Features » July 21, 2008
Education and training
McCain has an equally dismal record on other issues central to women’s lives – pay equity, fighting workplace discrimination, and supporting programs that help working mothers and their families.
In April, he skipped the vote on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Had it passed the Senate, this bill would have restored the interpretation of the protections for pay equity in the Civil Rights Act that was overturned in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.
Though he didn’t vote, he spoke against the bill on the campaign trail, saying in New Orleans: “They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else. And it’s hard for them to leave their families when they don’t have somebody to take care of them.”
In addition to suggesting women need to be taken care of, the statement shows a total lack of understanding of the case.Lilly Ledbetter had worked for nearly 20 years at a Goodyear Tires plant in Gadsden, Ala., before she discovered that she was being paid less than her male counterparts – despite having received awards for her performance. She brought an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the company to rectify the situation, but the court ruled that employees have only 180 days from when payroll decisions are made to file a wage-discrimination complaint.
McCain’s allegation that Ledbetter’s problem was in her preparation for the job is, at best, misinformed. At worst, it expresses ignorance of the reality of discriminatory practices against women in the workplace.
“It’s not because of training and education; it’s because of discrimination,” says NOW Executive Vice President Olga Vives. “And he doesn’t seem to get that.”
The candidate, however, has said repeatedly that he’s in favor of pay equity – though there is little in his record or his platform to suggest he supports it.
“Regarding women’s rights, this guy really doesn’t see it,” Vives says. “There’s no indication in his record before then or now that he’s going to be supporting the issues that are very important to women, including economic issues and health.”
On civil rights issues, his record, again, is poor. He has voted in favor of banning affirmative action hiring for jobs funded by the federal government, and says he’s against policies that might result in “quotas” – an oft-repeated conservative excuse for not supporting policies that rectify systemic inequities. In the first session of 109th Congress, he voted with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s positions only 7 percent of the time.
On the economic front, McCain’s platform suggests he’d perpetuate many of the Bush-era policies that have done little for low- and middle-income women and families. Although he initially opposed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, McCain has now flipped.
In 1993, before voting in favor of the Family and Medical Leave Act – which, among other things, allows pregnant women to take unpaid maternity leave if it’s not automatically offered in the workplace – McCain sought to weaken the measure. He proposed allowing the government to suspend the law if it found that the act would increase the cost to business.
His record on broader health issues for women and families isn’t any better. McCain voted at least six times to reduce, eliminate or restrict health insurance programs for low-income children and pregnant women. In August 2007, he again voted against a bill to expand coverage of SCHIP.
In 2000, he voted against providing tax credits to small businesses that offer health insurance to their employees – the same year he voted against a $3,000 tax credit to help seniors and their families cover long-term care.
In 1995 and 1999, he voted against measures that provided additional funding for home and community-based healthcare providers. And he has voted seven times for measures that cut or restricted funding for Medicaid, and 18 times for measures that cut or restricted Medicare.
“It’s a typical conservative approach,” Vives says. “As we know, that doesn’t bode well for the common ordinary person, more than half of whom are women. It’s the same old story of trickle-down economics.”
The personal is political
Then there’s what we know about McCain’s personal interactions with women. In his book The Real McCain, Cliff Schecter describes one stop during his 1992 Senate reelection bid. He writes, “At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, ‘You’re getting a little thin up there.’ McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, ‘At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.’ ” (Schecter confirmed this remark with three reporters who were present when it was made.)
And at a 1998 Republican Senate fundraiser, McCain proffered this “joke”: “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?” Answer: “Because her father is Janet Reno.”
Then, there is McCain’s response to a questioner in Hilton Head, S.C., last November, who asked, referring to Sen. Clinton: “How do we beat the bitch?” McCain responded: “Excellent question.”
During this election campaign, McCain has taken to talking up the sexual conquests of his youth, perhaps to appeal himself to younger voters. In March, he told a crowd in Meridian, Miss.: “I remember with affection the unruly passions of youth.” He then regaled them with a story of his exploits organizing an off-base toga party for his military pals and local girls.
In another campaign stop in Pensacola, Fla., McCain recalled his days as a Florida-based fighter pilot – dating an exotic dancer known as the “Flame of Florida” and “blowing my pay at Trader Jon’s,” a local strip club. Abstinence-only must not apply for the boys.
Not an easy fix
As Republican Majority for Choice’s Stockman notes, if more women get wind of his record on women’s issues, he’ll have a problem.
“McCain’s going to have to come up with reasoning about his voting record and what he really believes without flip-flopping,” says Stockman. “It’s very challenging for him. I don’t know how he’s going to handle it.”
Kate Sheppard is the political reporter for the online environmental magazine, Grist.org. She has also written for The American Prospect, Bitch, The Guardian and MSN.