Although it’s been almost 20 years since she was first elected to the Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is nonetheless her state’s junior Senator. She’s considered a long-time supporter of women’s reproductive choice and environmentalism, and spoke to Raw Story at the PPL Newsroom at the Democratic National Convention.
Raw Story: You’ve been such an advocate for women’s rights over the years, how do you feel about where the Democratic party is on women’s rights, both in terms of the platform and the effort they’ve made to highlight those issues at the convention?
Boxer: I am so proud right now to be a Democrat, because we stand four square with women. We really do. It’s their reproductive health, it’s their general health, it’s equal pay for equal work, it’s opportunity, equality and the chance to marry who they want to marry. So I just think, all told, it’s such a stark choice.
You know, I’m of the age where I lived through the time when women were criminals if they exercised their right to choose — they didn’t have a right to choose — and women died. They died or they were made infertile. These were terrible times for women. You know, they often try to say, “Well, how many women actually died from back alley abortions.” You could never get the number right because the parents when they buried their daughters couldn’t say why they died if they died from a back alley abortion because it was a criminal act and they didn’t want their daughters to been deemed criminals.
These are the days that Romney and Ryan want to take us back to. And if you take Todd Akin, and people asked me, “Do you think Todd Akin will step down?” I said, “Why would he? His partner in criminalizing a woman’s right to choose was just selected to be vice president!”
Paul Ryan is Todd Akin’s partner in criminalizing a woman’s right to choose. They worked together to try to redefine rape, they worked together to overturn Roe v. Wade, they worked together to criminalize birth control. So let’s be clear here.
I have to say, as someone who’s going to work my heart out for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, that when people come up and they say to me, “Well, you know, I don’t like this about the President, he didn’t end this war fast enough, he didn’t do this,” I get that! I understand the frustration. Each one of us has our own point of view, but the stark choice here is just so clear. We just can’t afford to go back. We can’t because it will mean very bad things for women and when bad things happen to women, bad things happen to families, and to men and to their kids.
When you look around the world, there’s this very conservative historian who said — and it was very mind-boggling to me, I didn’t think of it this way — Bernard Lewis is his name. He said that if you have to choose one reason why certain countries are so slow to come around and have economic opportunity and prosperity, it’s because the women are being held down in those countries and they don’t have equal rights.
So this country cannot afford to go back. So I hope that anyone within the sound of your words will understand that I get the fact that no politician is perfect. I’m not perfect, Barack Obama’s not perfect. The only one who’s perfect is yourself. You’re perfect because you know exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it, and I know it gets frustrating but we cannot walk away from this election.
Raw Story: You mentioned when you sat down that this building was refurbished with the help of stimulus funds, and Republicans have been very opposed to using stimulus funds ever again — so much so that they blocked funds that would have allowed state and local governments to avoid laying off teachers and firefighters. What do you think of the Ryan budget on those issues, and how is the President’s plan different?
Boxer: The Ryan budget is a blueprint for disaster for America. I could just not put it in any more of a straightforward way. It’s a blueprint for disaster. I’ll take an area that I know very well: transportation. I’m the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and, by the grace of God, I was able to get a bill done. And it took me a very long time, and I had to play an inside game and an outside game and it was very hard but thank goodness I was able to get bipartisan support for a transportation bill. Three million jobs rely on that bill. We almost lost it, and we managed to hold it.
In the Ryan budget, he cuts transportation for highways and bridges in half. He cuts the funds in half. Now these funds go to the private sector. This is a radical thing to do. This is a Republican idea that was brought to us long before you guys were around by Dwight Eisenhower. And he said no great country is going to be great if it doesn’t have an infrastructure. And it’s important for national security, he made that point. He championed education, and he championed infrastructure. This Republican party doesn’t get it. They don’t get their own traditions.
When I started out, when I wanted to work on public works, when I wanted to work on the environment, and choice issues, and women’s rights and civil rights, I had Republican friends I went to. It’s gone. It’s no more. Even those who in their heart know it’s right are fearful because they have been hijacked by the right wing.
So the Ryan budget is a blueprint for disaster. It’s going to cut transportation funding in half. It has all been done to save money to give a tax break to those at the very top, which is immoral. And I thought about it the other day, no wonder Romney picked him, Paul Ryan wants Romney to have a one percent tax rate.
Raw Story: I was curious, you mentioned public education. Looking at the Romney blueprint for education, he wants to re-privatize the student loan system, he wants to cut back on Pell grants. How do you think that will affect young people in your state?
Boxer: We know what President Obama has done, I’ll start with the positive. Because of his leadership we were able to make sure that student loan interest rates remained at 3 percent and didn’t double. This was critical on its face. We know that the President believes in education, believes that we have to make these investments.
I thought President Clinton last night, was stupendous — I don’t know what you thought, but I was over the moon, and I know what a great teacher he is, but all of us were sitting there, it was like you were so fortunate to be in this room with this great teacher who explains things in a simple way and with a sense of humor and with a sense of history and all of that, it was so remarkable — but the point he made is that there are a lot of jobs out there, 3 million jobs, that are not being filled because we don’t have the education system that’s retraining people.
So this is a critical moment, and if you look at what Romney wants to do, we think his true agenda is to do away with the Department of Education. And if you look at his record when he was governor, it was very bad, he has one of the worst job creation records there. So whether it’s education, whether its civil rights, human rights, whether its transport, he humiliates the British, one of our strongest allies. It was five minutes! Think of what he could do in four years. It’s too frightening to contemplate.
Raw Story: You talked a little bit about your environmental record, but it’s noticeable to some of the people that there’s lot been as much talk about energy and environment at the convention compared to 2008. Why do you think that is?
Boxer: I think some people have absolutely mentioned it. Tom Steyer was one who was very strong on it yesterday. I heard — these are just the people I heard — Secretary Salazar.
But I think we have to recognize that there is one major issue. Well, I would say there are two majors issues coming out of this convention. This is what I think, I’m not certain I’m right because I haven’t heard the President yet. But up to this point, two majors issues that I see here.
Clearly the economy and jobs. Clearly that is critical. And if we’re going to win this, we have to show exactly what Bill Clinton showed, which is that this president inherited the worst recession since the Depression, we had freezing of the movement of capital, there was just a calamity going on. I remember getting a call from Hank Paulson (who was then Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush), we had about 40 Democratic Senators on the phone and he essentially said that the economy was in free fall and he thought it would collapse. And we have to make the point of what this president walked into.
And I thought what President Clinton said, you know, “He’s cool on the outside but burning on the inside for this country,” imagine what that must have been like, to look at the economy growth rate just plummet, to look at 800,000 jobs a month disappear. And just inherit this terrible deficit, this terrible debt and two wars on the credit card.
So even though I definitely think the President will talk about energy, the environment — that’s all part of it — I think the main focus is going to be on this economy and jobs.
And I think the second message that’s strongly coming out of this is the war against women. And of course for me , as someone who’s been in the trenches on this for so long, I’m so happy that the President is standing with us in such a strong way. And to see speaker after speaker embrace equal rights like this it’s fantastic.
I do, as an environmentalist from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head, I would like to see some more discussion of it. But I do believe — remember what we’re doing, we’re trying to win an election now — that the President will talk about the amazing contribution he’s made by reducing carbon emissions by fuel economy. People don’t realize what this means, but we’re moving toward 55 miles per gallon fuel economy, this is a huge breakthrough. So I think he will mention this. And he has fought for safe drinking water… What the Republicans did in the House that we stopped it in the Senate could fill a book. They essentially tried to repeal every landmark environmental law: the Clean Air Act — all from the back door. We have stopped it, and the President has stood sentry and he has said, “If you dare do that, I will veto it.” So we haven’t gone backwards, but we’ve had to fight to stay where we are and we’ve made a few improvements.
But I feel right now so far the main issues that are being addressed are the economy and women’s rights.
[Image via jdlasica on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]