Women rule the roost

From the party platform ratified by delegates between speeches Monday, to primetime, headlining speeches by two heavy hitters in the election — Sen. Hillary Clinton and first-lady hopeful Michelle Obama — the initial two days of the Democratic National Convention were dominated by women. After a bruising primary season against Clinton, reaching out to women will be particularly important for soon-to-be anointed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention on Monday night in Denver, Colorado portrayed her very strongly in traditional gender roles — she introduced herself to a public that doesn’t know her very well as a “sister”, “wife”, “mother”, and “daughter”.

In a peace offering to those supporters, the Democratic Party Platform acknowledged Clinton’s historic run and the voters that propelled it by using Clinton’s own language to refer to them: “...Our party is proud that we have put 18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling.”

“The draft of the Democratic Party platform, principally written by Obama’s Senate policy director, the estimable Karen Kornbluh, is a remarkably feminist document,” wrote Dana Goldstein on the blog of the liberal magazine The American Prospect. The party platform laid out aggressive stances on many women’s rights issues, and, in line with a Democratic shift to emphasise the troubled US economy.

“We know that when America extends its promise to women, the result is increased opportunity for families, communities, and aspiring people everywhere,” read the platform, vowing to support a number of bills that buttress women’s rights in the workplace, such as equal access to jobs and equal pay. The platform noted that in the US, “women still earn 76 cents for every dollar that a man earns.” The platform also notably reaffirmed support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

But the 2008 Democratic platform would not be without controversies of its own regarding women’s rights. Reproductive rights, a consistent political hot-button issue, were at the top of the list of reactions to the party platform. Kerry’s moderated 2004 platform included a plank stating that the party sought to keep abortion legal, but make it “rare”, a formulation of the Pres. Bill Clinton era.

The word “rare” was eliminated from the 2008 platform. But many saw the new language as a shift towards abortion-reduction as a compromise. With much of the opposition to abortion led by religious movements, some see the move as a way to assuage the fears of evangelical and other so-called “values voters”. Particularly, the language is seen as appeal to anti-abortion Catholics.

Other appeals to Catholics include the choice of Sen. Joe Biden as a ticket-mate and an invitation to Sen. Bob Casey, Jr, to address the convention. Both men are Catholic.Casey’s father, then the governor of Pennsylvania, was allegedly barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention because of his anti-abortion stance. The choice of Biden also could represent a middle ground on the abortion issue.

Michael Sean Winters at Slate Magazine wrote that “Biden is pro-choice but not rigidly so,” and noted that NARAL, while lauding the choice, had given Biden a 36 per cent rating and called his record “mixed”. — IPS