Sandra Fluke — she of the Limbaugh slut-shaming and the Jewish boyfriend — gave a strong speech about contraception and women’s health at the DNC last night. Bumped up to primetime, the young activist got the crowd excited and did an admirable job hitting the Republican candidates hard over their party’s series of legislative attempts against reproductive rights and health care that are now known as “The War on Women.” She enumerated the worst aspects of that war quite clearly:
It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don’t want and our doctors say we don’t need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don’t.
Fluke’s rapid rise to prominence is an interesting story. She was an agitator for birth control coverage at Georgetown chosen to testify at a House hearing on birth control coverage — from which she was eventually excluded. Then she got called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh, and because so many people recognized that such a sexually-degrading word is commonly used to silence women everywhere, they identified with her plight. She also became an exemplar of how the mere thought of a sexually active young woman gets elements of the ultra right wing absolutely apoplectic. In fact, those elements have remained apoplectic. As Think Progress’s Tara Culp-Ressler documented, the nasty and sexist tweets about Fluke peaked during her speech, as though the lessons from Limbaugh’s caddish behavior — which almost got him fired and vaulted Fluke into heroine status — were the opposite of what they really were. Culp-Ressler notes, “Aside from misrepresenting Fluke’s point that women should not have to pay more than men do for essential preventative health services…these smears degrade Fluke as a woman.”
I expected the first night of the Democratic National Convention to be interesting, maybe even fun, and certainly worthy of skepticism. But I can’t say I expected it to be must-see TV.
I turned on CSPAN at the end of the workday yesterday, planning to leave it on in the background and get some extra work done at the computer or around the house. But just like Blair Thornburgh, my attention was immediately captured by the strong group of Democratic women from the House of Representatives (plus a few promising candidates) who stood together in an array of multicolored suit jackets and spoke with passion about healthcare, taking care of veterans, and reproductive freedom. As POLITICO rather bluntly put it before that group appearance:
Two black women, a Hispanic woman, an Italian-American woman, a Jewish woman and a war veteran will appear in the 7 p.m. hour in a bold-faced attempt to showcase the party’s women and diversity.
Little did I know, this moment was only the beginning of an unforgettable night. Stacey Lihn, whose daughter was born with a heart defect, spoke with a catch in her throat of how Obamacare had enabled her young child to stay insured. It’s hard to argue against a policy when a family is there explaining how it saved their child’s future.
I’m a sucker for a good montage. I’ve been known to reach for the tissues before the Academy Awards even starts pulling out all of the schmaltzy stops. (I’m not even talking about the montage of people who died; I tear up during the “magic of the movies” opener.) But pageantry? Please. Watching on TV, I never fall for people who look emotional and choked-up behind the podium.
This week, I headed to the Democratic National Convention with a hardened gaze, endeavoring to take an even-handed look at all the pageantry and politicking, and to exercise some shrewd insight over the hullaballoo. Because what are the speeches and presentations of the evening if not the world’s largest infomercial, the commercial cousin to the montage? And isn’t politics just Hollywood for ugly people, anyway?
As I took my seat, journalistic objectivity and heartstrings of steel were my watchwords, and at first, it was easy. I watched. I took noted. I occasionally scoffed. But when the Democratic women of the U.S. House of Representatives took the stage, I started listening harder. These women, in a rainbow of backgrounds, constituencies, and pantsuits, were talking about issues, but not in some abstract, fade-to-music way. They were telling their stories and fights with rhetorical flair, and I found myself genuinely thrilled to hear about the legislation they passed for military families, victims of domestic violence, and fair pay for women. I watched presentations onscreen about families who could finally afford to take care of a sick little girl under the Affordable Care Act. I watched Tammy Duckworth and Nancy Keenan and Lilly Ledbetter and I felt something kick to life in me, an unbidden inspiration.
Ever since the complete firestorm surrounding GOP senatorial Candidate Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” the GOP has kept mum on “red-meat” social issues. The word “abortion” was barely mentioned all week in prime-time convention speeches, for instance, many of which were by women and delivered well. And even though the party’s platform contained a complete abortion ban, there appeared to be a concerted effort not to attract attention to that inconvenient fact.
But for those of us who believe anti-abortion fervor comes as much from societal misogyny as conviction in the “sanctity of life,” GOP speaker Mike Huckabee’s “joke” at the expense of staunchly pro-choice DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz felt like the party’s real position on women’s roles was spilling out of the seams.
Here’s the text of Huckabee’s bon mot:
“Tampa has been such a wonderful and hospitable city to us. The only hitch in an otherwise perfect week was the awful noise coming from the hotel room next door to mine. Turns out it was just Debbie Wasserman Schultz practicing her speech for the DNC in Charlotte next week. Bless her heart.”
In case you don’t get the point embedded in this joke, the point is that Wasserman-Schultz has a shrill voice, in Huckabee’s view (but bless her heart, really!). Shrill: the most common insult deployed to silence a strong voice from any downtrodden group in society, particularly a female one.