November 12, 2013

There is a new political consulting firm hatched every day in Washington, but very few get their birth announcements in the New York Times. So I was interested that the Times (and Playbook) felt it was newsworthy that three Republican strategists have formed Burning Glass Consulting to help its clients “connect with women.” I visited the firm’s Web site (they might want to search engine optimize, since the first Google hit is for another firm with the same name) to learn a little more. Republicans, the founders of the firm argue, too often treat women as a coalition and fail to recognize the diversity of their voting interests. The firm’s formation serves the narrative that the Republican Party is losing among Hispanics (the emerging majority) and women voters (the current majority). As in any political failure, there is always the  question of whether policy is to blame or communications. The women at Burning Glass seem to side with the idea that the problem is communications, telling their clients that “to connect with women they must learn to communicate.”

I have a soft spot for political consulting start-ups, having participated in a couple. And certainly more women in positions of authority as political strategists is important for both parties. But I can’t help offering a little advice. There’s an old saying in marketing when a product isn’t selling: “The dogs don’t like the food.” And when you look at what Republicans are serving women — eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, more and more repugnant restrictions on abortion including invasive ultra-sounds, restrictions on access to birth control — it’s hard to conclude that “what we have here is a failure to communicate,” to quote the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” These kinds of policies are simply bad for women and they are not side issues; reproductive freedom is a foundational right. Without it, what happens to women’s ability to fully participate in society and the economy? So one can hope that these entrepreneurial strategists will use their new platform not to communicate the same tired, repressive Republican formula for women, but to reform it.