First, Gregory started the interview with Mike Huckabee's gift to the Democrats, the statement that birth control coverage implies that women "cannot control their libido." Gregory asks Paul whether that's "helpful," and Rand Paul goes meta, saying "a lot of debates in Washington... get dumbed down and are used for political purposes," which is a way of saying Gregory's question is dumb. Then Paul jokes, "if there was a war on women, I think they won," and proceeds to talk about the women in his family, who are doing well, and the fact that women now outnumber men in law schools and med schools. He concludes that he doesn't see women as "downtrodden." They are "rising up and doing great things." In fact, he worries about men, "because I think the women really are out-competing the men in our world."
Gregory tries to drag Paul back to the question — whether the GOP should be talking about "women's health, women's bodies." And Paul goes through the same tactics: cooling things off with a joke ("I try never to have discussions of anatomy unless I'm at a medical conference"), saying that the whole subject is "dumbed down" and political, and observing that way women are doing well. He adds another compliment, that the women he knows are "conquering the world," not complaining about how "terrible" and "misogynist" it is. He never says one thing about birth control, women's bodies, or the unfortunate locutions of other members of his party.
So that's how Paul is going to deal with the media efforts to lure Republicans into playing the Democrats' war on women game.
There are a number of other topics in the interview, but Gregory puts another woman topic at the end. He's got an interview from Vogue in which Rand Paul joked about the polls that show Hillary Clinton beating every GOP opponent, and Paul's wife Kelley burst in with: "Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky should complicate his return to the White House, even as first spouse. I would say his behavior was predatory, offensive to women."
Gregory asks if Paul thinks that "will be fair game and an appropriate part of a campaign" against Hillary. Paul says:
Well, you know, I mean, the Democrats, one of their big issues is they have concocted and said Republicans are committing a war on women.If our opponents are going to do gender politics, he implies, it's fair for us to do it too.
One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office.Good. Sexual harassment law is serious, and it matters. But should GOP candidates forefront that?
And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn't want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office. This isn't having an affair. I mean, this isn't me saying, "Oh, he's had an affair, we shouldn't talk to him." Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, "Republicans are having a war on women"? So, yes, I think it's a factor. Now, it's not Hillary's fault. And, I mean... it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history.In history. Against Bill. But what about in the campaign against Hillary? David Gregory refocuses on the question asked, which Paul did scamper away from.
Paul says it's hard to separate the Clintons, then repeats the point about Bill's place in history. He adds that in his state, people would socially shun somebody who took advantage of a young woman like that.
So the idea is wafted that we shouldn't want Bill back in the White House, but with the risk of offending people who think a woman and her husband are 2 completely separate people or who think a 20-year-old woman who decides to have sex with an older married man is something more than a "young girl" who's been taken advantage of.
Like the birth control issue, the sexual harassment issue is touchy, and Republicans seem to have a special knack for saying the wrong thing — or something that can be spun as the wrong thing — whenever they talk about women's bodies.
If young women are "conquering the world" (as Paul said), why not credit Monica Lewinsky with her conquest of the world's most powerful man? She was enthusiastic and willing, from what I read. I think the sexual harassment problem in the case of Bill Clinton has to do with other women who were pressured to have sex and with the women and men who were not in a position to improve their standing in the workplace by interacting sexually with the boss.
If the GOP wants to make an issue out of sexual harassment, hone it so that it really is good feminism, based in women's autonomy and equality.
You know, Mike Huckabee was trying to use the idea of women's autonomy. He tried to say that Democrats are infantilizing women, but he botched it up badly. I can see that he was trying to be comical, stringing together ideas and using funny words like "Uncle Sugar" to refer to government as a giver of benefits, but he didn't have good control, and he didn't anticipate how another audience would be able to use it all against him.
I'm inclined to advise Republicans — if they want my advice — to just shut up about women, but I don't think they can, and I don't think the Democrats will let them. I watched Rand Paul very carefully, because I thought he might be close to figuring out how to retreat from the war on women. He'll be lured back again and again, and he — and other Republicans — need to work out exactly what they want to say on every women's issue and practice extracting themselves from the question traps. I think Rand Paul has done some of this work, but it's not nailed down yet.