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Saturday: Obama Epic Fail on Slutgate #standwithsandra

Edna St. Vincent Millay

This is going to be a stream of consciousness post because I’m still trying to sort out what’s going on here.  But I think what we are seeing is something like what happened with Occupy last fall.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  Let’s address where Obama has gone drastically worng.

The NYTimes Caucus blog reports that Obama placed a call to Sandra Fluke last night to let her know, well, you decide:

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said the president told Ms. Fluke that he stood by her in the face of personal attacks on right-wing radio. Mr. Obama believes, Mr. Carney said, that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments about Ms. Fluke were “unfortunate attacks,” and Mr. Carney called them “reprehensible.”

Ms. Fluke, 30, also drew support from the president of Georgetown University, who has differed with her in the past over the university’s refusal to provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The university president, John J. DeGioia, said in a statement: “One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression. And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position — including Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels — responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”

Mr. Obama phoned her just before she was to appear on MSNBC.

“He encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women,” she told the program’s host, Andrea Mitchell. “And what was really personal for me was that he said to tell my parents that they should be proud. And that meant a lot, because Rush Limbaugh questioned whether or not my family would be proud of me.”

Where to start?  First, the president didn’t do this at a press conference and condemn Rush in no uncertain terms for being a evil bully.  He places a personal call to Sandra.  Secondly, he calls the remarks “unfortunate” and “reprehensible”.  This is incorrect.  The remarks were unacceptable, evil and not representative of the values and behavior we expect of a good American citizen.  (You might want to take notes, Barry)  Thirdly, he says that Fluke’s parents should be proud of her.  Jeez, can you get any more patronizing?  This is a third year law student ferchristsakes.  That’s like saying that although the Flukes made a tragic error by letting Sandra out without her duena, they should at least be proud that their damaged goods has the courage to speak up and show her face in public.

But the worst thing Obama did here was assume that Fluke is the only intended target here.  Rush’s comments, and now Bill O’Reilly’s, have *two* intended targets.  Well, three, actually.  The first obvious target is Sandra and all women in America who have ever had sex outside of marriage.  That would include pretty much every woman in America.  We’re all sluts to Rush.  To women my age and younger (I came of age in the 70’s-80’s), we just don’t see it that way.  We don’t spend our days wringing our hands about all the guilt and shame we’re supposed to feel.  Many of us reasoned it out in our adolescence that those biblical rules didn’t apply to those of us born in the latter half of the 20th century.  So, Rush can say slut, slut, slut til the sun comes down.  Frankly, we don’t give a shit.  We are angry though that he feels like he can degrade us in the minds of his second and third intended targets and get away with it.

Rush’s second intended target is men who listen to his show, and men who are like them but outwardly have too much class to listen to his show.  It’s empowering to see their champion go after women who they have to deal with on a daily basis.  You know, those bitches who are at work who they have to compete with for salaries and promotions.  Life would be so much better if they weren’t sucking up all of the valuable resources that men used to have all to themselves a few decades ago.  So, Rush is feeding this misplaced anger about economic conditions and putting the blame on the feminazis.  And Rush’s beta male listeners are too cowardly to go after the real culprits, the alpha guys in the top 1% who are sitting on piles of cash and have not been rewarding working people for their productivity gains of the past 40 years.  It is much easier to pick on what they consider to be weaker.  It is beyond me why they haven’t asked themselves why Rush isn’t going after the guys in the boardroom.  Not only are they cowards, they’re stupid.

Rush’s third target, and this is where O’Reilly comes in, is senior women.  This is where the slut comments and characterization are really hitting home.  As I was reading Rush’s comments yesterday, something about them didn’t seem right.  Well, ALL of it didn’t seem right.  But gradually it became clear to me what seemed off about them.  Rush was saying that women like Sandra were having sex in the backseats of cars.  Now, Rush isn’t THAT old so he should know by now that women Sandra’s age wouldn’t be caught dead having sex in a car.  Ok, maybe once or twice for fun.  But this is not the way we shameless hussies arrange our illicit assignations anymore.  Oh, and the vast majority of women do not do drugs before sex.  Most of us don’t have to get drunk either.  No, adult women who are not married who enjoy sex do so on a regular basis in the privacy of their own bedrooms or their partner’s bedroom or somewhere in the apartment or in the shower.  But very, very rarely in the backseat of a car.   That would indicate that the woman in question was either very young, and hardly a slut, or didn’t have a place to go where they would feel comfortable.  And I had to think to myself, when would that have been a normal thing?  When was it the case that non-marital sex was occurring on a regular basis in cars, I mean, once you grew out of your teens.

Then it hit me that this might have been the situation back in the 50’s and early 60’s.  There were probably quite a lot of women who were resorted to the backseat of the car because they had nowhere else to go.  Young, working class women didn’t usually have their own apartments and if they lived at home where pre-marital sex was absolutely verboten, there were few alternatives.  Not only that, but if you got caught, you really would be called a slut, sometimes by members of your own family.  And they could be vicious about it too.  Not only were you a slut, you were dirrrrrty.  That’s another thing Rush goes on about.  He makes a fun romp in the rumble seat with someone you love sound dirty, filthy and degrading.

Oh and here’s another telltale sign in O’Reilly’s defense of Rush:

…Now the progressive colossus is demanding payment for Sandra Fluke so that she can go through Georgetown Law School with an active, healthy social life.”

The words “go through” sounds like she’s going to “go through the football team”.  In other words, because a woman like Sandra may have sex, it is a logical conclusion that she is indiscreet enough to take on multiple sex partners, at the same time or one at a time.  It doesn’t matter, because she’s slept with the entire law school and they all talk about her and how she can’t get enough.

Like I mentioned before, the outrageous hyperbole doesn’t faze those of us who grew up guiltlessly having sex because we came of age in the right decade.  Very few of us have ever slept with a football team or an entire college.  We might have had our “Sex in the City” days but the fact that we even had a series called “Sex in the City” shows that this kind of slut shaming language has no meaning to us.  But to women who watch O’Reilly, it’s like we came from another planet.  The shaming doesn’t work on us, it works on THEM.

Now, why would Rush and O’Reilly put out all of the stops to call our mothers sluts and whores?  Because that’s what they’re doing.  They are calling our mothers sluts.  They are saying to those women who are in their 70s, “If you had non-marital sex, you are a slut, you are dirty, you should be ashamed”, and digging up all of those humiliating memories that these women should have chucked decades ago, and hoping that those women will project those feelings onto their younger cohort.  And it just may work.

I don’t know why they think it is necessary to do this to our mothers.  Maybe they fear that our mothers will start feeling just s teeensy-tiny bit of sympathy for women who without access to contraception will have more children than they want and will miss some opportunities.  Maybe it’s because the people who will get their sympathy are not the UNmarried women.  Maybe the senior women have sympathy for MARRIED women.  After all, a married woman has the legal document that allows her to have as much sex as she wants with her husband anywhere she wants and therefore, no church, state or pharmacist shouldn’t be restricting birth control from those women.  Just because a senior evangelical female in her 70s is against sex between unmarried partners and is totally against abortion, that doesn’t mean she is against contraceptives for married women.  That’s where the GOP has a weak spot.

So, the right wing is going to come down hard on unmarried women having sex with the expectation that senior women will be persuaded to join in and bash them for wanting to have sex and as a result, they will suddenly be on board restricting contraceptives in insurance policies and that will affect all women.

Now, the question is, who benefits? Well, there are several beneficiaries.  Who would have an interest in making sure that insurance companies do not have to pay for contraceptives for any woman, at all? First thing that comes to my mind is – insurance companies!  If some of them weren’t paying for it before and now they suddenly have to without any policy increase, well, that decreases the amount of money going to bonuses and stock values, right?  Can’t increase shareholder value if some of the profits are being eaten up by a zillion women all getting their pills for free.

Who else benefits?  Anyone who wants to make sure that no one sympathizes with the 99% or its constituent groups.  If it looks like women might be gaining some sympathetic ears, the right will just make them look dirty like they did with the Occupy movement.  Somewhere I read that the intended target of the smears against the Occupiers was not the Occupiers themselves.  The targets were the young families with kids in strollers who might go to an occupy event or an average middle class female.  The idea is to make the Occupiers look so unwholesome and dirty that the target audience would feel a visceral disgust with them.  That would keep the curious away from Occupy events and stem the swelling crowds at marches and rallies.  It worked.  It kept the 99% from getting together in a unified force and exchanging notes.  Characterizing women as dirty sluts keeps them at arms length from the very women who should be joining with them to push this nonsense back.

Who else benefits? The right wing keeps their crazy base and feeds them even more red meat.  This makes the right wing base even more dangerous.  I’m talking bordering on pre Third Reich crazy.  If there is no push back, the crazy will just keep ratcheting up.  If you want to see how this works, read the book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Eric Larson.  It’s an account of the last ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, before WWII.  Starting in 1933, Dodd and his family witnessed  the unraveling of society in Berlin and with each fresh outrage thought that surely the German people would push back vigorously and re-establish the rule of law. The Dodds were to be sorely disappointed. With each new law against Jews and each new beating in the streets and with average Germans feeling powerful in everyday life to report on each other and take what they wanted, Germany devolved to the point where political enemies could be assassinated without much uproar.  Each new event just made ordinary people more fearful and less likely to take action.

So, here’s where I think we are.  The longer it takes for Obama to step up and punch Rush in the fucking nose, the more likely it will be that the next outrage will also go unchecked.  Right now, Rush and his listeners are rabid dogs who are just barking.  But let this go and the next time, who knows what will happen.

I already can’t believe what I’m seeing from the Obama administration.  Barry’s call to Sandra was about the most tepid, ineffectual move he could ever make.  I can’t wait to see Amanda Marcotte get back on her bandwagon and salivate all over Obama’s brave defense of Sandra Fluke.  You know it’s coming.  You know who Obama reminds me of in this situation?  Michael Dukakis.  Remember the SNL skit where Jon Lovitz played Dukakis and was asked the infamous question about what he would do if Kitty Dukakis was raped?  And Lovitz came back with the most cerebral, weak and passionless, “I’m outraged” response.  I wish I could find this on youtube but damn the copyright crap, the clip is gone.  But here’s the transcript.  Just try to imagine Jon Lovitz saying these words as if he were ordering more toast with his feta cheese and spinach omelet:

Sam Donaldson: [ waving frantically ] Governor Dukakis!! Governor Dukakis!!

Michael Dukakis: Sam.

Sam Donaldson: Your leadership style has been described as technotronic, cool, emotionally dead. Even your closest admirers admit that sometimes you are distant and aloof, a bit of a cold fish. Pundits are saying that one of the reasons you trail in the polls is that you are uninspiring, and seem totally devoid of passion.

Michael Dukakis: What’s the question?

Sam Donaldson: Well, I suppose the question, Governor, is do you have the passion necessary to lead this country?

Michael Dukakis: [ unemotional ] Sam, that kind of asperation to my character, quite frankly, makes me – well, there’s no other word for it – enraged. Maybe I shouldn’t say that in the heat of the moment, but I can’t control myself. I apologize for flying off the handle. And I’m just sorry my kids had to see me like this.

What exactly is the problem with Barry?  Is it that he benefitted from using misogyny and sexism in 2008 so he can’t credibly quash Rush and O’Reilly now?  Is he still trying to thread this needle, trying to do just enough for women while retaining some of the evangelical vote?  The possible political ramifications are becoming clearer.  The right wing is going to continue to ratchet up the attack on women’s rights and ping Barry to take a stand.  And they know that he won’t do it because a.) he has about as much passion to defend women as Dukakis did to tear apart Kitty’s rapist  b.) he thinks he has the women’s vote in the bag and c.) he’s afraid to piss off the religious.  That leaves the right open to inflict an awful lot of damage to women before the election, damage that might come back to bite Barry in the ass at the polls for being fucking useless in the face of extraordinary national bullying of over half of the population.

The right isn’t going to stop with contraceptives.  If you don’t smack them in the nose on this issue, even if the policy remains the same, they’re going to pick on something else next, like protecting the jobs of pregnant women or the family leave act.  Yeah, I can see the family leave act getting some unusual attention next.  It will be something like, “In these tough economic times, businesses need to have the flexibility to hire workers when they need them.  They can’t be burdened with these regulations. Women who decide to have children will have to weigh whether that is in the best interest of their family or their jobs. And anyway, what’s wrong with women who don’t want to stay home with their babies?  Their sweet, precious babies who need them.  What kind of cold-hearted bitch goes to work and leaves her most valuable possessions in the care of strangers?”

You can’t see it coming?  You aren’t imaginating hard enough.

Anyway, Obama has an Epic Fail on his hands right now.  When Rush took to the airwaves on day two of Slutgate, Obama should have come out swinging and made absolutely sure that Rush was down long enough that he wouldn’t be able to get up.  Obama could have called his connections to put pressure on Rush’s sponsors.  He could have had a press conference and said he was clearing his schedule because this matter affected more than half of the population and it was that important to him.  He could have said that adult men and women are not accountable to Rush or anyone else for their sexuality.

He could have done those things.  But he didn’t.  And so the problem escalates.  The right starts calling out its second string and circles the wagons around Rush.  And now its RUSH who is untouchable.



This sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay goes out to all women, young and old.  I stand with Sandra: