And “activist judge” is code for “thinks women are people”

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 4, 2009 14:14 EDT
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Well, according to Orrin Hatch, that is. When asked about some of Obama’s comments about what he looks for in a judicial nominee, Hatch indicated that he and all other Republicans would treat anyone that Obama nominates like she was Andrea Dworkin rolled up into Karl Marx, and said:

“Well, it’s a matter of great concern. If he’s saying that he wants to pick people who will take sides — he’s also said that a judge has to be a person of empathy. What does that mean? Usually that’s a code word for an activist judge.

The projection going on is immense. It’s hard to follow along, but to simplify—the debate is over whether or not we should appoint judges who think women are breeding machines who can be told, like Justice Kennedy did, that we’re too stupid to know that we’d rather die to symbolically honor the seed planted inside us than live, which we only think we want to do. But even this is just a stand-in for a whole host of issues—obviously, those who think the government should officially treat women as sub-people tend to be callous hierarchical thinkers across the board, quick to support racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and abusing government power to enrich the rich at the expense of workers.

Obama was being straightforward, in other words. To lack the moral good sense that you need to define human rights so they include all people is to lack empathy. But, conservatives abhor straightforward language (except in the privacy of their own homes of little-trafficked blogs), and for the understandable reason that being blunt means fessing up to this appalling lack of empathy. So, Hatch hopes by mislabeling straightforward language as code language, he can smuggle in code language that gets taken seriously in this new topsy-turvy world where up is down. And we really mean topsy-turvy. If the Republicans do what Hatch indicates—make anti-choice sentiment even more central to their agenda than it is—then we can expect every single nomination’s pro-choice views to be treated like evidence that they are scandalously left wing and so far out of the mainstream that they might as well be suggesting rounding up all men and putting them to sea.

This is more topsy-turvy bullshit. Even though Americans aren’t quite on board with the “women are people” agenda, 61% are against banning abortion, though the majority would like to see laws like “you have to tell your husband”, though it’s unclear if they realize that means that you have to tell your husband even if he beats you.* What this means is that abortion rights are important even to some people who reject women’s equality. Which means that it’s far from the “left wing” position, but is actually the moderate position. People don’t think abortion is murder. The moderates generally have some ugly opinions about who gets an abortion—they favor restrictions that make it a punishing, miserable situation so that you get what’s coming to you, you hussy—but they think it should be legal at the end of the day. Attempts to paint the basic pro-choice position as radical are missing the mark by a mile.

What this means is that no one Obama could appoint will be treated as anything less than a threat to the nation itself by Republicans. If we play this right, we can both get who we want and further marginalize the Republican party. The main thing is to avoid the urge to find someone conservative in the hopes that Republicans won’t fight this to the death. All you get then is the same fight, and you have a less than ideal candidate. Since the fight is coming no matter what, then we should make this someone worth fighting for.

*I have my questions about this, though. I think a lot of people get confused about the difference between ideal situations and social customs, and what the law should force you to do. It’s a far different thing to say, “You should tell your husband” and “The law should force you to get him to sign off on it”. It’s like the difference between saying thank you when someone gives you something, and being forced by law to do so. A large percentage of people, if you asked them if the law should require you to say thank you, would get confused about this distinction and say yes. Without thinking about how that means you have to thank someone who gives you a punch on the nose. There’s also an ingrained lack of generosity to women that shows up in these questions. In real life, a lot of women avoid telling the man who got her pregnant in order to spare him the burden. Women are in the habit of treating certain things like they’re just not men’s problem, and contraception is right up there (a LOT of men are completely oblivious to it, figuring that it goes into the same category as knowing how to cook and scrub toilets, which is that it’s part of the subterranean women’s world they don’t have to know anything about), so it’s easy to push abortion into the same category. I sympathize with any woman who feels that it might just be easier not to tell him and get this done alone, because having to hold his hand through it is just one more item on the To-Do list. In a sexist society, this gets interpreted as malice.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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