by Patricia Ireland, President
The recent presidential primary results signal the beginning of the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush for the vital women's vote. Both men understand that women elected the last president (twice), and we will elect the next president. It's time for women to take a close look at these candidates and decide who will best represent and promote our issues.
Come election day, I hope women won't be fooled by Bush's so-called "compassionate conservatism." This clever alliteration is just an updated version of his father's "kinder, gentler" appeal to win the women's vote and the White House. But in my unkinder moments I think the "W" in George W. Bush must stand for "worse." Once you get past the pat phrases and the rehearsed stump speeches, George W. is worse than his father in ability, intellect and that "vision thing" and he's worse when it comes to women's rights.
The National Organization for Women is undertaking a public education campaign between now and the general elections which we have nicknamed our Bush-Whacker campaign. Let's start by examining Mr. Bush's position on feminist issues.
Women's Health on the Line if Bush is Elected
When the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League announced that Bush led the most anti-choice state legislature in the U.S., he enthused, "I rest their case. I'm pro-life." As governor, Bush signed 18 anti-abortion provisions in Texas. And, Bush has promised to sign an abortion procedures ban (which anti-choice forces call a "partial-birth" abortion ban) if elected president.
Please don't mistake Mr. Bush's position on reproductive rights as indicative of a commitment to the health and welfare of children. Although Texas ranks second worst in the nation in percentage and total number of children lacking health insurance, Bush fought efforts to expand coverage. The Texas governor also opposes equal rights for lesbian and gay families, and he touts abstinence over other attempts to reduce teen-age pregnancies.
The next president will likely fill two or perhaps three vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court during his term. I shudder when I remember that Bush named anti-abortion-rights ultra-conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as the justices he most respects. With the justices currently divided 5 to 4 on abortion and other women's rights, the new president's nominations will set the direction of the Court for many years to come.
Bush's primary campaign advertisements made the man out to be a champion of health care reform and the Texas Patient Protection Bill. But to say that George W. Bush took the lead on patient protection is like me saying I've performed heart surgery by standing in the lobby of a hospital--just being in the building doesn't give you credit for what goes on inside. Don't be fooled--he is no friend to health care reform.
The Importance of the Women's Vote
On the subject of the women's vote, I have some advice for Vice-President Gore: Don't take women for granted. Rather than just running for women's votes, Gore should also choose one of the great, qualified women of his party as his running mate. It's long past time to have a woman who will fight for our rights on the road to the White House through election rather than marriage.
And while George W. Bush may have New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman on his side and out shaking hands for him, the XX chromosome does not determine whether a potential Vice-Presidential candidate will work for women's rights. Whitman flip-flopped her position on abortion for political gain and NOW does not underestimate her potential to sell out again on issues affecting women's lives.
The company he keeps and those who advise him don't all have the most redeeming qualities either. Marvin Olasky, a policy adviser to George W. Bush, proclaimed that "I would vote for a woman for the presidency in some situations, but again, there's a certain shame attached. Why don't you have a man who's able to step forward?" I wonder what Whitman's response to this might be.
As the candidates vie for our votes, women must demand more than lip service to our issues. Women must flex our political muscle and make the next president and the new Congress responsive to us. Don't just get out and vote; get out and work for feminist candidates and issues. Working together, we will change the face of politics in 2000.
For more on the elections and George W. Bush, see the adjacent story.
NOW President Patricia Ireland has a new column on the iVillage web site. Connect to www.ivillage.com/election/features/opinions/archive/#1.