FIELDS: Math lesson for Pelosi and other Barbies

Women see former speaker’s budget playacting doesn’t add up

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Nancy Pelosi was howlin’ mad, eager to lead the charge on behalf of women everywhere (whether they wanted her to or not) against the Republican congressional regiments “at war with women.” She sees a battlefield littered with bloody female bodies.

It’s mostly about abortions, of course, and whether the government should require everybody to pay for them. She’s aiming most of her fire at Rep. Paul Ryan and his proposed budget. “If you are talking about jobs, [women’s] pay in the workplace, health care… . They want to change all that. So in every aspect - whether it is education, whether it is health care, whether it’s retirement, whether it’s collective bargaining … women have a lot to lose with the ideological old-style agenda of the Republicans.”

What the leader of the Democratic minority omits from her list of the congressional washing and ironing is the looming fiscal catastrophe and how that would ruin the future of the nation’s daughters, granddaughters and generations of great-granddaughters from here on out. Democratic Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York waxed even more hysterical, accusing Republicans of having come to Washington to “kill women.” She recalls her experience as the co-chairman of the arts caucus and raises the temperature of the rhetoric further: “In ‘94, people were elected simply to come here to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. Now they’re here to kill women.” If she really believes that, she should call the cops, not the press.

When the fight over the budget looked like it might shut down the government, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted on making the political personal. “They are asking me to sacrifice my wife’s health, my daughter’s health and my nine granddaughters’ health.” This kind of speech-mongering is nonsense, insults the intelligence and distorts the issue as debt and spending continue to metastasize spectacularly.

Women are better educated and have surpassed men by many quality-of-life measurements since Gloria Steinem first put on her cotton tail at the Playboy Club. She rightly exposed the vulgarity of male chauvinist attitudes meant to keep women from being taken seriously. Now Mrs. Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues demean the sisterhood by shouting insults and slogans when they could be setting the tone for reasoned debate.

Women’s issues have a prominent place in the debate, but numbers are neutral, and getting control of them is a job for both men and women. The economic issues as they apply to families cut across gender lines. At the rate we’re going, Medicare, the safety net that is there to catch everyone, will have to be cut radically. Raising taxes, the liberal remedy of choice, can’t save us. Economics 101, which fell out of fashion for so long, teaches that high taxes only curb growth.

Barbie, as in doll, offended many women when she was programmed to say she hated math, thus stereotyping girls as having trouble with numbers. The way certain Democrats in Congress have reduced real budget concerns for women makes them sound as though Barbie had a point. But women traditionally have been in charge of the family pocketbook, budgeting for the food on the table, the kids’ clothes and shoes and school expenses, and this generally makes them a conservative lot, suspicious of radical change. We’re all struggling to understand what to do about the numbers, and the Ryan plan offers a gradual, but real, approach to reform. Yuval Levin, writing in the Weekly Standard, calls it “radical gradualism” that saves the safety net.

“For all of its budget cutting,” he observes, “Ryan proposes to bring federal spending and taxes down to about 19 percent of [gross domestic product] - the average level in postwar years.”

“Its basic aim,” Mr. Levin says, “is to avoid sudden or radical breaks, because predictability and security are essential both for enabling growth and for instilling confidence in consumers, producers, investors and creditors.”

Some conservatives argue that his plan for balancing the budget is too gradual, but it changes course by striking the balance between taxing and spending, with neither radical cuts in entitlements nor enormous tax increases. The entitlement reforms won’t affect Americans who are retired or even nearly there. Restraining federal government spending by $5.8 trillion less over the next decade would be both fair and politically astute.

Numbers like these are enough to make us all Barbies. But the scary numbers inform the real debate that we’ve got to have, like it or not. The numbers don’t add up to a declaration of war against women but invite women to become part of the solutions we must find, and soon.

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.

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