Of Presidents and Platforms
AN EXAMINATION of party positioning on women's rights from 1952 to 1992 suggests that both parties have shifted their positions over time. Republicans sided with the equality feminists in the 1950s and early 1960s, while Democrats generally opposed the equality position in favor of the status quo, protective policy for women. The parties' positions converged to a considerable degree in the late 1960s and early 1970s with both parties contributing to an unprecedented level of political activity and accomplishment on women's rights. Yet Democratic and Republican elites soon diverged again. In the resulting alignment, Democrats stood on the side of women's rights, while Republicans distanced themselves from feminism and pro–women's rights policy. Not only were the parties on different sides than might have been predicted prior to 1970, but by 1992, they were also far more polarized on women's rights than ever before.
This chapter provides a detailed description of this history, focusing on presidents, presidential candidates, party organizations, and party platforms. The purposes of this chapter are twofold. My primary goal is to provide a systematic account of the transformation and polarization of the parties' positions on women's rights over this time period. These phenomenon have not received much scholarly attention, and an aim of this chapter is to fill that void. Second, while the emphasis is on description, the narrative is provided with an eye toward the explanatory framework presented in chapter 4. This chapter thus lays the empirical groundwork for the application of that model to the case of women's rights in chapters 5 and 6.
The materials providing the evidentiary base for this chapter are speeches, statements, platforms, and actions of presidents, presidential candidates, and party organizations from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. As the de facto leaders of their parties, presidents and presidential candidates frame debate, influence platform and other party choices, and represent the parties' issue positions to the public. As such, they have been both the focus of pressure from those concerned with women's rights and actors in shaping the course of debate. National party organizations are examined concurrently, as the two—presidential candidates and national party organizations—are so interrelated in political history. The discussion of national party organizations centers on national conventions during presidential election years. Even as parties have developed permanent bu