This election day, the great under-reported story is how much the same old culture war issues pushed out the right wing vote. There’s been a lot of useful attention paid to an issue people don’t like to talk about, which is how much racism still motivates the right, that the people who supported segregation are still around and still have foul attitudes, even if they express them differently. Also, it was just impossible to ignore the racial resentments underpinning the suddenly “concern” for the deficit that only gets expressed when conservatives are afraid social spending will help people they don’t like get a leg up, and is never expressed when we’re pissing trillions down the toilet fighting imperialist wars. The reason it was impossible to ignore these resentments were they were up front and center: the ACORN debacle, the attack on Van Jones, the name-calling and spitting on John Lewis, the attack on Shirley Sherrod, Dr. Laura losing her shit and yelling the n-word at a black caller, Birtherism, the resurgence of anti-immigration sentiment, the Arizona “papers please” law, the controversy over the community center near the WTC, the overtly racist ad campaigns, etc. I could probably think of another 15 examples if I wanted, quickly. This is an important story, and I’m super glad people are waking up to these realities.
Unfortunately, there’s only so many hours in the day, and so the war on women has gone largely unnoticed. To make it worse, a handful of female Republicans have allowed the mainstream media to pretend that sexism is basically behind us, except as an occasional thing that comes into play when someone says something nasty about a female candidate. But the reality is that gender anxieties are pushing the right wing out there as much as racial ones. As I noted at RH Reality Check, the two stand-in issues for the whole right wing slate for wingnuts on the ground are guns-and-abortion, with gay rights bringing up the rear. (DOUBLE ENTENDRE NOTED.) Guns is a racialized issue to a large extent—gun nuts often imagine they live in a war zone and are about to be attacked at any minute, and we can guess what they imagine their soon-to-exist attackers look like. But gender also plays a big role. I’d say the same thing about abortion rights, as well. It’s about gender, but it’s also an intersectional issue. Right wingers who want abortion banned are basically begging for a haves and have-nots system. Bans on abortion mostly affect the vulnerable—the poor and the young—because women of means and with connections can often pay to have safe, discreet abortions. The fact that anti-choice forces successfully attack abortion funding through both federal and private insurance reinforces this. They want a system where the already vulnerable are kept oppressed by unwanted child-bearing, whereas the wives and daughters of the well-to-do get all the medical care their male supervisors deem they deserve. They’re halfway there already.
What few people in the mainstream and on the left, besides Rachel Maddow and RH Reality Check, are talking about is how much this election is about this. The Tea Party candidates are seen as extreme for their views on taxes, repealing parts of the Constitution, social spending, and even masturbation. But there’s been very little alarm about their views on reproductive rights. I submit that most of them wouldn’t have won their primaries without taking a harsh anti-woman stance. This worries me mostly because the anti-choice project of mainstreaming extreme anti-woman views is working.
As I noted at RH Reality Check last week, the whole point of doing things like putting personhood amendments on the ballot in places like Colorado is not to win immediately. It’s to quietly mainstream more extreme views on reproductive rights, to normalize the idea of banning IVF, contraception, and even some kinds of medical care for women of reproductive age, pregnant or not. I don’t know how well the personhood amendments are working, but the strategy of running extremely misogynist candidates is working. Joe Miller is an overt homophobe and misogynist who believes that rape victims should be forced to bear their rapists’ children. Because of this, Lisa Murkowski looks “moderate” in comparison. So much so that even Feministing described Murkowski as “pro-choice”.
But Lisa Murkowski is anti-choice, just not with the same vicious, woman-hating zeal of Joe Miller. Basically, she’s not anti-contraception like many extremists are. She only has a 25% rating from NARAL, and most of that is due to her unwillingness to let anti-choice zealots attach riders to other bills to make them about abortion when they’re not. She voted pro-contraception but still anti-abortion when she voted against the global gag rule, and she voted against an SCHIP rider that would cover “unborn children”, which is stupid from any angle you look at it. Despite her male colleagues hopes and dreams, you can’t just treat a fetus as separate from the pregnant woman in terms of health care. But Murkowski does support forcing unwilling women to give birth. Thus, she is anti-choice.
You have a similar story in Colorado. Ken Buck is playing the role of the extremely misogynist right winger, in part because of his stance on abortion and contraception, but also because of scandals where he suggested that his opponent in the primary shouldn’t win because she’s female, and because he was cruel to a rape victim whose case he refused to prosecute. Because he’s holding down the misogynist right, he grants other anti-choicers a glow of not-as-badness. But his high heels wearing opponent Jane Norton also backed the personhood amendment that anti-choicers hope will present a threat to legal birth control. What’s becoming clear is that to win Republican primaries, it helps—whether you’re male or female—to take a “more misogynist than thou” stance. Why I think female candidates think this will work out for them in the long run is unclear. As the Colorado situation shows, if you’re in a “more misogynist than thou” contest between a man and a woman that have identical policy stances, the penis-holder is going to win. It’s built into the system.
A few years ago, extreme anti-choice beliefs were considered really far out there, so much that even the Bush administration finally had to cave when it came to blocking access to emergency contraception. But sadly, I think anti-choice forces have been able to steadily work the notion that rape victims should be forced to bear their rapists’ babies and that women shouldn’t have the birth control pill further into the mainstream. It’s still fringe, but clearly gaining ground.