Women Sidelined in Presidential Debate

By Nancy L. Cohen, October 1, 2012

It looks as if Mitt Romney has convinced at least one American that any talk of ladyparts, legitimate rape, and gender gaps is just a distraction.

Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the only presidential debate devoted to domestic policy, has announced the six topics to be discussed, and women’s issues didn’t make the cut. Women make up 51 percent of the nation but fifteen minutes is too much time to talk about women’s issues in a presidential debate?

Considering this year’s heightened partisan conflicts over everything from birth control to equal pay, this is a grave, and dare I say, offensive mistake.

It’s not as if there’s a dearth of topics to talk about. Take reproductive issues, on which Todd Akin and Rush Limbaugh have done us the service of exposing the Republican brain. Mitt, do tell a national audience your position on Title X? Planned Parenthood defunding? Birth control?  Roe v. Wade? Griswold v. Connecticut? How you square your professed views with your party’s no abortion, no rape exception, absolutism, and whose view will prevail in your administration?

Romney says, it’s the economy, stupid. Ok, we’ll call your bluff. So how about equal pay laws? Can you explain to us why your party rejects the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act? How women, who make up the majority of the elderly and the poor, will benefit from your tax cut plan and the Ryan budget?

The list could go on and on: from the GOP failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, to Romney’s promise to repeal of health care reform, to Ryan-Akin’s attempt to redefine rape.

With all due respect to Ann Romney, which party “loves women” is irrelevant. Voters, women and men both, deserve a full airing from the candidates about what they will do to advance opportunity, rights, and equality for women.

In no way do I think Lehrer intends to put his finger on the scale, but it has to be said: Lehrer’s failure to devote sustained attention to women’s issues is a gift to Romney and short-changes the voters.

It’s long past time for treating the interests of half the nation as just a distraction.

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Nancy L. Cohen