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The danger of taking GOP explanations of their own motivations at face value

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, February 17, 2011 15:11 EDT
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The second I read that South Dakota legislators were trying to expand the definition of justifiable homicide so it reads like it includes the killing of abortion providers, I knew two things immediately: 1) Of course this is about abortion, trying to find ways to get domestic terrorists off the hook, and about blowing a dogwhistle of support for wife beaters and terrorists and 2) The people behind this would deny everything and concoct elaborate fantasies about crimes they were talking about protecting yourself against, and that these scenarios would already be covered by pre-existing law. Like clockwork, the legislator who proposed this law did exactly as I predicted, swearing up and down that he didn’t want to send the signal that it’s okay to kill abortion doctors, even though he wrote a bill that would indicate otherwise. And, as all wingnut state legislators before him, he had an elaborate example of a very specific crime he claims he was thinking of:

Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn’t want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified. She is resisting an effort to murder her unborn child.

This quote demonstrates how much the anti-choice movement really doesn’t think of women as people, or else Jensen would see the flaw in this, which is that pregnant women—being people—have a right to self-defense already. The notion that a jury wouldn’t be sympathetic to the notion that a pregnant woman trying to save herself and her pregnancy from a wife beater under current law is just silly. It’s disingenuous on its face, but for some reason, this excuse introduced enough doubt that people ended up having to debate and defend the initial accusation that this is really, truly about blessing domestic terrorism. I think it’s just so horrifying to imagine that people who make it into government would support domestic terrorism that we are relieved to have an excuse not to believe it, but I think right now it’s important not to let our desires get in the way of the facts.

Let’s take a step back and look at another state legislator doing a similar dance, but around an issue that isn’t as loaded, even if it is important and no one is denying that. Sally Kern of Oklahoma is introducing a bill that would give teachers the right to “teach all science instead of just the Darwin model”. This is clearly about creationism, which Kern is pretending is a science, and this was her defense of it:

“It stays 100 miles away from creationism and ID. It’s not in any way trying to get those in there,” said Rep. Sally Kern, (R) Oklahoma City.

Representative Sally Kern said her bill doesn’t change any current science curriculum or textbook and doesn’t alter Oklahoma’s past standards for science education. The bill simply protects teachers who feel they don’t have the freedom to fully explore controversial science topics.

“Some people say there’s no problem. Yes, there is. I have some surveys that show that many teachers fear for their jobs. That they will be reprimanded or lose their jobs if they teach just pure science. If they teach all of science instead of just the Darwin model,” said Rep. Kern.

Everyone knows that “teach the controversy” is a euphemism that means “teach creationism”. Yet, conservative persist with this. Why? Well, I would argue that an under-discussed aspect of wingnut culture is the “everyone else is a sucker”* aspect to it. All politicians are liars and hedgers, but wingnut lying and hedging has a very specific model. The narrative is that they’re oppressed by PC liberalism, but they are super smarter than everyone else and know how to game “the system” by creating these code words and cover stories to create plausible deniability. Now, obviously they’re not half as smart as they think they are, so their “clever” dodges are embarrassingly obvious, but that’s what’s going on here. And no one would be foolish enough to deny that’s the game Sally Kern is playing.

So, I think it’s fair enough to say that this mode—overtly signal something to your base while pretending it’s something it’s not to get the “PC police” off your back—is the one that the legislators defending this South Dakota bill are playing. It’s particularly misogynist to use domestic violence to justify this, since in practice, bills like this do more to help wife beaters than to stop wife beaters.

*They also believe this of other conservatives, but that’s another story. But it is funny watching Republicans do things like make jokes that only make sense if you accept that they see their base as a bunch of rubes whose fairy tales they have to pander to in order to get votes. Republicans are a bunch of people who think everyone else in the room is the sucker they’re gaming to get their way.

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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