How Republicans Hurt Themselves

Their hard-line stance on issues important to women will likely cost them the election

I HOPE that my Republican friends understand what is happening to them on election day - so that they can avoid a similar fate at another time.

The key is the gender gap. All across the country women are against the Republican Party and in favor of the Democrats by a margin that varies from 2 percent to 10 percent but is consistent from California "to the New York Island." Everywhere men may favor President Clinton over Bob Dole by a narrow margin or not at all. But everywhere the polls show women decisively in favor of Mr. Clinton and the Democrats.

The reason is simple and obvious. In the past two years the GOP has maneuvered itself onto the wrong side of issues that matter to women. Every woman was, is, or might be a mother sometime. Mothers care about what is good for their children. They want to look ahead to conditions that will make for a safer, healthier, happier place for their children.

Clinton is preaching new legislation to keep cigarette advertising away from schools in an effort to reduce the number of children who every year become nicotine addicts. Republicans have been resisting restraints on nicotine advertising.

Clinton has helped pass the Brady Bill and resisted Republican efforts to repeal the ban on assault guns. Republicans have resisted all forms of gun control.

The Gingrich Congress has cut back on funds for federal meat inspectors, in spite of a recent case of meat poisoning of children in the Northwest. Democrats have resisted reduction of the number of federal meat inspectors.

Republicans have been trying to cut down federal rules and regulations aimed at providing clean air and pure water. Clinton has been defending those rules and regulations. The Gingrich Republicans have been attacking the whole body of rules, regulations, and laws that are designed to protect the environment.

These things are important to any mother. A mother wants her children to be safe from guns on the streets and to have clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and safe food to eat. The Republicans have been threatening clean air, pure water, safe food, and safe streets.

Moreover, fairly or unfairly, the Republicans are widely suspected of wanting to cut down both Social Security and Medicare. Mr. Dole denies he would do so and points out, correctly, that he took part in the reform of Social Security to give it longer durability.

The fact remains that through the ranks of the older generation a deep suspicion exists that if the Republicans get control of the entire government, they will cut down both Social Security and Medicare.

I find myself a frequent receiver of invitations to contribute to a fund "to save Social Security and Medicare." I try to reassure my anxious sister that her Social Security and Medicare are not in danger. So does Dole. But the worry is widespread among the older generation. They are not sure they can trust the Republicans on this issue.

Republicans, sometimes innocently and unintentionally, have let themselves get maneuvered into appearing to be against everything important to women in general and mothers in particular. Abortion, of course, is an important factor here. A majority of women favor freedom of choice. And most women who think far enough ahead about their own long-term future want to be reassured that there will still be Social Security and Medicare waiting for them in their more mature years.

My own familiarity with American presidential elections began in 1928 when Herbert Hoover beat Alfred E. Smith. I do not remember any previous presidential election in which women became so vividly aware of the attitudes of the respective parties and began making choices on the basis of what is best for their future as well as their children's future.

A year ago the Republicans had a perfectly good chance of winning the White House this time around. Clinton is not a wildly popular president like Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. Clinton is no miracle worker as a president. But he has consistently advocated and worked for those things that promise a better and safer life to America's children and for the future welfare of their mothers.

I do not think that Clinton is going to win the election in the true sense of the word. But I do think that Republicans will find after election day that they have thrown away an excellent chance to win. They have successfully defeated themselves. In other words, Newt Gingrich may have reelected Clinton. Dole seems to understand this, which is of course why, of late, he has distanced himself from Mr. Gingrich.

* Joseph C. Harsch is a longtime newspaper reporter and former columnist for the Monitor.

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