Finding the Right Lever

The Obama administration is waging a War on Religion! Nonsense, the Republicans are waging a War on Women (and perhaps a war on the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries). If you’re with the Catholic Bishops and the Republicans, the first is obviously true. If you’re with the Catholic laity – just the common folks who attend mass – and the Democrats, and with most Americans, according to the polling, the second is obviously true. So it’s time to choose sides. And with the economy improving, very slowly but maybe surely, and with the Iraq War over and the one in Afghanistan soon to be over, due to a series of boneheaded or beyond brutal mistakes by our overextended and stressed-out troops in the field, there has to be something to talk about. The Republicans do need a way to hammer Obama, now that Osama is dead and GM is alive, as those who are not hapless Republicans like to snort in derision. But for Republicans this is merely a matter of finding the right place to stand and the right lever, to move the world. You remember Archimedes. It can be done. If you don’t remember Archimedes you were probably homeschooled.

The problem is finding just the right place to stand, and selecting the right lever. And with the new redefinition of the essential differences between the parties being matters that are cultural and religious, not economic or geopolitical things, do get a little strange as the opposition makes its choices, now often on matters of birth control and abortion. Both are quite legal, but there are ways around that, if you find the right lever. One stab at this was this little-noticed item – in a debate on the floor of the Georgia State house over a bill to force women to bring all pregnancies after twenty weeks to term, even in cases of a dead or non-viable fetus, a Georgia representative, Terry England, a rural sort of good ol’ boy, suggested that pigs and cows do it, why can’t humans? And Mark Hoofnagle, an MD also with a PhD in physiology, and now a general surgery resident, suggested this might be unwise:

The legislation is justified ostensibly because of the ability of the fetus to feel pain after 20 weeks, but there is no data or a legitimate scientific basis for this claim. Our knowledge of neurological development would suggest that conscious perception of pain may not be possible for a fetus at any point and the neural framework for transmission of pain is not even mature before 29-34 weeks.

Second is the issue that concern for the pain for a nonviable or dead fetus should not outweigh medical risk to the mother. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend dilation and extraction or induction of labor once the diagnosis of stillbirth has been made. The risks of carrying a non-viable fetus are the higher complication rate of delivery versus dilation and extraction, as well as a very high risk to the mother of complications like disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) if the amniotic sac is ruptured and she is exposed to the dying tissue. For stillbirth or nonviable pregnancies, dilation and extraction is far safer and more effective with 24% of patients undergoing labor experiencing complications compared to 3% for dilation and extraction.

But perhaps Hoofnagle is one of those snobs that Rick Santorum keeps talking about. Would you trust a doctor, or a pig farmer? Are you an arrogant elitist? Make your choice.

Maybe this wasn’t the best lever to move the world. It kind of plays into the narrative of the Republican War on Women – Terry England pretty much said women are just like pigs and cows when you think about it. This was not a good move. No Republicans anywhere cheered him on and agreed wholeheartedly. The whole matter disappeared quickly – wrong place to stand, wrong lever.

But on the national level the problem remains the same – first, finding the right place to stand. And the New York Times reports on how difficult that is up in Washington:

With emotions still raw from the fight over President Obama’s contraception mandate, Senate Democrats are beginning a push to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the once broadly bipartisan 1994 legislation that now faces fierce opposition from conservatives.

The fight over the law, which would expand financing for and broaden the reach of domestic violence programs, will be joined Thursday when Senate Democratic women plan to march to the Senate floor to demand quick action on its extension. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has suggested he will push for a vote by the end of March.

Democrats, confident they have the political upper hand with women, insist that Republican opposition falls into a larger picture of insensitivity toward women that has progressed from abortion fights to contraception to preventive health care coverage – and now to domestic violence.

“I am furious,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington. “We’re mad, and we’re tired of it.”

This is boilerplate legislation, renewed periodically and always almost unanimously – but when you need a place to stand you do find a place to stand. And they decided this would do, although they were warned:

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as anti-woman – with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

Senator Jeff Sessions, the Republican from Alabama, and odd Roy Blunt, are quoted as saying it’s the damned name of the bill that gets in the way, and they’re actually unhappy with the details. And those are these:

The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.

Of course the Republicans are saying this simply expands immigration giveaways – you’re creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery, and get shelter they don’t deserve. And they say they’re also hot and bothered that there are not enough safeguards to make sure domestic violence grants are being used wisely – as they do worry, always, about government waste. And expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, bothers them a lot – you don’t want to lose focus and all that. And they certainly don’t like the politics in the Democrats’ timing of this:

The party just went through a bruising fight over efforts to replace the Obama administration’s contraception-coverage mandate with legislation allowing some employers to opt out of coverage for medical procedures they object to on religious or moral grounds.

Polling appears mixed over which side gained political ground on the fight, but Republican lawmakers are not eager to revisit it. State efforts in Virginia and Ohio to mandate ultrasounds before an abortion or ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected have further inflamed passions. And the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday pounced on a suggestion by Mitt Romney that he would eliminate federal financing for Planned Parenthood.

Now they say they just don’t want to deal with this now. There are other more pressing problems the nation is facing, more pressing than a few women getting the crap beat out of them. No, wait – they couldn’t mean that.

But conservative activists do want this fight:

Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the conservative Concerned Women for America, said her group had been pressing senators hard to oppose reauthorization of legislation she called “a boondoggle” that vastly expands government and “creates an ideology that all men are guilty and all women are victims.”

Last month on the conservative Web site, the conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly called the Violence Against Women Act a slush fund “used to fill feminist coffers” and demanded that Republicans stand up against legislation that promotes “divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.”

Ah, it’s the Democrats’ War on Men! Democrats hate men! That certainly clears things up.

And there’s this:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, one of two women on the judiciary panel, said the partisan opposition came as a “real surprise,” but she put it into a broader picture.

“This is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on rights and services to women,” she said. “We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services for women. This seems to be one more thing.”

She’s surprised? She must have been living under a rock. But Roy Blunt is quoted as saying that all of America agrees with the Republicans on this and the Democrats have overplayed their hand here, and on contraception, which all Americans oppose, and the Democrats will soon be very sorry. Perhaps so – in some parallel reverse-universe – and Kevin Drum adds this:

Is it possible that Democrats filled the reauthorization bill with new measures that Republicans object to? Sure. Is it possible that this is all part of some clever plan to take advantage of the recent contraception fight? Not likely. That fight wasn’t deliberate in the first place, and in any case the modifications to VAWA were all done last year since the act was up for reauthorization in 2012.

Democrats may be taking advantage of the moment, but Republicans are making it easy for them. Their public objections are mostly focused on culture war issues (gays! immigrants!), but their base hates the whole idea of VAWA. No compromise is going to be enough to mollify them once the talking heads get hold of this, and that’s going to turn the reauthorization fight into yet another anti-feminism battle royal, not a normal legislative give and take. Fasten your seat belts.

And David Dayen sees the upcoming fight this way:

Republicans are whining that they support the Violence Against Women Act, they really do, but it’s just that this version raises objections. What would those be? I don’t know, the expansions in the legislation look uncontroversial to me. It expands its reach into Indian tribes and rural areas, increases availability for legal aid to domestic violence victims, adds stalking to the definition of domestic violence… ah, wait a second, think I’ve got it. …

A-ha, this is about brown people and the gays. See, armed with this measure, immigrant women will simply line up to get beaten by men just to get a visa and access some of those sweet, sweet federal benefits. And it treats gay victims of violence like non-gay victims of violence, which is just incorrigible.

And Dayen ends with this:

Republicans claim that Democrats are playing politics with the measure. I’d claim that the notion that we shouldn’t provide deterrents to getting beaten by a domestic partner if you’re gay or an immigrant isn’t quite a political matter. It’s a policy travesty.

I guess the good news for Republicans is that, if enough women get beaten as a result of the lack of a Violence Against Women Act, they may not be well enough to get to the polls in November.

And there’s Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel with Republicans Oppose Violence Against Women Act Because Ladies Can’t Vote, Right?

It would take quite a monumental asshole to oppose providing assistance to victims of domestic violence. But, here we are in 2012, enmeshed in serious discussions about whether a woman’s boss should be able to decide what health care she’s allowed to purchase through insurance and if a woman carrying a stillborn fetus should be barred from having it removed until she gives birth. Exciting times, these. So it should come as no surprise that Senate Republicans have continued the noble GOP battle against mothers, wives, and daughters by opposing renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, a law that has historically had bipartisan support. …

The issues that Sessions thinks “invite opposition” include an expansion of domestic violence services for American Indian women living on reservations and women in rural areas. The expanded law also buttresses the definition of “domestic violence” to include stalking. But the part of the Violence Against Women act that really chaps Jeff Sessions’ ass is the provision that would grants temporary visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and expand domestic violence services to same-sex couples. Those wily liberals with their sneaky and divisive plans to reach out to underserved women and acknowledge the need for domestic violence services for same sex couples! What a bit of despicable political gamesmanship.

This is like shooting fish in a barrel, and she ends with this:

According to Republican Party leadership, the expanded bill will “dilute” the definition of domestic violence. But Republicans have painted themselves into a bit of an ideological corner, and some members of the party are concerned that doing things like opposing a popular bit of anti-domestic violence legislation may further the public impression that GOP stands for Genuflect before Our Penises or Girls Out, Please.

And of course there’s Wonkette:

So the rest of you sluts, who are unconcerned, not “women,” and certainly not “for” America, take a tip from Phyllis: before you leave your abusive husband, just try to remember what you loved about him in the first place. And while you’re at it, try not to make him so MAD!

Someone chose the wrong lever again.

But there’s a history of that, and Digby offers this:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that the rightwing had to make up the trope that Democrats were trying to force the government to pay for birth control, when it was actually a regulation that insurance companies pay for it as a normal part of the preventive care package. I mused the other day that it had to do with the absolute belief by conservatives that the government really only exists to take their hard earned money and give it to the undeserving. And in many cases, these undeserving happened to be wanton women who were unable to contain their primitive urges and thus lived lives of slatternly abandon. This attitude goes way back, of course, and was especially prevalent during the Victorian era.

And she cites this article by Barbara Ehrenreich – a discussion of the blame-the-poor stuff, which blends in to blame-women stuff, and actually came out of the liberal tradition, starting with Michael Harrington’s book from the sixties, The Other America, and the Moynihan Report, both of which were pretty nasty about the hypothetical “Culture Of Poverty.” And Digby puts it this way:

The left, as well as the right, bought into this theory, which basically said that poverty was caused by a cultural divide, in which the good hard working Real Americans were on one side and the lazy, intemperate Others just didn’t know how to behave. It wasn’t their fault, but Real Americans needed to do something to break the “cycle of poverty.” Since this fit rather nicely with certain conservative beliefs about race the Republicans took it to a whole other level, followed closely by the New Democrats.

To cite Ehrenreich:

By the Reagan era, the “culture of poverty” had become a cornerstone of conservative ideology: poverty was caused, not by low wages or a lack of jobs, but by bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles. The poor were dissolute, promiscuous, prone to addiction and crime, unable to “defer gratification,” or possibly even set an alarm clock. The last thing they could be trusted with was money. In fact, Charles Murray argued in his 1984 book Losing Ground, any attempt to help the poor with their material circumstances would only have the unexpected consequence of deepening their depravity.

So it was in a spirit of righteousness and even compassion that Democrats and Republicans joined together to reconfigure social programs to cure, not poverty, but the “culture of poverty.” In 1996, the Clinton administration enacted the “One Strike” rule banning anyone who committed a felony from public housing. A few months later, welfare was replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which in its current form makes cash assistance available only to those who have jobs or are able to participate in government-imposed “workfare.”

In a further nod to “culture of poverty” theory, the original welfare reform bill appropriated $250 million over five years for “chastity training” for poor single mothers. (This bill, it should be pointed out, was signed by Bill Clinton.)


Yep. “Chastity training.” Signed by Bill Clinton. I’ll just leave you to think about that for a minute.

Ehrenreich says the whole thing was a big mistake:

And if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.


Indeed. And that would mean that all the conservative Real Americans (and all the well-off liberals) would finally have to admit that they aren’t doing better by virtue of their greater virtue. That would be revolutionary.

It would be, but we chose the wrong lever, and keep pushing on it, and the world doesn’t move. Oops.

And see Sarah Posner with Bishops Seek Liberty to Impose Birth Control Dogma:

Religious exemptions, and separate sets of rules, have a ripple effect. An example: Thanks to the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), healthcare-sharing ministries are exempt from insurance regulations in many states. Because of the exemptions, consumers of HCSMs lack the protections and legal recourse the regulations provide. We may never how some healthcare-sharing ministries affect consumers because their contracts prohibit members from suing them in court, requiring religiously based arbitration instead.

At least consumers choose to join a healthcare-sharing ministry. Employees of religious institutions do not choose to adopt the institution’s religious faith. If you work at a Catholic institution, you should be forced, the bishops contend, to live with their religious edicts, because doing otherwise violates the employer’s religious freedom.

But as Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna showed at the Forward recently, this elevation of the supposed religious freedom rights of employers has a coercive effect on their employees. By refusing an exemption to employers, Sarna writes, the government “reasonably assumes that employers and employees both have First Amendment rights, including the ‘no establishment’ right not to be religiously coerced.”

But now the Republicans say employers must have religious freedom, and individuals cannot really have it at all – which is again choosing a lever to move the world. It just happens to be an odd lever. Your employer can annul your religious freedom, as it’s a matter of choosing whose religious freedom matters more. But there’s no point in getting into another long discussion of the Republicans’ War on Workers – in Wisconsin and Ohio and all over. Everyone knows about that. They just choose some odd new levers.

Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” But he was speaking hypothetically. It’s trickier than it sounds.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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