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Women and the Candidates

February 04, 1988

The National Women's Political Caucus has been looking at the stand of presidential candidates on such issues as abortion, affirmative action, child care, jobs and equal pay for women. Its Democratic and Republican task forces have gone over the records issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate. One inescapable conclusion is that when the Democratic and Republican men who would be President scan the political horizon, they see entirely different groups of women.

The women's caucus is an organization that seeks to elect more women to public office and to win support for issues that especially affect women from men running for or already holding elected office. It has its own litmus tests by which to judge politicians--support of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, votes for federal support and standards for child-care programs, laws to pay women equal salaries for comparable jobs, appointment of women to key staff jobs, and the like.

"The men running for the presidency in 1988 are taking women's concerns seriously," the Democratic task force summary says of its party's candidates. All the candidates support the equal-rights amendment. Three are strong pro-choice supporters as well as backers of public funding "which makes the right to choose a real option for all women." One other is pro-choice and is rethinking his position of public funding; the other two of the six surveyed are moving toward the positions of the caucus (six because Sen. Gary Hart was out of the race when the survey was conducted). All strongly support child-care services, and all have made strong statements in favor of pay equity.

The task force that surveyed Republicans found less to its liking. It says, for example, that Vice President George Bush "supports the Reagan Administration's view that there be no federally funded child-care facilities." Sen. Bob Dole "has consistently voted against a woman's right to choose," has supported child-care tax credits but voted against federal money for demonstration projects for before- and after-school child care. Rep. Jack Kemp is against abortion and has consistently voted against the women's-caucus position on money for child-care facilities; his highest-paid staff member, however, is a woman.

The Rev. Pat Robertson has formulated no national child-care policy, the task force found,but thinks that unless American mothers "give up the so-called immediate quest for self-identity," young people will grow up without love.

What emerges from the survey is a vastly different political view of mom and the kids, if not of mom and apple pie. The Republican candidates clearly have been told that not all women want what the women of the National Women's Political Caucus and like-minded groups want. They believe that there is an audience for their views.

Democratic women in the caucus can say with some assurance, based on evidence in their survey, that their views have been heard by their presidential candidates. Republican women in the caucus evidently have their work cut out for them. They must persuade not only their candidates but also a good number of party members that, rather than resisting the progressive agenda for change, they should be helping to lead the country toward it. In the long term, women, the country--and the party--will be better for it.

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