Commentator Tanya Melich

Holiday season!
Happy conversations with family and friends!
Forget it.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The Florida Fandango of Gore and Bush heightens the tension at the usually innocuous Christmas parties. We stay away from serious political talk. We bite our tongues. We try to be pleasant.

But underneath the veneer of holiday cheer, we are angry. In the final count, the will of the majority of America’s women voters will not prevail. Gore may have the highest popular vote. He has the highest Electoral College count today but probably not much longer.

This loss is just a temporary setback for women’s rights. The fight in Florida was about more than Gore and Bush. It was about the growing power of the women’s political movement. We have been enormously successful in pressing our agenda. Gore may lose, but not because we didn’t deliver the votes.

Florida Struggle Is Beginning of End

The Sunshine State saga is the beginning of the end of the control of elections by bigoted white Southerners in either party. The trauma of the past months will long be remembered. Lessons have been learned.

The women’s political movement has reached power equity in the presidential voting contest. We are not yet running and managing the vote count, but that will come next.

Unlike Florida, the proof of our power is not sullied with statistical probabilities. Nationally, women gave Gore their vote by an 11-percent margin while Bush won men by 11 percent. In Florida, the margins mirror this national vote with women backing Gore and men Bush. Whether by age, education or economic status, the pattern holds.

The suburbs are one of the country’s most gender-polarized areas. Often thought to be fertile Republican territory, Bush lost the women’s suburban vote by 7 percent while winning their male counterparts by a whopping 14 percent.

Republicans Must Change to Retain Power

Eventually, the Republican Party will–must–change its anti-women’s rights strategy if it desires to retain its place in the American political landscape.

When we say the majority of America’s women prefer the Democrats, some Republican tacticians argue that the numbers are skewed because black women vote in such high numbers for the Democratic party. Take away the black women, the tacticians argue, and the national women’s vote is Republican.

But the reality is more complicated. Review the numbers and you find another Civil War. In this presidential election, the white women’s national vote was tied between Bush and Gore. Take the confederate states out of the analysis and the majority of white women voted for Gore.

Also, to characterize the nation’s political gender divide as another battle between the sexes is simplistic. We know there are women who do not support the women’s political movement and men who do. Today’s division is about a manipulative political strategy first adopted by the national GOP in 1980 to win the White House for Reagan. The strategy set out to secure votes from those, many of them men, who were angry with women’s push for equal opportunity. This backlash strategy worked in the eighties. It failed in the nineties.

George W’s campaign tried to present himself as another Reagan. Using a stealth tactic, the official Bush campaign did not engage in bigoted rhetoric. Bush’s supporters on the right were conspicuously quiet. One of the campaign’s chief consultants, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, was a non-media presence.

Faux Reagan Strategy Failed to Fool Women

This faux Reagan strategy didn’t fool the majority of America’s women. Gore’s winning margin among women was as big as Clinton’s record-breaker in 1996. What Gore’s campaign didn’t adequately plan for was Florida’s antiquated vote-counting machinery.

An analysis of the Nader vote indicates that his strongest supporters were under-30-year-old, independent, liberal males. Are they the latest backlash constituency? To date, this voting group’s beliefs about the importance of women’s rights has yet to be analyzed.

With Bush as president, a Republican Senate, via Cheney as the tie-breaker vote, and a Republican House, all committed to a conservative, anti-choice agenda, our battle is joined. Current Republican leadership may think the backlash strategy has worked and gives them an opportunity to move on the issues that the majority of women oppose. But there are more of us than in the eighties and we are much wiser in the ways of anti-women backlash politics. Theirs is the last gasp of an outdated, unfair way of life. It will not last much longer.

Maybe you’re too tired to argue over the holidays. When the New Year arrives, don’t bite your tongue. Start talking about throwing out the anti-women rascals in 2002 and 2004.

In the meantime, while you’re at one of those holiday gatherings, convince a young man under 30 to join our cause.

Tanya Melich is a political analyst and author of “The Republican War Against Women,” Bantam Paperback, 1998.