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Where are the Democrats on Women’s Empowerment?

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

Cecile Richards, leader of Supermajority, was on Lawrence O’Donnell the night of the Iowa caucus. Supermajority is a new American women’s political action group, looking to build a broad coalition of women voters, leaders, candidates, and grassroots organizers in advance of the 2020 election. American women are set to be the single biggest group of voters in 2020. They will decide this election.

Yet during that interview, O’Donnell did not ask Richards anything about women’s role in the Iowa outcome. Indeed, as the conversation neared an end, Richards had to pull O’Donnell’s attention to the fact that the majority of voters in Iowa were women (58%). She said women are turning out in record numbers again, as in 2018, because they are scared. But O’Donnell didn’t even respond to that highly provocative statement. Then time was up.

I was appalled. American women are experiencing a broad and intentional assault on their rights. This week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made an alarming pronouncement in a speech at Georgetown University: she thinks the Equal Rights Amendment is dead. An excellent article in Vox offered analysis of the current legal vulnerability of women’s rights, including the potential overturn of Ginsburg’s own ground-breaking case, Reed versus Reed. In May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that employers have a constitutional right to force arbitration contracts on their employees, agreements enjoin employees not to sue and not to join a class action. Both of these provisions have been key to women’s ability to defend their employment rights since the 1970s. More than 60 million Americans have already signed one of these horrible contracts. In Dukes versus Walmart, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that women constitute a class in the way that, say, African-Americans do. Microsoft has used that ruling to argue against awarding class status to a group of female employees who apparently hold a great deal of evidence showing systematic discrimination.

In sum, the very idea that women are a group that experiences discrimination is being questioned by the courts. Yet this crisis gets little or no attention in the current political discourse. Instead, the press seems to think that candidates need only nod to choice and equal pay to satisfy the women's vote. No elaboration requested, no plan demanded, no thought required.

So I decided to visit each of the major candidates’ websites to see whether they had anything beyond perfunctory rhetoric to deal with the crisis among women.

My favorite candidate, Elizabeth Warren, has a plan for universal child care. I know that already. But I don’t know what else she has on women because I could not click on a single link that did not take me back to the donation page.

The other female candidate, though, is worse. Amy Klobuchar has nothing—nothing—on her website about the candidate’s agenda for women. There is a link called “Equal Rights,” but it’s about people with disabilities.

Joe Biden is rightly proud of having written and championed the Violence Against Women Act decades ago. His website proudly features that accomplishment and details what further he would do about violence against women if elected President. There is also a section on protecting immigrant women against violence, which I was glad to see. But that’s all there is. Not even abortion and equal pay are on Joe’s horizon.

Bernie Sanders opened the New Hampshire debate—where women were also the majority, with 55% of the vote—with the assertion that turnout is key to winning the election, especially “working class families” and “young people.” But what about the group that is already turning out in record numbers? Not a word for them. Sanders seems so tone deaf on gender that I did not think his site would have anything to say about his position on women’s issues. But I was wrong. He’s for reproductive rights and against violence. But he has only one bullet point on economics, saying he will deal with equal pay via the Paycheck Fairness Act. No explanation, no elaboration. You can't even click through to a definition of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Standing by itself, this looks like a pretty superficial gesture to the group that’s going to make or break this election. Sanders can't seem to grapple with anything but class. Aren't there issues for working class women he could address? You bet there are: the gender pay gap in manufacturing is more than 30% even in the same jobs, for crying out loud. But the Bernie line seems to address women only insofar as they are in “working class families.”

Alone among all these candidates, Mayor Pete’s website shows that he has given women real thought. His page on women’s rights does not address the legal vulnerability of their employment rights, but his position across the board is well-developed—not perfunctory—and multi-pointed. There is even a little video of him talking about the importance of women’s issues.

After Trump’s acquittal, State of the Union address, and assault on the rule of law last week, polls show many Americans moving suddenly toward Michael Bloomberg. They seem to think this is a way to stop Trump. I was toying with the same conclusion. Then I looked for what he has to say about women. I didn’t even get to the website because an article about Bloomberg’s past with women came up first. OMG. This article details crude remarks that rival some of Trump’s. And he has been sued more than once for sex discrimination. But on TV, the focus is all on Bloomberg’s record with blacks. I have seen no one mention his past on gender. Before you decide to support Bloomberg, stop and read this. UPDATE on Feb 15: The Washington Post is covering this issue today and it is on TV, too.

Under the shadow of a broad assault on their rights, American women are scared. That fear is sending them to the polls in record numbers. Yet women are so taken for granted by Democrats that neither the press nor most of the candidates are addressing them with thoughtful ideas and concrete plans. American women should demand more.


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