Tanya Melich

(WOMENSENEWS)–Several days have passed since Sen. John McCain announced Sarah Palin, Alaska’s governor since January 2007, would be his choice to be vice-president of the United States.

An anti-choice, anti-gun control, anti-gay rights advocate, she is further to the right than any of the candidates McCain was purportedly considering.

If she were a man, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the question of how a candidate with five kids–four under l8–would manage her child care. There would have been a wife to take care of them. Is her supportive husband going to stop working and take care of the kids?

Those are questions that Republican trailblazer Catherine East–working in the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Labor Department–tried to put to rest when she joined an apolitical effort with Betty Friedan and other women’s rights activists in the late l960s to put the issue of child care into the public conscience.

Such women argued it was time to eliminate the unreasonable family structure that required women to be the sole caretakers. East and Friedan advocated for both parents to take on childrearing responsibilities and for both parents, if they chose, to seek a life outside the home as well.

This child care issue was hot long before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

I remember the first conflict within our budding Republican women’s movement with the Religious Right forces. It came in late 1971 when President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development bill.

This legislation was co-sponsored by two United States Senators, New York Republican Jacob Javits and Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale.

It was a genuine attempt to help the nearly 12 million mothers with children who were entering the work force.

Nixon Veto Was the First Shot

We Republican feminists were furious when President Nixon said in his veto message that child care threatened family stability by encouraging women to work. His veto was the first shot in what became the New Right Republican’s attack against the goals of the women’s movement.

Abortion was the issue that tore the Republicans apart, and gradually beginning in 1980, as the Religious Right agenda became the agenda of the Republican party, many Republican women left. By the early 1990s, the majority of women voters were selecting Democrats in national elections.

But the child care issue was always there just below the surface like a relative who comes to visit once a year and everyone wants to pretend she’s not a problem, but she is.

So here we are, 10 presidential elections later, and John McCain has inadvertently introduced the issue of who not only takes care of the kids but who pays to take care of them.

Who’s Paying?

The central question is about money.

All of us who are parents and those who don’t have kids but have helped out sisters, brothers and others take care of their children, know paying for babysitters can wreak havoc on a family budget.

How do the Palins manage to pay for child care on a governor’s salary of $125,000 and on her husband’s lesser reported income. (Don’t forget the cost of living in Alaska is much higher than other states.) Maybe Sarah Palin is fortunate to have a mother, like Michelle Obama’s, who is willing to be a full-time caregiver of their kids.

In due time, reporters are sure to bring us the details of the Palins’ child care budgets. But for now, the question her candidacy raises is what a McCain-Palin ticket will do for other mothers who need better, more affordable child care.

The GOP conflict of the early l970s about whether women should work was settled long ago by its embrace in 1988 of Marilyn Quayle, the social conservative who was also a hardworking lawyer.

But the GOP position over the financing and logistics of who takes care of the kids is still unsettled.

A Missing Plank

Unlike the 1972 GOP platform, approved by Nixon, which called for federally aided private and public child care services, the McCain platform says nothing.

Under a section labeled “Workplace Flexibility in a Changing Economy,” McCain-Palin say they support the Family Medical Leave Act and urge employers to provide flexible work schedules for employees with compensatory time-off rather than overtime pay.

Perhaps, Sarah Palin with her own life experience and her so-called zest for reform can propose a policy that puts money into a system that has been sorely ignored by the GOP on the premise that child care should not be a public concern.

Hope in politics is what keeps us going but crass power politics indicates that Palin will not change the child care dynamic.

The majority of economic conservatives in the GOP don’t want to spend money and the social conservatives are more concerned with protecting fetuses than taking care of children.

With Palin’s selection, McCain has accepted Obama’s challenge to make the well-being of the American family a major issue. McCain has given a prize to the Religious Right that holds veto power over the national Republican party.

Palin is the new Religious Right’s Joan of Arc, a feisty woman to carry its message, a woman to replace an elderly, still aggressive Phylis Schlafly.

McCain, the not so straight-talking, ex-Navy officer from Arizona has bowed to the right’s wishes and shown that he is prisoner of its power.

Alas, the backlash strategy is still alive and well in my former party.

Tanya Melich is author of the book, “The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report From Behind The Lines” (Bantam, paper, revised, 1998; hardcover, 1996).

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