"When the going gets weird," Hunter S. Thompson famously said, "the weird turn pro."
This quote has been running through my head all week. It's been such a weird week, in fact, that I even wrote a column praising a Mitt Romney campaign ad. Weirdness abounds, in other words. Well, I was really just wonkily praising the cars in the ad, but still....
Speaking of weirdness, we had what could be the final Republican presidential debate. In it, the three top Republican candidates explained how they were going to -- simultaneously, mind you -- both bring down the cost of gasoline and bomb Iran. This qualifies not just as weird but downright bizarre. I mean, how stupid do they think the American public is? Well, I suppose it's just the Republican primary electorate, but even so....
When the going gets weird, the weird run for president, apparently.
The most bizarre statement of the night had to have been Mitt Romney's historically-ignorant and righteously-indignant avowal: "I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama."
To borrow a schtick from Saturday Night Live in response: "Really, Mitt? Really?!? Are you really that ignorant of, say... just for example... the history of the Mormon Church and the federal government? Google 'Mormon Wars' sometime, you may learn something. Really! Why was your father born in Mexico, again? Oh, that's right, because his parents were there because of what they saw as religious persecution by the United States government. Really. The federal government didn't just specify what health insurance a Mormon hospital or charity offered their employees, the federal government dictated to the Church of the Latter-Day Saints what religious tenets they could believe in, and which were unacceptable to federal law. Remember that? You might want to check your church's history, there, Mitt. Or if that's too tough for you, how about the history of your own family?!? I mean, really."
Mitt's not only provoking the likes of me to rebut him, he also provoked an average citizen named Chuck Smith to wager his own $10,000 bet with Romney over a complete falsehood Mitt's been using out on the campaign trail -- how Barack Obama "promised" everyone that unemployment wouldn't go over eight percent if his stimulus plan was passed. While quite obviously an amateur attempt (it even points out its own editing mistakes within the video itself), this video is well worth watching in its entirety. Shows what an average Joe can do, when the media completely falls down on its job (as usual). It even includes footnotes and references, to prove exactly what the guy is claiming. Even if he doesn't win his bet, the video itself is priceless.
In other weird news, the Smithsonian held a groundbreaking ceremony for an African-American museum on the National Mall, which our first African-American president attended with his wife. When they called for people to come up and turn some ceremonial dirt with shovels, Barack Obama stood up and was then told that he wasn't invited to participate -- even though Laura Bush was. Weird, eh? The Smithsonian flunky who told the president this could have just as easily turned it into a memorable photo op -- by allowing Barack Obama and Laura Bush share the same shovel -- but instead told the president to sit back down.
Meanwhile, a Republican representative had to apologize for threatening to kill some Democratic senators, but (sadly) these days, that's not as weird as it should be.
Even the conservative press (weirdly enough) reported that pixie dust and magic simply doesn't work when it comes to budgeting, and that under the Republican presidential candidates' budget plans the national debt would explode at a rate much higher than President Obama's budget. But wait... I thought tax cuts paid for themselves? Weird, eh?
And finally, in one of those stories that seems inevitable (but only after it appears), an artistic couple has created a portrait of Rick Santorum made up entirely of tiny images of gay porn. Salon has the story (which can safely be read at work, if you don't click to expand the image to giant-sized... just in case you were wondering).
Enough weirdness, though, we've got to move along. I feel a gigantic rant coming on, so we'll try to keep the award section brief this week.
Following the precedent we set last week, we award all the Democrats in the Maryland state government who just passed a gay marriage bill a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Because the "Golden Backbone" statuettes are not cheap, we will be sending only one of them to Governor Martin O'Malley, who is expected to sign the bill soon (if he has not already done so). Last week, Washington state did the same thing, but many "journalists" didn't notice, apparently due to their not being able to find the West Coast on an American map. Maryland, however, is right there in the middle of the East Coast, so this one simply couldn't be ignored. Well done, Free State Democrats!
We have a second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to hand out as well, to the witness who was denied a chance to be heard at the Republican's male-dominated hearing on women's health issues. House Democrats held their own "hearing" just to give a chance for Sandra Fluke to tell her story. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deserves an Honorable Mention for staging this event, but the MIDOTW award goes to Fluke herself, for telling a very compelling and important side of the story which the Republicans really don't want the media to pick up on: birth control pills are not just used for birth control. We're just assuming Sandra Fluke is a Democrat, but this is probably a pretty safe assumption, we feel.
[Congratulate Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on his official state contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Sandra Fluke is a private citizen, and our longstanding policy is to not provide contact information for such.]
When will these guys learn?
Florida state representative Richard Steinberg got caught this week not only sending sexy text messages to a married federal prosecutor, but actually stalking her by doing so. Thankfully, he decided to resign when the story broke. But that doesn't mean we can't still award him a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, on his way out the door.
[You can try to contact Richard Steinberg via his official Florida House page, to let him know what you think of his actions, but our guess is the site won't be up for very long, so you'd better hurry.]
Volume 199 (2/24/12)
I'd like to begin today's talking points with an admission that maybe I was wrong.
The "maybe" in that sentence stems from the future's unpredictability. The jury won't be completely in on the issue until the election results (and exit polls -- from such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular) are released this November. So it's still too early to say.
Two weeks ago, in this space, I wrote a column entitled "White House Fumbles." The political issue I felt they fumbled was their announcement of the new health insurance regulations which stipulated that women's preventative medicine be covered by all non-church employers.
I felt that they fumbled because they were seemingly caught so flatfooted at their response to the controversy, which should have been at least somewhat predictable (to say the least). My column was written on the same day the White House announced their compromise, which still stood strong for women's health care.
Since then, the issue has grown and morphed -- to the Democrats' advantage, for the most part. In other words, it seems to not only be working out OK politically, but actually energizing the Democratic base over the issue. All of a sudden, women's health is in the news, and the Republicans are not looking good.
Which is why I'm starting with my "maybe I was wrong" statement. Maybe this is going to wind up being a good thing, even if (as I still believe) it could have been handled better at the beginning. But that's water under the bridge now. Instead of looking back, let's look forward instead.
If this is going to be a good issue for Democrats to make some political hay on, then I offer up the following as how I would go about doing it.
Democrats, so far, seem to be winning the framing battle on this issue. This is astonishing enough, since they're usually the ones playing catchup to the Republicans. But Democrats need to take it up a big notch, here. Instead of fighting each individual battle, Democrats need to offer up a big picture -- a very ugly big picture -- of what the Republicans' overall goal truly is. Thankfully, these dots are not that hard to connect right now. So many stories have gone Democrats' way in the past few weeks, that the time is ripe to hammer the big picture home in a way that will have Republicans playing defense from now until November. I offer up the following rant as an example of how to do so effectively.
Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. Is it demagoguery? You betcha. But just imagine if every Democrat starting using one simple phrase over and over again. Imagine the media picking up on this phrase. Imagine the media then declaring this election the "Year Of The Woman Voter." Imagine, if you will, a strong-willed female Democrat saying something along the following lines in the near future.
My "War on Women" Rant
The Republican Party is currently waging a war against women. They want to take America back a half-century or more, and Democrats are not going to allow them to do so!
When I see a congressional hearing called on women's heath with a panel of five old men, I wonder what the Republicans are thinking. When the state of Virginia contemplates passing a law which would force doctors to invade a woman's body for no medical reason at all, I think Republicans have forgotten all those talking points about not allowing government to get between a doctor and her patient -- talking points they used to love to utter. When I hear the likes of Rick Santorum weighing in on what tests a pregnant woman should have, I almost expect him to say women should stay eternally barefoot and pregnant. That's how bad it has gotten.
Republicans are waging a war against women. Furthermore, they are attempting to wage a war against sex. Why should some politician be able to tell any American woman how to run her life? Why should birth control even be an issue in politics in the twenty-first century? Why should Republicans -- who are supposed to be for getting government out of people's lives -- want Big Brother in every doctor's office?
When Republicans held their "no women allowed" hearing, the witness Democrats wanted to question was excluded. Democrats held a separate hearing for her this week anyway, and she testified about a friend of hers who could not afford birth control which had been prescribed to treat ovarian cysts -- and about the sad outcome. Contraceptive pills are prescribed on a daily basis for medical issues which have nothing to do with sex and which save women immeasurable suffering. But now Republicans are pushing to allow any employer in America to prevent a female employee's health insurance from covering such life-saving medicine. This is a war on science. It is a war on women.
Republicans say employers should be allowed to follow their "conscience" in such decisions. Where will this end? Will employers be able to limit AIDS coverage, because they do not morally approve of people who get AIDS? What about insurance coverage for sexually transmitted diseases? Should employers be allowed not to provide such coverage? What about an employer who doesn't believe in any medical intervention except prayer? Should he be allowed to limit his employees to "prayer-only" health insurance?
There's a reason why we have public health laws -- to protect the public's health with the best science available. All of the public. Even women! If this science tells us that an ultrasound is not necessary for a medical procedure, then why should politicians be able to override the doctor? Most states have laws against practicing medicine without a license, but Virginia lawmakers feel free to dictate medical treatments from their statehouse. Why aren't these lawmakers all being arrested for impersonating doctors?
It's a war against women, plain and simple. When the national public learned that the procedure mandated by the Virginia law would have forced women -- against their will -- to have a transvaginal ultrasound that was completely medically unnecessary, America recoiled in revulsion. So the governor backed off, and will now only force women to have an external ultrasound in such a situation -- a procedure which is not only completely unnecessary, but actually totally useless to spot an embryo which is too small to be seen by such methods. It is a war against medical science, and common sense.
The Virginia governor is attempting to put this genie back in the bottle. His statement read, in part: "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure." But why would the state mandate any medical procedure -- without the patient's consent -- as a precondition to another medical procedure? What has happened to the conservatives? This is your idea of government getting out of people's lives? This is supposed to be conservatism? Barry Goldwater must be turning over in his grave, by now.
The state of Virginia backed off on forcing doctors to perform what Virginia law describes as "rape" on an unwilling woman. I suppose we should be thankful that now the new law will only shred the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution instead. Why should the government force a doctor to perform a search of a woman's body for her to get a legal medical procedure done? It boggles the mind.
As if all this weren't enough, it seems now that the Republican Party has opened up a new front of the war on women: a war on, of all things, the Girl Scouts. This is in addition to their war on Planned Parenthood -- often the only opportunity women have for their own health care for miles around.
This has gone too far. Republican men who sit in legislatures should wake up and realize that a woman's health -- including her reproductive health -- is her business and hers alone to decide. Any woman should be able to go to her doctor and have whatever medical care the two of them agree upon without moralizing governmental interference. This is about freedom, plain and simple.
I have a message for the Republicans who think this is some sort of political football which will help their party out -- you know what? Your wives, your sisters, and your daughters are having sex. Deal with it. It is a part of human nature. This is America, and they are free to do so, and you have no right to interfere with this decision in the slightest.
If your daughter is violently raped, then Democrats believe she should be able to get an abortion, so she does not have to spend the rest of her life with the consequences of this violent crime against her body. Deal with it. If American women want to use birth control, guess what? It is entirely her decision to do so. If a doctor prescribes a birth control pill to a woman because if she does not take it she may otherwise suffer, then -- hold onto your hats -- her employer doesn't get to be in the same room with a veto over her freedom. If a woman wants a procedure which is legal, then you don't get to attempt to shame her into giving up this freedom -- and especially not by trouncing all over doctors' First Amendment rights to say what they wish to their patients.
While a few high-profile stories have been in the media in the past few weeks, what has been largely ignored for the past year or so is the continuing Republican assault on women's liberty and women's freedom. The Virginia law horrified many, but the exact same law is already in place in other states. Because men decided they knew best. Republican men, for the most part.
On top of this, women are forced to go through "waiting periods" in many states before getting a legal procedure done -- for no medical reason whatsoever. If you have to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion, this is supposed to make the price of doing so too high for some women. No other medical procedure in America is treated this way -- only the one Republican men don't approve of.
These men are guilty of practicing medicine without a license. They are guilty of attempting to condemn women to death for lack of medical care -- as would surely happen if abortion were made illegal. They are guilty of attempting to legislate coercive rape upon women patients. They are guilty of attacking women's rights and women's health care -- every chance they get.
This is a war on women. We're fighting on the side of women. Maybe we should fight back on their battlefield. Maybe we should start passing laws requiring an anal probe for anyone who gets a Viagra prescription. Maybe we should hold a hearing on prostate health and invite a panel of all women to testify why they're morally opposed to treating it. Maybe we should make testing for sexual diseases mandatory for anyone running for office. Maybe we should have a two-day waiting period for anyone who wishes to enter a strip club. You see how ridiculous it sounds when the shoe's on the other foot?
Democrats are on the side of women. We're on the side of science. We're on the side of doctors and patients being free of having Big Brother or their employer in the examination room. We're on the side of women's health -- all her health, and not just the pieces of it which old men decide are proper. Men like Rick Santorum, who is now apparently against pre-natal testing -- which even Sarah Palin herself was thankful for when she was pregnant. Republicans want to turn back the clock on women's health a half-century or more, and we will not let them!
I invite all of America's women voters to ask yourselves: Should I vote for the party which stands firm for my health care, or should I vote for the party which wants to deny me the freedom and liberty of making up my own mind what is right for me? Should I vote for those who are on the side of science and full health care rights for all, or should I vote for those who want to deny me access? Should I vote for those who want to force my doctor to penetrate me against my will, or should I vote for those who are outraged by such a concept?
The choice should be obvious. If you're for continued sexual freedom, and continued liberty in your own health care, then I strongly urge you to vote for those who are not actively trying to legislate these things out of existence -- in a word, Democrats. You are the foot soldiers in this war against women, and if you speak loudly enough, even Republican politicians will notice you in November.
-- Chris Weigant