Perhaps the most galling trend to yet take hold of the obscene clown show that America’s national politics has become is the sudden widespread assault against women’s reproductive rights. Abortion has been always been a hot button issue going back to the days of Rowe vs. Wade, of course, reflecting the religious right’s frustration at being unable to overturn the ruling despite the country’s rightward political shift over the past four decades. But until recently, most Republican politicians with national ambitions were smart enough to be content with merely pandering on the issue, knowing that actually repealing abortion rights and returning the country to the days when scared young women routinely died in illegal back alley clinics was a political loser.
The recent crumbling of the restraint on the part of the Republican Party, however, has been shocking in its breadth and scope. No longer content with just the occasional demagoguery on the issue, Republican controlled legislative bodies around the country have launched an all out assault in various ways, politics apparently be damned. What’s worse is that they have also felt emboldened to go beyond just attacking abortion to even going after birth control. It’s as if the party which a generation ago was still almost universally represented by white males has decided that now that it has plenty of prominent women in its highest ranks, those women and all others should go back to the days of being perpetually barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.
This insanity taking hold of the Republican Party was dramatically illustrated yet again during the most recent presidential debate. Here is Talking Points Memo with the details:
On Wednesday, contraception became the latest topic to raise the ire of conservative debate goers.“The crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.” Just like when, in earlier debates, they cheered at the idea of letting a comatose man without health insurance die, or cheered at the idea of U.S. soldiers pissing on the bodies of dead Afghans, or cheered Rick Perry’s reckless execution record in Texas, or cheered the removal of restrictions on child labor, or cheered the idea of Americans waterboarding prisoners.
During a CNN-sponsored Republican presidential debate in Arizona, the crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used the opportunity to attack the moderators as he had done in almost every other debate in this campaign cycle.
“Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide,” Gingrich complained.
CNN moderator John King neglected to note that several organization have debunked the claim that President Barack Obama ever supported a so-called “infanticide” provision in an Illinois measure that would have required doctors to administer medical treatment to fetuses that survived an abortion.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the Obama administration’s decision to have all health plans cover contraception for women an “attack on religious conscience.”
“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,” the candidate explained.
For his part, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum defended his earlier remarks about “the dangers of contraception.”
By now a pattern is emerging that should make any thinking person’s blood run cold. As the real economic conditions in this country have slowly deteriorated, the mood on the far right of the political spectrum has been gradually turning darker and meaner.
Many mainstream pundits would no doubt say that the bad temper of the right wing is similar now to how it was during Bill Clinton’s first term in office, which saw the rise of the militia movements around the country. They would no doubt add that all it took was one shocking event (the Oklahoma City bombing) and a rapidly improving economy from 1995 forward through the rest of the decade to largely defuse that anger. There have been periodic bouts of right wing demagoguery throughout our history, they would additionally assert, but in the end American politics always corrects itself and sanity eventually returns to our public discourse.
As a student of history, I completely agree with that as an interpretation of history. Even Joseph McCarthy was eventually dethroned and discredited for taking his attacks too far after politically terrorizing Washington for the first half of the 1950s.
But, and here is the rub: it isn’t 1956 anymore, or even 1996. The difference between the bout of extreme right wing anger we see today and those of previous generations is that there will be no economic recovery to create the conditions that will allow a restoration of that supposed sanity to our national politics. The beginning of the long era of permanent economic contraction means that the root cause of this explosion in right wing fury, severe economic distress, is just going to be exacerbated from this point on as people continue to lose their jobs and gasoline prices soar to previously unknown heights.
Those who dismiss the idea that true fascism could ever take hold in the United States point out that our representative democracy has far deeper roots than say, Weimar Germany, in which democracy was artificially imposed on an authoritarian culture in the wake of a massive military defeat. This is, of course, yet another accurate assessment of history. The problem with putting too much stock in history, however, is that sometimes it does NOT adhere to the old cliche and repeat itself, but instead begins to write its own new narrative, such as when the Bolsheviks seized control of Imperial Russia.
The end of economic growth in not just the United States but the entire world is a crisis unprecedented in human history. There will be no eventual return to normalcy this time. How exactly it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but this writer’s guess is that one thing we may well see in the near future is America’s long running culture war begin to turn hot, erupting into widespread violence which will then threaten to engulf us all.
Bonus: This little ditty from the dawn of the culture wars describes the forming battle lines remarkably well. Too bad it was recorded by a guy who eventually switched sides