The title for this post is the title of a book conservative author and media personality, Phyllis Schlafly, self published in her battle over the Equal Rights Amendment. Back then, she was worried that government regulation would rob women of their choice to stay home as housewives and mothers. It is an equally forceful title today. But one that has taken on new meaning.
I just got back from Lincoln Days, the Republican Party’s convention here in Missouri. And one of the more memorable moments for me this weekend was when a woman raised her hand and said, “Republicans need to be proud to be Republicans again.” “Like Phyllis Schlafly said, we need a choice, not an echo.” The guest speaker at this luncheon was Sharon Day, who is co-chair of the Republican National Party. She talked at length about what the party is doing to recruit candidates and to open up the Party to women and minorities. Seated just down the dais from her was the Hon. Catherine Hanaway, a former U.S. Attorney and the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. If elected, she will be Missouri’s first female Governor.
It’s shaping up to be an interesting battle. Her likely opponent is a Democrat who used to be a Republican. He left over the party’s litmus tests and hard lines. Hanaway has opened up her coalition to include suburban Republicans as well as conservatives outstate. A moderate in temperament and approach, Hanaway has consistently been a team player for the Republicans. And as a prosecutor, she has put child pornographers away and shed a spotlight on Missouri’s newest black eye, human trafficking.
I drove down to Springfield on I-44, on a stretch of highway named after Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat who died in a tragic plane crash in the midst of a heated Senate race against Republican John Ashcroft. I took note of that sign as I drove on while the audio version of the book, Faith and Politics, by retired Republican Sen. John C. Danforth, played on the cd player in my car. I was listening for inspiration because I wasn’t sure what I would find in Springfield. I tried to commit certain phrases to memory like, “faith is not politics,” and “reconciliation”.
After blogging as a relatively radical moderate Republican woman for the last two and half years, I needed to psych myself up because I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I might get or what reconciliation might look like. I needed to know it would be okay to say I am pro-choice, pro-gay and pro-stem cell in a state that saw some of its top scientists leave over laws that restricted medical research or that is currently debating whether to recognize the marriages of gay couples who were legally wed in other states.
The wheel is just beginning to turn, even if Missouri Republicans are only in the most initial stages of change, at least in terms of their messaging. Sure, there is still the occasional recalcitrant who gets up and declares the Republican Party, “The Pro-Life Party.” My goodness. But overall, if there was an echo, it is that the national GOP is in the midst of some earnest, and some might say overdue, self-improvement. Yes, there are many women who are pro-life in that party, including Hanaway. But, there seems to be a growing acknowledgement that it may be time to acknowledge there are lots of other kinds of Republicans out there. Continuing to draw battle lines over women’s issues is just slowing the party down from its’ other work.
Voters will have a choice that they haven’t had in the past. Do they take the long view and get on board with the party that shut down the federal government over its’ opposition to Obamacare? Do they help usher in more female candidates and hope that these women can be more willing and flexible negotiators in reconciling the thorniest issues of our day? Will Republicans on the fringes put their differences aside over single issues, especially social issues, so they can focus on job creation? If there was a message echoing from Springfield this weeked, it is that the Missouri Republicans have realized choosing to be more inclusive is the right choice.