The Dog Whistle Last Night Was to Women

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The debate last night was ostensibly about foreign policy, but as the entire Twitterverse noted, the candidates used their last televised dialogue to bring up whatever they wanted, from education to food stamps. And both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney must have been instructed to bring up the rights of women at every single turn, because that's exactly what they did.

Romney was the first to pay women lip service by saying we need to "make sure that we're protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can't develop unless all the population, not just half of it, is developing." A few minutes later, Obama parroted him, saying we need to apply pressure to Egypt's government "to recognize the rights of women, which is critical throughout the region. These countries can't develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need." He later transposed that desire on Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

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The candidates' touching anecdotes pandered to the ladies, too. Obama framed his Osama bin Laden comeback with a story of a young woman at Ground Zero who was relieved bin Laden was dead; Romney hammered home his focus-on-the-economy strategy by recounting a story about a young unemployed woman in Philadelphia, then followed it up with a reference to Ann. If last week's debate was Ladies' Night, this one was Remember Us, Ladies? Night.

When it comes to foreign policy, a sitting president will always have the advantage in foreign policy debates over a governor, since he's the one who's actually been in the Control Room, so Obama's references to women's rights abroad felt a little more substantive. But while I felt ignored during the first debate and energized during the second, last night I just felt used. The pandering makes sense—Obama is well aware that his sizeable lead among women is narrowing, and Romney's doing everything he can to continue that pattern. But regardless of who we're going to vote for, we deserve more than vague platitudes or shameless dog whistles. It's not enough to simply shout out our gender. Both of them should have the balls to back up the name-dropping with policy.

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