The XX Factor

Democrats! Don’t Get Lured Into Marsha Blackburn’s Trap.

Marsha Blackburn, historian. 

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rep. Marsha Blackburn garnered some “are you kidding” headlines this week when she tossed out this little bit of misdirection on Sunday’s Face the Nation: “It is Republicans that have led the fight for women’s equality,” she argued. “Go back through history, and look at who was the first woman to ever vote, elected to office, go to Congress, four out of five governors.” 

Sure, and Southern Baptists used to take no position on abortion. It was Republicans who fought to preserve the Union. But guess which party the average Confederate flag enthusiast votes for? Time is not a flat circle.

Still, Blackburn’s remark was not a blunder. In the past week, a number of people have tried to explain exactly how wrong she is, which requires running through the history of feminism, the ideological realignment of the 1970s and ‘80s, the rise of the New Right, and oh my God are you asleep yet? Enduring the lengthy correction to Blackburn’s bit of nonsense is more than most people have any interest in doing. 

For those who are interested, Lauren Rankin at Talking Points Memo has a useful rundown of all the shifts that led the very Republicans that supported liberal feminism to turn on women. She dedicates multiple paragraphs to interesting historical data about why things changed. She devotes many more paragraphs to detailing the lengthy post-1980 history of increasing Republican assaults on women’s basic rights. It’s important stuff that everyone should know, but it also feels like school, so it will mostly be ignored. 

That’s the beauty of Blackburn’s gambit. She’s not trying to make a legitimate argument here. The Republicans just want to shut down the “war on women” rhetoric, and by spouting this blessedly brief nonsense, Blackburn can bait her opponents into responding with long, digressive corrections that run audiences off. After all, if it takes 5,000 words to explain why Blackburn’s wrong, she must be right!

The good news for Democrats is that this tactic works much better when the at-home audience doesn’t really understand the issue, which is why those who do understand the science behind climate change struggle so hard to express their point of view on TV. With the war on women, however, things are fairly straightforward: Republicans keep voting against equal pay legislation and for restrictions on abortion and contraception access. Democrats should just stick to those basic, easily expressed facts, and stay away from debating what happened 40 or 100 years ago.