Democrats Show Some Backbone, Good for Them

By Nancy L. Cohen, September 5, 2012

Must be okay with birth control and independent women. Check. Will help raise the kids and share the power. Check. Believes in science, sexual freedom, and fairness. Check.

Let’s be honest. After that sweet-talking guy we fell for got distracted, we hit the bars. But all we found were weirdos in tea-bags yammering about a dead lady named Ayn. So we just stayed home with the Girls. Oops. Turned out those boring accountant-types were hell-bent on making government small enough to fit in a vagina.

“It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe,” Governor Patrick Deval boomed to a standing ovation last night in Charlotte. So far that’s exactly what the Obama reelection campaign, the Democratic Party platform, and every convention speaker is doing—especially when it comes to reproductive rights and marriage equality.

That in itself represents a sea-change in the Democratic party. As I wrote in Delirium, exaggerating the Right’s power, misunderstanding public opinion, and overreacting to their losses, the Democrats have typically run scared on the contested social-sexual issues.

The biggest exception to that rule was 1992, when the Clintons grew a backbone on abortion rights and women’s political power to end the party’s 12-year-long losing streak.

Still, the old conventional wisdom dies hard. Witness the sharp political team at NBC, who write that talking about choice “carries the potential risk of alienating Democratic voters who might oppose abortion rights. This strategy may work in the Nevadas, Colorados and Virginias but in the heavier Catholic states, like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio?”

History says that worry is misplaced. Let me assure Democrats that you are on the right path. The takeaway from political scientists who crunched the ’92 and ’96 election results is this: GOP abortion extremism drives away independents, moderate Republicans, and suburban women, while the Democrats’ pro-reproductive rights stand does not cause pro-life Democratic voters to desert the ticket. For example, Bush I lost one out of every six Republican voters over the party’s extremist no abortion, no exception, platform. (More eye-popping stats are in Delirium, ch. 6.)  The economy will be the “top” priority for most voters. Still, withRomney trailing Obama by 28 points on who will do better “dealing with issues of concern to women,” it’s Republicans who should be worried.

The stunning extremism of the Romney-Ryan-Akin-Tea Party GOP has forced Democrats to get in touch with their inner feminist, and they just might win the election because of it. Like 1992, 2012 is shaping up to be a banner year for women: The Year of the Single Woman.

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Nancy L. Cohen