Some Thoughts on the Election, Akin, etc.

I’m putting this below the fold so it’ll be easy to skip for people who follow this Tumblr for music and don’t want to read what I think about politics. Also, it’s really, really long, and probably not all that well-organized.

I don’t normally use this blog as a platform for my political beliefs. I’m sure they seep through now and then—they are part of who I am—but mostly, I’m interested in maintaining a positive atmosphere at Every Great Song Ever, and I hope that my enthusiasm for the music I talk about here is occasionally infectious (also, I hope it never comes across as anything other personal love—I’m not interested in telling people what to like). On to my entirely subjective opinions:

This week, though. Man, this week. Hell, this month. This whole election cycle, and the several before it. When I pay a lot of close attention to it, I get to feeling like I’m caught under a giant, grinding wheel that keeps speeding up. 

Todd Akin is the major catalyst for this post. I get tired of hearing people say he made a mistake. His words may cost him politically, but outside of a polling context, the guy didn’t make a mistake. He didn’t mis-speak. He said exactly what he actually believes, and what he believes is that women who claim to have been raped, and especially women who claim to have been raped under circumstances other than a battery-inducing physical assault, are mostly lying about it. 

He doesn’t say this in so many words. It’s possible he doesn’t even realize that this is what he believes. But it’s plain in the subtext of what he said. Whether he really meant to say “forcible” instead of “legitimate” doesn’t matter—the meaning is identical, because to him, the two words in this context are synonyms. Notions about rape that should have died in our culture ages ago live on in the heads of people like Todd Akin. 

And I don’t just mean the old troglodyte’s argument that, “She was asking for it,” though that is abundantly present. I’m not a psychologist, but I think there’s a much more insidious notion buried in there, which is that rape isn’t really rape at all, that it’s a man giving a woman what she really wants deep down. Taking rape-by-force out of the equation makes this idea (which, again, I don’t think is so much conscious as it is woven through the tangle of neural impulses that add up to Akin’s beliefs on rape) much easier to entertain. 

To men like Akin, there can never really be such a thing as date rape or spousal rape, because women secretly want what they’re getting. It positions the man in a position of power over a woman that he doesn’t really occupy, because sexual desire in human beings tends to run in the opposite direction. Perhaps more correctly, it robs the woman of the sexual power she has over a man, and takes it for himself. The end result in reality, though, is the same: the woman has been raped. 

This is a grain in our culture that is mostly not talked about. But it’s there, and unfortunately, our culture does not make pearls out of its grains. It makes people like Todd Akin.

——-

Akin has in one respect done us a service, by accidentally throwing light on the really galling and utterly retrogressive policies actually held in esteem by much of the Republican party. Did you see the way they hurried through approving the anti-abortion language in their party platform? There are people in the party who understand that if the true extremity of what are becoming mainstream Republican beliefs about abortion were widely known, they would lose votes over it, because those beliefs add up to the denial of agency to women. So they gloss over their true beliefs and hide behind the appalling term “pro-life,”* and no one presses them on it, because it is assumed to be a peripheral issue in elections. It’s the economy, stupid, right?

But it’s not as peripheral as it seems. Note that above, I didn’t even mention Akin’s incorrect claim/belief that rape victims don’t get pregnant. This is the other half of his statement. Both halves of his statement tie in to the larger currents of belief running through the Republican voting base. 

The first of these threads, the one that Akin’s unspoken beliefs on rape ties directly into, is that individuals are always responsible for the way their lives have turned out, and because it’s their fault, it shouldn’t be everyone else’s responsibility to pay for it. This is the thread that most likes to believe that America’s history of racial discrimination is irrelevant, and that there’s no such thing as a systemic advantage or privilege. You’re too poor to afford food for your family? Well, that must be your fault, because you’re too lazy to work. (In Akin’s case, this translates as a conviction that a rape victim is somehow at fault.)

This whole line of thinking is predicated on ignoring the reality of the world we actually live in. People born into poverty have an enormously difficult time escaping poverty, and it has nothing to do with laziness. The educational opportunities available to these people, generally, are much worse than the opportunities available to the wealthy, and even to people who are simply financially stable. The cliche that it takes money to make money is born of truth. If you’re stuck trying to keep your head above water (or actually underwater, as many are) from the moment you become an earner, it’s very difficult to establish the baseline of savings and investment that will lift you out of the water, especially if you’ve never received any money-management education.

This doesn’t matter in right-wing rhetoric, which pretends that we’re all on a level playing field when clearly we’re not.

Which leads me to that second thread of right-wing belief that has guided recent Republican policy, which is the rejection of facts. Akin is able to believe that rape victims don’t conceive not only because he’s ignorant of the facts, but because he doesn’t care what the facts are. It is the exact same line of thinking that allows Bill O’Reilly to vehemently claim, on air, that we don’t know how the tides work, even though we do, and we have for centuries. 

It is also what leads Republicans to feel comfortable questioning or outright denying established science. There is no reason not to teach evolution in schools that is not grounded in the assumptions of doctrinal religion. “Intelligent design” is not science—it is anti-science that draws an arbitrary line that empirical investigation can’t cross. The central argument for intelligent design is the concept of “irreducible complexity,” which is the idea that some biological structures are simply too complex to have evolved. 

Never mind that to get to this point, we’ve had to accept that evolution does exist to some degree. This means accepting the evidence that more complex forms have evolved from less complex forms. But, because we’re also operating on the ideological assumption that God has to fit into this somewhere, we find ourselves engaged in the profoundly unscientific act of deciding on a point where we stop asking questions. Rather than looking at the whip-tail of a paramecium and doing what a real scientist would do, which is asking, “how did that develop?” we throw up our hands and say, “well, that’s clearly irreducibly complex, God must have made it. No need to ask more questions.”

That is the basic absurdity of this position. I use this example because it’s emblematic of the way the Republican right wing in this country engages with facts on a huge range of issues. Climate change is among the most obvious, but go down a long list of environmental concerns, and you’ll see a pattern. The thing is, this line of thinking makes no rational sense. It stems entirely from ideology, be it religion or the ideology of the free market. 

Consider this list of questions: “Do you believe that the Earth revolves around the sun?” “Why do you believe that it does?” “Do you believe in gravity?” “Why do you believe in gravity?” 

No serious person would answer no to questions one and three. I wonder about two and four, though. I think a lot of people would say that these things are self-evident, based on looking at the world around them. But there was a time when neither thing was self-evident in our society. Both had to be deduced by scientists. They were deduced on the basis of evidence, the same way we arrived at our current theory of evolution. To accept one and not the other is to draw an arbitrary line and refuse to cross it on ideological principle. 

This runs in reverse, too. Right-wingers will proclaim that abstinence-only education is effective without a shred of evidence to support the claim. They similarly beat the drum for supply-side economics, when the scant evidence we have for the way this approach works in the real-world suggests that, to the extent that it produces growth at all, it produces weak growth that favors the already wealthy at the greatest expense to those struggling to make ends meet. Bush’s regime of deregulation (which, to be fair, began in earlier administrations, including Clinton’s, and accelerated under Bush) produced the conditions for the financial collapse of 2008, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from banging on about the need for more deregulation.

"Getting government out of the way" is trumpeted as though it’s a laudable goal in its own right. But it’s rare that I see anyone ask what it actually means. Government might have been there for a reason. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established (by Nixon, no less) because workplace conditions in this country were not safe in in a great many industries. The market only cares about safety if safety adds black to the bottom line. The same goes for environmental stewardship.

This is where government intervention is necessary. The difficulty today is with the intangibility of many of our most pressing environmental concerns. When the first major environmental legislation was passed in this country in the 60s, rivers were literally catching fire, and smog in some cities could actually be deadly. It was obvious that government action was needed, because the market had utterly failed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people. 

Thinking that we solved all our problems back then and no longer need strict environmental regulations is the same thing as thinking we don’t have any more racial problems because we elected a black man to be President. Problems do not disappear simply because they’re less visible or obvious. Nor when we choose to ignore them because they’re not convenient to the way we want the world to work. 

——-

I’m going to briefly give Mitt Romney some credit here. The guy is not an ideologue. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he did some real good (his health care law, for instance), and generally held positions that most would consider moderate, and some in his own party would likely consider quite liberal. 

That said, Romney also has a spine with roughly the same consistency as sponge cake, and his principles are overwhelmed by his ambition. He has completely sold out virtually everything he did and said as governor of Massachusetts in order to court the votes of reactionaries because the thing that truly matters most to him is winning. Mitt Romney is in it for Mitt Romney.

I knew I would vote Democratic across the ticket, in spite of all my problems with the Democratic party, a long time ago. Sometimes, it feels like putting up sandbags to stop a flood, but there is simply nothing on the other side of the ballot that I can support. 

———

* Seriously, the term “pro-life” is appalling in its current use, and especially in the way our supposedly liberal media has swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. My wife’s aunt, a Catholic nun, complains about this all the time. During the Bush years, one of her biggest complaints was that these people who claimed constantly to be pro-life, then went off and enthusiastically started a destructive war on false pretenses (and here, the Bush administration provides another sterling example of Republican imperviousness to facts and expertise).

It goes a lot further than that, in my view, though. Is it really pro-life to force a woman to carry a child to term? That, to me, is ranking one life above another. Moreover, forget about abortion for a second. Is it pro-life to favor the demolition of social safety nets? Is it pro-life to oppose tighter environmental standards that would improve public health? In my view, it’s not, at all. I think a chance in terminology is desperately needed to bring perspective to this issue. I suggest replacing “pro-life” with “pro-fetus,” because once you’re born, the Republican party stops giving a damn about your welfare.