There was short-lived elation one lazy Thursday afternoon when the Department of Defense lifted its ban on women in combat. The announcement was absorbed wickedly-quick into the zeitgeist, with almost less fanfare than when the White house pushed out the First Lady’s Rose Garden vegetable patch.
It was interesting how there was no real conversation on the political dimensions of that decision. What was really happening was the stirring of the tea leaves for 2016. This was, by no means, a moral decision – although it adds value through cherry-on-the-top chastity.
Obviously, it’s a big deal – nothing short of remarkable and historic. On one scale it’s bigger than President Truman racially integrating the armed forces because it’s just as much of a no-brainer. Women had been blasting muskets and blazing battlefields in American wars for years, from Deborah Samson in the American Revolution to POW Soshana Johnson in Iraq. Not to mention the fantasy heroines on the battlefield pre-pubescent Gen-Xers grew up with, like Scarlett in G.I. Joe. Millenials have full metal bloused femme fatales like Commander Miranda Keyes in Halo. Let’s not forget MMA star Gina Carano’s kick-ass performance as ex-Marine contracted CIA hit chick in Haywire (a personal favorite).
Ultimately, however, there is a political and legal calculus that’s just as significant.
First: you can make the argument that President Obama is definitely trying to “destroy” the GOP – and he’s thinking he’ll use women to do just that. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may have been on to something. Many pundits dismissed the accusation as political hyperbole. But, there’s a bit of scorched earth swagger in the way the President is handling his Republican opposition these days, pretty much outmaneuvering them on every political fight since re-election.
Republicans are talking about how to win the Latino vote – but, they really need to figure out what to do about the woman vote, first. The current toxicity of their brand had pretty much everything to do with their extreme talent for pissing women off.
While the GOP is still dragging its club across the dirt like Fred Flintstone on an array of sensitive topics such as abortion, contraceptives and rape, Democrats are more than happy to dash in like Cultural War white knights saving women from the chauvinist hordes. Capitol Hill is abuzz with immigration reform as both groups fight for control of a rising Latino vote – but the real fight is for the heart and soul of women. That’s a voting bloc that paid huge dividends for President Obama in November, ensuring that, for the first time in U.S. history, the candidate picked by the majority of men voters actually lost.
Democrats took notice and are refining tactics well into 2014 and 2016. Women now outnumber men in pure population numbers, but never in terms of voting power – until now. It all changed in the 2012 election, and Democratic strategists – craftily using classic social wedge issues in ways unseen just several years ago – are keen to dominate the trend for years to come.
Hence, the need to lift the ban on women in combat – with timing being essential.