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All Hail to the Panderer-in-Chief
November 3, 2004
by Carey Roberts

The polls have closed, President George Bush garnered 51% of the popular vote, and the Republicans consolidated their hold on the U.S. Congress. The 2004 presidential campaign will be remembered for many things, including the fact that the female electorate became the most attended-to group in the history of American politics.

It was a reprise of the timeless story of the two hopeful suitors competing for the affections of the fair maiden.

When the reluctant maiden declined to offer her hand to the first suitor, along came the second gallant knight, proffering more gifts than the first. Determined to not be outdone, the first man upped the ante. Eventually, both men had promised all their worldly possessions.

Pandering, of course, is the stock-in-trade of any political campaign. Still, it was impressive to watch the two presidential candidates pulling out all the stops to woo the female vote.

Of the two campaigns, the Bush people devised the more creative strategy. They took Bush's middle initial and, like Michael Jordan peddling his footwear, turned it into a brand name: "W Stands for Women."

This is the first time in memory that a presidential candidate has linked his persona - his own name -- with a particular voting block. But why women? Why not "W Stands for White Men"?

In contrast to Bush's name brand approach, the Kerry campaign used the more traditional tactic: convince people how awful things are, and then promise them a brighter future.

But attracting the white female vote women is a daunting task. After all, how do you reach out to persons who already have the most rights, protections, and discretionary income of any group in history? What more can you promise to the manicure-and-hairdo set?

So the Kerry campaign set out to test the limits of reinventing the truth.

John Kerry's condescending message was this: "Things are actually much worse for women than you realize. If you vote for my opponent, you will soon be sent back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant."

But it was the wage equity issue where candidate Kerry was downright insulting to women. Everyone knows that persons who work 41 hours a week (which is the average for men) are going to get higher wages than their female co-workers who clock only 32 hours. And it's obvious that men who work in the more dangerous jobs - like construction and asbestos removal - should be paid more than women who work in safe, climate-controlled environments, such as school teachers and telephone operators.

But by harping on the so-called "wage disparity" issue - while offering no specifics on how to solve a problem that doesn't even exist - Senator Kerry revealed a disdainful regard for women's intelligence.

Soon the pandering became so obvious that women began to complain. After all, we live in the Age of the Empowered Woman. And empowered women don't need anything that a man might have to offer.

So in late September columnist Cathy Young, returning to the courtship theme, decried that the two political parties are treating women "with a condescension that, in a better world, would cause a suitor to be sent packing."

Both political parties took note. Neither of them was willing to blink first, but a solution had to be devised. And so it happened.

It occurred during the third presidential debate. Here's the question that moderator Bob Schieffer asked the two candidates: "What is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?" In case anyone missed the point, Schieffer repeated the "strong women" phrase two more times.

Within days, the "strong women" mantra was appearing in the stump speeches of the candidates' wives. This way, if women felt guilty about all the political bouquets being thrown their way, they could comfort themselves with the knowledge that indeed, they were "strong women." How Orwellian.

With both candidates going to such an effort to target their messages to the female voter, you'd think that women would have had no trouble making a decision. But through the very end of the campaign, 62% of all undecided voters were female.

Privileged or victim? Underpaid or compensated fairly? Strong or in need of constant blandishments by powerful men?

With so many fibs and half-truths floating around, it was no wonder that women had trouble making up their minds.

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