The Blog

HER WAR WITH THE GOP

12:00 AM, Apr 8, 1996 • By HEATHER R. HIGGINS
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Geraldine Ferraro's nomination restores to Melich "dreams assaulted by the Reagan years" -- but er candidacy is recounted as a simple tale of bigots and misogynists seizing on the little "wrinkle" of the candidate's "husband not wanting to release his tax returns" and using this to attack Ferraro because she is Italian, a Catholic (the good, pro-choice kind), and a woman. Of what those tax returns ultimately revealed, as well as what other evidence (as opposed to "innuendo") turned up, there is not a whisper.


But abortion is the area where Melich's inability to see beyond her prejudices is most evident. Whatever one's position on the issue, it is hard to ignore the fact that for right-to-lifers, abortion is a moral issue; to them, any "right" to choose abortion is as meaningless as a property "right" to own slaves. Yet Melich contends that what really motivates pro4ifers are concerns like states rights, political timing, and party loyalty-with barely a mention of anything more profound.


Nor does she recognize that public sentiment on abortion is complicated and nuanced, distributed along a bell curve, depending on why and at what stage an abortion is sought. While quick to cite public opinion whenever it supports her views, Melich conveniently forgets about it when propounding her own vehement opposition to popular measures such as parental notification, restricted federal funding, waiting periods, and testing for fetal viability. She asserts that these constitute gross infringements of reproductive freedom. Indeed, the "individual freedom of women to make their own reproductive choices [is] bedrock Republican philosophy," she announces, and "each person must follow his or her own conscience." But this is not an argument. After all, in her Wendell Willkie childhood, laws governing all sorts of personal behavior, from loitering to abortion, were on the books and widely accepted, by her party and everyone else.


In any case, "reproductive choice" logically resides at intercourse, which is why contraception is widely approved. Abortion is different. What we are wrestling with as a nation and what the Republican party is discussing internally is when, if ever, and under what circumstances a decision to abort is morally acceptable and should be legally permissible. It is a nuanced question, and Melich does not do it justice.


While Melich claims to be opposed to an intrusive government, she seems to mean it only in the area of abortion. She assures us, for example, that to be truly uninvolved, the federal government must pay for abortions. In fact a liberal moving under cover of feminism, she favors government intrusion and spending, whether in the guise of affirmative action, "extension" of the Equal Pay Act, federal funding for and regulation of day care, and, apparently, all other entitlements and social spending. (Yes, the predictable denunciation of those cruel Reagan spending cuts is here, along with a contradictory concern about rising deficits.) As for House speaker Newt Gingrich (who sends "misogynist and racist messages"), his Opportunity Society "will limit women's right to reproductive choice, eliminate affirmative action, punish poor women for having children, and make life more miserable for women in general." In short, it's hard to tell why Melich was a Republican for so long.


What she certainly is, however, is a Victim. Whenever Melich's side loses a fight over policy, she tells us that "the misogynist strategy worked." When someone she dis-approves of wins an election, it's the fault of "incumbency and regional bias." When a woman is criticized for the policies she espouses, her critics are "anti-woman" and "extremists" who have "women as a particular target" or "don't want to share power." Anyone who makes a principled argument for a position Melich disagrees with is merely "cloaking attacks in a mantle of religiosity and morality." When conservative women are highly regarded, whether Phyllis Schlafiy, Jeane Kirkpatrick, or the current Republican congresswomen, they are being used or "co-opted." It's a simplistic view, a world where the typical choice is "between a misogynist fiscal conservative and a feminist moderate" -- but it's the only paradigm that allows this rancorous woman to avoid confronting herself.