If there's one thing I've learned about women, it's that they love it when men belittle their concerns. When angry, they adore being told to "calm down." When worried, they want you to pat them on the head. When they have an issue, say, "Don't be silly." Works every time.
Don Draper must be giving sensitivity training to the Republican Party these days as they deal with the fallout from the war on women. They've tried hiding behind priests' vestments, all-male congressional panels and Rush Limbaugh's giant mouth, but younger women are leaving the Republican Party so quickly it's as if someone just put on The Three Stooges. The latest Gallup poll of 12 battleground states showed that women under 50 now support the president over Mitt Romney by a 2-1 margin after being tied a month ago.
Barack Obama leads Romney among all women by 18 points. In 2008, the gender gap was only 12 points. If those numbers hold, Obama can begin writing another inaugural speech. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at those numbers and concluded, "It's over." Republicans might be stuck in a dystopian version of the 19th Century, but they're not stupid. Without women on their side, Republicans will have to pray for an immaculate election.
The real issue here is that Republicans oppose the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare. Obama thinks birth control is preventative medicine that should be freely available to women to prevent the unintended pregnancies that some say are linked to abortions or unexpected children. When these symptoms occur among poor women, we pay for them through Medicaid, costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Not only is Obamacare preventing unintended pregnancies, but also unnecessary taxpayer expense.
Many Republicans read the words "contraceptive mandate" and imagine a pharmaceutically induced Caligula. They think taxpayers are footing the bills for dorm room orgies and other sexual excesses that offend their moral cores. This is why social conservatives sincerely believe liberals are waging a war on religion. From inside their alternate universe of religion and sexual prohibition, the concerns of sexually active women must seem illogical, even frivolous.
Enter stage right Reince Priebus, the Republican Party Chairman whose name seems more at home in The Hunger Games than the morning newspaper. He stepped in it recently when he called the "war on women" a liberal media fantasy akin to a war on larva.
"If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars," said Priebus.
In other words, calm down ladies, don't worry your pretty little heads. Predictably, comparing their concerns to caterpillars angered liberals ("You're not listening!") and confused conservatives ("Oh, now, honey... "). Mitt Romney, the safety school of the Republican Party, attempted to both minimize and recast this controversy in a way that, I promise you, I am quoting verbatim:
"But there's no question that over the past several weeks, that a discussion about religious liberty was distorted into a discussion about contraceptives. And there was the somehow Republicans are opposed to contraceptives. I think it was most unfortunate twist by our Democrat friends. I think this will pass as an issue as people understand our real position," said Romneybot, whose language chip must need to be upgraded.
Like a married couple that has different versions of the same fight over decades, the war on women will not "pass as an issue" until conservatives stop putting priests between women and their pharmacists and start listening to their real concerns. If the Republican Party stops trying to start a theocracy in women's pants, women might start listening to the Republican Party again.
A good start for Republicans might be to find some credible women to speak on their behalf. The first Bush had Mary Matalin. The second Bush had Karen Hughes. All Republicans have left is Ann Coulter, the Tokyo Rose of feminism. Republicans cannot close the gender gap with spokesmodels such as Reince "Caterpillar" Priebus, Eric "Etch a Sketch" Fehrnstrom and Mitt Romney, three guys who think the problem will go away when we stop talking about it.