A review by Jo Freeman published in Vox Pop, Vol. 15, Issue 2,
Fall 1996, pp. 4-5.
The Republican War Against Women: An Insider's Report from Behind
the Lines by Tanya Melich, New York: Bantam Books, 1996, 356 pages.
There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They came back from the ride.
With the lady inside.
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
Tanya Melich's story of betrayal by the party of
her birth, an institution which was her political family, is also the
story of how partisan realignment happens as experienced by one woman.
It is a worm's eye view of a major change in the political climate,
something which political scientists only recognize after it happens
and only as a statistical artifact of millions of individual voting
decision. Melich lived realignment; she fought it, and now she's written
does not see the gradual elimination of feminists from the Republican
Party and the take-over by right-wing zealots as the accidental result
of impersonal forces, but one consequence of deliberate decisions
made by identifiable people following a plan. She traces the silencing
of moderate Republicans in general and feminist Republicans in particular
through the five Republican conventions from 1972 to 1992. There
is some discussion of policy decisions and political activities between
conventions, but most of the book is about the platform and rules
fights and the context in which they took place.
situates the rise of the New Right in Kevin Phillip's 1969 book The
Emerging Republican Majority, which argued that the Party could regain
dominance by joining "the old guard fiscal conservative message" with "white
southern conservatives" and "blue-collar Democrats and independents
who were social conservatives." Since feminism was not a public movement
at that time, it was "the racist nature of its premise" that "Nixon's
new conservatives embraced." (pp. 13-14, citing Phillips, 1969.)
she does see incipient antifeminism in Nixon's veto of the first
comprehensive child care bill since World War II for its family weakening
implications, and the fact that many members of the moderate Ripon
Society thought "child care would 'destroy' the family" (p. 28).
A subtheme of her book is that the moderate Republican men, as they
were being slowly eliminated by the New Right, did not ally themselves
with feminist Republican women because they didn't care very much
about issues which touched on the family and thus would not fight
those on the other side who did.
pursuit of Phillips's New Majoritarian strategy, the New Right made
a Faustian bargain with social conservatives in which they ceded
hegemony over domestic policy in order to write the script for foreign
and economic policy. The New Right was not interested in traditional
Republican fiscal conservatism, but in supply side economics. They
systematically sought electoral defeat of Republican moderates and
removal of the "old guard" of the party, even if it meant electing
Democrats. They brought the fundamentalists and disaffected Democrats
into the Republican Party for this purpose.
Rightists quickly discovered that "misogynist messages" could garner
money and votes. Indeed sex was a much better issue than race or
taxes to rouse voters out of their disenchantment with politics.
Legalized abortion and homosexuality were highly charged emotional
issues; the backlash against them made good fishing grounds. On these
themes the right-wing direct mail houses and think tanks flourished.
political possibilities of abortion became apparent even before Roe
was decided in 1973 when the Catholic Church mobilized opposition
to the movement to reform abortion laws in several states, a movement
which was often led by Democratic legislators. "New conservatives" saw
this as a golden opportunity to go trawling for another traditional
Democratic constituency "by tightly linking the Republican party
to the Church's position on abortion." (p. 15)
influence of the new conservatives was enhanced at the Presidential
level by adjusting the delegate formulas to favor Southern and Western
states. Begun in 1964 when Goldwater controlled the convention, this
process magnified conservative influence on the Presidential nomination.
In 1972 Nixon sided with the conservatives. Since he controlled that
convention, the delegate allocation formula made a conservative take
over a serious possibility in 1976.
then the center of the party had shifted. At the 1976 convention
the old guard conservatives were now the moderates; the moderates
were denounced as liberals on the fringe of the party; and the Reagan
conservatives almost took over. When Ford lost to Carter, they completed
the process. Feminist Republicans were allied with Ford in 1976,
and when he was defeated they lost their base. RNC Co-chair Mary
Crisp, an ERA activist who had campaigned for Goldwater in 1964,
was virtually read out of the party by 1980.
the Reagan era Republican feminists laid low. They expected to reenter
the corridors of power, or at least be listened to, if only their
old friend George Bush succeeded Reagan. By the time Bush was elected
in 1988, he had made his own bargain with the New Right and the social
conservatives. Nothing changed.
this time some moderate Republicans and many Republican feminists were
wrestling with their lifelong allegiance to the Republican Party. In
1992 many couldn't stand it any more. They voted for Perot or, as Melich
did, campaigned for Clinton. "The Republican party now belonged to the
theocrats and the usual unprincipled power-seekers... We women had been
fighting for the soul of the party for years. Now, in its defeat, we
had exorcised the genie. A new era was beginning." (p. 278)
Melich details the slow demise of the liberal/moderate wing of the Republican
Party as seen through the "war against women", she isn't too clear about
why it happened. Indeed her amazement that her party could desert its'
traditional concerns for individual freedom and choice resembles that
of the middle-aged wife who discovers one day that the husband she has
served and serviced so loyally for years has dumped her for a younger
and more vibrant model.
that of the first wife, her shock is in part due to years of self-deception.
Her Republicans were always ladies and always loyal. They adhered to
the cultural norms of the Republican party and didn't make a public stink
when the men courted the religious conservatives. They allowed themselves
to believe that if only they could elect a good man (e.g. George Bush)
he would take care of them. They suppressed their anger at repeated betrayals
and loyally put their shoulder to the wheel in campaign after campaign.
Most importantly, they did not organize the grass roots of the Republican
Party that they firmly believed agreed with them. If it was out there,
these roots too finally left the party in disgust. Instead, these women
appealed to the leadership to do the right thing and still served it
faithfully when they didn't. Now they are mad as hell and ...... becoming
independents and reluctant Democrats.