When we learned last month that John Boehner was providing "sensitivity training" to his male Republican colleagues, I knew we would be in for a treat. But who knew Boehner's friends would provide an almost daily dose of "can you top this?" outrageous comments.
Just look at the sensitivity toward women that prominent members of the GOP have displayed just this week.
Yesterday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a favorite GOP pundit and former presidential candidate, said that it's the Democrats who have the "war on women" because they think women "cannot control their libido" and so rely on "Uncle Sugar" to provide birth control. (True to form, maybe he was trying to show us the difference between the pill makers and the pill takers?)
Then, later in the day, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, went off on a rant about how bored but crafty high school girls have figured how to work the system by having more children to increase their welfare checks.
And we also learned that Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico wrote in his memoir that women are to "voluntarily submit" to their husbands, and that men are to take "the leadership role" in the family. Perhaps hoping nobody would actually read his memoir, Pearce promptly denied saying what he has said in print.
Never wanting to be outdone, yesterday afternoon Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, blamed a rise in sexual assaults on college campuses on President Obama and Sandra Fluke. Although Perkins used more polite language than that of Rush Limbaugh in describing Fluke, his implication was the same. Fluke's "crusade…for unlimited birth control," he implied, had encouraged young women to invite sexual assault on themselves.
What is going on in those sensitivity trainings?!
And that's before we even get to the policies. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved a Republican-sponsored bill that further restricts low-income women's ability to access abortion, threatens to wipe even private abortion insurance coverage from the market, and requires the IRS to investigate whether a woman who obtains an abortion has been raped. When confronted with the fact that the bill could drive low-income women "deeper into poverty," Rep. Steve King of Iowa snickered. Speaking at the March for Life on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made this bill the centerpiece of his speech.
Meanwhile, Republican-led state legislatures are having a field day restricting women's access to birth control and abortion. The Guttmacher Institute found that more state-level restrictions on abortion access were enacted from 2011 to 2013 than in the entire previous decade. If Michigan's recent debate over "rape insurance" is any indication, that trend of Republican legislatures trying to outdo each other is not slowing down anytime soon.
Even if the sensitivity training were working — which it clearly is not — no amount of sensitive language can cover up demeaning and disastrous policies. For example, Todd Akin was insensitive when he said the words "legitimate rape"; the House GOP was just being its authentic, retrograde self when it tried to write that principle into law. This is part of why GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan had to go into hiding on the campaign trail. Ryan never said the words "legitimate rape," but he did think that rape victims shouldn't be allowed abortions.
What the GOP doesn't seem to have grasped is that just saying sensitive things (or refraining from saying stupidly insensitive things) isn't enough to win voters. It's the policies, not just the way you talk about them.
If Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus' planned "reboot" of his party's image taught us anything, the new Republican craze for "sensitivity" will be short-lived. This week, after moving its annual meeting to accommodate the March for Life, the RNC will be encouraging its members to spend more time talking about their opposition to abortion rights. Yes, you read that right — more time talking about it. The GOP's half-hearted attempt at outreach to women seem to already be going the way of its planned overtures to Latinos.
We shouldn't be surprised when proponents of policies that are based in misogyny say misogynistic things. But we need to be clear that the real harm is not just a lack of sensitivity. It's the ugliness of the policies themselves.
UPDATE: A Public Policy Polling survey released on Jan. 29 finds that Huckabee has rocketed up in the polls in the wake of the "Uncle Sugar" controversy, and now finds himself leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.