“Will the last Republican woman turn out the lights?” ran the recent headline in Salon.com.
The column examined the GOP’s refusal to see the light on women’s issues, as in getting out of gender politics if the party hopes to attract meaningful numbers of younger female voters into the future.
Which is why, whenever I have a chance to hear political consultant Eileen Padberg speak, I listen up. Padberg is both a moderate Republican – in 1988 she managed the George H.W. Bush presidential campaign in California — and a lifelong advocate of women’s rights.
And, she has refused to “turn out the lights” on the GOP, choosing to work from within the party for change in its ideology.
On Feb. 12, Padberg spoke in Irvine at Concordia University’s Center for Public Policy. (The Center’s stated purpose is to [bring] “together diverse points of view within Orange County to focus on critical issues confronting our future.” I applaud that and thank the readers who have been writing in to agree or disagree on this column’s positions.)
Padberg spoke about the 22 months she spent in Iraq in 2004-2006 creating programs to help the women of that country participate in the emerging economy. (Keith Curry, Newport Beach Councilman and Director of the Center, says that Padberg’s remarks should be available about March 1 at cui.edu/cpp.)
She served in Iraq because “I believe that unless women have an economic stake in democracy, democracy fails.” She risked her life for that belief, often wearing a gas mask and a 40-lb. bulletproof vest, while she lived and often worked in the war zone. But she pointed out that she was used to living in a war zone, given her years of as a moderate Republican in conservative Orange County.
Recalling my Feb. 7 column on the Republican war against women and Tanya Melich’s 1996 book of the same name, I figured Padberg was only half kidding.
In a follow-up email, Padberg agreed.
“I do believe there is a war on women within the Republican Party. It is based on my experience for the last 20 years. Tanya Melich was a good friend of mine…. She nailed it back then and it hasn’t changed one bit. Republicans talk a good game, but they fail to come through for women. They don’t recruit women, they don’t do much to help them fundraise and they don’t do much to encourage more women to run. The litmus test of [the former chair of the Republican Party of Orange County] Tom Fuentes is still around, it is just much more subtle. I think the leadership is intimidated by strong, independent women.”
Other readers responded, too:
From an Irvine Presbyterian who preferred her name be omitted: “I think the focus on women’s reproductive issues by the men in question is an interesting mix of the way men experience their power relationships with one another and the issues they think they need to champion as they seek contemporary patriarchal standing vis a vis marriage and family life. In some way, I think that it is a reflection of the changes that have taken place since the feminine revolution, representing an absorbing of feminine issues by men.”
The last word, though – which may evince either a wry smile or a wince from readers – comes from a Roman Catholic in Missouri: “In the 1950s the Republican Party was the party advocating for birth control – and for legalized abortion, if you can believe that. For Republicans, these were matters of privacy, not yet an articulated constitutional principle. But there was also a political motive to their views. It was that Democrats reproduced more than Republicans (except the Mormon ones), so birth control might help in future elections by keeping the Democrats’ population growth under control. Today’s Republicans might revisit that viewpoint. If we outlaw contraception, think how many new Democrats we’ll be birthing.”
The writer can be reached at [email protected]