A little over a year ago, millions of Americans held the (now quaint) belief that President Obama's election would marginalize the radical right and usher in an era of moderation and reason. It wasn't an unfounded notion. After all, eight years of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity and their ilk running roughshod over the left had led not to a wondrous conservative utopia, but to a country in shambles.
But here we are, early in Obama's tenure, with a calcification of right wing rage and a plethora of proposals, rules, measures, and laws enshrining some of the most radical ideas on the right. School texts in Texas are shunning Thomas Jefferson, Arizona is fully embracing racial profiling, climate denialists are successfully reversing years of scientific progress and willfully imperiling our planet. Gay rights remain under assault, racism is resurfacing (does it ever really go away?), militia groups are resurgent, radio talk show haters are thriving, Fox ratings are soaring.
None of this is very surprising. As the demographic make-up of America shifts, as progressive ideas make incremental inroads, as the historic 2008 Democratic primary and ascent of Barack Obama positively reflect the progress we've made, age-old fault lines come into play: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion. Those who seek to suppress/oppress others are finding a new sense of energy and purpose. They do it out of fear, out of a misguided sense of morality, out of pure self-righteousness.
One example struck me today:
The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor's vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma's law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims. A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.
I have a baby daughter, my first child, and the miracle of life and conception are fresh to me. Terminating a pregnancy will always be a profound, difficult decision for a mother. People can -- and should -- give deep reflection to the moral and human aspects of abortion. But in the end, the ultimate choice must be the mother's, not yours or mine.
Reflecting on Oklahoma's law, two things strike me:
The thrust of the measure is about women, not babies. In other words, the underlying assumption is that women want to do something uninformed and frivolous and the state has to 'educate' them and shame them out of it. I think it's safe to extrapolate from Oklahoma to the broader anti-choice movement. There are justified ethical concerns about ending a budding life, but it seems that this is primarily about assuming women are murderous, immoral fetus-killers who must be stopped at all costs.
The pervasive abuse of girls and women across the globe and the entrenched sexism in our society supports the argument that this is more about suppressing women's rights than protecting new life. If men were the ones carrying babies, do you really think Oklahoma would enact such laws? Do you think doctors would be gunned down for providing a legal service? Do you think rape and incest victims would be further humiliated? For some reason, I doubt it.
Which brings me to the second reason I believe this is more about women than babies. The virulence of so many in the anti-choice movement is matched by a corresponding silence about the brutalization of girls and women around the world. Here in the U.S., there are nearly 17,000 homicides a year due to intimate partner violence. In places like Congo, the monstrosities committed against girls and women defy imagination - I've chronicled a few of the horrors in previous posts.
It's hypocritical, to say the least, for someone to fight tooth and nail against a woman's right to choose -- under the idea they are protecting "life" -- while standing by as "life" is slashed, mutilated, burned, raped, mangled, hacked, and strangled out of women and girls in every corner of the planet.
Again, this is not to diminish the true moral challenge of abortion, one that we'll always grapple with, but simply to contend that logical, ethical and intellectual consistency are imperative if you aim to strip someone of their rights and forcefully intrude on their most private of choices.
And in the end, what's missing from the re-ascendant radical right is precisely logical, ethical and intellectual consistency: railing against separation of church and state while praising the Founders; happily spending billions for our troops to die in a war launched under false pretenses while vehemently objecting to health coverage for our neighbors; going on a rampage against liberalism, equating it with socialism, while having no conception of what either term actually means.
The brief moment in late 2008 when 'hope' was more than just a slogan, when progressives believed that an irrefutable case could and would be made for progressive principles, when it appeared rationality would become a guiding force in American politics, is long gone. In its place we have an increasingly radicalized public and the imposition of rules and regulations that would do the 18th century proud.
This is why the progressive cause never ends.