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A Real War & a Phony War

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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We’re at war. More than 68,000 troops are deployed to Afghanistan. More than 2,000 Americans have died in over 10 years of fighting. The war has quiet bipartisan support. Too quiet.

President Obama, who—properly, we think—sent tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, rarely discusses the war, which is neither proper nor responsible. And in his speech accepting his party’s nomination, his prospective replacement as commander in chief, Mitt Romney, said not a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there.

This was an error by Romney, opening up political opportunities this week for President Obama and the Democrats. But it was also a failure of civic responsibility. Has it ever happened that we’ve been at war and a presidential nominee has ignored, in this kind of major and formal speech, the war and our warriors? I doubt it.

But the Romney campaign was preoccupied with responding to the Democratic charge that Republicans are engaged in a different kind of war, a “war on women.” Republicans thought it prudent to spend considerable time in Tampa preempting that assault. Given the amazing willingness of the media to take this phony war seriously, indeed to trumpet it, perhaps the Republicans were right to go out of their way to reply—even if they did so at times in an almost cartoonish way.

So, Ann Romney exclaimed on Tuesday evening, “I love you women!” Her husband paraded his pro-woman bona fides Thursday evening:

My mom and dad were true partners, a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example. When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, “Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?”

I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.

Maybe, in today’s political climate, this was useful. Still, it’s worth saying that the whole thing is nonsense. There is no Republican war on women. As it happens, today’s Republicans don’t hold retrograde social and cultural views on gender issues—unless it’s retrograde to have concern for unborn children, half of whom are girls, and for the traditional family, half of which is female.

It’s true that American politics today features a gender gap—women vote a few points more Democratic than men. So what? Women are a bit more liberal than men. Men are a bit more conservative than women. This says nothing about which party’s policies are better for the country, or about which gender is more often right. In any case, the gender gap is smaller than the marriage gap and much smaller than the churchgoing gap, to mention only a couple of other salient features of today’s American electorate.

There is no war on women. There never was a war on women. The very claim traduces the memory of our fathers and forefathers—and our maternal ancestors as well. For if respect for a more traditional set of social arrangements is tantamount to a war on women, then most of American history has been a war on women. If you believe that, as much of the leadership of today’s Democratic party apparently does, then you’ll be more ashamed of American history than proud of it. If you really believe in the war on women, it’s hard to see how you can really believe in America.

So Republicans could respond to the accusation that they are engaged in a war on women by charging that Democrats are in a war on America. But Republicans should rise above the temptation to fight arson with arson. There’s a real war going on, thousands of miles away, in which real men—and women—are risking their lives. They deserve the thanks and support of our candidates for president.

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