Why did President Obama choose to appear on The View? The answer is simple. The View's audience is 79% female and Obama has a women problem. Obama's approval among women voters has plunged from 59% to 45% during his term in office. Here's a shocker: just one-third of white women approve of the president.
In fairness to President Obama, his policies and lackadaisical focus on women's issues only partially explain this nosedive with women. The Democratic Party -- once heralded as the party of equality -- has lost its moral authority with women after the misogyny-fest of 2008. Suddenly, Democratic and newly-minted Independent women are reexamining their political-selves and priorities. The Republican Party, sensing this shift, is gearing up to feature a strong field of women in 2010 and beyond. Will the Republican Party succeed in becoming the party of women? And will the Democratic Party fight for women's vote?
There are 3 major factors that have made Democratic and Independent women voters transient.
1. A redefinition of "women's issues"
Traditional feminists and women's groups have sought to narrowly define issues that matter to women. Since many of these issues, such as abortion rights and legislating equal pay, were aligned with the Democratic Party, so too were women's votes.
More recently, women are increasingly concerned about a broad set of policies. We prioritize such things as creating jobs (especially for small businesses that disproportionately employ women), reducing the deficit burden left on our children, and ending fruitless wars to bring our children home.
We want the next generation to have opportunities. Yet, under the current administration, less than one-third believe that the American Dream is intact. This is the thought that keeps mothers awake at night.
2. The Democratic Party lost it's moral authority
The Democratic Party of the Roosevelts and Kennedys was based on the notion of equality. Yet in 2008, we learned that equality of the gender variety had de minimis standing in the current Democratic Party.
In 2007-08, the Democratic Party fielded its first viable female presidential candidate. What ensued was a onslaught of horrific, shameful, overt sexism for which the Democratic Party was silent and in some cases complicit (if you forgot how bad it got, watch here.)
Where were the DNC officials? Where were the Democratic elected officials? Where was Obama and his aids? Why did so few speak out?
What ensued was an awakening. A realization that in 2008, sexism was alive and well in our country -- and in some instances, was promulgated by the Democratic Party and the liberal media. And as women increasingly feel betrayed, their loyalty and attachment to the Democratic Party has cooled.
3. Gender representation vs. policy
Until recently, conventional wisdom has been that the best way to better conditions for women was to elect politicians who would support women's policies. The gender of the politician was secondary. When Obama was elected, Ms. magazine issued a special Inaugural edition cover featuring Obama in a superman pose with a t-shirt proclaiming: "This is What a Feminist Looks Like". Foreboding perhaps.
In the ensuing year, neither women nor women's issues fared particularly well under President Obama (even the widely ballyhooed signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act only makes it easier to file pay-discrimination suits). By early 2010, an article at BlogHer queried: Are Democrats Losing Their Hold Over Women? and noted: "Maybe women on the left are realizing that they are more than their uterus...Women are drawn to other women in leadership."
Republicans seemed to sense this discontent and presented women with an alternative to the narrow-issued, male-represented version of Feminism embodied by the Ms. cover. The new vision is a broad-issued, women-represented, women-supporting-women, Pro-Women movement.
Whereas the policy argument makes women passively dependent on progressive male candidates; the gender representation alternative posits: get women into leadership and the rest will take care of itself!
So while the DNC failed to back numerous qualified women running in 2010 primaries such as Jennifer Brunner (OH) and Colleen Hanabusa (HI), the RNC fielded and supported a bevy of qualified women. In the Year of the Woman, many of these Republican women are running to become historical firsts as governors (states include OK, SC, GA, NM and CA).
Republican women candidates are also supported by women in their party. F0r example, Sarah Palin endorsed so many women in her party that The New York Times reported: ...the biggest furor so far has erupted here, with a leader of an anti-abortion group, Georgia Right to Life, accusing Ms. Palin of "endorsing any female Republican candidate that she could find." Jan Brewer, viewed by Politico as a rising star, has also actively endorsed women in her party.
The sexism the 2008 election will forever change the political landscape. Millions of women voters, be they registered Democrats or newly-minted Independents, no longer feel that they have a home in the Democratic Party. If the Democratic Party does not yet realize this, the Republican Party does!
The next year will be very telling. Women voters have decided every modern day presidential election. If the Democratic Party continues its tone-deafness to women voters, it does so at its own political peril.