Thursday, March 12, 2009

Steele's Choice

There he goes again. Michael Steele, who was supposed to be the GOP's Magic Negro, has put his foot back in his mouth with the social conservatives that constitute what remains of the Republican Party. In an interview with GQ he was quoted as saying that he believes abortion is "an individual choice." Cue the howls of protest from the drooling, knuckle-dragging mob.

Lest you are inclined to give Steele some credit for standing up on this particular issue, however, make sure you get the quote in its full context. What Steele went on to say was that this "individual choice" should be left up to the states.

Forget for moment the logic problem inherent in Steele's reasoning - hey, he wasn't hired because he's a deep thinker! Steele's comments are simply a re-tread of Ronald Reagan's, who argued that reproductive choice was a matter best handled by the states, not protected nationally by the Federal government. In that sense, while Steele may have offended the embryo fetishists, his comments put him squarely in the GOP's old-time misogynist tradition.

The conservative obsession with reproductive issues is part of the backlash against the feminist movement of the 1960s and '70s. It has nothing to do with the "sanctity of life" and all to do with regulating women. In no other matter of health does the state intrude as much as it does with questions of contraception and abortion - imagine that after being diagnosed with cancer, you were forced by the state to endure a 24 hour waiting period while you considered the potential bad side-effects of chemotherapy.

Imagine further that your chemo options varied wildly depending on which state you happened to live in when you were diagnosed. In some states you might be given access to the best treatments; in other states you might be told to drink herbal tea and pray a lot. So it has become with women's health.

Misogyny masked as federalism.

Over the course of American history "states rights" has been invoked largely to defend the oppression of the weak by the bigoted. Southern states defended slavery under the banner of "states rights" - and you will still hear some insist that the Confederacy was really about constitutional issues, not about keeping African Americans enslaved. "States rights" became the rallying cry of Southerners when they fought against desegregation and civil rights - no! they feigned, it isn't that we want to keep these people as second class citizens, we just want to defend the principle of states rights.

And in the last thirty years, "states rights" has become the excuse states have used to restrict basic medical treatments for women. Michael Steele may have infuriated the GOP base - and they are base indeed - but his comments in GQ suggest he's just as much of a misogynist as the rest of them.