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The W Is for Women: Wooed by the Candidates

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We now turn to the second part of our look at women in the presidential campaign. As George Bush and Al Gore continue to woo the vote of women, the United Nations yesterday released its annual report which said that women the world over get a raw deal in comparison to men, whether through physical abuse, double standards or discrimination. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that rape, abuse and bad laws are just some of the barriers oppressing women, with no country free of prejudice. [includes rush transcript]

As we began discussing yesterday, Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have been focusing on the women this week in the presidential campaign. Whether it’s Gore talking about his mother-in-law’s high prescription costs, attacking HMOs for their lack of coverage for breast cancer treatment, Bush saying that W. is for Women, or both candidates’ appearances on Oprah, there is a renewed focus on the fight for the vote of women.

Bush redesigned his campaign this week with a new blueprint to appeal to women and middle-class voters to catch up with Gore’s strong advantage over him in the polls. A Gallup poll early this week showed Gore leading Bush among women by 17 points.


  • Listener comments.


  • Loretta Kane, Action Vice President of the National Organization for Women.
  • Helen Neville, an associate professor of Black Studies at the University of Missouri and a member of the Black feminist Caucus in the Black Radical Congress.
  • Eleanor Smeal, Executive Director of The Feminist Majority Foundation.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to the second part of a look at women in the presidential campaign, as George Bush and Al Gore continue to woo the vote of women. The United Nations yesterday released its annual report, which said that women the world over get a raw deal in comparison to men, whether through physical abuse, double standards or discrimination. United Nations Population Fund said that rape, abuse and bad laws are just some of the barriers oppressing women, with no country free of prejudice.

Yesterday, we put out our comment line and got some comments from listeners around the country.

    LYNN JAMES: My name is Lynn James. I can’t think of one feminist organization, general feminist organization, that has supported the promotion of black women to leadership positions.

    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Basically I was wondering how the National Organization of white Women is getting over their image. So I’ve never seen them take a stand when the Kennedys were accused of rape, but they were right there when Mike Tyson was. So what I’m wondering is that, when are they going to open up the National Organization of Women to all women, instead of just Caucasians?

    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I’m calling from New York City. I’m listening to BAI. I’d like to ask your feminist panel tomorrow how they can justify the barbarism of partial-birth abortion?

    SANDY McMILLAN: This is Sandy McMillan, Long Beach, listening to KPFK. I want to present a few facts that I’d like the panel to respond to and then tell me why they’re not supporting the only real hope we have for the entire range of women’s issues: Ralph Nader. It was a Republican appointee who wrote the Roe v. Wade opinion. The only justice opposing it was a Democratic appointee. There’s been another Republican appointee, Sandra Day O’Connor, who’s been the strongest proponent all along. It was another Republican appointee, Souter, who just recently wrote a reaffirming opinion. In addition to that, after Al Gore’s acceptance speech, he told the press that reproductive rights would not be a, quote, “litmus test” for any Supreme Court appointee of his. And also, the fact is that statistics show — and there are several reasons for it — it’s been much more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion under Clinton-Gore than it was under either of the previous Republican administrations.


Just a few listener comments from yesterday’s discussion. We turn now to Loretta Kane, Action Vice President of the National Organization for Women; Helen Neville, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of Missouri and a member of the Black Radical Congress; and Eleanor Smeal, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority. Loretta Kane, a few comments about the National Organization for Women, concern about them not representing people of color.


Yes, good morning. Well, I think that, first of all, we need to acknowledge that the feminist movement, generally, and the National Organization for Women, in particular, is very committed to serving all women, regardless of race or class or sexual orientation or any of the other differences that there may be between us. It’s the case, I believe, that too often we allow ourselves, as progressive people and as oppressed people, to be divided against one another.

NOW has a very strong record on working to combat racism. We — a third of our board of directors are people of color, women or people of color. We have worked to bring women of all races together in women of color and allies’ summits to talk about how we work on our issues, on feminist issues, on women’s issues, in a way that is representative of all women’s concerns.


And what is your major focus now in this election year, as both Gore and Bush — Bush says the W, George W., stands for women — are really pushing hard for the women’s vote. They both went on Oprah in the last week. They’re focusing on prescription drugs, talking about women.


Well, you know, we have launched a Bushwhacker campaign, NOW has. We believe the W stands for “worst.” When it comes to women’s rights, he’s the worst candidate. It’s clear that he has an anti-women agenda. He’s sugarcoated his rhetoric in — you know, with his compassionate conservatism line, but that is just sugarcoating.

He’s said, as governor of Texas, he has commented that he would do everything in his power to restrict abortions. As governor, he signed eighteen anti-reproductive freedom provisions. Texas rates among the top states in the US, as far as the rate of violence against women committed with guns. He opposes all hate crimes legislation. He’s against the inclusion of sexual orientation in any civil rights and — in any civil rights and anti-discrimination or hate crimes laws. He supported a bill to make it illegal for lesbians and gay men to adopt children or to serve as foster parents.

One out of six Texans live below the poverty level. Texas ranks second-worst in the nation for women without health insurance. Nearly two million women in the state did not have health insurance in 1999. It’s worst in the nation for the percentage of children living without health insurance. And he has named Justices Scalia and Thomas as the Supreme Court justices he most respects. He’s clearly not concerned with the issues that are important to women in this country.


Eleanor Smeal, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the last listener calling in said let’s look on issues of abortion that people raise as perhaps a defining issue for the campaign. With Roe v. Wade, it was a Republican appointee at the Supreme Court who signed — who was the really author of the Roe v. Wade decision, and that if you look at what’s happened with abortion in this country under the Democrats, people should be deeply concerned.


Well, that was — you know, let’s face it. Black was — when he wrote the decision in 1973, that was a totally different Republican Party. You might as well say the issue of abortion was not polarized as it is today, with — and it wasn’t taken over by the Christian Coalition and their ilk. So the party, the Republic Party has shifted and put into their platform in the ’80s, you know, a total anti-abortion stance. And so, everything’s changed.

By the way, yesterday in the program, it was said continuously that, you know, the women’s movement had conditioned their position on abortion since ’73 and always had made the court the issue. That’s really not the truth. I mean, we started by winning the court, that the Supreme Court victory seven-two. And we really didn’t even think that this would be an issue at the turn of the century. It really becomes this situation that we’re in since the Reagan-Bush years.

And really it’s not — when we say it’s the court, it’s not just on abortion, it’s a whole host of issues. I mean, you have a possibility of losing tremendous civil rights and women’s rights gains. Remember affirmative action decisions have also been extremely narrow, five-four. You have — you just lost the Violence Against Women Act, five-four, the civil rights provision. And, of course, you have gay rights, which have been turned down, five-four.

So, basically it is — it isn’t one issue with the court. It’s numerous issues, as the right wing has so taken over, especially the congressional party of the of the Republicans, to the point that they are sitting on and blocking black and African American and Hispanic and women appointments to the court, because it’s not only the Supreme Court, it’s all the courts. I mean, it’s the entire federal branch, where appointments have been held up, held up, held up, of all more progressive and especially women and African American, Hispanic judges. So it’s a much more complex issue than a single issue.


Helen Neville, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of Missouri and member of the Black Radical Congress, your response to that, the overall issue of the courts going well beyond the Supreme Court, that the shift could take place in this election, and the difference between Gore and Bush.


Obviously, that we do need to take those reactionary kind of decisions into consideration. In addition, though, to some of those court decisions, some of the things that we, as part of the Black Radical Congress, as well as the Black Feminist Caucus within the Black Radical Congress, I think we also need to take a holistic approach to looking at liberation of women, from looking at the court decisions, which were outlined earlier, but also looking at certain policies. And I think that is really critical.

And some of the policy issues that we’re concerned with are issues that are concerned with everyday women, working women — these are the women who are doing the bulk of our work, whether it’s paid or unpaid, women who are working as cooks, women who are taking care of our sick, women who are teaching our children — and really trying to create legislation to protect those women. And one of the critical issues that we see as important is really having a national living wage and implementing that. We believe that that will be critical in alleviating some of — not all, but some of the oppression that women experience.

Obviously, when we talk about women of color, we’re talking about people over-represented among the poor. Like a third of black women are living in poverty, and almost 45% of black mothers are poor. These are people who are struggling to take care of their children — obviously has a profound impact for people’s lived experiences.


Do you think they’ve done any better under the Democratic administration than previous Republican administrations, although we’ve got both now, with the Congress and the executive branch?


Mm hmm. I think in terms of some — there have been some gains that have been made. But when we talk about some of the gains that the Democratic Party has discussed, which is gains in wages, gains in — that I think we need to be critical about, because workers in general make less than we did in 1979. In fact, our minimum wage is almost a quarter to a third less than it was two decades ago, taking into consideration inflation, you know, controlling for inflation cost. So I think that there’s gains that — those are the gains that people are articulating are really hidden, and we are making some steps backwards that we need to bring to the fore and talk about.


But — can I get in?

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor Smeal.


Yeah, I mean, for example, living wage and minimum wage, you know, Senator Kennedy has been pushing, pushing, pushing to raise the minimum wage, as has, you know, the Democratic leadership in Congress. I’m not really just harping party here, but they really have been, and it’s been blocked by this right wing. I mean, one of the reasons that —


You know, it’s interesting — Eleanor Smeal, just a quick point on that. I remember when the Republican Revolution of ’94 came in, in fact the Democrats had not increased the minimum wage, and they made it an issue once the Republicans came to power. They could have increased it before, and they hadn’t.


One of the masks are, is that, you know, essentially there are four parties right now. You have the right wing of the Democrats, the left wing of the Democrats, the right wing of the Republicans, left wing — not the left wing, but a more moderate wing of the Republicans, which is really fading. And when the Democrats had a so-called majority, it really wasn’t, because you had the Republicans plus the conservative Democrats of the South holding up everything. Now, you’ve got those — that boll weevil rightwing Republican and actually the committee chairs, and so it’s even worse.

I mean, one of the things that is good is the right wing of the Democratic Party has decreased some, because they switched to become Republicans. So at least you can see them. But basically, the crowd that has been pushing for this is now in positions to be much stronger. I mean, for example, you’ve seen how many African Americans will become committee chairs and subcommittee chairs if the Congress would change. And they all have consistently been pushing for raising the minimum wage, as well as Kennedy. The reason I mention Kennedy is because he’s the ranking member of Labor and Human Resources, and he’s been consistent on that for so long.


Let me bring Loretta Kane back into the discussion from the National Organization for Women. Are you concerned about the increase in God talk of the presidential candidates? I mean, Lieberman is really pushing this. And now Gore is saying it more, and of course George W. Bush is right in there with a lot of references to God.


Absolutely, it is of concern. When Senator Lieberman was selected as Vice President Gore’s running mate, our comment was that while he wasn’t our dream candidate, he wasn’t our nightmare either. He is — has been consistently supportive of a reproductive rights issues, but we do have concerns about the — in the whole political atmosphere, there is this rush to God. And we seem to be backing away from our commitment as a country to freedom from religion, as well as of religion. And you do need to have both. So that is a concern to us.

And I think that it’s very important that we all speak very forthrightly about the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state. Of a greater concern, I think, is that George W. Bush is ready and willing to turn over all of the social welfare programs in this country to religious organizations. Toss in the prison industry in this country, he would love to have that run by religious organizations. And I think that’s way scarier than the God talk that we’ve been hearing from Lieberman, when we at least have a commitment from Vice President Gore that he would not mix things up in that way.


You mentioned dream candidate. Do each of you have a dream candidate? Helen Neville?


Actually, no. I don’t have a dream candidate, in terms of who’s running now.


Who will you be voting for, by the way?


I haven’t actually really decided who I’ll be voting for. I that that I definitely will not be voting for Bush. And not for Gore. I don’t believe that they are addressing the critical issues facing our nation.

I do think that one nice thing that Nader talks about is, he begins to talk about how our society is structured and really looking at critiquing globalization and the devastating impact of global capitalism on our workers, on people’s living conditions, and I think that is really critical, questioning corporate welfare, and not whether or not people are receiving types of public assistance. However, Nader falls short in his articulation and conceptualization of looking at specifically women’s — explicitly also women’s issues and people of color issues, hasn’t been coming to the forefront on talking about racism and sexism.


Helen Neville, I have to leave it there, from the University of Missouri. Eleanor Smeal, Loretta Kane, a name of a dream candidate? We have ten seconds. Either want to venture there?

OK. Eleanor Smeal, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Loretta Kane of NOW, and, by the way, speaking of Nader, the Presidential Debate Commission, there will be a protest outside of the commission today in Washington, D.C. for excluding third-party candidates.

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