It is a mercy that the suffragettes aren’t around to see President Barack Obama’s campaign for the women’s vote. It would make them weep in dismay.
Almost a hundred years after passage of the 19th Amendment, the president is making perhaps the most superficial, misleading, and insulting appeal for the support of women in American presidential politics ever. It’s a wonder that his target audience doesn’t rise up as one and say, “Please, stop condescending to us.”
If David Axelrod is right, what women care about most is making other people, even religious employers, pay for their birth control. They love abortion with a single-minded passion. They are so easily manipulated that they can be motivated to oppose Mitt Romney because he said innocently in a debate that his aides brought him “binders full of women” to consider for his cabinet as Massachusetts governor.
They can be convinced that they are the victims of a “war on women” as long as the slogan is repeated over and over again. They can be made to believe that the Lilly Ledbetter Act is an epochal change in the balance of power between the genders, when pay discrimination has long been illegal and the Lilly Ledbetter Act merely tilts the playing field against employers and toward trial lawyers by allowing lawsuits years after alleged acts of pay discrimination.
The likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that women were just as capable of rational deliberation as men. The conceit of the Obama campaign is that, to the contrary, they are quite susceptible to a few powerful dog whistles and unable to see beyond their gender. To paraphrase a notorious post on the Obama campaign’s Tumblr page, “Ladies vote like their lady parts depend on it.”
The twentysomething filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham captured the sensibility perfectly in an instantly mocked video likening voting for Obama for the first time to having sex for the first time. “You want to do it with a great guy,” Dunham gushes. As the conservative writer John O’Sullivan noted, if Dunham can really compare “the excitement of her first vote to losing her virginity, one can only encourage her to persevere: Sex really will get better.”
Dunham’s pitch is fashioned, of course, to young, single women in particular. (One hopes that by age 35 or so, older and wiser, she will look back on the spot with embarrassment.) But single women in general are key to Obama’s coalition. He wants government to occupy an outsized role in their lives, as captured in the symbolism of his campaign. Obama was implicitly the husband of Julia, the cartoon character created to demonstrate the cradle-to-grave assistance rendered by his programs; Obama is implicitly Lena Dunham’s lover.
The czar in Russia styled himself the Great Father of the serfs. Obama is the Great Provider for the women in his coalition. He gives them material and emotional support. He helps them not have children, protects them from the depredations of their male employers, and scorns any suggestion that anyone ever have to fall back on self-reliance. The implicit picture his campaign paints of these women is one of economic powerlessness and extreme political credulity.
Every public-opinion poll that shows Mitt Romney closing the gap among women is a small victory for a less-slighting view of women. Not that the Romney campaign hasn’t engaged in its own embarrassingly simple-minded courtship of female voters. Its convention was devoted to it, and — reassuringly enough — got Romney nothing. He made his strides among women with a performance in the first debate that was substantive, future-oriented, and designed to speak to the entire country rather than to narrow slivers of the electorate.
The president is increasingly incapable of the latter. The former uniter is now a divider hoping enough women buy his insipid pitch. Let’s be glad that Susan B. Anthony and the gals are spared the spectacle.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 King Features Syndicate