- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

THE WAY BACK: Third of a three-part series

American women have learned how to roar, and they did it in the November midterm elections.

Young women, single women and “women of color” pulled more levers for Democrats than Republicans in pivotal Senate races. In Virginia, female voters pushed James H. Webb Jr., the Democrat, to a narrow and stunning victory over Sen. George Allen, the Republican, and helped sweep Democrats into the majority in the Senate.

Female voters “cleaned house,” leaders of feminist and liberal groups crowed in a postelection press conference as they welcomed the unprecedented rise of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to House speaker.

What does it mean for the traditional-values movement if women — the traditional keepers of hearth and home — are leaning more left than right? Which worldview — conservative or progressive — will be adopted by most women in Generations X and Y?

This three-part Washington Times series looks at the future of the traditional-values movement, with special attention to the abortion issue and the role of women.

Traditional-values leaders say that they are confident that they represent most women’s views and values and that future generations of women will also side with them.

“I think women have always been very anchored to reality and acknowledged how important it is to help shape the world that their children are going to grow up in,” says Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization.

“We’re also making good progress with young women,” Mrs. Crouse says. “They can see the collateral damage of the left’s lifestyles. They see all the disasters around them, and they are much more conservative than the boomers were.”

Delivering for Democrats

The 2006 election, however, revealed a strong preference for Democrats among women in key states.

Exit polls cited by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, showed 55 percent of women voted for Mr. Webb in Virginia, 52 percent backed Jon Tester in Montana and 51 percent voted for Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

In Pennsylvania, 61 percent of women voted for Bob Casey, while Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sherrod Brown of Ohio each received 57 percent of the women’s vote, the center’s spokeswoman says.

Even in the one key Senate race lost by Democrats — in Tennessee — 51 percent of women supported the Democratic candidate, Harold E. Ford Jr.

“I’ve got to say it: Feminists are the majority,” Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said in March at the Women’s Equality Summit, sponsored by the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO).

Exit poll data also showed that Democrats were especially favored by single, young and nonwhite women. The lopsided Democratic vote by nonwhite women (78 percent) and black voters in general (89 percent) was disappointing to Republicans, who had fielded several promising black candidates, including Michael S. Steele in Maryland, Ken Blackwell in Ohio and Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania.

Black women voted in huge percentages for progressive candidates last year, and some expect an even bigger turnout in 2008.

“They ain’t seen nothing yet,” E. Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), said at her organization’s women’s summit.

Democrats also made inroads with white women, who split their vote down the middle in the midterm elections, and married women, whose vote was 50 percent Republican and 49 percent Democrat.

In previous elections, both groups of women were solidly in the Republican column.

Who’s pro-family?

Winning the votes of a larger share of married mothers was a key opening for Democrats in 2006, Anna Greenberg, vice president of the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research firm, said after the election.

Politically, Democrats “have a moment where parents are listening to us,” Ms. Greenberg says at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) event on Democratic pro-family issues. In the last two election cycles, Democrats lost parents’ votes by 25 points, but now “we are even” with Republicans, she says.

The war in Iraq may have topped the list of concerns for 2006, but economic struggles were right behind, Ms. Greenberg says, adding, “I really think we have a moment right now to advance this agenda in a profound way.”

The institute, which champions a “third way” rather than a left-versus-right approach to political policy, has proposed a “3-6-12” plan to strengthen working families.

The plan would mandate three unpaid personal leave days a year for all workers; six weeks of paid leave for a birth, adoption or serious illness in the immediate family; and, in an expansion of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, require small businesses to also give workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, is promoting legislation that includes paid medical leave as well as voluntary universal preschool, expanded child care funding and benefits for part-time workers.

“I believe we need a 21st-century vision for family policy,” Mrs. Woolsey said at the NCWO summit. “There should never, ever have to be a choice between work and family. They’re both important.”

But traditional-values leaders don’t see themselves or their political allies losing the support of married mothers, or women in general.

The married women’s split vote in 2006 stemmed from “fear about the war,” Mrs. Crouse says.

There was also disillusionment about Republicans, particularly the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who resigned after sexually explicit e-mails he sent to young male House pages became public, she says. There was a lot of cynicism — political leaders “preaching the right things, but not living it,” Mrs. Crouse added.

Still, she doesn’t put much stock in Democratic pro-family agendas.

“One of the things the progressives have been floating as a trial balloon is to wrap traditional values in a different cloak, blurring distinctions between the left and the right, saying the left has traditional values,” Mrs. Crouse says. “They’re using language, lies, to try to say there is no difference in terms of the values of the two parties” even though “there are very strong differences, very distinct differences.”

In order to be successful in 2008, “traditional-values people are going to have to stake their ground and make it very clear what traditional values are” — and that “they are key to freedom and liberty,” she says.

Where are the young?

The National Organization for Women (NOW) and its political allies have countless outreach programs in communities, on campuses and on the Internet to connect with young women.

This new generation of women is standing on the shoulders of the women’s equality leaders of history, “and we can’t afford not to hold this Congress — that we elected — responsible for standing up for our rights,” NOW President Kim Gandy told the enthusiastic NCWO audience.

Women’s equality is likely to be achieved in the near — not distant — future, she says, so “we’ve got to gear up. We have got to act up. And to hell with our reputations … we’re going to stand up for what’s right and what’s just.”

The Feminist Majority “is committed to bringing young women into the women’s movement,” Ms. Smeal says.

Black women — especially young black women — respond to the feminist message, says Ms. Williams of NCBW.

“When I attend conferences and see young people, they are interested in knowing that there are no limits to what women can do. And because we teach that in the feminist movement, I think we are attracting more and more young people.”

However, pro-life advocates say surveys show that more young people are flocking to pro-life groups than they are to pro-choice groups.

“I would say the pro-life movement is a young movement” with “a tremendous number of young women,” says Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Bishops. The group sponsors the “Second Look” press campaign, which asks the question, “Have we gone too far?” on abortion rights.

Young people “haven’t known a day without legalized abortion” and are now aware that “would-be siblings, playmates, friends, cousins are not here,” she says. “It makes them ambivalent at best about so-called abortion rights.”

Young people are looking for explanations and substance — real solutions, real answers, says Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

“I think conservative policy has answers” to problems, ranging from family and marriage to poverty and urban blight, she says, “and to the degree we’re able to articulate them then, they will be compelling” to youth.

What’s next?

Both feminist and traditional-values women are eager to see their agendas advanced.

“Now we have friends in high places, but we can’t wait until 2008,” Ms. Smeal says, referring to the new Democratic majority in Congress. Feminists cannot allow their concerns to be isolated or restricted to one or two issues. The women’s movement is global as well as domestic, she says.

Domestically, feminist goals include passing a new Equal Rights Amendment in Congress as well as Mrs. Woolsey’s family and work “balancing act” legislation and “prevention first” education, which stresses contraception as a way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortion.

Additional goals include universal health care, increased federal funding for stem-cell research, immigration reform, ending the Iraq war and expanding the definition of hate crimes to include acts committed based on gender identity and gender expression.

Internationally, feminists want to see a global women’s peace movement, U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty, more funding for international family planning and an international Violence Against Women Act.

Traditional-values leaders said their groups will remain focused on protecting the sanctity of life — including the new political front of bioethics; marriage between one man and one woman; religious liberties; and issues related to education, media influence on the culture and the economy.

The 2008 election should be a watershed moment, Mrs. Crouse says.

“I think it will reveal which side is making a difference, and conservatives had better get on the ball because this is really a crisis moment, in terms of traditional values, in terms of what kind of country we’re going to be, what kind of future faces our children,” she says.

“What we’re going to be doing is holding as much ground as we can,” says Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The American people, most of whom are not ultraliberal, may not have understood the ramifications of their votes for Democrats, Mrs. Lafferty says.

“Traditional-values folks are going to work to make sure people understand” what is happening with this new Congress and then ask them, “What do you think, folks?”

In any case, the traditional-values movement will carry on because most American women and men believe in it, says Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Many people think groups such as the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition create this movement, but it’s the other way around: This movement creates them, Mr. Bauer says.

“What’s not going away is this sizable body of voters who, when asked what they are the most worried about, say that it’s the breakdown of values, it’s the coarsening of our culture, it’s what’s happening to the American family, the slippery slope of disrespecting life,” he says. “And I don’t see any reason to believe that that’s going to get any smaller.”

Part II: Pro-lifers ready for a comeback

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