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Demonizing the women's march

IS IT POSSIBLE that Karen Hughes is getting a little rusty?

When she was the full-time communications director for the White House, Hughes was regarded as the supreme spinmeistress. Reporters actually got dizzy watching her pirouette in her size 12 shoes.

But now the spin is looking more like a tailspin. On a day when nearly a million women and men filled the Washington Mall for the March for Women's Lives, she made an analogy between being prolife and antiterrorist or, conversely, prochoice and proterrorist.

Wolf Blitzer asked the Bush adviser whether abortion would be an issue in this election. "Well, Wolf, it's always an issue," she answered. "And I frankly think it's changing somewhat. I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life."

Just in case anyone didn't get it, she added that "the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."

With those few words, the author of a memoir that Time magazine called "all kiss and no tell" went from spin to flap. Next she weighed in with an e-mail describing the uproar as a "gross distortion."

Granted, this is an administration that doesn't want us to believe what they say. They want us to believe what they say they said. But this time she better reread her own memories of being a young journalist: "Thus began my lifelong preoccupation with choosing just the right word."

So, does Karen Hughes actually think that every prochoice voter is a nascent terrorist? Does she believe the marchers were going to fold their placards into paper airplanes and lob them at the White House? Of course not.

Is it a "gross distortion"? Remember that two years ago, the president made the same analogy in proclaiming "National Sanctity of Human Life Day": "The terrible events of that fateful day (Sept. 11) have given us, as a nation, a greater understanding about the value and wonder of life."

This is how loose lips sink political ships. Once you start talking about Sept. 11 and the value of life in the same sound bite, once you nod your head as allies talk about abortion as "murder" and doctors as "murderers, " it isn't long until you've demonized your "enemies" as "terrorists."

Let's go back to the days after 9/11 when Jerry Falwell did what Karen Hughes says she didn't do. He blamed "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians." He said, "I point the finger in their face and say, `You helped this happen.' " Our Taliban agreed with their Taliban that America was paying for its sins.

A month later, in the midst of the anthrax jitters, 100 letters were sent out to clinics across the country from "the Army of God" as a multistate anthrax scare. This was a national reminder that clinics had long been the targets of homegrown terrorism. As Planned Parenthood's Gloria Feldt said, "Domestic and foreign terrorism are joined at the head."

For many of us, the most powerful lessons of 9/11 were quite the opposite of the ones Falwell or Hughes utter. They were lessons about cultures that breed terrorism and oppress women.

In the early days, the president patriotically and repeatedly waved the flag of women's rights in the terrorists' faces. "The central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women -- and not only the women of Afghanistan," he said. "And that is the reason this great nation, with our friends and allies, will not rest until we bring them all to justice."

Indeed Hughes, perhaps more than anyone in the White House, made a connection with Afghan women. As she writes, "I thought focusing on the plight of Afghan women and girls was a way to highlight the cruel nature of the people we were up against."

Under the Taliban, the same women who were driven out of work and forbidden to laugh out loud suffered from the second highest maternal death rate in the world. This reminded many that freedom -- maybe even "life" -- includes the freedom to make reproductive decisions.

But Hughes doesn't make those connections. She began the CNN "tailspin" interview saying "I think the president gets far too little credit for what he has done for American women." She then explained that eight of the 18 at senior staff meetings were women. And as the woman among the trio who ran the Bush campaign, she continued, she was treated and paid equally.

Well, I'm glad that this administration has worked out so well for the inner, upper circle of Bush's female defenders. Now, what about the rest of us?

Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is 

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