Vice President Bush, defending President Reagan's record on women's issues, said tonight that administration economic policies are providing women more help than would such things as support for the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion.
"I know that most speakers when they come before a women's group are inclined to dwell on women's issues, or what has become known as the 'gender gap,' " said Bush. "I think the administration has a record it can be proud of in this respect."
Bush's speech to more than 3,000 women at the 92nd annual convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, a mostly conservative non-partisan group from all over the country, appeared to be part of a new effort to combat the "gender gap," a phrase used to show that fewer women than men support the administration.
Bush ticked off accomplishments that benefit women, such as increasing tax credits for child care and cutting the so-called marriage penalty under which working couples pay higher taxes if married than single.
"The list goes on," he said. "But women are also helped by many administration programs not aimed specifically at them. The majority of businesses owned by women, for instance, are small businesses, and it is small business which has been hardest hit" by inflation and recession in recent years.
According to Richard Wirthlin, Reagan's pollster, data on the "gender gap" now suggest that women are more critical of administration economic policies than of the aggressive Reagan defense and arms policies that generated the gap in the 1980 election campaign.
Issues such as the ERA and domestic budget cuts, Wirthlin said, are not alienating women so much as causing problems with groups of outspoken feminists.
Tonight Bush appealed to this group of middle-aged women to trust in the president's economic policies despite high unemployment and budget deficits "because the economy is more than just a bunch of statistics; all those numbers and percentages stand for people and it is people in groups such as yours that give me faith in the future."
Bush recalled the turmoil of the 1960s and '70s over women's rights and other social issues. "I think we as a nation have lived through difficult times," he said. "Our most cherished values," such as marriage and family life, "were held up for scrutiny....everything was questioned and examined and we found that not only were those values good and honest, we found that they were essential."