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HER WAR WITH THE GOP

12:00 AM, Apr 8, 1996 • By HEATHER R. HIGGINS
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You have to feel sorry for Democrats, what with 200 of their elected offcials switching parties since Clinton was elected and almost no Republicans returning the compliment. So it's not surprising that Frank Rich rushed to embrace Tanya Melich and her "profusely documented, tell-all account," The Republican War Against Women: An Insider's Report from Behind the Lines (Bantam, 356 pages, $ 23.95). Rich and others who champion this book, however, face a wee problem: The documentation is shoddy and high- ly selective, the tales that get told are so flagrantly revisionist that even a political amateur would smirk, the premise depends on Orwellian doublespeak, and the "insider" simply isn't. In short, this is not a serious book making a legitimate argument. Nor is it a true insider's account with genuine revelations and fresh information. Rather, it is a screed, a long whine, with the intellectual depth of a wading pool.


Start with the word "misogynist," which appears nearly 70 times in one form or another, for an average of once every four page. Silly you if you thought it meant someone who hates or distrusts women. No, here a "misogynist" is anyone who disagrees with the liberal eral policies Melich advocates. Equally original is Melich's standard for gauging the Republican party's "assault on women." It takes no account of real gains by women in the party hierarchy, but only measures gains by the right kind of woman -- the pro-choice kind. And even the appointment of the right kind of woman doesn't quite count for Melich unless the women in question are "placed in a position to affect reproductive health policy." It's rather like calling the Democratic party racist, with racist redefined to mean anything Thomas Sowell would disagree with, and racist behavior the appointment of anyone other than black individuals, who hold Sowell's views, to positions responsible for race- related matters.


The misuse of language to vilify the majority of Republicans only begins with "misogynist" and its close companions "bigot,. . . . hater,. . . . racist," and "zealot," to name a few. Democrats, by the way, are spared these epithets. When they agree with Republican positions on particular issues, they are at worst motivated by "genuine conviction" (Sam Ervin, who opposed the ERA) or "sanctimonious" (Carter, who wouldn't fight for federal funding for abortions). Words like "vindictive,. . . . vicious," and "virulent" Melich saves for Republicans and their party of "theocrats and the usual unprincipled power seekers." Her disdain for accuracy and subtlety, however, really shines in her historical analogies.


Thus, President Bush instituted "policies that sought to relegate women to their pre-Enlightenment status." (Just in case women were wondering where our property, suffrage, and right to divorce went.) At the International Women's Year conference in Houston, women "argued about . . . the stereotyping of women into traditional roles. 'How can I stop my husband from beating me?' they asked." (Ah, yes, the favorite traditional role -- and no stereotypes here.) The harassment of Geraldine Ferraro by the Reagan team proceeded "with the same ferocity exhibited 300 years ago by the 'good Puritans' of Salem." (And the same legitimacy, too.) Bush's veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1990 was "only the third time in American history that a president had vetoed a civil rights bill. [The first was] in 1866 when Andrew Johnson vetoed legislation giving civil rights protection to the newly freed slaves." (And you thought Republicans only wanted to go back to the 1950s!)


Elsewhere, Melich practices revision by omission. Examples abound. As a member of the Coalition Against Bork, she knows better than to present as legitimate the deliberate distortions of Bork's opinions that were used to slander him during his confirmation process. But she never acknowledges that the behavior of the opposition was so extreme and indifferent to truth as to produce a new verb: to bork. Rather, Melich for once discovers understatement, noting that while the hearings may have been "less civilized than many in the past," the vituperativeness was wholly the fault of Republicans who were trying to "pack" the court to "reflect their views of justice."