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And that was before one of the most prominent Republican voices in America, the booming baritone of radio talker Rush Limbaugh, let loose with three days of repellent frat-house bombast aimed at a Georgetown University law student. Sandra Fluke had testified before an unofficial congressional panel in favor of having health-insurance plans cover birth control. For that, Limbaugh called her "a slut" and "a prostitute"--and that was just the start of what was a very gross rumination. Advertisers fled; Limbaugh issued an apology; Obama telephoned Fluke to thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen. Partisan finger-pointing being the new national pastime, Limbaugh's defenders quickly noted that various left-leaning commentators also spice up their diatribes with misogynist language, which somehow failed to make most Americans feel better. It was a good moment for the nation's leaders to stand up against coarse verbal thuggishness in general. Instead, timid responses from Romney, Santorum and Gingrich framed an unflattering question: Can a man really face down a nuclear enemy when he's afraid to cross a fading windbag?
The New Generation Gap
Four years ago, in the last presidential showdown, 53% of the voters were women, and they went big for the new Democrat with the funny name, all but pushing Obama into the White House. But smart politicians and strategists tread carefully when asked to talk about the "women" vote. It is simply too large to be pigeonholed, too central to the American electorate to be teased out as a special interest. "There are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issues," Obama observed at a March 6 news conference, when asked about the demographic Limbaugh had most directly offended. "It's not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer."
That said, Republican strategists looking at the Electoral College have a good reason to wince when Limbaugh starts talking "coeds," Virginia lawmakers consider mandating invasive ultrasounds or Santorum preaches about the moral dangers of contraception. Nationwide, a voter is 6 percentage points more likely to support a federal mandate for health-insurance coverage of contraception if she is a she, and not a he, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The spread among independent women, those elusive swing voters who tend to decide presidential elections, is bigger--9 points--with 67% supporting the mandate.
But the real spreads have less to do with gender than age. For women ages 18 to 49, 73% support insurance mandates for contraception, compared with 59% of those over the age of 50, and there is a similarly large gulf between young and old men. When Republicans go after birth control pills, they risk alienating the entire future U.S. electorate.