the president's campaign pledge that "W stands for Woman," Bush tends to
bomb out with the fairer sex. Unsurprisingly, a recent poll by the Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press has registered women voters
favoring Kerry over Bush by a full 12 percentage points.
So it's no wonder that the Bush
campaign is working overtime to nab critical female voters, enlisting wife
Laura and various female administration members to carry Bush's message from
the Oval Office to the powder room.
But Bush just doesn't seem to get it.
"What women want" is to be heard, not to receive a message. Women want to be
asked questions and to be given honest answers -- and that's precisely the
area over which Bush is losing female voters.
While the president's opposition to
abortion rights and his curtailing of family planning options has alienated
many voters, arguably even more damaging for Bush among women is the
perception that he has tuned them out.
Just ask a disgruntled woman voter
where it all went wrong with Bush, and chances are she'll name three
communication areas that died, taking the relationship along with it:
1. He closed women's
One of Bush's first acts as
president was to shut down the White House Office for Women's Initiatives
and Outreach, which had monitored policy initiatives, helped coordinate
federal programs and served as a liaison for outside groups since 1995.
Then in late 2001, only public outcry
saved ten regional offices of the Department of Labor Women's Bureau the
administration had planned to axe. Ominously, Bush has proposed reducing
funding to the Women's Bureau itself in FY2005.
2. He fudged the facts
Information affecting women
in crucial areas ranging from pay equity, to breast cancer to HIV has been
distorted on governmental web sites and publications during Bush's term -
even worse, data has sometimes disappeared altogether. The list is
extensive, but includes:
* The National Cancer Institute changed
its web site to suggest that abortion and breast cancer were linked, even
though studies had found they weren't. The web site was changed back only
when Congress insisted.
* The Department of Labor has
eliminated essential publications on the rights of women workers, such as
Don't Work in the Dark - Know Your Rights, and Fact Sheets on women workers.
* The Department of Health and Human
Services altered information on its web site to make "abstinence-only"
programs seem more effective than evidence indicates.
3. He made questionable
When running for president,
Bush was asked if his personal opposition to abortion rights would be
reflected in his administration's judicial appointments. Bush replied:
"Voters should assume that I have no litmus test on that issue or any other
Immediately upon assuming office,
however, the president began elevating abortion foes to critical offices:
John Ashcroft became attorney general, Tommy Thompson became Secretary of
Health and Human Services, and a slew of similarly-minded appointees were
soon drafted into the lower courts.
Crucial women-oriented advisory
committees have met a similar fate. Case in point: Dr. David Hager, who has
refused to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women, is only one of three
religious conservatives Bush named to the Food and Drug Administration's
(FDA) Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs.
But back to the president and his
difficulties with women voters. The lesson here is that when an
administration seems more focused on its own political agenda than on honest
communication, women will start looking for greener pastures.
In other words, Mr. Bush, take some
advice about dealing with women: LISTEN. Ask questions, and then LISTEN some
more. TELL THE TRUTH. And please, save the slogans for a different target
is a free-lance writer with a background in clinical psychology. Her work as
been featured in publications and websites internationally. Heather can be
contacted via her website:
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