Politics & Policy

Becky Knows Best

Rebecca Kleefisch, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin
What women want in politics.

‘Mr. Romney wants to get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood,” President Obama said at a campaign event in Oregon. “I think that’s a bad idea. I’ve got two daughters. I want them to control their own health-care choices.” In the president’s view of the world — in which Planned Parenthood helps craft White House policy — fertility is a disease, contraception is at the core of both health care and freedom, and backward-minded people who don’t agree need to have their liberties curtailed.

But for Rebecca Kleefisch, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, “health care” is surviving cancer so that her two daughters could grow up with their mom, and politics calls for a healthier approach. It should not be a cynical business or experimental grounds for ideological radicals’ dream fulfillment. And she has certainly confronted the worst of ideological politics — she just became both the first lieutenant governor in the United States to face a recall and the first to survive one.

“I never really dug the ‘War on Women.’ It’s great branding — but I don’t buy that product,” explains Kleefisch, who has worked in media. “It doesn’t exist. The war is on unemployment, and that’s the one I’ll continue to fight because it is the only one that really matters to my children. If we don’t have jobs, then we can’t buy eggs. If we don’t have jobs, we can’t put gas in our minivans. If we don’t have jobs, then how are we going to pay for the cleats for soccer practice?”

#ad#She finds the insistence that contraception — and even abortion — is a health-care priority of the majority of American women “insulting” and “judgmental.” “They’re saying single women care more about their sex lives than they do about making ends meet, getting a good job, and being successful living their American dream. If I was single right now, and Barack Obama’s team was trying to tell me that my birth control was more important than my ability to live my dream in America, I would be really irritated.”

“It’s further insulting if you’re a poor woman,” Kleefisch says. “If you were trying to make a better life for yourself and your children, wouldn’t you be insulted that they put that as your number-one priority? Barack Obama doesn’t make the priority lists of women in this country. The women make the priority lists. And the grocery lists. And the budgets. We make 90 percent of consumer household decisions in America. Start treating us with respect.”

Kleefisch was speaking on a Saturday afternoon at the “Smart Girl Politics” conference in Alexandria, Va. But the lieutenant governor, who takes motherhood and marriage as seriously as she does political stewardship, would be back in the Badger State before her girls’ bedtime. “From my corner of the world as a mom, raising two little women who one day will go to school and want a job in America, these are the things we need to prioritize, she says. ”Let’s get the economy back on track so my kids can be employed and have jobs where they can really enjoy themselves, and do exciting things, and continue to make America the country of innovators and entrepreneurs. 

“I purposefully choose to focus on unemployment as the biggest challenge facing our state and this country,” she says, irritated that the White House has us wasting time talking about a manufactured crisis when the economy is a real one in the lives of too many Americans.

Kleefisch is very much the concerned mom in her good-stewardship approach to governance — if we don’t confront our problems now, the next generation will have to pay for the consequences. She expresses pride in Wisconsin’s own Congressman Paul Ryan for taking his role as House Budget Committee chairman as seriously as he does, with a sense of forward-looking moral responsibility. 

“If we don’t get more jobs and get people who are unemployed the skills they need to take those jobs, then we’re not going to fully recover from this recession,” Kleefisch says. “And we won’t become more productive as a nation.”

As Wisconsin’s “jobs ambassador,” Kleefisch resents what the federal government is doing to future productivity and growth. “Small-business owners are scared right now,” she reports. “Our small-business owners are wondering if they even want to be entrepreneurs. They’re thinking in advance, ‘How can I limit my growth?’ That’s not American. That’s not who we are. And that’s a health-care law? A plan that’s supposed to be good for people’s health is causing our businesses to anticipate how they’re going to atrophy? It makes me sad as a small-business advocate, as a former small-business owner. That should never have been a sideeffect of a health-care bill.”

Despite President Obama’s rhetoric, Kleefisch is optimistic and delighted to be back at work after the grueling recall election. She believes Wisconsin has “built endurance as a state” and is “an example.” She’s deeply grateful for the trust of Wisconsin voters in the face of a national onslaught. 

According to a new Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, nearly eight in ten Americans are frustrated by the tone of our political discourse. Having gone through some of the worst of politics in recent history — with elected officials leaving the state to avoid doing their jobs — we see some of the best of it in Kleefisch, a happy woman warrior battling those who want to insult the intelligence of Americans, a model of true public service who seeks to preserve, protect, and help a free people flourish. 

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively throughAndrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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