We know what Mike Huckabee meant. Sort of. Kind of. But, really?
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, talk-show host and erstwhile Baptist preacher, was trying to demythologize the alleged Republican “war on women” so brilliantly defined by Democrats in 2012.
Speaking at the Republican National Committee winter meeting Thursday, Huckabee said it was time to “no longer accept listening to the Democrats talk about a war on women.” Republicans aren’t waging a war on women, he said. “They have a war for women.”
The alleged war on women was based essentially on the notion that people who think abortion is a bad idea — or who don’t think the government should mandate insurance coverage for birth-control coverage — are anti-woman. Democrats point mainly to new state laws that have limited access to abortion, not to mention the unforgettable observations of a few Republican men about “legitimate” rape and so on.
Whatever one’s own position, Republicans could be characterized as waging a war on women only if no women agreed with the premises mentioned above. Protecting the rights of the unborn and fighting for freedom of conscience are not concerns only of men, nor should reproduction be the purview only of women.
But leave alone for a moment the principles and postulations of the reproductive debate. Most Americans have carved out their positions by now and the arguments are well-enough known. What Huckabee was saying was that women are not just packages of reproductive parts whose lives are circumscribed by access to birth control. This is the thinking he ascribes to Democrats. Instead, he said, Republicans are fighting a war for women “to be empowered to be something other than victims of their gender.”
Not bad so far, but then … uh-oh.
“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”
That is one long sentence, punctuated with several highlight-worthy words — “helpless,” “libido,” “Uncle Sugar” and, never far from the male Republican mind, “reproductive system.”
Paging Dr. Freud …
As Republicans can’t seem to learn, it’s all in how you say things. Even if Huckabee was only describing how he believes Democrats think of women, he may have parted the curtain on his own unconscious processes. Who, really, is worried about women’s libidos?
No one thus far in the debate about health insurance coverage of birth control has concerned himself with libido-related concerns except, notably, Rush Limbaugh. It was he who made the leap from Sandra Fluke’s insistence that health insurance should cover birth control to his conclusion that Fluke is, therefore and obviously, a “slut.” (A far shorter leap is required to infer that sitting alone in a room talking for three hours a day into a large, golden microphone millimeters from one’s oral cavity undoubtedly allows the mind to wander.)
Alas, and sadly for Huckabee, his introduction of the libido and all subsequent mental associations not only distracted from his essential message but placed him squarely in the frame with Limbaugh. One is justified in wondering: Why do these men concern themselves so much with what women do with their, ahem, “reproductive systems”?
Does Huckabee really think that Democrats are wedded to the idea that women can’t function without “Uncle Sugar” offering medications to thwart ovulation and fertilization? Even Uncle Sugar is creepy. No doubt intended as a clever twist on Uncle Sam, he sounds like the lurking uncle who trades chocolate for a smooch on the upstairs landing.
Huckabee is usually better than this. His sane, jocular temperament is what won him fans and plaudits. Recall his saying, “I’m a conservative, but I’m not mad at anybody about it.” His RNC comments, by contrast, sounded like someone priming the base at the expense of sound thinking.
Rather than end the idea of a Republican war on women, Huckabee has merely provided fresh fodder to Democrats, while reminding women why they don’t want to associate with this crowd. Clueless.
To his credit, Huckabee wrapped up with sage counsel that he might redirect to include his brethren: “Women across America need to stand up and say, ‘enough of that nonsense.’”
Tell it, preacher.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.