I get it.
I know why some women claim they were offended when Thom Tillis addressed Sen. Kay Hagan by her first name during last week’s debate. It’s the same reason Hagan – a sitting United States Senator, for goodness sake – said she felt “insulted” when Tillis lodged the common political charge that his opponent’s “math just doesn’t add up.”
They are hardcore partisans working to advance a phony narrative about the GOP’s “war on women.” They realize that Hagan and other red state Democrats will have a very hard time winning on their records so they must, once again, run an “ism” campaign: accusing their GOP opponents of sexism and racism.
Though bad for the country, this approach may be smart politics. Hagan and other Democrats are running just as voters are realizing that “hope and change” has morphed into fear and decline and that the Obama presidency is one long episode of “Welcome Back, Carter.”
They are seeking re-election at a time when polls show that 66 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, when 55 percent oppose the Affordable Health Care Act, when the economy continues to sputter and when events in the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq are spinning out of control.
Even as Hagan and other red state Democrats pretend they are “moderate,” “independent” voices, there’s no getting around the fact that she has voted with Obama 95 percent of the time. During her almost six years in office, she has provided bedrock support to a president whose job approval rating stands at 38 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll.
Hagan is running – from her own record.
Unable to demonstrate that their policies have strengthened America, Hagan and other Democrats are pursuing a strategy of divide and conquer built on false and ugly claims. That’s why Joe Biden told a Labor Day crowd in Detroit that “ it’s time to take back America.” As Attorney General Eric Holder has noted, this was an ugly battle cry when tea party activists sounded it. To my ear, it is even more disturbing when it’s shouted by the vice president of the United States.
The Kay kerfuffle is less an honest expression of outrage about how Tillis addressed Hagan than evidence of a national strategy to demonize Republicans. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, articulated this tactic with brutal focus at a recent roundtable in Milwaukee. Equating Republicans with perpetrators of domestic violence, she said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker “has given women the back of his hand. ... What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back.”
There are many reasons why women tend to support Democrats, but this ugly demagoguery is not the way forward. Instead of a thoughtful discussion of issues, it offers a false caricature of both Republicans and America. It suggests that in 2014, almost half the population, including presumably the millions of female Republicans, wants to oppress women. It is of a piece with the common Democratic claim that half the country wants to restore Jim Crow laws.
While Republicans are routinely cast as the party of angry white males, it is Democrats who work mightily to stoke anger and resentment.
When Hagan raised substantive women’s issues during the debate, she distorted them to suggest full-scale war on women. Despite Hagan’s claim, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision did not broadly empower employers to “deny access” to contraception. It said that the government cannot force family-owned businesses with demonstrated religious beliefs to pay for a handful of contraceptives methods they consider akin to infanticide. Instead of demagoguing this important issue, Hagan should find a way to provide IUDs and morning after pills to the tiny number of affected women.
Hagan also said she supports “equal pay for equal work” and cites the deeply misleading claim that women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This is especially rich as Hagan reportedly pays her male staffers more than females, as does the Obama White House.
Sexism does not explain these disparities. The White House, for example, says more men are in higher ranking positions. In the broader economy, men earn more because they are more willing to worker longer hours and have less flexible schedules than women.
The truth is that these issues are terribly complex. If we wish to move forward as a nation, we should stop transforming them into ugly, divisive campaign slogans and start finding solutions we can all support.
Can we all get that?
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.