Rand Paul grabbed headlines on Sunday by claiming on Meet the Press that "if there was a war on women, I think they won." While it would be a delightful change of pace if that were Paul's way of announcing a desire to see conservatives cease with the relentless attacks on women's rights, in context, it's clear that Paul was basically offering up a justification for continuing the war on women:
PAUL: This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head because if there was a war on women, I think they won. You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful. I have a niece at Cornell vet school, and 85% of the young people there are women. Law school, 60% are women. In med school, 55%. My younger sister is an OB-GYN with six kids and doing great. I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden. I see women rising up and doing great things. In fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women are outcompeting the men in our world [...]
The women in my family are doing great. That’s what I see in all the statistics coming out. I have, you know, young women in my office that are the leading intellectual lights of our office. So I don’t really see this, that there’s some sort of war on women that’s, you know, keeping women down. I see women doing great and I think we should extol that success and not dumb it down into a political campaign that somehow one party doesn’t like women or that. I think that’s what’s happened. It’s all been for political purposes.
While Paul didn't mention little things like abortion or contraception, the implication was clear: Women have it pretty good, so there's no reason to get all bent out of shape about attacks on reproductive rights, ladies. You get to go to school now, so why complain about losing access to basic medical care? After all, Paul's own sister has six kids and a medical practice, so if unwanted child-bearing throws you off your game, it's your fault for not having a wealthy congressman for a father.
It's not just that Paul defines women as having more than enough because he knows a bunch who are doing really well. Or that he completely ignores the fact that women are still paid less than men and that, in his own workplace, the U.S. Congress, women hold less than 20 percent of seats. It's that he begrudges women their successes while pretending to celebrate them. Like the fact that women are populating universities at really high rates. That's great! (And also in large part because of Title IX, a law that was passed in 1972 that was remarkably successful at rooting out many of the structural obstacles that made it hard for women to get higher education—a law that a libertarian like Paul would never have supported.) "I see women rising up and doing great things," he says. But, "I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women are outcompeting the men in our world." Perhaps a little bit of career-derailing unwanted childbearing will do the trick.
Between this comment and Mike Huckabee's last week, it's starting to seem that many Republicans have decided to give up on trying to appeal to female voters. Despite couching their remarks in insincere, smarmy praise for women, the clear message coming from Republicans lately is that ladies can't keep their legs shut and are hogging up all the degrees. Conservatives may reject the phrase "war on women," but that doesn't mean they won't pander for votes by waging it.