Estrich: Republicans may spur year of the woman

By Susan Estrich, Columbian syndicated columnist

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I’ve been through enough “year(s) of the woman” to be more than a little skeptical when someone tries to sell me the story that this is really it. Whenever there are more women running (or, as in 1984, woman singular), we hear about “the year of the woman.”

For my money, it really will be the year of the woman when women exercise their majority power as voters and as consumers, and we can, once and for all, stop talking about it. After all, when was the last time anyone sold a story based on the “year of the man”?

When men exercise power, we don’t call it “men’s day” or “men’s year.” We call it Tuesday.

Even so, there are signs that this year might actually be different -- and I don’t mean because of the number of women on the ticket.

President Barack Obama clearly made a gross miscalculation in thinking that because the overwhelming majority of Catholic women use contraception, they wouldn’t mind his picking a fight with the Church about their obligation to provide it to their female workers. Some people say it was his female advisers who thought this was a good fight to pick, or even a just one; I have no idea. But if it was, it’s probably because most women younger than 60 take the right to use contraception as a given. After all, it was in 1965 that the United States Supreme Court held that the right to contraception was, at least for married women, within the zone of privacy that was later the basis for Roe v. Wade.

In any event, it was the president’s problem, even after he came to his senses and said it was the insurance companies, not the church-related employers, who had the duty not to discriminate.

But it was Republicans who really saved the president. Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory, they decided to make an issue out of contraception anyway. Contraception, not insurance. And once Rush Limbaugh got into it, the battle was on.

The pollsters and pundits are now pointing to polling data suggesting that Republicans could be in real trouble with both independent and Republican women who just can’t believe these men are really calling people names for using contraception, much less arguing that it should be up to the insurance company and not the individual woman. How un-libertarian is that?

2012: the year advertisers figured out that, unless you’re selling power tools and lawn mowers, you’re probably selling to women, the year candidates realized that women voters actually think they should be the ones making decisions about their personal lives. Could happen. Sex and power. They just might go together.