Did “Hilaryrosengate” End the “War on Women?”

I’m a big fan of Slate‘s political reporter/blogger Dave Weigel, and not only because the guy somehow manages to publish about eighty Tweets a day without letting it interfere with his day job. But his column providing a time-line of the Democratic “war on women” meme and declaring its demise in the flames of Hilaryrosengate, while useful, is just a bit too pat.

In Weigel’s accounting, the “war on women” was born back in early 2011 in the Beltway furor over a House bill cutting off funding for abortion providers; gained traction through its regular usage by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; hit its stride thanks to occasional GOP outrages like the Mississippi Personhood Amendment; made its bones by serving as a counter-punch to the conservative “war on religion” meme surrounding the contraception coverage mandate; and then expired when Hilary Rosen’s infelicitous words allowed the GOP to create its own “war on moms.”

Game over, says Weigel.

But as DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told him in comments he published today, we’re dealing with something a bit bigger than a talking point:

The truth of the matter is that Republicans want to use a discussion about whether the language is appropriate to hide from a discussion of the issues,” said Woodhouse. “There’s a reason they’re 18-23 points down with women. It’s the issues…. When the dust settles on these dust-ups, they’re stuck with the policies.”

It’s not like any of the raw material Democrats used in talking about a “war on women” has been trashed; new examples are popping up almost daily. Arizona just became the seventh state to enact an abortion ban directly challenging Roe v. Wade, and Georgia will soon become the eighth. The Catholic Bishops just announced a summer campaign to make its attacks on the contraception coverage mandate a matter of existential importance. Mitt Romney is going to have to very conspicuously bend his knee to the Christian Right, with its anti-choice and anti-feminist preoccupations, in choosing a running-mate. The present and perhaps imminent behavior of the Supreme Court could make judicial appointments–and the tenuous nature of reproductive rights–a bigger issue than it’s ever been in a presidential election. And suffusing it all is the inescapable reality that today’s GOP embraces a worldview on culture, economics and the role of government that has traditionally left a sizable majority of women very cold.

So maybe a “Cold War Against Women” is a more accurate term. But beating up on Hilary Rosen is hardly going to obliterate Mitt Romney’s or his party’s problems with women.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.