Penny Nance is a Concerned Woman for America — the president of Concerned Women for America, in fact. She recently hosted a panel on women in politics and that old but often-revived “war on women” narrative. She talks about the panel, the media, and more. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: “War No More” was the theme of your recent panel. Why do you take that approach? Dana Milbank, who wrote about it Friday, does seem to have a quite legitimate point in asking: So are you saying the GOP was waging a war on women after all?
Penny Nance: In the 2012 and 2014 elections, the Democrats made the “Republican war on women” narrative the centerpiece of their campaign strategy. It was a carefully crafted, focus-grouped phrase that was very successful in 2012 but fell flat in 2014. Our panel was a serious attempt to discuss that narrative from a conservative perspective. What do those words really mean to women? Are we buying it? Will Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president mean that it will once again be the political phrase that pays, and if so, how do Republicans counter it?
It was a serious panel on a serious topic. It included a potential presidential candidate (Carly Fiorina), an expert on the economy (Sabrina Schaffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum), one of the chief pollsters in the country (Kellyanne Conway of the polling company, inc./WomanTrend), a member of the leadership in the House of Representatives (Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.)), and the CEO/president of the nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization (me).
Our point was that the real war on women is:
1) a civil war in which leftist women attempt to force women of faith (whether an impoverished nun or a business owner) to violate their conscience by becoming financially complicit in someone else’s abortions; or
2) a war for women: We are an essential voting bloc and have swung every presidential election since 1964 and the Left will say anything to attract that bloc.
As for Dana Milbank’s column: It was a catty treatment of a serious panel. I can’t help but think this wouldn’t fly at the Washington Post if it had been a panel of liberal women. The issues we face are too important to not get serious coverage.
Lopez: Does he also have a point when he says: “If there isn’t a Republican war on women, there are a lot of loose cannons.”
Nance: Of course there will always be people who say dumb things. The forum even mentioned some of those moments and in no way excused them. But the central issue is phony gender-baiting, and despite spending $70 million in the last election on ads citing a “war on women,” the Left lost. They for the most part lost women, especially married women (or carried single women by very small margins), even when it was women vs. men (think Wendy Davis, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mary Landrieu, and Kay Hagan). So what’s real? We also discussed that women at the bottom rung of the economic ladder truly struggle and the need for policies/community involvement that help.
LOPEZ: On matters of abortion, is there a unique opportunity right now to find common ground on late-term abortion? What’s your pitch to those — maybe especially in the media — who think this is all the same old story?
NANCE: Yes, and other issues! On the issue of abortion, we are working in both the states and federal government to bring our laws in line with public opinion. The vast majority of Americans support limits on abortion, and a five-month ban is common sense. At the press conference for the introduction to the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, I asked the media to set aside their bias and think through the issue. Doesn’t common sense tell them that when a child has all her organs, fingernails, and eyebrows, when she can hear and respond to her mother’s voice, and when she feels pain, she is part of our human family and deserving of legal protection? At the same time, Concerned Women members all over this nation volunteer in ministries that exist to help women in crisis. It’s not enough for abortion to be illegal. We should make it unthinkable.
LOPEZ: Rape. Horrific. And it rarely gets any better when it becomes a political issue. How can politicians approach this most intimate violence better when it has to come up in policy? Should it ever come up in policy and politics?
NANCE: Rape is a real and tragic issue for women. The political class in Washington have used victims as pawns. They talk a good game but when it comes to truly helping, they do nothing. I met this past week with House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, who really is concerned about the issue, about the fact that despite years and millions of federal dollars spent, thousands of rape kits still sit on shelves untested, predators remain free, and victims are denied justice. The Justice Department has dropped the ball and we have to insist on something better.
Lopez: What do you mean when you write: “Let’s deal with the men on both of our sides and lean in for a discussion with each other.” What does that discussion look like?
NANCE: I think there is common ground on rape, school choice, and vocational-education opportunities for poor women, and abuse of women around the world at the hands of Islamic fascists. That means, however, that they must understand our non-negotiables. I am never going to believe an abortion helps a woman — it wounds her emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically — but we all can work against human trafficking, for instance.
As for our men from each side of the aisle, we need to take them to task privately when they cross a line. I don’t want to hear in the next election about a candidate’s figure, hair, or age. Whether it’s Hillary, Michele, Carly, or someone else, we need to cut that out.
LOPEZ: Does it feel ridiculous to be using the word “war” at a time where Syrian and Iraqi Christians are in refugee camps and Egyptians are being martyred by ISIS?
NANCE: It’s trite and ridiculous. I think that’s why it fell flat in 2014. When the front page of the paper and TV newscasts in every city carry horrific stories of violence against women and children at the hands of ISIS, Sandra Fluke whining about paying for her own birth control sounds petty.
LOPEZ: Why is it that you believe conservative women don’t get fair coverage in the media?
NANCE: I have come to understand that there is a special kind of spite reserved for women conservatives from some on the left (clearly not everyone). It’s based on fear. If we not only think for ourselves, but dare to speak our minds, then we undermine the false narrative that they speak for women. How dare we say that women are not monolithic, that we support life, and that we believe America is the land of opportunity for both men and women? Then we are no longer useful victims.
LOPEZ: Is there a danger that even legitimate criticism can look like bias after a while?
NANCE: That’s why balance is important. There must be accountability and we need to work together to require it.
And I want to give credit where credit is due. The Daily Beast is a good example. Though it is of the Left, it employs several very professional and fair reporters, such as David Freedlander and Jackie Kucinich. They probably don’t agree with me on much of anything but genuinely want to accurately report the story. I may not love the color they give the story but it’s accurate and that’s all we can ask.
LOPEZ: Who are Concerned Women for America? What is it that you’re most concerned about? What is it you want to accomplish in the near and short term?
NANCE: We are the nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization, with about 500,000 members, 400 chapters, 29 and counting Young Women for America college chapters. We have been around for 35 years, and in a town with a lot of Astroturf, we are real grassroots women of faith who love our exceptional country. We are patriots dedicated to passing on a healthy and stable nation to our kids and recognize that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” We are working to preserve it through education, advocacy, and prayer. We are focused on passing on a biblical worldview, free-market principles, and constitutional principles to future generations.
Our key issues are: Protection of life, marriage, education, religious liberty, national sovereignty (including our national debt), support for Israel, and working to end sexual exploitation. The five-month ban is one of top priorities on the state and federal level at this moment, but we are always working on multiple issues. I am especially proud of the work our college chapters are doing to fight anti-Semitism and the monthly day of prayer and fasting our ladies are promoting in their churches to support women, children, and innocent men being victimized at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Information on all of this is on our website at concernedwomen.org.
LOPEZ: Do you — do Concerned Women — have an interest in Carly Fiorina running for president? Any more than a Jeb or a Rick or whoever isn’t a woman but represents values you espouse?
NANCE: Carly Fiorina is an incredible leader and spokesperson for life and liberty. I can’t wait for the first woman president. However, I must say — and she would agree, I think — that the next president must be chosen based on their ability to lead the nation and their principles, not on gender or anything else. She may indeed be that person, but it’s very early in process. I love the idea of having her in the debate. But America can’t play. This is the most important election of my lifetime. I am excited about many of the candidates gearing up to run. I have worked with many of them over the years, like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and others. I think very quickly we will see a Republican field take shape and unserious contenders weeded out. The nation won’t suffer another rookie.
But this issue of fairness in the media is essential to any conservative woman running for office. If we don’t engage and call out the media when they unfairly trash them, then women like Carly will never get a fair shake. It also inhibits other women from running for any office, from school board up. I want the first woman president to be a conservative woman, and media discrimination could mean the difference.
LOPEZ: Why did you call Hillary Clinton “Claire Underwood”? What most concerns you about the prospect of her as president?
NANCE: Why does the Left think conservatives have no sense of humor? I was making a joke comparing Hillary with a cold and calculating TV character. There may be a grain of truth in the comparison, which is what makes it funny. By the way, when a lefty writes something about me that’s kind of mean but clever, I usually laugh.
LOPEZ: Are there Democrats that Concerned Women could work with?
NANCE: Of course. We have worked with and endorse pro-life Democrats. Unfortunately, the Left dislikes them as much as they do us, and their numbers are greatly dwindling.
LOPEZ: What worries you most that young people face today?
NANCE: Our YWA girls are a great source of inspiration for me. They worry less about their own future and more about others. They care about justice not in the fake socialistic use of that word but more in connection with “the least of these.” They see abortion as cynical and tragic. They care about victims of terrorism and sharia law. They care about sex-trafficking victims. They see the rise in anti-Semitism as a real danger to Israel and Jewish Americans and won’t stand for it.
They put together Care packages for victims of sexual assault so they will have clean, comfortable clothes to wear home from the hospital (since clothes are kept as evidence). They also believe in the foundations of our nation and think they were given a huge blessing by being born in this country. They plan on taking the world by storm.
LOPEZ: Do you see any hope for marriage and family life in an age of divorce, cohabitation, and the redefinition of marriage?
NANCE: This is the one sad note for our young members. We live in an era of broken families. Divorce and cohabitation have fractured their upbringing. Many of them are still coming to terms with that hurt. Although I just saw a poll that said 40 percent of Americans think marriage is obsolete, the young women I know still believe in it and hope for it. They have grown up mostly in public schools and with popular culture that tells them that marriage is anything a person says it is, but due to their knowledge of Scripture and understanding of the essential nature of a two-parent family, they are torn. But they also believe that a baker or photographer must be able to graciously decline to violate their conscience. I believe the nation as a whole is working through this and asking hard questions
LOPEZ: Do you really hate Frozen? Can you let it go? Or is there a serious challenge you’re raising for cultural leaders?
NANCE: Ha. Though it came up in the Washington Post, we didn’t even discuss Frozen in the forum and I never said I hated Frozen. I like it. Basically I had said on Fox that both Disney and Hollywood in general shouldn’t tear men down to build women up. We want strong women but we don’t have to denigrate men to do it. I think we are all in this together. Men and women need each other to be our best selves, to live up to our commitments and to be selfless. I get that for comedic purposes a writer exploits character traits but not every male character in any show has to be bad/stupid. I also said we want to raise men to be heroes like the young man who threw his body over his girlfriend in order to save her life during a shooter’s theater rampage in Aurora, Colo. He gave his life protecting her. But, here’s the Fox clip though judge for yourself.
LOPEZ: How did you wind up getting into activist work and media? What have you learned? What has been the greatest challenge? What have you treasured?
NANCE: I am just a pastor’s kid from Tennessee and Kentucky. I went to Liberty University on scholarship and made my way to Washington to work on Capitol Hill to save babies. I am in many ways still that idealistic kid with a couple of reality bumps and bruises. I am incredibly grateful for Beverly LaHaye, CWA’s founder, and other women who came before me. I stand on their shoulders. I treasure the amazing women that are our grassroots members. They have no agenda other than protecting their families and their nation. I am touched by the military families who thank me for my work when it’s really the other way around. I am incredible grateful for their sacrifice. I feel called to what I do and I am still learning the best way to engage people and bring them to our side. In fact, I have a book coming out next year that specifically speaks to that issue. How do we help the liberal neighbor or mom at our kid’s school hear us in a way they can receive it? How do we stand up for ourselves and defend our beliefs in a winsome manner? How do we joyfully share our beliefs and give grace to people who are purposely hurtful and disrespectful? In the first chapter I share a personal story of how I am on this same journey.
But there are clearly two most important things to me. The first is my family — my husband, Will, and my two children. They are what motivate me to get out of bed every morning and strive for freedom. Nothing is more important to me than them. The second is my faith. I am a sinner at my very core but I have put my full faith in redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle or that I’m not broken. It just means I believe in mercy and grace both for me and for everyone else. I am learning both to receive it and to give it to others, which isn’t always easy. At bottom, it doesn’t really matter what people say on Twitter or what a snarky reporter writes. At the end of the day I play to an audience of One, and if I can figure out how to please God, then that will be enough.