Male lawmakers should not even vote on abortion. That was Alan Simpson’s position before the Wyoming Republican retired from the Senate — and it still is.
Abortion is a “terrible” and “hideous thing,” as I recently heard him reiterate in a seminar on the federal budget at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “But it’s a deeply intimate and personal thing. ... Men legislators shouldn’t even vote on it.”
No, Simpson has not “drunk the liberal Kool-Aid,” as the stridently right-wing RINO-hunting (Republican in Name Only) thought police might put it. He simply understands how easy it is for us guys to sound unintentionally and arrogantly clueless, as any seasoned divorce lawyer can tell you, when we try to expound on what women really want or need.
That bracing reality comes to mind amid the fallout over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s recent remarks about birth control and women’s libidos. The message he was trying to deliver was not quite what a lot of us heard.
“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in,” Huckabee told the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Washington, “and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”
Having met Huckabee, a Fox News host and ordained Southern Baptist minister, I’m sure he meant well. But with that one long “libido” sentence, his speech against the Democrats’ allegation of a GOP “war on women” quickly turned into yet another fire for party leaders to put out.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus rebuked Huckabee’s comments. “You know, you have to accept the political world we live in, in the sense that you cannot offer up words like libido — wherever that came from — you don’t offer up these sorts of lobs and set up passes and serves that allow the Democrats to spike the ball,” Priebus told NBC’s Chuck Todd recently.
Priebus’ response illustrates the GOP’s current challenges with gender and other diversity. Almost a year after the RNC’s post-election “autopsy” called for outreach to persuadable moderates on issues like women’s health, the right wing’s culture warriors are still preaching mostly to the converted.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” the report advised. “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
Yet that message had not quite reached another possible 2016 Republican presidential contender, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
He offered his own cheerfully tone-deaf reaction recently to Huckabee’s speech. “This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head because, if there was a war on women, I think they won,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. ‘‘You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful.”
He went on to talk about how successful the women in his fortunate family have been. “I think some of the victimology and all of this other stuff is trumped up,” he concluded — which reminds me of conservatives who dismiss the concerns of African-Americans with, “Hey, you’ve got a black president. What more do you need?”
I actually don’t rejoice in the sound of Republicans’ continuing to provide more cross-cultural cluelessness for Democrats, late-night comedians and others to mock. I miss the days when both parties competed for the votes of women and people of color. “What more do you need?” out of a sincere desire to hear the answer, not belittle the question.
Instead, today’s polarized politics and energized social-media environment sheds more heat than light.
CLARENCE PAGE’s column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency.