This opinion piece originally appeared on TheHill.com on November 23, 2010.
The Dissonance of Dick Morris
By Marjorie Dannenfelser
Dick Morris and Eileen McGann sure know how to rain on a Thanksgiving Parade.
In a recent column on the 2010 elections, Morris and McGann note the fact that Democratic candidates lost ground among women voters this year and assert that it is because the abortion issue has lost its “saliency.”
Republicans did gain strongly among female voters this year, but Morris and McGann have scant evidence to support their conclusion. One senses they would welcome a shift away from the life issue in the Republican Party, which they describe, again with little or no evidence, as becoming “more secular.” It’s an odd way to react to an election in which the vast majority of newly-elected conservatives fit the “God and country” mold of the Tea Party movement.
Moreover, the vast majority of the new officeholders – who will be streaming into Washington and the state capitals in the days ahead – are articulate defenders of the right to life. This is especially true of the women who claimed victory on election night. In fact, the most notable feature they have in common is that not one of them is a champion of “reproductive rights.”
The Senate will have one fewer pro-choice woman, Blanche Lincoln, and one stellar champion of life, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. The state capitals will have three new pro-life women governors (and no new pro-choice women governors), including two who have already become national figures in their party: Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. The first Republican African American Lieutenant Governor in Florida, Jennifer Carroll, also ran as a pro-life candidate.
The incoming House Republican leadership will include two eloquent pro-life voices: the returning Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state and freshman Kristi Noem of South Dakota, a businesswoman and rancher who upset one of the Democratic Party’s young female guns, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin.
These women embody the new pro-life feminism, the one that says women can be pro-family, pro-business, educated and concerned about government and has won new support among traditionally Democratic female voters.
Yes, we stipulate to the loquacious Morris that the GOP has enjoyed a sizable advantage among married women. Being the party of family values has resonated with this voting segment.
For a generation or more – the GOP lost the vote of unmarried women. But, Morris traces that fact to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and the subsequent “attraction” of women to pro-choice candidates. That is both a facile and fragile assumption.
Many younger women have been drawn to the liberal side of the ledger since the early 1970s because of the Democratic Party’s association with civil rights, opposition to foreign wars and devotion to social spending – most of it in the form of assistance to single mothers.
But, as pollster Kellyanne Conway has consistently pointed out, the expanded freedom of women to pursue careers, start businesses and manage enterprises was not an expression of their liberalism on social questions.
Rather, these women are increasingly looking for policies and candidates who understand both their economic freedom and their economic fears. They are closer to the attitudes and mores of the founding mothers of feminism, who wanted political equality and lifetime opportunity for women, but did not seek fatal power over the lives of their unborn children.
In the 2010 elections, conservative candidates seized the opportunity and ran campaigns more attuned to this integrated message. The fact that a record number of the winners are businesswomen is no accident. They have walked the walk – confronting bureaucracies, paying taxes and struggling to meet payrolls.
If Morris and McGann were right about the decline of the abortion issue, then the women who flocked to the polls on Nov. 2 would have elected a wave of new liberal Republicans like Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) or Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.). But, they did just the opposite. The House of Representatives that convenes in January will have 60 percent more pro-life women and 16 percent fewer pro-choice women than the one that preceded it.
Morris and McGann’s musings sound like wishful thinking. The Tea Party surge has helped to deliver the strongest conservative majority in Congress in more than half a century, but that majority is working from pro-life premises.
Raining on that parade is the one sure way to squander the opportunity conservatives have to take a better direction – for feminism and for the nation.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is President of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of over 280,000 pro-life Americans dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process.