The rest of America has long had a problem with Texas – they talk funny down there, and they dress funny, and they keep saying everything is bigger and better in Texas. They’re America’s egotistical rich buffoons, who were skewered in that old prime-time soap opera Dallas – too much money, not enough sense, and no shame. Texas’ current governor, Rick “Oops” Perry, carries on that proud J. R. Ewing tradition of clueless but ruthless nastiness. In return, however, Texas doesn’t think much of the rest of insipid and useless America – they keep talking about how they might secede. They’re only part of the United States because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but they might change their mind about that – so don’t mess with Texas, as they say. They really could leave, and then where would America be? We’d be fine, actually, but there’s no point in arguing about it. The Dallas Cowboys never were America’s Team.
This has played out for years. Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and the whole northeastern apparatus that supported the older brother for president, never had much use for the big Texan, Lyndon Johnson – in 1960 he was useful to balance the ticket, but he was still an embarrassment. Johnson just wasn’t Ivy League cool. When Kennedy was assassinated – in Dallas of all places – they all walked away from Johnson, one by one. Johnson was fine with that – no love lost – and our next Texas president was George W. Bush, the pretend-cowboy. He was pretending. He came from a long line of distinguished New England senators and judges, and his prudent and patrician father had been president, and he himself had graduated from Yale and Harvard Business School. The younger Bush, however, made it clear he had goofed off at Yale and Harvard and thought all that was stupid. He fancied himself a Texas cowboy. He even bought a ranch for himself just before he ran for president. He’d be America’s laconic cowboy, and clueless but ruthless nastiness suited him well. It was as if we had elected J. R. Ewing – but George Bush didn’t get the joke.
That didn’t work out well. For all of Bush’s talk about going out and getting Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” – just like in the Old West as he said – he didn’t do that. The urbane metrosexual hip president from Chicago did that. The cowboy only got us into two impossible long wars in the Middle East, which seem to have made things much worse there, and gave us the collapse of the economy in 2008, and it has been almost impossible to recover from that. Oops. Texans would say that George Bush was “all hat and no cattle” – but everyone else in America would just wonder, once again, if there wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with Texas itself. Who are these people?
One answer to that is that Texas may be real America taken to its absurd extreme. This is what you get when you actually believe the bullshit you tell yourself, about yourself. One way to think of it is to consider Texas Exceptionalism – we could secede if we want, because we’re special – as just a local form of American Exceptionalism – international norms and international law don’t apply to us, because we’re special. It’s the same thing, and that would mean that when we look at Texas, we’re looking at America, distilled. We’re looking at the pure essence of us.
That’s why everyone, way back when, liked Buddy Holly – straight out of West Texas. Everyone likes West Texas music. Buddy Holly was singing for America – simple and plain stuff. It was intoxicating, and that sort of thing still is. Check out the 2003 movie Lubbock Lights – a rock documentary about what is now called the Lubbock Mafia – Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Now that Buddy Holly is long gone they’ll do just fine.
Those guys carry on the tradition – the plain and simple basics – and Butch Hancock is their philosopher-king. He’s not only a singer-songwriter, he’s also the one who explains life in that distilled hyper-American world, with observations like this – “Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.”
Yes, that’s absurd, but that’s what people are saying all across America. That may be what the Supreme Court just said in the Hobby Lobby decision, or at least the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman thinks that might be so:
Politicians are reacting fast. Hillary Clinton condemned the decision, and most of those thinking about running for president on the Republican side have issued statements of support, with one exception: Chris Christie, famous for being a no-nonsense straight-talker, bobbed and weaved when he was asked about it this morning. “Why should I give an opinion on whether they’re right or wrong?” he asked.
You might respond, because you’re an elected official who might run for higher office, and this is an important issue, that’s why. But Christie’s reluctance is understandable. If you look at polling on the case, a majority of the public has consistently said that private companies ought to be required to provide contraception coverage for their employees – not an overwhelming majority (usually in the 55 percent range), but a majority nonetheless.
That is odd. A majority does like this decision, but Waldman implies that a good number of folks seem to be living in Lubbock in the fifties:
I’ll bet that the populations that support this decision are the ones firmly in the Republican camp already, particularly older white evangelicals. And if people understand the Republican position as being not so much pro-religious freedom but anti-contraception, GOP efforts to reach out beyond their base could be hampered by all the attention this case is getting.
For most people, it’s remarkable that in 2014 we’re still arguing about whether a woman who uses birth control is a slut worthy of scorn. But we are. GOP pundit Erick Erickson tweeted, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized consequence-free sex.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) seemed to agree with a radio host who said contraception is “largely for recreational behavior.”
They are stuck in Lubbock in the past, even if others are not, and this will only end in tears:
If Republicans are trying not to seem out of touch but are unaware that tens of millions of women in “traditional” marriages use contraception every day and express the belief that if you’re single and you use contraception there’s something wrong with you (and you should be made to suffer “consequences” for your sin), then that whole “reaching out” thing is going to be even harder than it seems.
The issue is playing out in at least one Senate race, in Colorado, where incumbent Democrat Mark Udall has been hammering his opponent, Cory Gardner, for months over Gardner’s past support of a “personhood” amendment that would outlaw some forms of contraception. When the Hobby Lobby decision was handed down, Udall’s campaign quickly shot out a press release titled, “SCOTUS Follows Gardner’s Lead, Lets Bosses Dictate Birth Control.” Gardner followed with his own statement in which he praised the decision but reiterated his support for making oral contraceptives available over the counter.
Needless to say, that isn’t an idea too many Republicans are going to embrace (though we should give Gardner credit for it). And as long as the loudest GOP voices are from the sex-is-dirty corner, Democrats will be only too happy to talk about the Republican position on contraception.
The sex-is-dirty Lubbock corner of the Republican Party does have the floor now, however – and they’re not shy about it – and Sian Norris has a few things to say about that:
Greeted with the news that a vaccine would be made available to school girls, protecting them from the sexually transmitted infection HPV that can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer, many expressed worries that the vaccine would encourage promiscuity in teens. They argued that armed with the knowledge that the vaccine protects them from HPV, girls would latch on to the nearest pimply-faced school boy and start having lots of consequence-free sex. As a result, some schools denied girls access to the vaccine – without first informing parents of their decision. These schools decided it was better to ‘protect’ girls from potential promiscuity, than to protect them from cancer.
Similar arguments have been heard about whether girls should be able to take the Pill without parental consent, or how easily women and girls should be able to access the ‘morning after’ pill. When I was at school, my sex education teacher told us that selling the morning after pill over the counter made it “too easy”.
Too easy? What’s wrong with making it easier for women to make informed, consensual choices about sex and their health? The idea that women should be able to make these decisions can only be seen as a problem if you believe women taking responsibility for their sexuality and sexual health is in itself a problem. And that’s what these arguments come down to.
She is even less happy now:
We only have to look at the language commonly used to describe women engaging in consensual sex to understand just what a problem society has with women’s sexuality. Women are ‘promiscuous’ in a way men never are. There’s no male version of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’. It is only women’s sexual choices that are judged. And it is only women’s choices around sexual health care that are continually under attack. The Hobby Lobby ruling has made a legal statement that women’s access to healthcare can be restricted in order to respect another, unrelated, individual’s religious beliefs.
No good can come of this, and Ann Freidman offers this:
There are two competing narratives about the Hobby Lobby case and how big of a deal it is. To hear the all-male Supreme Court majority and many legal analysts tell it, this is a decision of limited scope. It will result in a minor inconvenience for a small number of women who work for certain employers or have certain insurance plans or wish to use certain forms of contraception. It may not even be about women at all – some observers say it is legal maneuvering designed to affect the status of corporations and the fight over Obamacare, not sexual politics.
Then there’s my own interpretation, which is not that of a legal scholar but is shared by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who knows a few things about the law. It is most accurately expressed as an outraged scream, sort of a combination groan-wail, issued while beating my fists against the desk on either side of my laptop. A more articulate version goes like this: Hobby Lobby is actually a decision of “shocking breadth,” a blow to reproductive rights, and a revelation of the total disregard that a majority of American lawmakers and legal power-brokers have for the lives of women.
She is a bit outraged:
Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, when it acknowledges that women exist, seems to ask, “Ladies, what are you getting so upset about?” Hey, he says, the government could provide birth control coverage – or hand out contraception directly. The thousands of women who work for Hobby Lobby could seek employment elsewhere, at a corporation headed by people who understand the medical science behind contraception. No one’s taking their fundamental choice away.
That’s bullshit, but part of a pattern:
This idea – that women can always find another way to get the coverage or care they need – underpins just about every recent restriction on women’s health. What’s another 24-hour mandatory abortion waiting period? To a woman who lives 25 miles from the nearest provider, it’s everything. What’s one more tweak to a law about the width of clinic doors? To a clinic that can’t afford to remodel, it’s everything. What’s a minor policy change that means you have to pay full price for that IUD? To a woman who makes $14 an hour, it’s everything.
A choice isn’t really a choice when you can’t find another job, or when it’s the end of the month and the checking account is empty and the morning-after pill costs $50 without insurance, or when the only approved birth control methods won’t work for you. For decades, activists have invoked a woman’s “right to choose” – choose when it’s the right time for her to have children and when it’s not, and to choose which contraceptive method to use in the meantime. In theory, women are still allowed to make these choices in America. In practice, though, to choose you must have options. Health insurance is one of the things that guarantees options and access. Freedom, as the conservatives say, isn’t free. For a choice to be a true choice and not a default, sometimes we have to subsidize it.
And she knows where Erick Erickson is coming from:
Erickson’s use of the phrase “consequence free” was familiar. I heard variations on this theme many times over the course of my Catholic upbringing. “I’m pro-choice,” my dad would say. “You have a choice whether or not to have sex. Then you have to deal with the consequences.” Of course, unless you have no desire for sex or a strong desire for dozens of children, that’s not a choice at all – which is why socially conservative columnists like Ross Douthat beat the drum about the need to attach consequences to sex again. You made your bed, now lie in it – ideally, with your husband and children.
This is at the heart of the Hobby Lobby case: Needing a blood transfusion or a vaccine, as the Court sees it, isn’t the consequence of a “choice” you make. It is necessary medical care for you to live your life. You don’t choose to need protection from an infectious disease. You don’t choose to need a liter of new blood. You do, however, choose to have sex – if you’re a woman. And so contraception, the majority of justices say, is different. The implication is that women can freely choose to either abstain from sex or have lots of children, which most of us do understand is not a choice at all.
So it comes down to this:
Hey, the Court is saying, we’re not telling you not to have sex! We’re just telling you that if you do, you’ll find it difficult to maintain a career, gain financial footing, or live a healthy life. You’ll just have to work a little harder, it says. Find the loopholes. Drive a little farther. Pay a little more. You’ll find a way – you women are resourceful.
She knows where Erick Erickson is coming from, Lubbock, Texas, 1959, and Emma Green adds this:
One of the most powerful moments in Ginsburg’s dissent is when she quotes Sandra Day O’Connor in a 1992 case involving Planned Parenthood: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” She also cites a number of critical facts about contraceptive access: Women pay significantly more than men. The cost of an Intrauterine Device, or IUD, is roughly equal to a month of pay for a woman working at minimum wage. Almost a third of women would change their form of birth-control if cost weren’t a factor. In these and other spots throughout her dissent, Ginsburg is undoubtedly correct: Affordable birth-control access is an important economic and public-health issue.
But even if that’s true, it’s also true that certain religious groups regard some forms of contraceptives as morally wrong.
Someone missed the sixties, as shown in excerpts from this timeline on how The Pill changed America:
1951: The Catholic Church remains resolutely opposed to artificial birth control, but Pope Pius XII announces that the Church will sanction the use of the rhythm method as a natural form of birth control. Previously, the only option approved by Rome was abstinence. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America runs 200 birth control clinics. Margaret Sanger has been successful in fighting legal restrictions on contraceptives, and birth control has gained wide acceptance in America. Still, Sanger remains deeply unsatisfied, because women have no better methods for birth control than they did when she first envisioned “the pill” over 40 years earlier. Margaret Sanger, now 72 years old, makes one last ditch effort to find someone to invent her “magic pill.” At a dinner party in New York City she is introduced to Gregory Pincus and implores him to take up her quest. To her surprise, he tells her that it might be possible with hormones, but that he will need significant funding to proceed. …
1959: President Dwight Eisenhower states in a press conference that birth control “is not a proper political or government activity or function or responsibility” and adds emphatically that it is “not our business.” Less than two years after FDA approval of Enovid for therapeutic purposes, an unusually large number of American women mysteriously develop severe menstrual disorders and ask their doctors for the drug. By late 1959, over half a million American women are taking Enovid, presumably for the “off-label” contraceptive purposes. …
1960: May 11 – Searle receives FDA approval to sell Enovid as a birth control pill. Searle is the first and only pharmaceutical company to sell an oral contraceptive and it has a lucrative monopoly. …
1962: With 1.2 million American women on the Pill, Searle’s corner on the Pill market comes to an end. Syntex receives FDA approval to sell the drug Carl Djerassi developed in the 1950s under the trade name Ortho Novum. …
1964: One quarter of all couples in America using birth control choose the Pill. Parke-Davis, another drug company eager for a share of the market, sells its version of the Pill. Despite the competition, Searle earns $24 million in net profits from Pill sales, but neither Gregory Pincus nor the Worcester Institute receive any royalties. Less than a decade after President Eisenhower declared that the government should not get involved with birth control, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushes through legislation for federal support of birth control for the poor. … The Pill becomes the most popular form of reversible birth control in America. …
1965: Estelle Griswold and Lee Buxton take their Connecticut case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By a vote of 7-2 in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court strikes down the Connecticut law prohibiting the use of birth control as a violation of a couple’s right to privacy. Just five years after the Pill’s FDA approval, more than 6.5 million American woman are taking oral contraceptives, making the Pill the most popular form of birth control in the U.S. …
1967: Over 12.5 million women worldwide are on the Pill. Massachusetts liberalizes its birth control laws, but still prohibits the sale of birth control to unmarried women.
1972: The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird that a state cannot stand in the way of distribution of birth control to a single person, strikes down Massachusetts law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to unmarried women.
1982: The Pill’s impact on women in the work force is significant. With highly effective birth control now at their disposal, 60% of women of reproductive age are employed in America.
There’s no going back to Lubbock, 1959, except in the music, and Dan Savage put that this way:
Why are conservatives fighting so hard to make contraception harder for women to obtain? Because they don’t think people – young people, poor people, unmarried people, gay people – should be able to enjoy “consequence-free sex.” Because it is sex that they hate – it’s sex for pleasure that they hate – and they hate that kind of sex more than they hate abortion, teen moms, and welfare spending combined. Knowing that some people are having sex for pleasure without having their futures disrupted by an unplanned pregnancy or having their health compromised by a sexually transmitted infection or having to run a traumatizing gauntlet of shrieking “sidewalk counselors” to get to an abortion clinic keeps them up at night.
Ah, they’re secret Texans, but there is Ross Douthat in this item saying that it’s time to reframe the debate as “less about whether sex should be consequence-free and more about whether, on a societal level, it really can be” in this world:
This argument would not demand that pre-pill consequences be re-attached to sex, to better return women to drudgery and childbearing. Rather, it would make the point that notwithstanding social liberalism’s many victories, those consequences haven’t exactly gone away; it would question whether more and cheaper contraception suffices to address some of the social problems associated with sexual permissiveness; and it would raise the possibility that a broader reconsideration of current norms and policies might offer more to American women in the long run than strangling the last craft-store patriarch with the entrails of the last reactionary nun.
The social problems associated with sexual permissiveness were all from the sixties. Douthat doesn’t like the sixties. He was born in 1979 – he missed all the fun. Or he might consider that the social problems associated with sexual permissiveness – he cites a study that shows that fifty-seven percent of children born to Millennials being out of wedlock – might be a different sort of problem. Most of those folks are monogamous. Sexual permissiveness isn’t the issue. Association isn’t causation. And no one is strangling the last craft-store patriarch with the entrails of the last reactionary nun, by the way.
Amanda Marcotte, on the other hand, sees economic patrimony at play here:
By claiming women are getting something for “free,” conservatives are reinforcing this myth that women can’t actually be independent – they either need to rely on the government or a husband. That’s what Jesse Watters was getting at on Fox News, talking about single female voters who want the contraceptive benefit, who he called “Beyoncé voters”: “They depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands,” he argued, ignoring that women are actually demanding the right to the health care they are already paying for.
Rush Limbaugh sounded a similar note this week, denouncing men who support the contraceptive benefit by saying they are “Pajama Boy types having sex, sex, sex,” and that “Today’s young men are totally supportive of somebody else buying women their birth control pills. Make sure the women are taking them, ’cause sex is what it’s all about.”
Yes, men support women’s reproductive rights only so they can have lots of sex while foisting the responsibility of providing for women onto the government, which Limbaugh falsely claims is providing the contraceptive coverage.
It’s complicated, but it comes down to the Lubbock formulation. God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell, and sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth, and you should save it for someone you love. But Butch Hancock was kidding around when he said that, mocking the Lubbock folks. And J. R. Ewing was an over-the-top comic book villain, not a role model. One can take Texas too seriously. We did that, fourteen years ago. We should know better now. Crank up some Buddy Holly tunes. That’ll do.