The “War on Women” Is Over
The life cycle of a political talking point, from birth to adolescence to death.
The prefab talking point was an enormous help. Why? Limbaugh only noticed Fluke in the first place because she’d testified on the “contraception mandate” recently enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services. That issue was supposed to rally Americans of Faith against the Obama administration. Democrats eventually turned it into the Midway of the War on Women.
Old age. A talking point either fades or it devours itself. The “war on women” started swallowing its tail on April 5, when Al Hunt asked RNC Chairman Reince Priebus if this whole “war” thing was legit. “If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars,” he said, “and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars.” Anyway, Priebus explained, it was all a distraction from Obama’s “war against the Vatican.”
Republicans were through with this. The “war on women” would be mocked to death. On Twitter, the hashtag #waronwomen was co-opted, becoming a one-stop joke shop. The Washington Free Beacon, a new-ish site of anti-Democrat “combat journalism,” started running stories about President Obama’s “boys club.” And Mitt Romney’s campaign put together a fightback. “They will try to debunk the notion that Romney's policies have hurt women,” reported the New York Times’ Trip Gabriel and Ashley Parker, “turn the criticism back on Obama and outline how they believe women have suffered under his administration, and brand those issues in a memorable way.”
The strategy was rolled out at a campaign stop in Wilmington, Del., this week. Standing in front of a crowd of XX-chromosomed Americans, a blue-blazered Mitt Romney declared that “the real war on women” was “job losses in the Obama years.” Democrats had gone after anti-contraception bills? Fine. Romney would go after unemployment. On Thursday, the Republican National Committee issued a nine-page memo on Obama’s war against women, citing such evidence as “an unnamed high-ranking female official” who believed “Obama ‘has a real woman problem.’ ”
Death. As Romney and the RNC fought back, Democrats started to choke. In her fateful CNN appearance, right before she evaluated Ann Romney’s economics cred, Hilary Rosen begged the media to “just get rid of this word, ‘war on women.’ ” After all, “the Obama campaign does not use it, President Obama does not use it—this is something that the Republicans are accusing people of using.”
On Thursday, as the Rosen saga unfolded, DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse echoed her plea for peace. “I'm not a fan of the term,” he said in an interview. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve probably used it. We all fall into these easy vernaculars … but we in the DNC have not been running a campaign based on the term ‘war on Women.’ That's a myth cooked up by Republicans.”
Ding-dong, the talking point is dead. But don’t fret too much for the Democrats. They’ll find another zinger.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.