you say it would "open us up to lawsuits". Open who up? And if you support equal pay for equal work, what would you do to guarantee it?
McCain Record on Votes That Could Help Children
Families where both partners are working for low wages, and especially families headed by single moms, deserve various kinds of support from a compassionate government. These families need access to affordable and high quality childcare. Most of all, they need affordable healthcare-for themselves, but especially for their children.
But, Senator McCain, your voting history on children's issues is abysmal. Can you explain to us why you voted-twice-against a reauthorization of S-Chip, the immensely popular state children's health insurance program-a program supported by many in your own party? Can you explain why your record on children's issues generally is so bad that the nonpartisan Children's Defense Fund in its 2007 Congressional scorecard on children's issues
rated you the senator with the worst voting record?
To participate in the workplace, women must be able to plan and space their childbearing. A government study found that 98% of heterosexually active American women had used contraception at some point, and a Rand study found that over five out of six support insurance coverage for family planning services. Access to contraception, clearly, is a deeply shared American family value.
Your voting record reveals you've cast dozens of votes opposing contraceptive coverage for insured women and family planning funding for low income uninsured women. Yet when a reporter asked your position on contraception, you stammered you didn't remember and asked your aide to "find out how you had voted." On another occasion, you famously squirmed and mumbled "I'll get back to you" when asked to explain Carly Fiorina's perfectly logical statement that it's unfair for insurance companies to cover Viagra™ but not contraception. Did Ms. Fiorina fail to get your memo to that in order to curry favor with the Religious Right your campaign had to adopt a strict anti-birth control policy?
If the stakes weren't so serious, your consistent stumbles-whenever asked about family planning issues-would be amusing. But it's no laughing matter that you would deny birth control access and simultaneously outlaw abortion.
Who's Wearing the Flip-flops?
We've noticed your flip flops on abortion, by the way. You identify as "pro-life," as is your right. Still, why have you abandoned your once nuanced positions? In 1999, you were on record as not wanting Roe v Wade overturned, recognizing-correctly-that allowing criminalization of abortion would lead to many injuries, even deaths. Now you've even picked a running mate--Sarah Palin--who like you wants to see Roe overturned. Period.
In 2000, you challenged George W. Bush to justify how he could possibly support the Republican party platform that calls for outlawing abortion with no exceptions-not for rape, incest, health, even life of the mother!
You were incredulous then that Bush refused to repudiate such extremism. And we are incredulous now, that in 2008, you don't push back against the extremists in your party who show such callous disregard for the lives of women.
Interconnections Are Clear; Answers Are Not
Senator McCain, where do you stand on these intersecting challenges facing working women? Is it really your vision that women should be paid less than men, accept unsatisfactory childcare and healthcare for their children, yet have limited access to contraception that could reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion, and risk possible injury or death, when--if you are in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices--abortion becomes once more illegal?
We're waiting for answers. Because if that's McCain's plan for working women, he'd be taking "barefoot and pregnant" to a whole new level, and the women of America deserve to know that before they cast their votes.
Forget the barbecue. It's time for real straight talk on this Labor Day.
Carole Joffe Is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis firstname.lastname@example.org. Gloria Feldt is author of The War on Choice and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She blogs at Heartfeldt Politics.