The War That Is or Isn’t

Okay, the year started off badly for the Republicans. A new provision of the healthcare law kicked in – any healthcare plan offered by employers now had to include family planning provisions, for women, which included birth control pills or other forms of contraception at no additional cost to the patient in question. And that’s pretty basic to family planning, as spacing out pregnancies for health reasons or due to economic circumstances is generally considered a good thing. But the Republicans sensed an opening and pounced. And it was easy. Churches and religious organizations, some of which hold that all contraception is somehow akin to murder, were exempt from this of course, but the US Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to argue that their hospitals and thrift shops and their car rental agencies – if they decided to rent cars for some reason – should also be exempt from this rule, even if they employed non-Catholics doing nothing religious at all. Yes, Catholic hospitals get giant chunks of government money, in grants and in Medicare payments. And these hospitals are providing medical care, not religious guidance at all – so they aren’t exactly churches. But the Conference argued that no employer should be forced to do what his religion told him was pure evil – to offer a healthcare plan that covered any form of contraception. They said this was an assault on their religious freedom, and really, an assault on everyone’s religious freedom. They love the big bucks from the feds – that keeps them afloat and they’ll keep taking the money – but what the law required in this case was clearly unconscionable. Obama clearly hated religion and had no grasp of the concept of religious freedom, or the constitution, or much of anything at all.

And thus the great alliance between the Catholic Church and the Republican Party was born, to fight on the side of the angels in Obama’s War on Religion. And that would surely be a winner. Unlike the people of most every other advanced nation in the world, Americans are deeply and fervently religious, and it was obvious that this was the lever that would pry Obama from office, finally. Fox News was all over this, and Darrell Issa had his hearings about this crisis of religious freedom in America, and Roy Blunt introduced the now famous Blunt Amendment, which if passed would allow any employer to cut any provision out of any healthcare plan offered, if it violated the tenants of his or her religion, or even slightly troubled his or her conscience, or for any reason at all – no need to explain. Yes, this would destroy Obamacare, as no rules about anything would really matter now – but that was the whole idea. The Affordable Care Act would be gone – all of it – and we’d be back to unregulated every-man-for-himself free-market healthcare. The idea was that is what the American people really want. The polling shows that’s not quite so, but that was the bet.

And then it all unraveled. Issa would let no women speak in his hearings – this was about religious freedom and the government not interfering with Church doctrine, not about women or birth control at all. But a whole lot of women didn’t like that at all. This seemed to be about taking something rather basic away from them. And one woman Issa would not let speak, because, he said, she simply wasn’t qualified to speak on such matters – Sandra Fluke – spoke at a hastily-organized alternative hearing, making the case that all this amounted to denying women some really basic healthcare. And then Rush Limbaugh spent three consecutive days calling her a slut and a whore who just wanted lots of sex with anyone around at the time, and wanted us to pay for it, which soured matters, as she was a rather meek Georgetown Law student and didn’t seem to be much of a strumpet or whatever. Limbaugh seemed unhinged and eventually offered an apology – but only for the specific words he used, not for the general idea. But at the same time reporters were digging up instances of Rick Santorum saying contraception was morally wrong – because sex is for making babies and nothing else, and if you engage in sex for any other reason, well, that’s just wrong. He too was edging toward unhinged. And then, with the Blunt Amendment, people started making jokes. Nancy Pelosi, echoing Jon Stewart, pointed out that if an employer truly believed that laughter is the best medicine, then that employer could invoke the Blunt Amendment and offer a healthcare plan consisting entirely of visits to comedy clubs and DVD’s of old episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos. The Blunt Amendment died, of its inherent absurdity.

But the damage was done. Obama’s War on Religion was dismissed with a shrug and everyone was talking about the Republicans’ War on Women. On Fox News everyone was screaming that there was no such thing, and on MSNBC everyone was screaming yes there was, and CNN had folks from both sides screaming at each other. On the Travel Channel, Samantha Brown was visiting Finland again. But now more and more people were paying attention to what had been happening in state legislatures all across the country over the last two years – forget Issa and Blunt and Limbaugh and Santorum, as women were getting hammered out there.

Of course moveon.org was keeping a list of the Top Ten Shocking Attacks from the Republican War on Women:

1) Republicans not only want to reduce women’s access to abortion care, they’re actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven’t yet. Shocker.

2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to “accuser.” But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain “victims.”

3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)

4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.

5) In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids’ preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.

7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.

8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.

9) Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.

10) And if that wasn’t enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can’t make this stuff up).

All this is odd, and you can visit the Daily Kos index of articles about all this for details – there are over eighteen hundred articles there – or visit stopthewaronwomen.com and sign a petition. And Hollywood is involved now:

At the very end of a wide-ranging interview on “CBS This Morning,” Cybill Shepherd spoke forcefully about what Democratic and progressive politicians have dubbed the Republican and conservative “war on women.”

“I just want to say one quick thing,” she remarked, “about the ‘war on women’ and reproductive freedom, including the attack on Planned Parenthood that that not only – abortion is our constitutional right. We should keep it legal. And also birth control should be available to everyone.”

Told by co-host Gayle King they were out of time, Shepherd added, “Cut me off any time you want! I’m going lead the next March on Washington and I’m not gonna wear a bulletproof vest. My mother’s scared for me.”

Hollywood folks are strange, but there are other odd things going on:

Recent events may have brought the debate over homemakers’ contributions back into the spotlight, but last month marked the one-year anniversary of a major – if unnoticed – salvo in the war on stay-at-home parents. Last year, the Federal Reserve declared that credit card applicants must use their individual income on the application, not their household’s. This seemingly innocuous pronouncement has resounding implications: homemakers cannot get a credit card without the breadwinners’ permission.

But there’s a history here:

The Fed put out its statement to clarify a provision of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which sought to protect college students from getting too-high credit limits and digging themselves into debt. When the CARD Act was passed, students could apply for a line of credit and list their parents’ incomes as their own, thereby getting inappropriately high limits. The law intended to prevent students from borrowing against an income they did not earn.

As a remedy, the legislation required those under 21 to either list their own income – which, for most students, is too small to get a credit card – or enlist a co-signer, who is legally responsible for the debt.

But there are unintended consequences:

All of this is innocuous enough. But in March 2011, the Federal Reserve declared that the provision would apply to all people, be they dependents or equal partners in a household. No paycheck, said the Fed, no credit card. The implication was clear: A homemaker does not contribute to her partner’s income.

As a result of the CARD Act, a stay-at-home parent must ask for her partner’s permission to get a credit card. A homemaker may make most of the household’s financial decisions, from paying the bills to buying groceries. But she – and by a 30 to 1 margin, it’s a she – is barred from taking out a line of credit based on income that, it cannot be doubted, she had a hand in earning.

Well, that will keep women in their place, asking permission to live:

Research shows that approximately 98 percent of all abusive relationships include some form of financial abuse – withholding money, misusing money, keeping a partner from earning money. And money is a major reason that domestic violence victims remain with their abusers, who they perceive as the only way to feed themselves or their children. An abuser can already keep his partner from working. Barring her from access to credit just adds one more tool to his arsenal.

Under the CARD Act, a victim of domestic violence has two choices: Get by without credit, which not only puts a strain on her financial freedom but can keep her from getting a loan, an apartment or even a job if she tries to leave; or take out a joint loan with her abuser, inviting the not-uncommon scenario that her abuser will miss payments, ruin her credit score, and run up debts in her name.

Non-working domestic violence victims are thrust into a bad situation: cut off from credit, even if it might save them.

Maybe Hollywood folks aren’t so strange after all. This feels like a war, and there are consequences:

One result of this battle has been a record gender gap in the presidential race, with President Obama leading likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a huge margin of 57-38 percent among women registered voters. A recent Gallup poll of swing states has Obama leading by a 2-1 margin among women under 50.

And Dana Milbank points out more:

On Wednesday, the White House staged an event to demand that Republicans stop blocking a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act – and Republicans suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a title that only a fool or a lunatic would oppose.

“The idea that we’re still fighting about this in the Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,” Vice President Biden said in an emotional performance on the White House grounds. It “should just be over in terms of the debate about it. What are we arguing about?”

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking from the same stage, proclaimed himself equally distraught. “For the life of me, I can’t begin to understand why this is something that is a debate in Congress,” he lamented. “It is inconceivable to me – inconceivable to me – that we are in the process of debate about something that has been so effective.”

Their outrage – Biden alternated between shouts and stage whispers, even giving his rendition of an emergency call from a victim of domestic violence – was palpable.

And they were winning:

In truth, a veto-proof majority already has been assembled in support of renewing the 1994 act, which means Senate passage is not in doubt. The objections a few Republicans have raised are over provisions that Democrats are trying to link to the law’s renewal, including protections they would add for same-sex couples and illegal immigrants who suffered abuse.

Whatever their objections, Republicans are virtually certain to fold.

They have no choice. There was no point in talking about Obama’s War on Religion, pointing out that God hates gays, and particularly hates same-sex couples, and most certainly hates illegal immigrants. Hooking up with the Catholic Bishops to tell us all about Obama’s War on Religion must have seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. Most folks looked at what was being said, and also at what was being said about who was unqualified to even have an opinion, and at what was being passed at the state level by Republicans, and kind of saw the other war. This is not what they expected. But then Republicans are kind of good at starting wars that turn out to be about something else entirely. Remember Iraq and those weapons of mass destruction? Oops.

But who will win the women’s vote? Dahlia Lithwick and Jan Rodak say they’re just tired of the question:

Every four years, in the spring, timed artfully to coincide with Mother’s Day – or the return of wedge heels – public attention swings briefly toward that great lumbering beast we like to call “the women’s vote.” And for a brief mad spree, there are women pundits on television and women journalists on the opinion pages and everyone goes all pink and soft focus for a few weeks as we attempt to assess, yet again, what these creatures we call “women” might be, and how we can con them into voting en masse. (Hint: Use the word “woman” frequently.) Like most women, we ignored the silliness of the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney flap because it felt so transparently made for TV. The Mommy Wars were boring in the late ’90s when the New York Times invented them to terrorize stay-at-home and working women into beating up on one another in what little spare time they had. They’re even more boring in 2012, engineered for election purposes, when most women have a stay-at-home sister, a working best friend, and (shocker!) a husband who cares for the kids part-time, yet doesn’t feel the need to launch the Daddy Wars blog.

And this has a retro feel to it:

Back when the term “postmodern feminism” hit its heyday, conservatives first weaponized the equality issue by citing bold theories from extreme thinkers and shoving them in front of average women, taunting them with the dreaded warning that “she says she speaks for you!” In some cases, it worked. Who wanted to be grouped with a strident harpy like Catherine Mackinnon, who said all sex is like rape? That this was an outrageous distortion linked to her work on the impact of pornography seemed unimportant. The damage was done; feminism was about women who made bad choices: the choice to work, the choice to have (and enjoy) non-procreative sex, and the choice to delay marriage. To be a feminist was to be defined by one’s poor choices.

And two decades later, that “bad choices” argument has been mainstreamed. There is so much that is foolish about trying to turn America’s women against America’s other women based on their jobs, their incomes, and their parenting. Ann Romney is no more “Everywoman” than the rest of us, precisely because there is no such thing as everywoman. There are just many, many women, making the same compromises and bargains that men make. So why is it still okay to talk about women in stark, cartoonish terms?

And even the words are cartoonish:

Virtually everything we have heard in the week since the War on the War on Women was waged has been another mind-numbing meditation on “women” and “choice.” Whether it’s Ann Romney’s “choice” to stay home and care for her five sons, or working women and their “choice” to be in the workplace, or the “choice” to marry a rich guy, or the choice not to marry at all. Why is it that women are the sum of their “choices” and men get to just live their lives?

Lithwick and Rodak sense nonsense here, about the whole concept of choice:

For one thing, it has become so bound up with the fight over reproductive rights in this country that it never really means just “choice” anymore. You can almost hear the silent “unfortunate” that precedes it every time it’s mentioned in political discourse. For another, not all women have all the choices they are alleged to be pondering. Most of us simply don’t have the luxury of a “choice” to stay home, or a choice to work part-time. Most women, like most men, do what they have to do. “Choice” is usually a misnomer, especially during a recession, for women as much as it is for men.

But talking about women in the language of choice is also a political trap. Because it suggests that while men are free to optimize their lifestyle decisions, women are always forced to “choose.” Men may design their lives. Women’s lives are a sequence of impossible trade-offs, made even more complex when they must mesh with the custom designs of the men with whom they marry and co-parent.

And that leads to some dark places:

The first and most primary decision, of course, is whether to assume the role of mother at all – and, if so, when. A new twist on this year’s season of women-as-legitimate-voters is long-overdue attention to a rather jaw-dropping trend found in statehouses around the country, where Republican legislators have floated a record 916 pieces of legislation restricting female reproductive choice since 2011, coincidentally (or not) the year the GOP took control of the House of Representatives.

And at the national level, the ruckus over health insurance reform has zeroed in on access to contraception. Contraception. When was the last time birth-control was a viable topic for political debate? The fact that 99 percent of women use contraception at some point in their lifetimes suggests it is only a “choice” in the same way food is a “choice.” Yet the crippling language of choice has been deployed this year to suggest that if women want to be sexually active, well, there are trade-offs they must make, up to and including their jobs.

It seems these two are simply tired of hearing about choice:

For decades, conservatives have tried to convince women that their choices were merely a series of tricks and traps. And the current anti-women policies of the GOP represent an effort to make that warning a reality. Dodging real-world explanations for the state of the economy and high unemployment, conservatives are now attempting a backdoor campaign to chase women out of the workplace and into their proper roles as homemakers. How else to explain increasing moves toward repealing wage-discrimination laws, rollbacks on mandatory parental leave laws, and making it all-but impossible for poor women who work to choose when to bear children?

And they’d just like this war, centering on women’s choices, to end:

Men and women both make choices. Men and women both seek to optimize their freedom. The economy is an equal-opportunity enabler or destroyer of dreams; it sinks or floats pending responsible handling of macro issues such as national debt, a capitalized working class, and fair tax policies. This perpetual sideshow wherein women are forced into combat with one another over the best way to raise children advances a discussion of U.S. economic policy not one iota. It’s time to acknowledge that, and retire the humiliating faux war among women. Choices and freedom are worthy goals for both genders, in and out of the workplace. Speak to women in non-cartoonish language, and we will choose to cast our vote as we see fit.

Speak to women in non-cartoonish language? Is that even possible now? This started out as a cartoonish war on religion, and then when that collapsed of its own absurdity, we got an equally cartoonish war on women. But the odd thing is that the battles are real enough, even if the combatants are often beyond silly.

And is there a war on women? There seems to be. And like all wars it’s fundamentally absurd.

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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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