"W. Is for Women," said the Bush campaign buttons in 2000. True, he didn't seem to have much to offer women, but the affable, moderate-seeming candidate didn't seem hostile either. He spent no time railing against feminists, and though known to oppose abortion, he didn't appear interested in doing anything about it. In fact, he got through the entire campaign without bringing up abortion.
Even after four years in office, George W. Bush's record on women doesn't leap out at you. It's composed almost entirely of little things, small enough to fly well under the media's radar screen, so few of us have any sense of their cumulative impact. But when you step back, the pattern emerges, and it is large, ugly, and unmistakable. Behind a smoke screen of high-profile female appointees and soothing slogans, George W. Bush is waging war on women.
One reason you may not have noticed is that W's record on women is getting harder and harder to find. Who knows whether women are doing better or worse? You can't find the information anymorethe Bush administration has simply stopped counting, stopped keeping track, dropped the records. When you go to the places where the government used to keep the information you find the damnedest thingsfake sociology, phony science, erroneous health information, and pathetically bad economics.
Try a different route to the recordwho has Bush placed in important posts involving women's health, education, and employment? Well, darling, according to Bush appointees, when you get PMS, pray. If your husband beats the crap out of you, just agree that wives should be submissive to their husbands, and besides, as everybody in the Bush administration knows, women beat up men just as often as men beat up women. Oh, and if you get breast cancer, it's your fault because you had an abortiona conclusion that particularly startled people who study the disease.
Okay, but it can't be all bad. I mean, look at the manhe's surrounded by women. Elaine Chao, secretary of labor; Ann Veneman, secretary of agriculture; Gale Norton, secretary of interior, why, that's almost as many women as Bill Clinton appointed to the Cabinet. Except the women in Bush's administration have two important traits in common: They've sworn their allegiance to the corporate world, and they have connections to right-wing foundations that espouse antifemale policies.
Well, okay, but his momma and his wife are in favor of abortion rights, give him a break. Unfortunate pattern there. Laura Bush, it seems, is used to cast a softer light on her husband, who then proceeds to reverse whatever she's just promised. Right before the Bush inauguration, many women were greatly reassured when Laura said of Roe v. Wade on the Today show, "No, I don't think it should be overturned." Three days later, her husband reimposed the "global gag rule" on groups abroad that receive U.S. funding for family planning. They may no longer so much as mention abortion, even when it is medically necessary.
In April 2001, Laura, the librarian, kicked off the Campaign for America's Libraries. A week later, her husband cut funding for the Library Services and Technology Act, the Reading Is Fundamental program, and the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Oops.
Laura Bush was most famously used to put a female-friendly face on policy before the war in Afghanistan, when she substituted for her husband in his weekly radio address and spoke eloquently about the Taliban's oppression of women. Unfortunately, the much-heralded Afghan Women and Children's Relief Act, signed by Bush, had no dollar figures attached to it, and only a tiny amount of money was ever committed. Meanwhile, Afghan women's groups consistently report that women are almost as badly off under the renewed rule of the warlords as they were before. At least the Taliban did not commit rape as a matter of policy.
Maybe it's better Laura not stand up for anything.