One Day in Texas: The Worst and the Best and the Worst in American Politics

In a week that has seen President Obama’s speech on climate change, debunking of the so-called IRS “scandal,” and Supreme Court decisions on Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act and marriage equality, fans of politics have had a lot to talk about (and it’s only Wednesday, as of this writing).  But for all the action in Washington, the real show appeared to be in the state of Texas.

The Lone Star State was the setting for a chain of events that perfectly epitomizes the current state of American politics.  It was a roller coaster fueled by partisan debate, knee-jerk reactions, passionate citizens and a filibuster that birthed a new political celebrity.

Let’s begin with the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Texas is among the many states and counties defined by the act as having a history of discriminatory voting laws.  It seems that prior to the Act’s passage in 1965, the state took actions that made it very difficult for minorities to register or cast their ballots.  Because of this, the VRA’s Article 5 declared that the state would have to seek approval from the federal government before enacted any new voting laws.  However, this did not keep the state, and specifically its Republican legislators, from attempting to enact strict voter ID laws that would have disenfranchised thousands of minority voters.  They also sought to alter their electoral districts in an attempt to limit the influence of those that somehow would maintain the right to vote.  However, this attempt was thwarted after State Senator Wendy Davis, whose district would have been redrawn, challenged the redistricting, saying it violated Article 5 of the VRA.

So, after Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling gutted the VRA and ended the requirement for Texas to seek approval from the Department of Justice, the state wasted no time enacting the legislation that had previously been shot down.  Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement a mere two hours after the ruling:

“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately.  Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

This means that Davis will likely find herself without a district when the next election rolls around, and Republicans will have effectively silenced a powerful contrarian voice.  And though this is a sneaky way to limit dissent, it is not illegal.  It is just cowardly, as is the voter ID law that will keep thousands of people—mostly Democrat voters, not coincidentally—from voting.  Rather than win a rational debate on the issues, Republicans prefer to subvert the democratic process by preventing the opposition from participating.  It appears the new GOP motto should be, “If you can’t beat them, cheat them.”

Davis, however, was nowhere near done fighting.  While she may not have any control over the Voting Rights Act and its impact on her seat in the Senate, she could certainly impact their ability to push through strict abortion legislation that would have been devastating to women in Texas.  It would have closed nearly all the state’s abortion providers, leaving only five in a state with 26 million people, as well as preventing any abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This bill was defeated in its first pass through the Texas legislature, but Republicans are a determined bunch.  Governor Rick Perry called a special session of Congress to give the abortion bill (and a few other pet issues) a second shot.  These special sessions required a lower vote threshold for approving a bill, giving them a much better chance at passage.  However, this 30-day session was nearly at an end and the time to put the abortion bill up for a vote was running out.  If no vote was held by midnight Tuesday, the bill would be defeated.

So, Davis took it upon herself to stand up for the women of Texas.  And stand she did.  She filibustered the bill in the Senate for 11 hours, speaking continuously, not allowed to eat, drink, or even lean on the podium.  If she could speak until midnight, there would be no time for a vote.

But, Republicans were not willing to concede defeat.  Because of the lower threshold, they had the votes to pass the bill, if only they could end Davis’s filibuster.  So, they repeatedly challenged her, using Texas’s very strict filibuster rules to try to trip her up.  Finally, after three dubious violations, they succeeded.  Davis was stopped, just minutes short of midnight.  She was like a marathon runner who trips and falls with the finish line in sight.  Of course, in this case, she was like a runner clubbed in the leg with a lead pipe wielded by Republicans determined not to let a woman stop them from telling the rest of the women in Texas what to do.

Yet, as remarkable as Davis’s effort had been, something even more remarkable happened next.  The assembled spectators, inspired by the filibuster, raised their own voices, creating enough noise and chaos to drown out the Republican attempts to call for a vote before the deadline.

But, Republicans are a determined lot, and there is no shortage of dirty tricks in their playbook.  They called for a vote anyway, even though it was after midnight.  But, the continued uproar from the crowd finally forced them to admit defeat.

However, the celebration by Democrats and pro-choice supporters was short-lived.  On Wednesday, Gov. Perry called for a second special session of Congress to try for a third time to pass the abortion bill.  And, because Republicans will have 30 days to call for a vote, it will almost certainly pass.  The Texas GOP will impose their will on the women of Texas, no matter what it takes.

Of course, Perry claims that he is acting on behalf of the people of Texas, saying they “want to protect women and the unborn,” though the proposed abortion bill would do exactly the opposite, depriving many women of needed health care.  It is also not what Texans want, with recent polling showing that 74 percent of registered voters saying abortion decisions should be made by women and their doctors, not by politicians.

In his statement, Perry also said that, “Texans value life.”  This is especially infuriating given something else that happened today.  For the 500th time since the state resumed using the death penalty in 1982, a Texan was executed.  The fact that the person put to death was black female, Kimberly McCarthy, only adds to the perception that the GOP is fighting a war against women and minorities.  Nearly 40 percent of all executions in the US have taken place in Texas, and Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in US history.

If this hypocrisy did not involve human lives, it would be almost humorous.  Instead, it is tragic.  While claiming to value life, he is taking lives and destroying the health care for the women of his state.

But, there is some light at the end of this tunnel of death, deception and dirty tricks.  Rick Perry will run for another term as governor next year.  And, he might see a familiar face as his opponent.  There is already talk that Wendy Davis should throw her hat in the ring.  And, after her surge in popularity after yesterday’s filibuster, she would have a surprisingly good chance in a state that is not especially friendly to Democrats.  That would be the ultimate victory for a woman who literally stands up for the people of her state.  But, it might be too late to stop the damage done by the GOP.

An Apology to the Women of America

 

Rush Limbaugh booking photo from his arrest in...

Hey, ladies. This guy thinks you're too stupid to think for yourselves. What an asshole.

America is at war. This is nothing new. What is new is the enemy. Having tired of fighting so-called terrorists overseas, this country has found a new target. Led by the Republican Party, and specifically the Religious Right, a war is being fought against the women of America. Like most American wars, however, this one is being fought for all the wrong reasons. The stupid white men that make up the government have decided that women and their freedom are the greatest threat currently facing this nation. And, on behalf of all those stupid white men, I would like to say one thing: I’m sorry.

In the past few weeks, there has been a parade of ridiculousness by men waving the flag of religious morality as they attempt to restrict women’s access to health care services including abortion and contraception. The Supreme Court has ruled that both of these are legal, so the Republican Party has tried to find clever ways around this fact. Sadly for them, being clever is not their strong suit.

Several states have tried to change the concept of personhood, arguing that human life begins at the moment of conception. This is contrary to scientific consensus, but the GOP has overcome this obstacle by simply ignoring the science. This is the same strategy they have used on issues from climate change to evolution. And, just like in those cases, it has left them looking foolish.

Their idea is that by calling an embryo a person, abortion would no longer be a medical procedure. Women who received abortions would now be murderers, as would the doctors who performed them. But, this theory ignores the fact that many pregnancies end naturally, without the intervention of a doctor. Miscarriages are an unfortunately common occurrence, but would now be cause for a criminal investigation to make sure no foul play was involved. This personhood initiative would also outlaw most forms of hormonal contraception, as anything that prevented an egg from becoming a fully-formed human being would now be against the law.

There has also been a more direct attack against contraception. According to the Catholic Church, contraception is not permitted. Religious groups have attempted to use this doctrine to claim that religious institutions should not be required to provide contraception to their employees as part of their health benefits. President Obama dodged this ploy by requiring the insurance companies to cover these costs instead of the religious institutions. This was not a satisfactory solution for the religious fanatics, even though it was embraced by insurance providers.

According to estimates from the insurance companies themselves, it would cost about $4 billion per year to provide contraception for every woman in the country. These same insurers are now spending close to $11 billion each year on unplanned pregnancies, including pre-natal care, delivery, and other related expenses. As would be expected, insurance companies are in favor of any idea that involves paying out less money.

Religious zealots in the Republican Party, however, cling to the idea that contraception and abortion are against the will of the Catholic Church, and should therefore be outlawed, despite the fact that they rarely follow church doctrine when making policies. Some other things opposed by the Catholic Church, for example, according to the Conference of Catholic Bishops: the death penalty, war, anti-immigration laws, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Some things the Church favors: universal health care, workers’ unions, and an increase in the minimum wage. The GOP has ignored the wishes of the church on all of these major issues. To claim that this is a battle over religious freedom and has nothing to do with oppressing women is beyond ridiculous. It is condescending and offensive.

The stupid white men that run this country are uncomfortable with the thought that women are breaking out of the mold that they were stuck in for centuries. They think women are supposed to be silent and submissive, ignorant and obedient, passive and pregnant. They think sex is something for men to enjoy and for women to endure. And, they think that if women won’t willingly revert back to this idealized male notion of what they are supposed to be, they can simply change the laws so that women have no choice.

That’s what this whole debate boils down to. Stupid white men are scared that women have choices. Women can choose how they want to live their lives, when and with whom they want to have sex, and when and if they want to become pregnant. And, this reality is terrifying to men whose opinions on women are based on a book written more than 2,000 years ago.

So, as a stupid white man, I want to say again: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for Darrell Issa, the congressman who held a hearing on contraception, but refused to allow any women to testify.

I’m sorry for Rush Limbaugh, who spent most of the last week saying horrible, disgusting things about a woman with the audacity to think that she had a right to have her voice heard at that hearing, while at the same time insisting that insurers should not provide contraception for women but should continue to pay for his Viagra.

I’m sorry for Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio, who sponsored a bill that would allow employers to refuse to cover any health care service they opposed for “moral reasons,” including contraception and abortion, as if there is any moral reason that would justify denying care to anyone who needed it.

I’m sorry for Rick Santorum, the presidential candidate who says contraception is against God’s will, opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and dares to call children born to rape victims “a gift from God.”

I’m also sorry that no one in the Republican Party knows how contraception or abortion actually work. They think that anyone using contraception is a “slut” or a “prostitute,” to use the words of the ever-eloquent Mr. Limbaugh, despite the fact that 58 percent of women on contraception use it at least in part for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. In fact, there are women using contraception that aren’t having sex at all. Many women are prescribed contraception for ailments ranging from severe menstrual pain to skin conditions to fibroid tumors to endometriosis to polycystic ovarian syndrome, and some of these women use contraception in order to keep their reproductive systems healthy enough to have children in the future. But, the irony of that is too much for simple-minded Republicans to grasp. They are just as clueless on abortion, as shown in their numerous attempts to pass laws forcing women to undergo ultrasounds before they are able to have an abortion. They think that women don’t know that when they are pregnant it means that they are going to have a baby, and that if they only knew, they would never want to terminate their pregnancy.

There is a small reason for hope, however. Women outnumber men in this country. And, along with the men smart enough to be on their side, they have the power to vote all the stupid white men out of office. But, until they do, these stupid white men will continue to do stupid things, and people like me will be forced to keep apologizing for them.

So, this apology is directed to all the women who have fought for countless years to prove that they are not second-class citizens, that they are fully capable of making their own decisions on what is best for them, and that it is possible to have both a uterus and a brain. I may be a stupid white man, but I know the right side of this battle to be on.