“Women are not an interest group,” said President Obama in a video aired on television Tuesday. “Women shouldn’t be treated that way.”
Fair enough. But in a campaign where “women’s rights” are supposedly front and center in the national debate, the left has been claiming there’s a “war on women” in an attempt to gain political ground. If women aren’t an interest group yet, DNC speakers like Sandra Fluke, Kerry Washington, and Representative Diana DeGette are doing their best to get them there.
Regrettably, all of the political back-and-forth ignores an important question: What do women actually want?
“[A] perceptive observer,” writes Meghan Clyne of National Affairs, “may notice a curious thing about this ‘war on women.’ It is based entirely on one set of policies: those pertaining to women’s reproductive systems.…Womanhood is thus defined by the desire for unrestricted abortion and free birth control; women themselves are reducible to ovaries.”
It’s a rather un-American way of seeing the world. After all, our Declaration of Independence was clear on the idea that “all men” (meaning all human beings) are created as equals and endowed with a set of inalienable rights.
So we should immediately be wary when anyone makes the case for “women’s rights” as something distinct from the rights of all Americans. In this country, we are all equals and all have the same rights — why is it a “woman’s right” to have assisted access to contraceptives, federal protection for abortion, and the ability to violate the free conscience of religious institutions?
The truth, of course, is that this is part of a larger shift into the world of progressive politics. Progressives believe the individual is “something achieved,” as John Dewey said in a 1934 lecture, “and achieved not in isolation, but with the aid and support of conditions, cultural and physical.”
But what does “achieve” mean, and how do we do it? For Dewey, that meant a need to create “effective opportunity to share in the cultural resources of civilization.” In other words, it means looking at groups of people and deciding how best to create the appropriate environment for them to rise up and get what was considered to be their “fair share.”
While this certainly sounds good, the implications are important. Instead of the founding view — clearing the road for opportunity and punishing acts that violate your rights — the progressives appoint experts and professionals to decide what you deserve and how they’re going to give it to you.
So the Founders believed in the inherent rights of all individuals, while today’s progressives believe it their duty to assist others in achieving certain outcomes. They determine the right outcome, they choose the right group, and they draft the right policy for the job.
But here’s the rub: the president may not want to admit it, but this sort of “progressive” thinking is precisely the thing that encourages government catering to special interests.
For progressives, individuals are no longer seen as human beings with inherent rights, but as minority groups that require the “aid” and “support” of conditions created by the government. In order to provide this, the government may need to ignore silly, outdated obstacles like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Until we reach the glorious promised land of equal success, happiness, and satisfaction, there will always be another “interest group” that the government feels duty-bound to assist. And to that end, the government knows no limit.
So let’s be careful about declaring “wars.” Once they’re underway, innocent people, and their individual rights, too often end up in the crosshairs.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog, link here.