Obama’s Narrow View of Women’s Concerns is Exposed

By Colleen Carroll Campbell

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Publication Date: March 19, 2009

After weeks of sagging approval ratings, President Barack Obama recently courted some positive press by unveiling a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Critics have mocked the council as a meaningless public relations stunt, since the council has no permanent staff and the cabinet secretaries who constitute most of its membership probably will be too preoccupied by other duties to focus on the council’s amorphous mandate “to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy.”

The council itself may not prove consequential, but women seeking to understand how Obama views them and their concerns could learn a lot from the White House signing ceremony that he hosted to celebrate the council’s inception. Such ceremonies — and, more important, the guests who attend them — can be deeply revealing of a president’s priorities.

At first glance, the more than 120 accomplished women of all ages and ethnicities who clustered around Obama at last week’s ceremony appeared to be the very picture of diversity. But a closer look at their affiliations revealed a breathtaking conformity of thought that undercuts a central theme of Obama’s presidency: his claim to be a post-partisan conciliator who eagerly seeks input from those with whom he disagrees.

Obama’s guest list for his East Room soiree showed little evidence of his campaign promise to transcend partisan divisions. Only four of the 27 women senators and congresswomen in attendance were Republicans, and two of those four were pro-choice, socially liberal Republicans whose views make them outliers in their own party.

Even less ideological diversity could be found among the 80 private citizens Obama invited, a lopsidedly leftist group composed mostly of feminist theorists, abortion-rights advocates, gay-rights activists and Democratic political operatives. Nearly half were outspoken crusaders for abortion rights or representatives of organizations that have made abortion advocacy a defining plank of their policy platforms. Not a single pro-life organization was represented.

Similarly, nearly half a dozen gay-rights activists and representatives of gay-rights organizations were in attendance, but there were no representatives of organizations dedicated to defending traditional marriage or to combating the epidemic of fatherlessness that is the leading cause of poverty among American women and girls today. There were, in fact, no conservative or libertarian organizations represented at the ceremony and few moderate ones. As for faith-based organizations represented, a generous estimate would include three — and that’s if you count the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, more accurately categorized as an abortion advocacy group than a religious one.

Although Obama’s remarks emphasized the council’s role in promoting the economic well-being of women, fewer than a dozen of the private citizens on the guest list had an economic, business or labor affiliation. The overwhelming number of abortion activists in attendance suggested that the council’s true mandate is less about expanding economic opportunity than expanding abortion access.

No one would expect Obama to pack his signing ceremony with conservative women. Yet his refusal to make even a symbolic stab at inclusiveness was stunning, given his campaign promise to promote compromise on social issues and the fact that most American women do not identify with the extreme agenda pushed by the radical feminists who dominated last week’s guest list.

Obama’s stubborn ideological streak may cost him with women voters. It’s tough to woo women with claims of broad-mindedness when you clearly consider only one kind of woman worth listening to — the kind who agrees with you. Back in the early days of the women’s movement, feminists had a name for that sort of man: chauvinist.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is http://www.colleen-campbell.com.