According to Mr. Huckabee,
"Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them. If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be."
On the surface, this sounds delightful. Mr. Huckabee is expressing his profound respect for women. Much like the middle-school queen-bee who smiles oh-so-sweetly and says, “You know, if you weren’t so fat, you’d be really pretty.” Isn’t that sweet? She says I’m pretty. So why do I have an irrational desire to claw her face off?
It is because she is framing a statement based on the unspoken assumption that A) you are defective as you are and would have to change in order to be acceptable, and B) she is in a position of superiority to you rather than equality or empathy. Every native speaker of English learns very young how to decode these unspoken messages. We are built to do it, and we do it so well, we aren’t even conscious of it.
Let an authority figure call Ms. Queen Bee to task for her behavior, and she will bat her lashes and protest just a little too sweetly that she doesn’t know what she did wrong. She was just trying to be nice. Just as Mr. Huckabee bats his lashes and says, “But I just respect women so much. See? It’s a compliment.” Neither Ms. queen-bee nor Mr. Huckabee is fooling anybody—except possibly their in-group who already share their underlying beliefs.
The primary issue that has women hot under the collar is that neither we, nor democrats/liberals have any interest in controlling women’s libidos because we see female sexuality as a perfectly nice, normal, healthy thing. Democrats aren’t saying that women can’t control it; they’re saying there is no reason why they should have to. Why misrepresent that? Maybe he genuinely doesn’t grasp the idea that many people have no problem with female sexuality. Or he is deliberately mis-representing the democratic/liberal perspective with a middle-school queen-bee style dig at those loose women who he thinks should control themselves. In either case, he is delivering an insult in the assumption that women's sexuality is unacceptable unless it is authorized by him and his adherents.
And "Uncle Sugar." As a native speaker of English, there is no way he used a term so close to "sugar-daddy" by accident in this context. Its use suggests that he considers women who express their libido to be, at best, no better than sexual property. Democrats/liberals, on the other hand, don’t see anything paternalistic about the government requiring all insurance companies to cover birth-control. Women feel pretty good about our representative government defending our most fundamental interests in a situation in which individual women have virtually no bargaining power.
Then there’s: control their reproductive systems. He doesn’t say “…control when she chooses to reproduce.” That would mean something altogether different. And why does Mr. Huckabee see the female reproductive system as something that must be controlled? Women don't generally think in terms of "controlling" their reproductive systems. Controlling our bodies, maybe. Determining who has access and who doesn’t, sure. But not controlling our bodily organs.
Next, his reference to the GOP war for women. Women are perfectly capable of fighting for their own rights, and if he is fighting against what women want, his claim that he is doing it for them presumes that he knows better than they do what is good for them. That is what you say to a child when she wants ice-cream instead of vegetables. If he genuinely respected women, that statement could never have entered his head.
Furthermore: “If democrats want to insult the women of America by [making them believe] that they…etc.” (emphasis mine). Mr. Huckabee is literally saying that democrats are brainwashing women. He might so very easily have said that democrats are trying to make women believe…, or persuading women to believe… Instead, he literally tells women that they do not know their own minds (hence his need to wage war on their behalf against what they want) and reinforces that statement with: “…women are far more than the democrats have played them to be.” (emphasis mine) He could have said portrayed. He might even have meant to say portrayed. Instead he used a word meaning duped, deceived, manipulated. A word perfectly consistent with “…making them believe…” and “…war for women.”
Next, “equality.” Equality to what? He never mentions men. He describes women only as generally “equal” in a context which renders the word meaningless. He does the same thing with “…and the capacity of women.” Full stop. Capacity to what? He could have said capability, and it would have fit the sentence much better. I would discount that one as a mis-speak if it didn’t match his use of equality. Both words are meaningless in this context—which undermines the apparent sincerity of the…er…compliment (?).
I get that to many people, this level of nit-pickery probably seems like just making stuff up to be mean to a nice man who was trying to give women a compliment—just like the teenage queen-bee complimenting her classmate on how acceptable she would be if she conformed to the queen-bee’s values. The reason some readers were enraged by Mr. Huckabee’s remarks and others saw them as innocuous is that those other readers share Mr. Huckabee’s unspoken assumption that women’s sexuality must be controlled, and if women won’t do it themselves, then the GOP will have to do it for them.
What, they wonder, could possibly be offensive about that?