John McCain’s Wrong Answers to Working Women’s Questions—Now Give Him Your Answer at the Ballot Box
Don’t get excited. John McCain didn’t respond directly to the questions about his positions on economic and reproductive justice we (Carole Joffe and I) first put to him on Labor Day and have been asking him ever since.
he's shocked even us since then with his over the top contempt for
women. During his third debate with Barack Obama, when Obama expressed
concern over the Supreme Court’s upholding a federal abortion ban
because it didn’t contain an exception for women’s health, McCain made “air quotes” around “health exception,” and alleged, “ You know that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement to mean almost anything.”
could tell lots of stories about women whose lives and reproductive
capacity have depended on their access to the banned abortion methods,
but we couldn’t top Samantha Bee’s send up of McCain’s insensitivity?
out McCain’s dismissal of the health issues facing real women in the
real world is of a piece with his record on many other issues facing
So now, as election day (finally!) looms tomorrow, and in the midst of an economic meltdown that disproportionately affects women, especially unmarried women,
it’s time to revisit the questions we asked John McCain on Labor Day
and later expanded to include his running mate Sarah Palin. Below is
the original post’s questions with updates and additional links to the
answers we found:
Now that the Republican National Convention balloons have fallen, let's get down to some concrete policy talk with John McCain.
The frenzied media circus surrounding McCain's choice for running mate, Sarah Palin, surfaced many questions, some of an unduly personal nature. But some of those personal matters, like her 17-year old daughter's pregnancy, raise legitimate questions about McCain's policy agenda.
We take seriously Barack Obama's
eloquent plea that candidates' families -- and especially their
children -- be allowed a zone of privacy. And we feel compassion for
the two teenagers whose personal lives are being publicly dissected
literally around the globe. But any candidate's positions on policy
matters -- some of which in this case bear directly on the issues
surrounding sex, pregnancy, childbearing and family well-being -- are
most certainly fair game for discussion in this election. They affect
every American, after all.
So while we agree that Bristol and Levi should be left in peace,
John McCain's choice of Palin only intensifies our concerns about his
responsiveness to serious issues facing most working women.
Yes, yes, we know that Sarah Palin is herself a working woman. A
working woman on steroids, some might argue -- given that she went back
to work three days after giving birth to her son, Trig. We're an
advocate and academic, respectively, with long-standing passions for
economic and reproductive justice for women. We've come to understand
the direct and profound interconnections between the two. There's good
reason why the words "barefoot and pregnant" have been so frequently
joined together historically.
It's positive news that Palin's candidacy has jettisoned these
policy matters squarely into the public eye. For we haven't heard
anyone question McCain from that intersection of women's lives during
the hours of airtime, barrels of ink and glut of blogposts that have
been given over to the Palin family's predicament. So we are asking him
these questions now, while the glare of voter interest shines light on
First, John McCain, do you think women belong in the paid labor force?
This might seem facetious or rhetorical, but it's a very serious,
core question. We know your wife, Cindy, chairs the board of her
family's company. Until you asked Palin to be your running mate, which
tells us you think it's right for women to hold the highest political
offices, your most visible surrogate to female voters was Carly
Fiorina, until recently a top corporate CEO. [UPDATE: and now “until recently” a McCain surrogate, having too often spoken the truth.]
But surely you realize the overwhelming majority of women don't have
the resources of these women. Teen moms in particular are more likely
to live in poverty because of truncated educational opportunities. And
many of these young mothers do not have a supportive family, with
financial resources to help them, as Bristol Palin is fortunate enough
to have. So they're going to have to enter the workforce to feed their
If you accept that most women will spend some of their lives in
the labor force, then, do you believe women should earn the same as
men, for the same jobs?
Open up whom? And if you support equal pay for equal work, what would you do to guarantee it?
UPDATE: Just after you called your running mate the “direct counterpart to the liberal, feminist agenda”, she made a speech in which she claimed to be a direct counterpart of McCain’s view. Still, as Amie Newman reports:
stood with McCain in support of the Supreme Court case that ruled there
is a statute of limitations for bringing a suit against an employer for
equal pay. It begs the question: why are women in the McCain campaign
worthy of equal pay when the rest of American women are not?
in fact proposed what seem to be concrete policy ideas that included
"flexibility in labor laws so women could engage in more telecommuting
and would push for a tax code "that doesn't penalize working families."
She did not elaborate on how that relates to Senator McCain's overall
economic plan that provides relief in the form of the largest tax cuts
for the highest income generating families. In addition, in fact,
McCain's plan allows for less tax relief for working families than does
Families where both partners are working for low wages, and
especially families headed by single moms, deserve various kinds of
support from a compassionate government. These families need access to
affordable and high-quality child care. Most of all, they need
affordable health care -- for themselves, but especially for their
But, Senator McCain, your voting history on children's issues is
abysmal. Can you explain to us why you voted -- twice -- against a
reauthorization of SCHIP, the immensely popular State Children's Health
Insurance Program -- a program supported by many in your own party?
Can you explain why your record on children's issues generally is so bad that the nonpartisan Children's Defense Fund in its 2007 congressional scorecard on children's issues rated you the senator with the worst voting record?
In Palin's convention speech, she said that families with special
needs would have a "friend in the White House." Why didn't you vote to
increase funding for children with disabilities? [UPDATE: According to 9to5’s former director Ellen Bravo
, “Unfortunately, [Palin’s] main proposal is more taxpayer money for
private school vouchers, a program that has proven to be stunningly
unaccountable and supports schools that exclude most special needs
kids.”] And while we're at it, do you think it was right for Palin to slash funding for children with special needs in Alaska during her two years as governor, just as she also slashed funding for programs that help pregnant teens become self-supporting? With friends like these ...
But let's step back to where it all starts, or should start: with
planning and prevention. To participate in the workplace, women must be
able to plan and space their childbearing. A government study found that 98 percent of heterosexually active American women had used contraception at some point, and a Rand study
found that 5 of 6 Americans support insurance coverage of family
planning services. Access to contraception, clearly, is a deeply shared
American family value. [UPDATE: Your running mate, Senator McCain, told Katie Couric she does not support emergency contraception, which could prevent up to half of abortions. new question: Do you?]
Your voting record reveals you've cast dozens of votes opposing
contraceptive coverage for insured women and family planning funding
for low-income uninsured women. Yet when a reporter asked your position
on contraception, you stammered that you didn't remember and asked your
aide to find out how you had voted. On another occasion, you famously squirmed and mumbled
"I'll get back to you" when asked to explain Fiorina's perfectly
logical statement that it's unfair for insurance companies to cover
Viagra but not contraception.
Did Fiorina fail to get your memo to that in order to curry favor
with the Religious Right, your campaign had to adopt a strict
anti-birth control policy? Or perhaps the subject of sexuality is so uncomfortable for you that you think your votes for the discredited abstinence-only sex education program are a sufficient response?
If the stakes weren't so serious, your consistent stumbles --
whenever asked about family planning issues -- would be amusing. But
it's no laughing matter that you would deny birth control access, quash
comprehensive and medically accurate sex education, and yet
simultaneously move to outlaw abortion.
We've noticed your flip-flops on abortion, by the way. You identify as "pro-life," as is your right.
Still, why have you abandoned your once-nuanced positions?
In 1999, you were on record as not wanting Roe v. Wade
overturned, recognizing -- correctly -- that allowing criminalization
of abortion would lead to many injuries, even deaths. Now, you've even
picked a running mate who, like you, wants to see Roe
overturned. Period. In 2000, you challenged George W. Bush to justify
how he could possibly support the Republican Party platform that calls
for outlawing abortion with no exceptions -- not for rape, incest,
health, even life of the woman!
You were incredulous then that Bush refused to repudiate such
extremism. And we are incredulous that now, in 2008, you don't push
back against the extremists in your party who show such callous
disregard for the lives of women. [UPDATE: The nation was shocked to see you dismiss women’s health with your “quotation” hand gesture in the third debate. Guess that’s our answer.]
What's more, you've chosen a running mate whose views on abortion are in line with those extremists. [UPDATE:
Since you’ve chosen a vice presidential running mate who affirms to the
right-wing Focus on the Family’s Rev. James Dobson that she supports the entire draconian anti-choice Republican platform, and so do you.] She has even said that if her own daughter were raped, she would expect her to carry the pregnancy to term.
Senator McCain, where do you stand on these intersecting
challenges facing women? Is it really your vision that women should be
paid less than men, accept unsatisfactory child care and health care
for their children, yet have limited access to contraception and
medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that could reduce
unintended pregnancy and abortion, and risk possible injury or death,
when -- if you are in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices --
abortion becomes once more illegal?
We're waiting for answers. Because if that's your plan for women,
you'll be taking "barefoot and pregnant" to a whole new level, and the
women of America deserve to know that before they cast their votes.
UPDATE: The best thing about such a protracted and visible
campaign is that the answers have become unmistakably clear with or
without your lack of direct response to our queries. Now it’s up to the
voters to give you their answer at the ballot box by pulling the lever
for Barack Obama.
Carole Joffe Is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis Gloria Feldt blogs at Heartfeldt Politics where this article is ccross-posted. She is author of The War on Choice and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.