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Objections to Julia ad show GOP out of touch

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon May 14, 2012
The GOP tries to take away opportunities and liberties of women like Julia, says Ilyse Hogue.
The GOP tries to take away opportunities and liberties of women like Julia, says Ilyse Hogue.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Conservatives criticize Obama campaign's ad, "The Life of Julia," as big government
  • Ilyse Hogue: GOP continues to wage a war on women's health and economic parity
  • She says women are at a competitive disadvantage if not for government programs
  • Hogue: Republicans claim to stand for individual liberty and opportunity, but it's false

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org. She has been a senior strategist to a number of Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- In his recent CNN column, Bill Bennett lambasts Obama campaign's slide show ad, "The Life of Julia," as the epitome of government reliance propaganda.

The conservative commentator protests that nothing less than our very liberty is at stake when a cartoon woman is depicted being aided at points in her life by the president's policies, and the cries of outrage emanating from Fox News indicate that many a right-wing pundit have heeded his call.

But when Bennett zeros in on his concerns that Julia is depicted with no man and no church in her life, his true agenda starts to come clearly into focus, and along with it, the core contradiction of the conservative ideology. The Republican Party claims to stand for individual liberty and opportunity, but it actually believes that only some individuals are worthy of those fundamental rights.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

As the slide show depicts Julia using the opportunities provided to her through government programs to excel in school, in parenting and in starting a small business, Bennett quakes with frustration that she is doing so without a man. At one point, he bellows, "Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship."

But his core charge is ludicrous. Just because the story doesn't introduce a male character does not mean that Julia's life is bereft of relationships. With or without a man, the truth is that any woman will face most of the situations shown in the slide show at some point in her lifetime and will be at a competitive disadvantage without programs that offer equal opportunity to succeed personally and professionally.

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Conservatives who continue to wage a war on women's health and economic parity willfully ignore the basic facts facing American women today.

Seventy years after Rosie the Riveter popularized the idea of women in the workplace -- or at least as factory line workers while the men were at war -- women still only make 77 cents on the dollar compared with men for doing the same job.

Innovative and entrepreneurial women fare no better. Male-founded start-ups receive four times more venture capital funding over female-founded start-ups. Women-led companies are twice as likely to get debt versus equity capital, requiring that women shoulder more of the risk on their own. Despite research showing that gender diversity within senior ranks of organizations translates into financial value, especially when innovation is part of the equation, women have not gained much footing. Moreover, according to the 2010 census, four million more women than men live in poverty in the United States.

And what about that government with which Bennett is so concerned? It must be rife with women who want to bilk the system for women like Julia, right? Wrong.

The number of women representing Americans in Congress fell in 2010 for the first time in 30 years. Women went from 93 seats in the House and the Senate to 90 combined. Women represent less than 17% of leadership at the federal level, a number that qualifies the U.S. for a rank of 73 in the world for female representation in government. We're tied with Turkmenistan.

Women like Julia have systematically watched the right wing try to take away their opportunities and liberties. Republicans have repeatedly voted against fair pay provisions, parental leave, job training and other proposals that allow women to obtain and pursue opportunity through their lives at the same rate as their male counterparts.

The budget of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, slashes nutritional assistance that would disproportionately affect women and children, while providing billions in tax cuts for already wealthy individuals, the vast majority of whom are men or couples where the primary wage earner is male.

It is no longer shocking that Republicans continue to fight against equality; their actions have been consistent and focused on eroding women's rights and economic security.

The only shocking fact is that Bennett and other conservatives believe they can claim the mantle of "liberty" and "opportunity." Julia and millions of other American women will secure their own liberty and opportunity only when the GOP stops trying to prevent our democracy from doing what it was designed to do: Offer all Americans an equal chance at success.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

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