Each month, Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner hosts The Salon, a conversation with Rachel Sklar of Change the Ratio and other Jewish women about life, love, politics and everything in between. In the latest episode, Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer discusses lessons from Hurricane Sandy; Amy Webb, author of “Data, A Love Story,” talks about how she gamed JDate to meet her perfect mate; Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, co-author of “Et Le’ehov: The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy,” about sex education in the Orthodox community, and all five chime in on the Jewish vote and election 2012. Check out all of the clips here.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
7.30 am: Nauseous. Proceed to voting area. Think about the subversive nature of my vote, and how we can’t let Obama take his base for granted.
9.30 am: Subway to office. Keep reminding myself that if the unthinkable happens, more people will be in the streets. The revolution is happening, and it will keep happening. Consider putting my head between my knees, but train is too crowded.
10:00 am: Update Facebook status: “Nauseous until further notice.” Remember to enact social media embargo today. Feed colleagues the remains of my hurricane/election related Fear Baking.
10:15 am: Remember waiting in line in Ohio to vote for Kerry in 2004. Think about crying in my car when he lost the election, not because I loved John Kerry, but because at the time he was the closest thing there was to hope. I don’t drive anymore, but I’m glad crying in public in New York is acceptable.
Tonight, as we bite our nails waiting for the election results to come in, it feels to me like there’s more at stake than just the vital policy issues I blogged about this morning.
Also hanging in the balance are the type of campaigns we encourage candidates to run as well as how much the media relies on facts and data — in interpreting policy and in gauging public opinion.
To the first point: There’s no question in this blogger’s mind that the Romney campaign has been incredibly dishonest — in its deceptive advertising, its candidate’s constant switching of positions and its refusal to answer policy questions. If Romney wins, it will open the gate for more and more candidates to run based on image projection and “bending with the wind” rather than actual ideas, plans and beliefs. This alarms me. After all, it’s not as though our electoral process is a particularly transparent and honest one to begin with. A Romney victory would be an opportunity to further muddy the waters, to further turn a serious election into a popularity contest.
If you, like me, spent any time this weekend in the areas of New York City that were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, or if you even spent time just reading about these folks’ plight, it may be a difficult and frustrating task to turn your thoughts back to the endless media noise around the election. The disconnect is huge — but at the same time, the need to vote has never been more important.
Here’s my own frustration: I know the weather-battered residents in the most impoverished, neglected parts of The Rockaways, Coney Island and Staten Island, for instance, may languish no matter who is elected. After all, this is a national political climate where no one ever mentions the word “poor;” instead, the rhetoric focuses on the catch-all middle class. Meanwhile, one side is viciously attacking the other with a coded racial dog whistle for supporting government “handouts” — you know, those relief and assistance programs that save people’s lives and keep them from going hungry. And that’s all on top of a local political environment where our Mayor’s idea of helping lower-income folks is restricting their soda use and frisking their sons.
Meanwhile, it looks like ad hoc community groups in cooperation with Occupy Sandy, may be doing a better job than government or large agencies at getting aid where it’s needed after Sandy — without red tape and with on-the-ground knowledge.
Last night’s Foreign Policy debate was all about swing — the candidates taking final swings at each other and aiming for the hearts and minds of swing voters. And conventional polling wisdom tells us who the most important “swing voters” are, particularly for the President: that’s right, the women.
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation’s best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama’s best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s a reason for that: Nate Silver noted this week that a particularly pronounced “gender gap” has emerged this year: “if only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election [but] if only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney.”
After watching two long debates in which the only “women’s issue” raised was in the context of two men’s faith, I had little hope going into last night’s town hall.
And wow, was I surprised. The evening felt like all women, all the time.
A strong, enthusiastic and even charming Barack Obama emerged out of whatever metaphysical funk was keeping him down last time (maybe he had some of what Joe Biden was having?). Of his own volition, he referred to his support of — and his opponents’ threatened cuts to — Planned Parenthood not once, twice or three times, but four times at least. As I jokingly tweeted, no one would have ever suspected “Planned Parenthood” to be the reference that got viewers engaged in a debate drinking game sloshed!
And Obama also got passionate talking about the women’s issue nearest to his heart, women’s pay equity, describing the women in his family working hard and the glass ceiling his grandmother hit. In fact, by framing everything from contraception and abortion to the pay gap in terms of the economy and family values, he was as animated speaking about reproductive rights as I’ve ever heard him.
Everybody’s talking about rape. From Daniel Tosh to Todd Akin, it’s all the rhetorical rage. While rape jokes may be more pervasive than ever these days, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve grown weary of arguments about rape humor — especially since the current political rhetoric regarding women’s bodies gives us something deeper at which to be offended. The suggestion that women’s bodies possess magical powers allowing them to suppress the fertilization of their eggs by rapists’ semen — in the event of “legitimate rape,” that is — and the proposal that fetal “personhood” begins weeks before a woman can even know that she is pregnant must cause even the most conservative women to shudder. At least in secret.
But as the arguments dwindle and the fallout of badly timed jokes runs its course, we’re left with something more sinister. What does this increasing cultural and political impulse to legislate women’s bodies and lash out at them in hateful ways say about our society?
Let’s start with humor. Yes, good humor breaches boundaries and challenges prevailing attitudes in ways that produce dialogue. But only the smart jokes do this. Defending every rape joke on the basis of free speech or an attempt to question a dominant mindset often amounts to intellectual laziness. The nature of our jokes, and why we laugh at them, reveals the darker realities of who we are. So why so much rape humor, and why now?
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.
My Dearest Daughter:
At some point over the last 18 years, I, like many other moms out there, started to worry about the sort of world I brought you into. This is your first week of college, and it’s also your first time away from home for an extended period of time. Your world is opening up in exciting and challenging new ways, but still, sometimes I feel as if I’ve launched you into outer space — into a disorienting, alien landscape that I don’t quite recognize. Case in point: Rep. Todd Akin’s statement about “legitimate rape.” By now you know the ridiculous essence of the story — that Akin said that when a so-called “legitimate rape” occurs, a woman’s body somehow knows to shut itself down to prevent pregnancy.
My precious daughter, you plan to major in biology and you will surely learn that this man has propagated a disgusting, bald lie in order to force women to carry a traumatic or unwanted pregnancy to term. In fact, last year Akin co-sponsored a bill with Paul Ryan, the presumed Republican vice-presidential nominee, that permitted Medicaid to pay for an abortion only in the case of a “forcible rape.” If an adult relative raped a young girl or a co-ed was date-raped by another student, these men believe that those rapes should not be eligible for abortions under Medicaid.
How did we get here? What sort of country am I leaving to you?
The Sisterhood’s Blair Thornburgh calls Rep. Todd Akin’s ill-considered words on abortion and rape “immature,” and she’s right about that. Unfortunately, this momentary villain of the political community is not alone in his ignorance and immaturity. Rather, his response resurrects an old Right-Wing canard: Anna North ran down some of the weirdest examples of this myth at BuzzFeed earlier this spring.
The idea that Akin simply verbalized an attitude that many of his peers already embrace but don’t dare utter aloud is more important than the immediate horse-race speculation about his political future. Will Akin be forced to drop out by the GOP? Will he stay in the race? Ultimately, writes my colleague Sarah Jaffe, it doesn’t matter, because the party that has produced Akin has buried itself deep in a misogynist hole:
This isn’t a tiny quibble over a definition of rape or even a hilarious moment to laugh at a Congressman who thinks women have magic reproductive organs. Akin’s “misstatement” is a symptom of a problem that plagues nearly an entire political party and has been given way too much quarter by those who should oppose it.
Perhaps it’s not shocking that Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri who’s backed by the Tea Party, opposes abortion even in the case of rape. More surprising is the backward and scrambling way he justifies his position. In an interview with a St. Louis television station, Mr. Akin presented a muddied “clarification” on his views on Sunday:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
There’s plenty of reason to take issue with what he says. That rape is unlikely to cause pregnancy. That an abortion is somehow akin to a criminal prosecution. That rape must be qualified as “legitimate” unfairly suggests victims who routinely cry wolf. That rape happens not to a person but to the object that is the “female body.”
This is an upsetting message. But equally troubling are the fumbling, inarticulate euphemisms Akin uses to convey it. You can practically hear him blush as he pronounces wordy allusions to “that whole thing” and the unspecified physical process “that didn’t work or something.”
As soon as Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan as his pick for vice president, critics pounced on the all-too-familiar spectacle of two white men in suits campaigning side by side. The stark contrast to 2008’s groundbreaking race — a black nominee! a female GOP veep nominee! — stood out to women’s and feminist groups, and not just because a woman wasn’t on the docket.
Most of the posts I read about Ryan from my fellow feminists arrived in the form of lists, as though the only way to organize and channel our collective feelings of inchoate rage was to calmly enumerate all of the reasons we don’t like this guy. The pro-choice, pro-women group EMILY’s List struck first, sending out an email almost immediately with its own catalog of reasons Ryan was “bad for women,” including his votes against food stamps and abortion.
Feministing produced another take on the Ryan listicle, and Jezebel went even further with its highlighting of “nine depressingly kooky facts” about the soon-to-be veep nominee, including not just those troubling votes and budget proposals but his avowed worship of Ayn Rand, his crackdown on protesters at a town hall and the illustrative fact that his budget cuts slash so many programs for the poor and elderly he has actually attracted the disapproval of the usually Republican-friendly Council of Catholic Bishops.
It’s become practically a given that public figures who espouse a strict vision of morality will likely be revealed to have participated in behavior that they now want banned. The more vehement and damning the preaching, it so often seems, the less stringent the practicing.
In this election, the allegations of hypocrisy are already becoming a major story. Rick Santorum, who may be one of the most anti-abortion politicians in history, is married to a woman who lived in a May–December relationship for years with a known abortion provider. The tale of Karen Santorum makes it sound like she lived quite the wild life in those years before marrying her now-husband, who has gone on the record saying rape victims who are pregnant should “make the best of a bad situation.”
Just this weekend Rand Paul, oblivious to the implications, refused a TSA airport pat-down as being invasive of his bodily autonomy on his way to an anti-abortion rally.