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If you’ve been watching Glenn Beck much lately – something I generally try to avoid, but I inevitably see clips on Countdown, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and/or just about every blog on the liberal side of the blogosphere – you know that the man has been bandying about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” and “Hitler” pretty freely in connection with progressives generally and President Obama in particular.
Not that President Obama is particularly progressive, but that’s another rant for another time.
Anyway, Beck has been engaged in a lot of ranting and raving and name calling, including some odd combos like “communist fascists,” which apparently is what happens when someone moves so far to the left end of the political spectrum that they end up back around at the extreme end of the right side of the spectrum.
Apparently no one’s ever explained Godwin’s Law to Mr. Beck.
Now, just yesterday, I ran across the following photo from the Washington Post (h/t @chrislhayes, link takes you to the original photo in context):
I ask you, who does this photo remind you of?
Here’s a hint. Change the flag behind him with another historical flag. One from, say, Germany. Late 1930s – mid 1940s era.
Seriously, dude. Glass houses. Pot. Kettle.
Mind, I’m not calling Glenn Beck a Nazi. Because, hey, I am familiar with Godwin’s Law.*
I’m just saying that, well, if there was a photo of me looking like this floating around on teh internets, I’d really want to avoid mentioning the H-word. Or the F-word. Um, fascist, that is, not the other F-word (which I manifestly have no problem with using when the occasion seems to call for it).
Just a thought.
* I will concede that there comes a point where the comparison to fascism as a system of government may be appropriate, despite the emotional valence of the term. I drafted a couple of posts for this blog during the Bush administration where I speculated about where we as a nation were along the slippery slope leading to fascism, though I don’t remember if I actually posted any of them. I was not alone in speculating about this – see for instance Joe Conason’s It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush.
So, former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino — you remember her, right? Bush administration Kool-Aid junkie? Well, I guess she’s forgotten all about 9/11. Because she was on Fox News recently, distressed that they weren’t calling the Ft. Hood shooting a terrorist attack, and she actually said that there were no terrorist attacks during the Bush administration.
I know. Mind boggling.
Amazingly, it appears her amnesia is some new contagious type, because Sean Hannity doesn’t bother to correct her assertion that “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” Guess he forgot about 9/11, too.
Sad, very sad. I hope they get help for that. I wonder what kind of health insurance they have?
On a completely unrelated note, sorry I haven’t been around lately. I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, and that’s taking a lot of my time. I’m probably going to do some posts in the near future, though.
Next week. After NaNoWriMo ends.
Ah, the beauty of being in a state that allows early voting. No waiting in long lines next Tuesday for your humble correspondent. Which is just as well, because barring any unforeseen disasters, I will be driving to Chicago on election day to visit a friend and – assuming the election goes as current polls suggest it will – to be at ground zero for Obama victory celebrations.
No, I haven’t forgiven him yet for his vote on the FISA reauthorization. But I still voted for him, and I still want him to win.
The alternative seems unthinkable to me.
I honestly do not know that our country would survive even four years of a McCain presidency, considering our current sorry circumstances after eight years of alleged president George W. Bush’s mishandling of literally every matter that crossed his desk. To say nothing of the nightmare that might ensue if McCain died or became otherwise incapacitated (I still think he is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease) and Scary Palin took over running the show.
In spite of my ongoing fears that there will be some sort of terrorist attack in the coming days by someone seeking to influence the election in favor of John McCain (fears that the recent story about a call for terrorist groups to cause such an attack for just that purpose on a pro-al Quaeda website, did absolutely nothing to ease — honestly, who knew that al Quaeda would have a preference for a McCain/Palin presidency over an Obama presidency?), at this point, I do not believe that such an attack would actually be sufficient to swing the election in McCain’s favor.
Let me say that again, in case any terrorists (foreign or domestic) are actually reading this and got confused by that long sentence and the even longer parenthetical in the middle of it:
At this point, I do not believe that a terrorist attack would be sufficient to swing the election in favor of John McCain.
That window of opportunity has now closed, in my opinion. I don’t know if I could pinpoint the exact moment it slammed shut, but it has definitely done so now.
Back when the race was closer – before the economic meltdown and the McCain campaign meltdown that more or less coincided with it – there was a good chance that a terrorist attack would have swung the election in his favor enough to make a difference. I have explained elsewhere in this blog (over and over again) about why the principles of terror management theory and the research supporting that theory would make such a change in election outcome possible or even likely.
And even now, an attack would likely sway some voters who are still on the fence into McCain’s column. Just as the race-baiting and fear tactics that we have seen so much of from the Republican campaign likely have already swayed some particularly fearful voters.
But I do not think that an attack – even a very large one, even a nuclear attack on a major city – would be enough to persuade voters that McCain was in any way temperamentally suited to handle such a crisis.
Not after the way McCain responded to the economic crisis.
Not after the way the McCain campaign has repeatedly changed tactics and contradicted itself over the past few weeks.
Not after the way that McCain, Palin, and other members of the McCain campaign have repeatedly been revealed to have committed the very same sins they seek to smear Obama with, often to a far greater degree.
Not since the outcome of the Troopergate investigation, which has caused even Republican party loyalists to question McCain’s judgment in his decision to make her his running mate, and has even cause a few of said loyalists to actually endorse – or at least tacitly suggest that they plan to vote for – Barack Obama.
Not since it was revealed that the campaign that has repeatedly tried to paint Barack Obama as an elitist who is out of touch with the American public spent over $150,000 of the Republican campaign budget – money donated by party supporters under the assumption that it would be used to fund advertising – on the Empress’s new clothes.
Not now that McCain campaign insiders have taken to refering to Sarah Palin as “a complete whack job” and “a diva” who has “gone roque” in their comments to the press.
Not since it was revealed that Indiana employees of a robocalling firm walked off the job en masse the other day rather than read the Republican-prepared script smearing Obama over the phone to Indiana voters.
Let there be no doubt about it: not only have the wheels come off the Straight Talk Express, but so have the axles, the transmission, the exhaust system, and various other vital engine parts.
And as much as the pundits and politicians may assume otherwise, the American public does not consist entirely of uneducated morons. And even most of those with less education are smart enough to see that the McCain campaign is a campaign not only without a plan for responding to the various crises that currently face our country, but it is a campaign without even a coherent strategy for winning the election in order to attempt to take on those problems.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has continued to take the high road (for the most part, at least) – refusing to be persuaded to openly badmouth either McCain or Palin in the press, speaking instead (again, for the most part) only about differences between the two campaigns plans for the country and their respective abilities to respond to crises. Members of the campaign have not panicked, and are not badmouthing either Obama or Biden (or other members of the campaign team) in the press, and are continuing to work hard to ensure an Obama victory next week.
Obama continues to take his measured approach to responding to questions from the press. He has demonstrated an ability to be thinking about and responding to multiple issues simultaneously. And he has not once, to my knowledge, lost his cool during any of that. Sure, there’ve been a couple of times where he has clearly appeared frustrated by the differences in press treatment of the two campaigns – especially during a couple of the debates. But he has remained cool under pressure, has not made faces when his opponent was speaking, and has stuck to his message – a message that has remained consistent over the course of the entire campaign, not one that changes with the weather.
Of course, none of this is enough to persuade diehard Republican loyalists to vote for Obama. What would be? There are always and have always been members of both parties who would sooner cut off useful parts of their anatomy than consider voting for a candidate from the other party – particularly in presidential races. There likely always will be such voters.
But for most of the voters who describe themselves as independents (with the notable exception of Bill O’Reilly, who, let’s face it, is about as independent as Puerto Rico), the difference between the two major candidates is clear, and those that have taken the time and trouble to listen to what both candidates have to say are showing a lot of concern about what they are hearing coming out of the McCain camp. And with each day that passes, it seems that a larger chunk of those independent voters have made the decision to support Obama.
And I do not believe that a terrorist attack at this point in the race would be sufficient to change that, or to assuage voters’ concerns about the chaos they are seeing in the McCain campaign.
So in spite of being both a Democrat and a Cubs fan, I am actually feeling less and less certain that the Democrats will find a way blow this thing between now and next Tuesday. Though of course, I suppose the election could still be stolen. Sort of like the last two presidential elections…
That’s it for now, my friends. I have to hit the road. I have a long drive ahead of me today.
Um, yikes! So the Dow apparently fell 777 points today, taking it lower than the first day of Bush’s presidency.
Seriously scared, now.
Can someone please just shut McCain up so the rest of Congress can work out a bailout package already? I don’t really like the idea of bailing out I-bankers at the taxpayers’ expense, but I like the idea of another Great Depression even less.
My mattress is looking safer and safer as a place to store what little money I have left…
P.S. Oh, and be sure to check out this article from the Guardian.
NB: I start this post off with a fairly long and rambling recollection of my memories of 9/11/2001. If you don’t want to read this (and I won’t fault you if you don’t), please consider scrolling down to the asterisks, where I actually start talking about political stuff that may interest my regular readers. -jd
It was an awful day, a day I and many – most – others wandered through in a sort of state of shock.
I was living in California at the time, still working as a lawyer. The first plane hit one of the towers just before my alarm clock went off that morning, The drive-time DJs chattered on as usual about nonsensical matters I can mercifully no longer remember, unaware of the unfolding tragedy until the woman who gave the traffic reports joined them on the air a few minutes later and told them to turn on a TV if they had one in the studio.
I turned my own TV on immediately, and thus had the dubious honor of watching the second plane hit the other tower as it was happening.
I stumbled around my apartment that morning, somehow getting ready for work, largely on autopilot, in shock. My brother called from Colorado. Was I planning on going to the office? Yes, I said. I had a meeting scheduled about a contract I was working on, I had to at least go in to see if it was still happening.
I was a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t supposed to react to emotional events the way other humans do, because lawyers aren’t supposed to be human, to suffer human weaknesses. I never got my emotional circuits disconnected (nor do most lawyers), but I often felt like I was obligated by my status to act as if I had – like many other lawyers did that day.
My brother was worried, because I worked in a tall building. Not the tallest in the city I was living in at the time, not by a long shot, but it was a crazy day, and no one was thinking logically. I certainly wasn’t. The biggest mass murder in our country’s history and I was putting on a suit and acting like I could ride out a day at the office.
It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but the truth is, I didn’t know what else to do. I lived alone, and had only recently moved to this city, so I didn’t have any close friends close by. My family was half a continent away. Practically the only people I knew locally were my co-workers. I think that’s the real reason why I went to work – I didn’t want to be alone on that horrible day, watching the news coverage by myself.
Probably only about a third of our staff showed up for work that day, mostly people with urgent meetings or people who like me didn’t think they were allowed (by whatever entity it is that allows these things) to take the day off. No work actually happened, at least as far as I saw. We congregated in a conference room where the head of our department had set up a television. Someone brought in a tray of bagels and a thermos full of coffee, which were largely ignored by everyone present. As if we could have eaten on that day.
We were all mentally or literally going through our rolodexes, trying to figure out if anyone we knew was likely to have been in one of the towers. I was one of the lucky ones – no one I knew, at least that I could think of at the moment, was likely to have been in either of the towers that day, though I did know several people who worked in one of the buildings across the street from the towers.
A co-worker – one of the ones who did not show up at the office that day – was not so lucky. Her mentor from a firm she had worked for earlier in her legal career was at a breakfast meeting in the restaurant that was on the top floor of one of the towers. He was among the missing.
We sat in the conference room, speaking in low voices, watching the scraps of news as they came in. Praying silently for the safety of people that we knew. Praying for all the people we didn’t know – the missing, and the people who would be missing them.
Every now and then, someone’s cell phone would ring, and the phone’s owner would walk quickly out into the hallway outside the conference room to take the call away from the rest of us. Sometimes, the news was good – someone they knew had received confirmation that someone else they knew was okay, was safe at home, was out of town, had taken a later flight, was not among the missing. Sometimes the news was less good – there were lots of reports of unanswered calls to mobile phones, or reaching answering machines at the homes of friends, or of not being able to get through to New York numbers at all.
By noon, I had had enough of pretending to work. I walked home from my office, got out of my lawyer costume and into comfy sweats, and started calling every single friend and family member I could, all over the country, trying to make sure that people were okay, trying to reassure myself that the world was not ending. And by and large, the news from my circle of friends and acquaintances was good.
There were some near-misses, though. A family friend who works in investment management and retirement planning was supposed to be flying from the west coast to New York to meet with some people from Cantor Fitzgerald that evening. His flight was canceled before it had a chance to board. The people he was scheduled to meet with were all among the missing. Another friend was a regular on one of the flights from Boston to LA that was hijacked. In other weeks he might have been on the plane, but something had caused his schedule to change that week.
The day passed slowly, with information trickling out in small bits between the endless replaying of the videos of the second crash and of each tower collapsing. Wild rumors circulated, and were duly reported by the media, albeit with strong caveats that they were unconfirmed rumors, because actual information was scarce.
It quickly became too painful to listen to the reporters, so I muted the television and started going through my CD collection, looking for music that might bring some comfort. John Lennon’s Imagine destroyed me – I listened to it twice, and cried for the lives lost. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was very cathartic, as well. I tried listening to Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica – my favorite of the nine – but quickly abandoned it as inappropriate to the mood of the day. Ditto a Mozart concerto. I finally settled on the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions with the volume turned down low. The entire album has a very mournful sound to it, sad and soothing, something that could be listened to without fear of offending the souls of those who lost their lives that day.
As night fell, I lit candles in my apartment, in the spirit of hope that more who were currently listed as “missing” would turn up alive and well. I brewed chamomile tea, which I sweetened with too much honey and sat on my bed staring at the TV, half-listening to the Cowboy Junkies, and wondering vaguely what could possibly drive people to fly airplanes into buildings.
At some point, I fell asleep, lights still on, music still playing, TV still flashing endless loops of planes crashing and towers falling.
A new day dawned, and the entire world had changed.
* * *
You may wonder why I’m writing about all this. My story of that day seven years ago is not dramatic, and it’s not as if anyone who was alive and aware of the world around them at the time of the attacks couldn’t tell a similar tale.
In truth, it is not what I had intended to write about when I sat down at my computer. But these were the words that came out, and I let them, because I feel it is appropriate to honor the memory of that day, as horrible as it was, and to honor the lives lost there – particularly the sacrifice by those who were trying to rescue others caught in the inferno of the towers before they fell, and the lives of the people on flight 93, who, having heard what happened with the other hijacked planes, fought back against their hijackers and prevented their plane from being used as a fourth weapon of horror at the cost of their own lives. Likewise, it is appropriate to honor the suffering of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11th.
Moments of silence, flags flown at half mast, prayers and religious services are all appropriate tributes to the losses suffered on that horrible day. Likewise the haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes or a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful.
These are the things that civilized people do when faced with such a tragedy.
What civilized people do not do, is to use the memory of that horrible day and the lives lost on it to score political points.
Yet today, we are seeing exactly that from the Republican party.
Last week, they showed that appalling 9/11 “tribute” video as part of the run-up to John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The video was apparently sprung on the cable news networks covering the convention without warning, and without the opportunity to screen it prior to its airing.
It was graphic and jingoistic, and it was clearly designed not to honor the memory of the lives lost or the heroic efforts of those who worked feverishly to rescue people from the rubble of the collapsed towers, but rather to inflame the worst aspects of the American public’s memory of that horrible day.
Worse still, it attempted to tie the attacks to Iran – a nation that had no part in planning the attacks – and to reinforce the idea that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were also somehow involved in their orchestration, despite no evidence to support this notion and massive evidence to the contrary. But tying Iran and Iraq to 9/11 serves the political agenda of certain people in the upper echelons of the Republican party (and, let us not forget, the agenda of the corporate interests and radical religious groups supporting certain GOP candidates).
Minutes after it aired, Keith Olbermann was apologizing to MSNBC viewers for the inappropriate nature of that video. And last night, he rightly castigated the Republican party leadership for the showing of the video in one of his excellent special comments.
Unfortunately, it seems we can expect many more actions of this nature from certain groups backing McCain and the Moose Killer over the next few months.
According to Denise Dennis, writing at the Huffington Post:
This past Sunday, in presidential-election swing states across the country, the New York Times came bundled with a dvd of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a controversial film on the threat Islamic terrorism. The documentary is set for release to retail outlets this week — the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — but has been shown at college campuses for nearly a year now, presented largely by Jewish student organizations and as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the national “conservative campus protest” organized and sponsored last fall by conservative author David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.
As it happens, I find myself in possession of a copy of this DVD. I did not buy it, though it lists a manufacturer’s recommended price on the front cover. Apparently, someone thinks it is worth $19.95, though I would disagree with that appraisal.
The copy I have was pressed into my hands by an earnest-looking young woman on a Denver street corner two weeks ago during the Democratic convention. She said something about it being about the distinction between peace-seeking Muslims and terrorists. I thanked her for it and shoved it in my bookbag without much thought or attention at the time. It remained in a stack with all the other political literature and similar offerings that I picked up as I wandered around the convention venue until last night, when I saw Ms. Dennis’s story on Huffington Post and the movie’s title rang a bell in my memory.
I have now watched the first forty minutes of the one hour video. That was enough.
More than enough, actually.
It is a piece of propaganda, plain and simple. Like the 9/11 “tribute” video from the RNC, it is designed to reawaken the public’s fear off terrorism. It displays graphic images of people injured in terrorist attacks. It shows maps with ominous x’s at the locations of various events. And it shows clips of various men in Muslim attire, with subtitles full of scary threats against the west, and particularly against America.
The video purports to distinguish between most followers of Islam, who are as horrified by the terrorist tactics used by al-Qaeda as the rest of us, and the radical Islamists who actually support or engage in terrorist acts. In reality, what it does is paint the Muslim religion as a threatening “other”, both opposed and a threat to “our way of life.” It blatantly states that Muslim people will say one thing when non-Muslims are present, and another thing when only believers are present – thus, by implication, no Muslim person can be trusted, because you can’t tell the radicals from the non-violent majority.
Someone has obviously spent a lot of money to make sure this DVD is widely circulated in swing states. The copy I have was presented in the standard DVD case, with a cover that looks like it was designed professionally like any other commercial DVD. I would assume the same can be said of the copies that were sent to the New York Times subscribers. According to the above-cited Dennis piece, the DVD “was bundled into newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.” Make no mistake. The distribution of this piece of political propaganda cost a fair chunk of change.
Why would someone go to this incredible expense?
It all comes back to fear, and to terror management theory.
As I have noted previously in this space, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have been shown to influence opinions expressed by voters on a variety of political issues, and on average to sway those opinions in the conservative direction.
The stronger the reminder about the threat, the greater the number of voters likely to be swayed by such tactics.
Certain Republicans want to set up Muslim citizens as the “other” in society, to be hated and feared, because it will give mainstream voters a visible threat to fear.
They are using graphic reminders of the attacks that occurred on this day seven years ago and the lives that were lost on that day as a means to accomplish this end.
They are doing it shamelessly and without apology.
There is a word for this sort of political tactic.
It is obscene.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, obscene means “objectionable or offensive to accepted standards of decency.” It then goes on to further define the term in primarily sexual contexts, which is how that term is usually interpreted in the legal arena. But the first sentence of the definition certainly applies to this tactic, so I will use the term obscene to describe it.
The people who lost their lives seven years ago today deserve better treatment than to have their deaths turned into a political tool. The people who lost friends and loved ones seven years ago deserve better. The American public deserves better.
And yet, as appalling as it is, there are politicians, corporations, and religious groups who are foisting this obscenity onto the American public, and who will continue to do so between now and November, all for the sake of winning a presidential election – an election which they in no way deserve to win after the horrible catastrofuck resulting from the past eight years of Republican “leadership.”
I cannot begin to describe how angry this makes me.
Mere words cannot suffice. I could paint you a picture, but I don’t think I have enough cadmium red or alizarin crimson – indeed, there may not be enough of either pigment in the world to convey my anger about the cynical use of our memories of 9/11 as a means to a political end by people who want to see John McCain elected in November.
Instead, I will leave you with this. It’s another Roy Zimmerman song, about someone else who tried to use 9/11 in a semi-political, semi-religious context:
…for calling the Republicans on the appalling use of that 9/11 “tribute” for political purposes. –jd
I’m going to say right up front that this post is aimed at the women among my non-existent readers.
Guys are welcome to stay around and read the rest of the post if you want to. I’m not planning on talking about chick flicks, or shoes, or any of the other things men seem to think women talk about when no men are present. It’s just that the things I have to say will more likely be of concern to women than men.
I want to talk about John McCain and women today.
Perhaps, I should be more specific, though. I don’t want to talk about the fact that he cheated on his former wife with the woman who is now his wife, or the fact that he divorced her after a serious car accident apparently left her not pretty enough for him. Though I think both of those facts say rather a lot about the kind of man John McCain is.
Neither do I want to talk about McCain’s positions on women’s issues, atrocious though they may be. Although I would caution any Hillary Clinton supporters who are thinking about voting for McCain because they are angry that she didn’t get the Democratic party nomination to look carefully at his positions on matters like abortion, family planning, and equal pay before revenge voting in November.
No, I don’t want to talk about McCain’s position on women’s issues. I want to talk about his issues with women.
This past week, a story surfaced about a joke McCain told back in 1986. A wildly inappropriate joke regardless of the setting, involving a woman and a gorilla.
It’s hardly the first wildly inappropriate joke the man has told – witness his singing of “Bomb, bomb Iran,” and his comment about the cigarettes the United States is exporting to that country being “one way to kill them.” But this one is part of a subset of his inappropriate jokes and comments that suggest some troubling things about McCain’s character.
I think that John McCain is a bully.
More specifically, I think that he is the kind of bully who gets off on making women feel powerless. Vulnerable.
Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?
We’ll start not with the story that surfaced this week, but rather a joke the man told during the Clinton presidency. I don’t feel like googling the thing to get the exact words, but the gist of the joke – and here I am stretching the word joke well beyond its definitional limits solely because that is how others have described the remark – was that Chelsea Clinton was ugly because Janet Reno was her father.
What a breathtakingly cruel thing to say of a teenage girl.
Having been a teenage girl at one time in my life, I feel comfortable in saying that there was probably very little he could have said of her that would have hurt her worse than that casual remark. Most teenagers, and particularly most teenage girls, are insecure about their appearance. It comes with the territory. They are in that awkward transition between childhood and young adulthood, when hormonal changes and social pressures and the process of growing into independent individuals separate from their families tend to combine to produce a perfect storm of angst.
To have someone, some senator, say she was ugly in such a public way just to get a laugh could not have felt good. Even if she could shake it off, and shrug to her friends and say, “What an asshole,” that sort of comment initially hits you like a punch in the stomach and can linger to eat away at your confidence for years.
So, strike one against John McCain.
There have also been reports that McCain called his wife – his current wife, that is – a cunt.
Guys, if any of you are still reading this, let me give you a hint:
Never, ever call your wife or girlfriend a cunt.
It’s okay, if crude, to use the word to refer to that portion of her anatomy if you find the term vagina too clinical. (“The gynecologist sticks this thing into your cunt? EWWWW.”) And it’s not completely off-limits during an argument (“What crawled up your cunt and died?”), though its use will probably have you sleeping on the couch for a few nights. Used judiciously under the right circumstances, the word can even be arousing. (“When I touch you like this, can you feel it down in your cunt?”)
But when you call a woman a cunt, when you say the words, “You are a cunt,” or “You cunt,” you are verbally reducing her to nothing more than that portion of her anatomy. Not a human being, a person with complex hopes and fears and dreams. Not a partner in your life, someone to walk through the world beside you, to share your laughter and sorrows. Just a receptacle for your sperm, to be used when the urge hits and otherwise ignored, unimportant.
Some might argue that calling a woman a cunt is no different than calling a guy a dick, but I strongly disagree. It’s about power dynamics in society. The men are the ones who have most of the power in the world. They build war monuments that are really nothing more than huge phallic symbols, and don’t even get me started on the whole Freudian thing with guns and missiles and other weapons. So to call a guy a dick doesn’t carry the same simultaneously devaluing and threatening overtones toward the guy that calling a woman a cunt does toward her. If anything, a guy who is a dick would be more of a threat to the people around him.
But when you call a woman a cunt, you are reducing her to that one function. Something that exists solely for a man’s pleasure, something that is interchangeable with some other cunt should the man tire of this one.
When you call a woman a cunt, you remind her that in a world full of men who are dicks, she is vulnerable.
Men are the conquerors, the invaders, the destroyers. Not all of them, maybe not even most of them, but enough of them that we know that they are there, a threat to us. Our bodies are literally open to the threat of invasion against our will.
Which brings me around to this week’s revelation about that “joke” that McCain told, back in 1986. The one that his campaign staffers are trying to shrug off with statements about McCain’s “bad boy” side.
I’m not sure why one would even call it a joke, or find it funny. It apparently involved a woman who was beaten and then raped repeatedly by a gorilla. The punchline is that when she wakes up after the attack, the first thing she asks the doctor is, “Where is that marvelous ape?”
As if a woman who was beaten and then raped repeatedly (and apparently those were the terms McCain used when telling this wonderful joke) would ask longingly about her attacker.
As if this were matter worthy of a few chuckles over dinner.
Women don’t generally find much to laugh about when talking about rape.
For one thing, far too many among us have been raped. It’s hard to say how many, because so many go unreported, for a variety of reasons. Date rapes, girls who get too drunk at parties and wake up with memories of things they would never have consented to when sober, things that fall into a gray area where the woman or girl is afraid of reporting it because people will somehow say or think that they deserved it, because they wore short skirts, or got drunk, or went to a guy’s apartment, or let themselves be alone with the wrong guy.
And before you ask, no, I have not been raped. I consider myself rather fortunate in this respect because there were a couple of situations in my undergrad days that could have turned ugly for me but didn’t. I have many female friends who were not as lucky.
A friend from law school once posited, as we sat around a table eating horrible fast food between our classes, that in our society, every woman, or nearly every woman, has some experience, some moment in her life that forces on her the awareness of her vulnerability on a physical level. When that moment comes (usually in one’s late teens or twenties, though it can come earlier or later), it is a very shocking awakening for the woman or girl who previously felt relatively safe or protected in the world.
My friend wasn’t talking about the kind of awareness that one gets when one hears lectures on the subject of date rape at freshman orientation, that abstract sort of awareness that, yeah, okay, this is something that can happen, but it probably will never happen to me.
She was talking about the kind of awareness that grabs hold of one with an icy fist and says, “You are vulnerable. You can be beaten, or raped, or killed, and there’s not much you can do to defend yourself, because they are men and you are a woman. You are weak, and they are strong.”
Sitting at that table on the day when my friend talked about her theory were perhaps seven or eight other young women, myself included. All well-educated, mostly self-assured, secure in our knowledge that we could do just as well as our male classmates when we went out into the business world. All women with the sort of forceful personality it takes to even consider entering the field of law. We were ready to take on the world, and no one was going to stop us.
And every single one of us started nodding when she finished telling us her theory.
Each one of us had some definite moment in time that she could point to, some event that happened or very nearly happened, and say, “This is when I knew.”
And every woman I’ve discussed this theory with since that day has had that moment experience at some point in her life.
After that moment, the little reminders are there, popping up in random places as you go about your life, just in case you should forget your vulnerability. Little things that say, “You are weak.” And no matter how much you work out at the gym, or how many self-defense classes you take, those reminders never quite lose their power.
There are men in the world who play on that vulnerability. I don’t mean the obvious ones who do it within the context of intimate relationships, though certainly there are plenty of those running around.
I’m talking about the type who wear business suits, and spend their days working on business deals, negotiating, trading, bargaining, arguing, walking the corridors of power and getting stuff done, who welcome women into the board rooms and conference rooms and offices because the law requires them to, but still use their physical presence as a way of asserting their dominance over women. They are particularly likely to use it when it gains them a business advantage, but also sometimes when it doesn’t, just because they can.
You usually see these men, and they are usually among the taller men in the room if they are playing this particular game, looming over the women who are present. One I knew of would stand nearly toe-to-toe with a woman when negotiations became particularly heated, forcing the woman to tilt her head back and look up at him, trying to take advantage of that feeling of vulnerability.
Sometimes this works rather well for the men. They get concessions in the negotiations as the women both literally and metaphorically back away from their original position.
Sometimes it works…less well. I ran into a few guys back in my lawyer days who tried to use this tactic on me. The thing is, I am 5’9″ – six feet tall in heels (and back in my lawyer days I almost always wore heels). Relatively few men are able to truly tower over me, and a good percentage of the ones who can play basketball professionally. More often what happened was that they would stand up to start the game, and then I would stand up and look them more or less directly in the eye, no head tilting required, which led to a few priceless facial expressions when they realized they weren’t going to win that particular game.
But I digress.
Men who lack the physical presence to play these power games so blatantly in the business world often find other ways to remind women of their vulnerability, however, as a way of asserting power in social situations.
Some of them tell off-color jokes, or at least say words in a voice that suggests that they are joking. Sometimes those jokes are about rape or physical violence directed at women.
Which brings us back to Senator McCain.
His staffers have tried to play off the gorilla joke as something that he doesn’t remember telling, but certainly might have said, and claim that it’s just a reflection of his “bad boy” side.
Because he’s a maverick, that McCain is, no matter how many times he’s supported Bush’s proposals over the past eight years. You just can’t control a maverick. It’s part of his charm.
News flash, guys. Picking on teenage girls, calling one’s wife a cunt, and making jokes about rape don’t make one a maverick or a bad boy.
In my book, things like this say bully. And that’s what I think McCain is.
There are other examples of this sort of behavior from the man, abuse directed at people less powerful, that I could have cataloged here but chose not to. A little googling would turn up several of them within minutes. But I think that, at least for my own purposes, the three incidents I’ve written about are sufficient for me to draw the conclusion that I have.
John McCain is a bully.
And if there is one thing this country does not need right now, after the last eight years, it is to have another bully in the White House for the next four.
Update: I wrote this post yesterday, but found this site today. It’s a much lighter take on John McCain and women’s issues.