Women will remember in November

Democrats must believe they are in the middle of a lovely dream — and they must hope they never wake up.

Not even the most conniving strategist in the belly of the White House could have spun this narrative: drop a packet of birth control pills into the middle of the Republican extreme-a-thon primary season and watch as the candidates attempt to alienate half of the voting population.

This isn't the "war against women" we expected when Republican state legislatures began to nibble away at reproductive decision-making and then over-reached with "personhood" language and the hideous requirement that women submit to vaginal sonograms before an abortion.

Instead, it is the conservatives and their candidates who find themselves under siege. And it is women who will call the charge in November, I think.

Women who never made it to college themselves but who cherished that dream for their children and then heard Rick Santorum call President Barack Obama a "snob" when he acknowledged those dreams and then say that colleges were nothing more than incubators for liberal group-think. (Mr. Santorum — and his mother — earned advanced degrees.)

Women who listened as Rush Limbaugh demeaned a young woman law student (she might have been our daughter) in the foulest possible ways, and then waited for Mitt Romney, Mr. Santorum or Newt Gingrich to react with something like the outrage these women felt. (Even conservative standard bearer and columnist George Will said their reactions were better suited to a display of poor table manners.)

Women who are old enough to remember our parents' anger — perhaps accompanied by name calling — when they learned we were on the Pill. Women who never want to feel so alone and unsupported again.

And young women who might have resisted a "feminist" label, perhaps because they believed sexism to be as outdated as bell bottom pants, and then watched as a congressional committee dominated by Republicans took testimony from only men on whether a woman's birth control should be covered by insurance. And listened as a billionaire backer of Mr. Santorum said that all nice "gals" ever needed for birth control was an aspirin between their knees.

And all of their mothers, who were able to plan education, work and family because of contraception and never considered it a question of morality but one of opportunity and equality.

Add to this legion the older, pregnant women for whom prenatal testing is often routine and who never thought of it as an excuse to abort, as Mr. Santorum has suggested. And the mothers of children whose medical conditions were spotted before birth so that medical staff were prepared to deal with it immediately.

And the mothers of the young women who serve in the military, who heard Mr. Santorum say that any role for them in combat (and what does a front line look like in Afghanistan?) would distract and jeopardize their unit because of a brother soldier's "natural instinct" to protect them.

And young professional women, just starting out in a lousy economy and burdened with college debt, who have heard that Mr. Santorum believes that equal opportunity for men and women is nothing but a "radical feminist pitch."

Mr. Romney, though not as outrageous as Mr. Santorum, is essentially in agreement with him on most of these issues and, in any case, has not called him out. If he is indeed the nominee, as seems likely, women will remember that.

No — there is no Democratic strategist who could have written this script and been believed. No one who could have advised President Obama to issue a couple of sentences in an executive order onwomen's healthso that it could set in motion a religious war — of all things — that exposed, in 3-D and on the big screen, the misogyny of his rivals.

Although I am pretty sure someone on the White House staff was there to take the president's elbow and whisper that there was no harm in giving Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a call and offering his encouragement. And perhaps he could invoke the names of his daughters when he addressed the press on the matter.

After all, the Republicans may have lit this fire at their feet, but there is no reason not to throw a handful of kindling on it.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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