The spiciest interpretation of Teresa Heinz Kerry’s sour put-down of Laura Bush’s job history is that “Heinz was in a pickle.” She got out of it with a quick apology, patronizing though it was, but clearly revealed what she actually thinks about women who devote all their time to raising their children.
The Democratic presidential campaign spent a whole day playing ketchup in its pursuit of the women’s vote. The New York Times, desperately searching for signs of hope, reports that John Kerry is once more winning the loyalty of the ladies (by 50 percent to 40 percent). Newsweek gives the edge to George W., 49 percent to 43 percent. Other polls say the ladies can’t decide who’s the winning wooer, and call the distaff vote a tie.
If this were a debutante ball, you can be sure there would be no wallflowers. Every dance card would be full. If this were a fairy tale the candidates would be turning out glass slippers in wholesale lots of different sizes. It’s difficult to say how many women who are actually undecided will vote and besides, women have been known to change their minds, often at the last minute. Since women make up 53 percent of the electorate, for the next two weeks even the plainest among us can enjoy the role familiar to the beautiful women who luxuriate in being picky, very picky.
It’s a given that the Democratic candidate has to win big with women to reduce the gender gap. Men are expected to vote in big numbers to re-elect the president. But this year it’s possible that women, usually conservative if their families’ safety and security are in the balance, will find reasons to return to the Republican candidate they abandoned for the flatteries and blandishments of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Two savvy conservative women who combine appeals to women on both domestic issues and foreign policy have established an organization to run television commercials to tap into this natural conservative feminine spirit. Lisa Schiffren and Heather Higgins call their advocacy organization “Softer Voices,” to counter the more strident voices that make up the noise of scream-and-shout television.
Theymightrework Theodore Roosevelt’s advice, and urge women to “speak softly and carry a big shtick.” Both women are mothers and relate to women who are not ideologically doctrinaire but who are instinctively conservative on war and taxes. Heather Higgins is chairwoman of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. organized to counter the “woman-as-victim” ideology.
Lisa Schiffren is a Republican speechwriter whose most famous lines were spoken by Dan Quayle, the vice president who challenged the television message of unwed motherhood as portrayed in the television sitcom “Murphy Brown.” She talks about how she was deeply affected by the siege of the Russian school at Beslan. The deadly siege brought home the horror of Greek tragedy: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Both women describe the effects September 11 had on their lives, and, like Rudy Giuliani, recall how reassured they were that George W. Bush was the president to answer al Qaeda’s challenge to civilization.
Terror is not a “women’s” issue. But it is the issue to galvanize women to vote. We live in an imperfect world; the war against terror is messy. It requires a toughness that John Kerry has not had as a senator. He talks tough now but it’s a fact that he voted against the first war in Iraq when the whole world joined the coalition organized by President George H.W. Bush. If John Kerry had been president in 1991 Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait. If he had been the president in 2003, Saddam Hussein would still be enthroned in Baghdad.
George W.’s father famously lacked “the vision thing.” His son has “the vision thing,” and it’s a vision that planting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq will make the world safer. It won’t happen quickly, but this is the vision that promises to enable our children to grow up in a world where terrorism is a diminished reality.
The first television commercial of “Softer Voices” runs in Toledo, Pittsburgh and Washington. It opens with a globe spinning through space and children of today and tomorrow walking in open fields. A narrator creates a sense of urgency: “In the war on terrorism, America knows our enemies are here, planning, watching … The threat is real, the dangers are great.” Then the narrator asks: “Who will lead the fight for our freedoms, who will defend our families? Who can America trust to win the war on terrorism?” The answer, the ladies believe, is obvious.