Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, ended the Equal Rights Amendment drive with the warning to both political parties that women are moving into electoral politics and that neither party can take them for granted anymore. With that, she released lists of both Republicans and Democrats who voted against ERA and who would be targeted for replacement beginning this November.
Women's organizations, many of which have bipartisan leadership, have been reluctant to side with either political party, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the Democrats are moving effectively to win women voters while the Republicans are still throwing a stag party.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, women of all age groups are aligning themselves steadfastly with the Democrats, who have as much as a 30 percentage point lead in the 45-to-54 age group. Women who a year ago either preferred the Republicans or felt the same about both parties in certain polling questions are now showing strong preferences for the Democratic Party's ability to handle inflation and unemployment and prevent war.
The move of women towards the Democratic Party has been relentless, and the White House has done nothing to stop it. Kathy Wilson, a Republican who chairs the National Women's Political Caucus (a pacesetter in the drive to elect women), states flat out that "the present leadership" of the Republican Party "is grossly insensitive to women. The up-and-coming newly registered women's vote is going to the Democratic side." While she believes the central issue for women is the economy, she says the president's stand against ERA, his support of the so-called "human life amendment" and his image on the war and peace issue "add up to a pretty bleak picture in the minds of women."
Lines of communication between Republican women and the White House, she says, "are very poor." A meeting of Republican women with the president which she says was promised after the bruising battles over ERA and abortion in Detroit never occurred.
Leaders of major women's groups, ranging from the American Association of University Women, to the Business and Professional Womens Clubs, to the American Nurses Association, to NOW, are all stressing that their next goal is to elect candidates sympathetic to women's rights, including large numbers of women. The shift they are envisioning is a subtle but important one in which women will move from influence to power. The Democrats are already responding to this drive.
The party has effectively involved women as participants and as leaders, giving them not only equal numerical representation with men but important policy-making roles that ensured that women's interests were reflected in the position papers that came out of the party's miniconvention in Philadelphia. Pre-convention reports, for example, made only cursory mention--one sentence--of equal pay. A much longer passage on equal pay for work of comparable value, along with detailed principles on how to obtain it, was incorporated into the conference position statements "almost without debate," according to Ann Lewis, political director of the Democratic National Committee.
There is, she says, "a balance point at which it becomes clear to everyone you are a substantive part of the body and not just a decoration." Party leaders are working hard at recruiting women candidates, she says, and recruiting them on the same basis used to find male candidates, not on superior standards as has been the case in the past. The compliance review commission, which rules on delegate selection, has a woman chair and executive director, and of 17 members, nine are women.
While all of the Democratic presidential candidates went out of their way to identify themselves with women's rights, the White House has responded to its women problem by raising it at a senior staff meeting in Paris, the day before the economic summit opened--which smacks of panic more than commitment. So far, the Republican administration is not taking women voters any more seriously than it took women when it came to influential appointments, selection of issues, balancing the budget and running the party, a political course that can only alienate women further.
While the Democratic Party is responding to the desire of women for parity and power, the Republicans are adrift in nostalgia, led by a president who sends a congratulatory telegram to Phyllis Schlafly at her stop-ERA victory party.
The White House has responded to the emergence of women as an important voting block with deafening silence, but the message to women could not be clearer.