John McCain's Wrong Answers to Working Women's Questions--Now Give Him Your Answer at the Ballot Box

12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Gloria Feldt Author, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power

By Carole Joffe and Gloria Feldt
Don't get excited. John McCain didn't respond directly to the questions about his positions on economic and reproductive justice we first put to him on Labor Day here at Huffington Post and have been asking him ever since.

Since then, he shocked even us with his over the top contempt for women during his third debate with Barack Obama. When Obama expressed concern over the Supreme Court's upholding a federal abortion ban because it didn't contain an exception for women's health, McCain made "air quotes"
around "health exception," and declared, " You know that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement to mean almost anything."

We could tell lots of stories about women whose lives and reproductive capacity have depended on their access to the banned abortion methods, but who could top Samantha Bee's
send up
of McCain's insensitivity?

Turns out McCain's dismissal of the health issues facing real women in the real world is of a piece with his record on many other issues facing working women.

So now, as election day (finally!) looms tomorrow, and in the midst of an economic meltdown that disproportionately affects women , especially unmarried women, it's time to revisit the questions we asked John McCain on Labor Day and later expanded to include his running mate Sarah Palin. Below is the original post's questions with updates and additional links to the answers we found:

The frenzied media circus surrounding McCain's choice for running mate, Sarah Palin surfaced many questions, some of an unduly personal nature. But some of those personal matters, like her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy , raise legitimate questions about McCain's policy agenda.

We take seriously Barack Obama's eloquent plea that candidates' families-and especially their children -- be allowed a zone of privacy. And we feel compassion for the two teenagers whose personal lives are being publicly dissected literally around the globe. But any candidate's positions on policy matters -- some of which in this case bear directly on the issues surrounding sex, pregnancy, childbearing, and family well-being-are most certainly fair game for discussion in this election. They affect every American, after all.

So while we agree that Bristol and Levi should be left in peace, John McCain's choice of Palin only intensifies our concerns about his responsiveness to serious issues facing most working women.

Yes, yes, we know that Sarah Palin is herself a working woman. A working woman on steroids, some might argue, given that she went back to work three days after giving birth to her son, Trig. 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.

It's positive news that Palin's candidacy has jettisoned these policy matters squarely into the public eye. For we haven't heard anyone question McCain from that intersection of women's lives during the hours of airtime, barrels of ink, and glut of blogposts that have been given over to the Palin family's predicament. So we are asking him these questions now, while the glare of voter interest shines light on them:

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. Until you asked Palin to be your running mate, which tells us you think it's right for women to hold the highest political offices, your most visible surrogate to women voters was Carly Fiorina, until recently a top corporate CEO. [Update: and now "until recently" a McCain surrogate, having too often spoken the truth.]

But surely you realize the overwhelming majority of women don't have the resources of these women. Teen moms in particular are more likely to live in poverty because of truncated educational opportunities. And many of these young mothers do not have a supportive family, with financial resources to help them, as Bristol Palin is fortunate enough to have. So they're going to have to enter the workforce to feed their children.

If you accept most women will spend some of their lives in the labor force, then, do you believe women should earn the same as men, for the same jobs? You have both opposed the equal pay measure stalled in Congress-the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act -- you say it's because 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?

[Update: Just after you called your running mate the "direct counterpart to the liberal, feminist agenda", she made a speech in which she claimed to be a direct counterpart of McCain's view. Still, as Amie Newman reports:

Palin stood with McCain in support of the Supreme Court case that ruled there is a statute of limitations for bringing a suit against an employer for equal pay. It begs the question: why are women in the McCain campaign worthy of equal pay when the rest of American women are not?

Palin in fact proposed what seem to be concrete policy ideas that included "flexibility in labor laws so women could engage in more telecommuting and would push for a tax code "that doesn't penalize working families." She did not elaborate on how that relates to Senator McCain's overall economic plan that provides relief in the form of the largest tax cuts for the highest income generating families. In addition, in fact, McCain's plan allows for less tax relief for working families than does Senator Obama's.

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?

In Palin's convention speech, she said that families with special needs would have a "friend in the White House". Why didn't you vote to increase funding for children with disabilities?

[Update: According to 9to5's former director Ellen Bravo, "Unfortunately, [Palin's] main proposal is more taxpayer money for private school vouchers, a program that has proven to be stunningly unaccountable and supports schools that exclude most special needs kids."]

And while we're at it, do you think it was right for Palin to slash funding for children with special needsin Alaska during her two years a governor, just as she also slashed funding for programs that help pregnant teens become self supporting. With friends like these...

But let's step back to where it all starts, or should start, with planning and prevention. 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 five of six Americans support insurance coverage of family planning services. Access to contraception, clearly, is a deeply shared American family value.

[Update: Your running mate, Senator McCain,">told Katie Couric she does not support emergency contraception, which could prevent up to half of abortions. Do you?]

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? Or perhaps the subject of sexuality is so uncomfortable for you that you think your votes for the discredited abstinence-only sex education program is a sufficient response?

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, quash comprehensive and medically accurate sex education and yet simultaneously move to outlaw abortion.

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 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 woman!

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.

[ Update: The nation was shocked to see you dismiss women's health with your "quotation" hand gesture in the third debate. Guess that's our answer.]

What's more You've chosen a running mate whose views on abortion are in line with those extremists.

[UPDATE: Since you've chosen a vice presidential running mate who affirms to the right-wing Focus on the Family's Rev. James Dobson that she supports the entire draconian anti-choice Republican platform, and so do you,] She's even said that if her own daughter were raped, she'd expect her to carry the pregnancy to term.

Senator McCain, where do you stand on these intersecting challenges facing 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 and medically accurate, comprehensive sex education 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 --a bortion becomes once more illegal?

Because if that's your plan for women, you'll be taking "barefoot and pregnant" to a whole new level, and the women of America deserve to know that before they cast their votes.
It's time for real straight talk on how your policies affect real women, Senator McCain.

[Update: The best thing about such a protracted and visible campaign is that the answers have become unmistakably clear with or without your lack of direct response to our queries. Now it's up to the voters to give you their answer at the ballot box by pulling the lever for Barack Obama.]

Carole Joffe Is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis. Gloria Feldt blogs at Heartfeldt Politics . She is author of The War on Choice and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.