Everyone, meet Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), currently Vice-Chairman of the House Republican Conference and thus the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress. The highest-ranking Democratic woman is still House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), if anyone cares. But we all know Pelosi well; she’s standard-issue when it comes to crafting her party’s message for women. McMorris Rodgers is not. As you’ll see, it’s actually a priority for her.
The profile spends a lot of time on her efforts to appeal to female voters with free-market rhetoric and “pocketbook issues” including jobs, health care and family policy. Like many Republicans and a few independent women who dislike pandering (like me!), she’s not fond of the Democrats’ belief that women need government at all times, most recently exemplified by The Life of Julia. The difference is that McMorris Rodgers (who I’m calling CMR from now on) sees a political opportunity more clearly than her male counterparts.
Let’s use Julia as our example of the ideal Democratic woman. She took Head Start as a youngster; she went to a public school, as do her kids; she paid for her college education with some state aid; she uses her parents’ health coverage; she is not closed off to suing for equal pay; she has student loans, but pays them off steadily; her health insurance covers everything concerned with childbirth, including contraception; her own small business depends on certain tax cuts; and she uses both Medicare and Social Security. All with the Obama administration’s help.
Now, based on CMR’s talk, let’s develop an avatar for the ideal GOP woman. We’ll call her Natalie. (I’m watching Star Wars prequels as I write this.) Her own small business depends on certain tax cuts. Everything else is up to the free market and what she decides to buy and sell from it. Also, she definitely has or will have kids. Done.
Do you see the disconnect? It’s not just that Democrats see a bigger role for government and Republicans see a smaller one. CMR throws around the words “family” and “children” much more often than single, childless/childfree women might like. Say what you will about Democrats and birth control, but at least they acknowledge that some women don’t want children at any given moment, or perhaps at all. Paternalism is the Democratic woman problem; natalism is the Republican one. Either you marry a father figure or vote for one.
Once CMR can capture this segment of the female electorate, her goal will be met. The only thing all women have in common is the desire for respect for our choices, and space to make good on them.