Editor’s note: Last week on “Hardball,” host Chris Matthews asked me to try to explain why, after weeks of conversation about contraceptives , President Obama isn’t polling better with women. I quoted a political moderate I know — Diana Reese, from Overland Park, Kan. — who’d told me she’s just too economically squeezed to focus on birth control right now.
On his radio show the next day, Rush Limbaugh said it was “noteworthy” I even know an independent — a reference, perhaps, to my staunchly Republican family? — and that I seem shocked that the idea there’s a “war on women” isn’t working better for Obama.
I’ve been writing since last May that the language branding this a “war on women” strikes me as a disservice to, say, that 16-year-old Moroccan who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. Or those Afghani women who’ve had acid thrown in their faces for resisting the charms of unsuitable suitors.
Yet I do see overreaching Republicans, with an important assist from Limbaugh himself, helping Democrats who very much believe we’re in the middle of a gender war raise lots of money and energize their base.
I am anything but surprised that not all of those incredulous that birth control is somehow front and center in this election year are leaning toward the Democrats. Below, Diana Reese explains why she is fed up with both parties as a result. — Melinda Henneberger
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Birth control? Really? This is the big issue of the 2012 presidential campaign?
What happened to jobs? The economy? Silly me, the ultimate soccer mom, living out here in Middle American flyover land, worrying about whether we can keep our suburban home and feed our kids instead of fretting over birth control funded through my tax dollars and funneled through Planned Parenthood.
Oh wait. When you’re unemployed, your tax bill goes way, way down. So I guess those aren’t my tax dollars supporting some woman’s right to say no to having children.
We’ve been struggling since 2008, when my husband, a computer programmer, was laid off from the company where he’d worked nearly 20 years because jobs were outsourced overseas.
I still remember that April day vividly when I came home from picking up the kids at school and my husband was home early.
“We need to talk,” he said, ushering me into our “private office,” the laundry room, where we could turn on the dryer and keep the kids from hearing us. He started listing names of his co-workers that I knew, saying each had been laid off.
Finally, he said, “And I was laid off.”
He’d buried the lead. My stomach felt like it had dropped down into my toes and beyond into the basement.
Things worked out well that time, and quickly. A company in downtown Kansas City was looking for programmers, and he had a new job in two weeks, just in time for my daughter’s 16th birthday.
The second time, in October 2010, he called home on his cellphone in the morning. That alone was unusual. “I have bad news,” he said. This time he didn’t bury the lead. “I’ve been laid off.”
The company had joined the outsourcing bandwagon, which ended up raising stock dividends while devastating several hundred local families.
It took three months before he found a temporary contract position, taking a pay cut. He didn’t receive any benefits at all. We started paying for health insurance through COBRA — nearly $1,400 a month.
That job lasted a year until funding reductions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture eliminated his position.
We can’t rely on my income: I jumped off the career ladder for the mommy track when my daughter was born. I’ve done some freelancing through the years, writing on health and medicine for national consumer and trade magazines. But most of those publications, facing a double whammy from the economy and the rising popularity of the Internet, have shut down faster than my kids have grown up.
We’re not alone in our desperation. On just one block of our street, we have neighbors in similar straits. One family lost its house to foreclosure after the dad, in accounting, was laid off and the mom spent weeks in intensive care due to a rare kidney condition.
Our neighbor across the street lost his job in health-care management. He finally gave up his search for a similar job and accepted a position as a staff nurse, a job he hadn’t held for 20 years. The resulting pay cut has made it impossible for him to stay in his house, so he’s put it on the market — at a loss.
We know a former video producer whose wife is supporting the family now. The husband has been looking for work for more than three years. He doubts he’ll ever find another regular position.
Same goes for another friend who was an editor on the sports desk of a major metropolitan daily. He was laid off, then rehired part-time at reduced pay and benefits. He, too, doubts he’ll work again at a full-time job in his field.
The mom of one of my daughter’s classmates lost her job as an administrative assistant when the company went bankrupt. She’s now living with her retired mother.
An attorney we knew is working as a sales clerk in a shoe store. His wife suffers from myasthenia gravis and can’t work. They’ve lost their home. The parents and their two grade-school sons live in an apartment.
The stories go on and on and on.
I had to apply this fall for the second time so my middle-school son could get free lunch. This time I didn’t cry, as I did last year in the bookkeeper’s office.
I did break down when the women at my church’s food pantry handed me a holiday meal sack, along with a gift card to buy a turkey, at Christmas. Two years ago, I’d donated money in memory of my dad (who always enjoyed a good meal).
So pardon me if I can’t focus my attention on birth control; I only wish I had that luxury.