It didn’t start with Limbaugh and Trump: The deep roots of the GOP’s war on women

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tags: election 2016, GOP, Nixon, Trump, Limbaugh



Heather Cox Richardson is the author of "To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party," amongst several other books, and a professor of history at Boston College.

... Few politicians did much to move the needle toward anything resembling gender equality, but it was President Nixon who first threw women under the political bus of Movement Conservatism. Desperate to consolidate support during the turmoil of late 1960s, Nixon adopted the language of Movement Conservative speechwriter Pat Buchanan, who had come to the Nixon White House after Barry Goldwater’s disastrous 1964 campaign. In 1969, Buchanan divided the nation in two in a speech in which Nixon pleaded for the support of the “silent majority” to enable him to stand against “a vocal minority” trying to impose its will by protesting in the streets. Among those in the streets, of course, were the women demanding equal rights and fighting for “women’s lib[eration].” By 1971, Betty Friedan, author of the 1963 “The Feminine Mystique,” complained that Nixon was doing nothing for women. What women really needed, she told an audience of politically active women, was political power.

In January of the next year, the editors of Time defined Nixon’s silent majority when they named “The Middle Americans” their “Man and Woman of the Year.” According to the article explaining the award, these men and women prayed, loved America and hated the intellectuals, professionals and civil rights and women’s rights protesters who seemed to be taking over the country. Squeezed by inflation, they resented that their tax dollars went to programs that helped the very protesters who showed such disdain for them and what they believed to be traditional American values, including a family structure that had a male household head and a stay-at-home wife.

After National Guard troops killed four students at Kent State in May 1970, Nixon worked to consolidate his wavering support by inflaming middle-class white voters against the “detractors of America” who wanted the government to help them out. On Labor Day 1971, Nixon contrasted industrious and purposeful men with lazy and slothful protesters demanding government programs. Those with a strong work ethic had built America, he said, but now unspecified “voices” were attacking the work ethic. “We see some members of disadvantaged groups being told to take the welfare road rather than the road of hard work, self-reliance and self-respect,” he claimed. The 1972 passage of Title IX, which promoted women’s education and athletic opportunities, and the Roe v. Wade decision the following year, encouraged opponents to believe that “liberated” women were absorbing government largesse to overturn the traditional order.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan pulled together grasping women and minorities in his image of the “Welfare Queen.” He described a Cadillac-driving, unemployed female moocher from Chicago’s South Side — a geographical reference that implied the woman was black without actually saying so. “She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands,” Reagan claimed. “And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” The story illustrated the idea that women, especially black women, were a special interest that simply wanted government handouts. They voted for Democrats in exchange for laws that provided those handouts. Movement Conservatives had now firmly lodged women in the category of people who engaged in the systematic perversion of government about which slave owners had warned: letting women vote amounted to wealth redistribution that would destroy traditional society. ...




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