Gays, Guns, God & Gynecology

Hearing into women’s reproductive issues: What’s wrong with this picture? 

Last summer when the economy was still sputtering and deficit reduction was all the rage, the Rethugs believed they had the perfect campaign theme to run on—restoring the economy.

That they were mainly responsible for its demise was hardly an insurmountable problem in their eyes. Counting on low information voters with short memory spans and a growing impatience with the status quo, aided and abetted by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ 24/7 media propaganda machine, right wing hate talk radio and its counterparts in the blogosphere, and a Teabagger dominated House dedicated to absolute legislative obstructionism, GOPers were confident that they could shift the blame for a rotten economy to President Obama and the Dems.

And they had the perfect man for the White House, a former CEO and ¼ billionaire named Willard Mitt Romney. Willard was pitched as a Washington outsider who had spent 25 years in the private sector, a successful turn around artist who knew how to run a company, and who could do the same for the country.  A master of “creative destruction”, the former CEO of Bain Capital could be expected to apply his tough love formula to the federal government. Good times were just an inauguration (and a painful period of austerity)  away.

But as early as last September, the worm began to turn. The economy had started to improve. The White House changed election strategies from a Pete Peterson inspired deficit and austerity regime for a progressive agenda focusing on jobs and wealth inequality. (Thank the OWS!)

Then in December, the Rethugs shot themselves in both feet. Their attempts to hold the economy hostage by refusing to extend the debt ceiling, unemployment insurance, and payroll tax exemptions for the middle class precipitated a huge drop in the polls. By the start of 2012, they found themselves twisting slowly, slowly in the political wind, searching for a new theme to run on.

National Security

One of the GOP’s  traditional go-to issues, national security, has been effectively neutralized.  In contrast to his Rethug predecessor, who at first made a big show of bringing Usama Bin Laden to justice only to state  a few months later that he was no longer concerned about him, Obama delivered. He also succeed in eliminating other high level Al Qaeda leaders like Anwar al-Awlaki, and Badar Mansoor using low cost special op forces and pilotless drones, without a single American casualty.

Obama kept his campaign promise to remove all US troops from Iraq, and despite a failed surge of 30,000 troops,  instituted an exit strategy from Afghanistan (as we  predicted in a 13 post diary titled “Afutilestan.”)  Re Libya, the prez took a lot of flack for co-operating with allies and  “leading from behind.”  The end result was the successful overthrow of one of the world’s most entrenched  and despotic dictators, again without a single American casualty.

Obama also expanded Bush’s draconian  domestic national security state, much to the dismay of his progressive base. In fact, Obama has moved so far to the right on issues like privacy (wire taps, warrantless searches) and rule of law (habeus corpus, extradiction, extra-judicial executions) that the Rethugs have nowhere else to go but right over the cliff.

The Culture Wars Revisited

With the economy and national defense losing their front burner sizzle (an attack on Iran, a steep rise in oil and gas prices, or a Eurozone crisis could, however, bring them roaring back),  the Rethugs needed another hot button theme to keep their brain stem base fired up.

What other issues have the Rethugs successfully exploited in the past? Taking their special edition Delorean out of storage, they crammed its flux capacitor full of high grade garbage and found themselves transported 50 years into the past, to the good old days when the Culture Wars were just getting started.

Recreational drug use, gun control, affirmative action, separation of church and state, environmentalism, privacy, sexual liberation, feminism, homosexuality, abortion, contraception—all had their day in the sun. Of course these issues never really went away (if for no other reason than they have been good fund raising fodder for right wingers intent on enforcing their personal morality on the rest of the world). The trick today is to choose an issue closely related to others. Not only does a constellation of issues separated by a single degree facilitate the creation and maintenance of an overarching narrative, but it has certain tactical advantages as well.

Winger Debating Tactics

Take the truncated world of cable television. (Please!)  A favorite Rethug trick,when they find themselves losing a debate,  is  to rapidly pivot from one issue to another. You can tell when such segues are being triggered: they begin talking loudly over their opponents before the latter can  finish making their point. The new issue  is then framed in such a way as to put the opponent on the defensive,  often accusing them of the very thing that the Rethugs themselves are guilty (aka “political projection”; see e.g., deficit spending, judicial activism, class warfare, etc.) .  Before an opponent can set the record straight, let alone return to a previous argument, it’s off to another issue, or better yet, a debate killing commercial.

The optics leave the Rethug looking confident and in control, the opponent a defensive, sputtering fool. (Don’t even get me started on the woeful performance of most so-called  “moderators .”) I used to chalk up these aggressive displays to simple rudeness. But I suspect that a staple of right wing think tank seminars is training in such disingenuous media manipulation tactics. There are people supremely dedicated to the ethos that the end justifies the means, and they take no prisoners.  (For related observations along this line, see our Evolution of Wingnut Deception Routines.)

The Rethugs’ Political Gamble

It is in the context of cross-fertilization (excuse the pun) that injecting contraception into the presidential campaign today makes any kind of sense. Politically, it risks alienating women voters, who provided a 10 million vote advantage for Obama over John McCain in 2008, with unmarried women voting 70% in favor of Obama.  (The Dems loss of the House in the 2010 “wave election” has been attributed to a drop-off in women voters.)

The calculation seems to be that re-framing women’s health issues as a matter of “religious freedom”  is worth the risk. Making religious freedom the new Rethug theme provides the greatest number of potential connections to other issues, religion being the emotional, open subjective book that it is.

Not that issues like birth control and abortion have ever been off the table.  As Marge Baker of People For the American Way pointed out Friday in the HuffPo:

We all heard about the War on Women’s Health last year, when Tea Party-empowered state legislatures passed record slew of anti-choice laws — including deluded bills such as Arizona’s ban on “race-based abortions” and dangerous ones like Virginia’s attempt to shut down most abortion clinics in the state. These unhinged state legislatures were joined by an enthusiastic right-wing Congress that attempted to defund the entire $317 million federal family program, tried to redefine “rape,” and ate up lies about their favorite bogeyman, Planned Parenthood.

Occupying the News Cycle: Religious Freedom Edition

Given the Rethugs current political predicament, putting social issues front and center is necessary if they want to continue to occupy current news cycles (at least until the economy again begins to deteriorate and they can return to firmer ground).  Example:  On the Hill last week, we witnessed Darrel Issa’s sausage fest committee hearing regarding insurance coverage for women’s reproductive services. That women were noticeably absent from the opening panel’s testimony was explained away as irrelevant because, as Issa explained,  the issue was not about birth control, but “religious freedom.”

Rick Santorum criticizes President Obama’s “phony theology”

Adding fuel to the fire of the Rethug’s new “religious freedom”  theme,  Presidential wannabe Rick Santorum went so far this weekend as to accuse President Obama of having a “phony theology”  for mandating health insurance coverage for women’s health services, including contraception and family planning (but not abortion).  Santorum’s press secretary, Alice Stewart, also stepped in it yesterday,  saying she misspoke  when when she referred to  Obama’ s phony theology as reflecting his “radical Islamic policies.”

It is on the state level, however,  that these issues are really reaching a boiling point. In Virginia (or “Virgina,” as progressive talk host Rhandi Rhodes likes to call it), the Retug dominated  legislature has passed a bill that would require intrusive ultra-sound vaginal probes of women who have decided to have an abortion. The state’s Rethuglican governor, Bob McDonnell (said to be on the short list of vice presidential nominees) has indicated he will sign this totally unnecessary medically procedure into law. Additionally, a state senate committee has passed a bill that would deny Medicaid coverage to “low-income women when a doctor finds that the fetus “would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.” And the Virginia House of Delegates has passed a “personhood” law, designed as an end run around abortion.

Oklahoma also passed a personhood law last week:

Life is getting one stop closer to beginning at conception, at least according to Oklahoma legislators. Oklahoma state senators passed a controversial “personhood” bill Wednesday that would give embryos constitutional rights from the moment of conception.

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 34-8 to pass anti-abortion bill, Reuters reported. It will now go to the House, where pro-life Republicans heavily outnumber Democrats. Reuters noted that Oklahoma Republican Governor Mary Fallin is also likely to sign the bill, as she approved every anti-abortion bill that came to her desk last year.

While no personhood laws exist yet in the United States, anti-abortion advocates are getting closer to making the bills become a reality in several states, the New York Daily News reported…

If the bills pass, they could outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Certain forms of contraception, such as the morning after pill, could also violate personhood laws.

In Florida legislation has been introduced that would put doctors in jail for life for performing an abortion, with very few exceptions.  Same goes for  Iowa, where a physician can be locked up for 25 years for an “attempted feticide”, and life imprisonment for a successful one. A number of states, including Idaho have passed so-called “fetal pain” laws that outlaw abortion after 20 weeks.

Obviously, the War on Women is accelerating, especially on the state level where there are hundreds of these kinds of bills in the wings. (I think I heard Liz Winstead say 1800 in an interview the other day.)  This suggests a coordinated effort level behind the scenes, most likely by conservative, right wing religious groups, which would account for the “religious freedom” framing.

Given their political strength within the GOP, it remains to be seen just how far the candidates are willing to adopt a religious  line of political attack. Just today, Santorum went off on Obama over Jerimiah Wright.  Because Mormonism is considered suspect by a lot of evangelicals and other religionists, Romney treads gingerly around any talk of religion. Newt  Gingrich, however has jumped in with both feet, declaring:

“Many of you may have noticed that the Obama administration has declared war on the Catholic Church and other religious institutions.I want you to know that, on the very first day, I will sign an executive order repealing every anti-religious act of the Obama administration as of that moment.”

When the economy was dominating the political news cycle, the man most identified with the issue, Romney, was leading the polls. Now that social qua religious issues are getting the most buzz, Santorum has taken the lead, by 10 points in the latest Gallup tracking poll and single digits in Michigan, Romney’s home turf.

Looks like the Culture Wars have returned, and they’re driving the polls. Issues concerning women’s reproductive health, once thought settled, have re-emerged, re-packaged as attacks on  “religious liberty.”

Tighten your seat belts, folks. It’s back to the future.

Emily’s List new commercial excoriating the Rethugs

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