John Laird: Women thrive at Olympics, not so much in GOP

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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With one glaring exception, 2012 is shaping up as a banner year for women, and we've still got four months to go.

Here in our state, advancing women's rights is a long tradition. In 1910, Washington became the fifth state to allow women to vote. This accelerated the momentum necessary for passage 10 years later of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, affirming nationally a woman's right to vote. Also, for almost eight years, we've been the only state where the governor's post and both senators' jobs have been held by women.

Much of the rest of the world is struggling to catch up, but this year, the progress has been encouraging. Most gratifying was what unfolded at the London Olympics, described by Time magazine as "a barrier breaker for female athletes."

That's not an exaggeration. This was "the first Olympics in which all countries sent teams of both genders," Time reported. "(O.K., Nauru sent men only, but then again, it sent only two; in 2008 it sent a lone female). The longest holdouts -- Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia -- counted seven female athletes … ." For the first time, the U.S. sent more women than men to the summer games. So did Russia and China.

Time added this interesting note: Back in 1900, women were allowed to compete in lawn tennis, croquet and golf. This year, they competed in 34 sports including, for the first time, boxing.

Much progress remains to be gained. Proper apparel for women athletes remains hotly disputed in the summer games. But, just as the global economy is proving the world is flat, theoretically, the Olympics are proving the sports world can become gender neutral.

Continuing cluelessness

What's the one glaring exception in the advancement of women in 2012? It's the continuing colossal cluelessness by the Republican Party when it comes to women voters. And that "continuing" word ought to cause great alarm among GOP leaders, whose avowed purpose -- above improving the economy or getting Mitt Romney into the White House -- is evicting Barack Obama.

Well, they'll have a hard time dislodging the incumbent as long as they continue to ignore women voters. In 2008, women accounted for about 53 percent of the presidential vote, and 56 percent of them voted for Obama.

Peter Nicholas of the Wall Street Journal reports that the latest WSJ-NBC News poll shows women favoring Obama over Romney, 54 percent to 39 percent. Here's where this subject becomes real distressing for Republicans: Among college-educated women -- a group more inclined to vote, I'm guessing -- Obama has a whopping 63 percent to 32 percent lead over Romney.

The challenge for the GOP could've been made easier when Romney selected a running mate. Picking Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico would've helped him with women and Hispanic voters.

No doubt, choosing Paul Ryan served up the red meat for Romney's ravenous right-wing base, but those folks will vote against Obama anyway. Picking Ryan helps Romney in battleground Wisconsin, but it hurts him in swing state Florida, which could've leaned toward Romney had he chosen Sen. Marco Rubio. Florida (29) has almost triple the electoral votes of Wisconsin (10).

But where choosing Ryan hurts Romney most, I believe, is among women, many of whom see Ryan's views as anti-female. He opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. And Stephanie Condon of CBS News reports that President Obama tweeted last weekend: "Make sure the women in your life know: Paul Ryan supports banning all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest." Again, Ryan's red-meat advocacies will fire up the base, including many women. But for others, it perpetuates the line that Republicans are out of touch with women voters.

How can the GOP repair this image of a "war on women"? It's simple. Heed the obstreperous advice of the self-declared "titular head of the Republican Party." Yes, sir, thrice-divorced Rush Limbaugh can bring us all up to speed on women … Darlin'.