further thoughts on Sandra Fluke, or Sandra Fluke Part II: The Flukening

In response to yesterday’s post about Sandra Fluke, many of my smart and thoughtful friends had clever critiques of my argument. I’d like to address them now and give a bit more context for my opinion.

My secret crush Ophelia had this to say:

Here’s why I think Fluke’s important: So much of modern politics is done through dog whistles, that sometimes it’s nice when the whistlers finally slip up and say, explicitly, what they’ve believed all this time. The GOP, especially, is notorious for its denial of intent and reframing, but Rush’s words were just too egregious to be defended and it feels like vindication. It’s like pictures of an affair for the cheated on spouse; you may have known it was happening all along, but now your partner can’t invalidate your concerns anymore and has to answer them, one way or another.

RedJenny, my bro through thick and thin, said this:

This blew away all the bullshit smokescreens about religious liberty and not wanting to address birth control and women’s health at all. No one can really deny now that this is about women’s health and sexuality, thanks a little to Ms. Fluke and a lot to Rush Limbaugh.

Darth Thulhu said, in part:

If the Democrats put up other religious authorities, no matter who, Republicans win. The debate is suddenly about religious liberty, not about women’s health care, because every one-hand-other-hand lazy piece of MSM dreck will quote one priest on one side and on the other and report it as a debate between different clergy about religious liberty. Republicans outright win in framing the media narrative. The end … Putting up a Woman Who Is Not a Priest who attends a Catholic university makes the burning point that needs to be made: any woman seeking health care, anywhere, is the full equal to these prattling priests … It they do let her speak, the media narrative isn’t “one group’s thoughts on religious liberty versus another group” but rather “one sect’s thoughts on religious liberty versus all female student’s thoughts on personal liberty”. The contraception/health care view is one full half of the lazy media narrative. Democratic Victory.

All of these arguments seem predicated on the idea that the Dems were playing n-dimensional chess – that is, that they selected Fluke precisely because they assmed she wouldn’t be permitted to testify, and they could use her exclusion to overtake the media narrative. At worst, I assume the argument runs, a compelling story gets told before a Congressional committee and most likely gets some sweet airtime. At best, she is barred from testifying and it becomes a media firestorm. In this narrative, Limbaugh’s comments are the amazing, unanticipated cherry on the delicious media takeover cake.

I don’t think this is an implausible narrative at all. Politics is played in ways I honestly find too complex to bother having investment in, and if the Dems thought their actions through and executed them with this unusual degree of precision, more power to them. But even if that’s the case, I’m still unsatisfied. Why? Because the media narrative don’t mean shit next to the giant pile of laws that are trying to be passed infringing on my right to control my body. And those are what I want my legislators to focus on defeating. Maybe controlling the media narrative has more power to do that than I’m giving it credit for, I don’t know. But it makes me uncomfortable.

Moreover, though – and here’s where I go a little bit off the rails from many folks – I don’t want us to score political points at Congressional hearings by upsetting the apple cart. I want us to beat those woman-hating motherfuckers at their own game, because we can. We are smarter. We have better arguments and better thinkers and better speakers on our side, and we can beat them with whatever rules they lay down. You wanna make it about religious liberty? Fine. We got that. Let’s get some liberal female clergy up there, demolish everything they say, and move on to what we wanna say.

There is no game we can’t beat them at because on this issue, we are right and they are wrong. And since that is the case, I don’t want us to play partisan games. I want us to take their weapons, snatch them out of their hands, and turn them on their owners.

In this, I am the most stereotypical liberal on earth: I think the person with the best argument should usually win. But I don’t think that’s all idealism. One thing our brilliant President has consistently had on his side is his ability to verbally reduce anyone who tries to tangle with him to bits. I don’t believe he only makes it work because of his rhetorical skills, I believe he makes it work because when he does it he has the better argument.* We have the better argument. Let’s fucking use it.

* I think it’s a shame that we don’t get to see him go toe-to-toe with his intellectual equals who disagree with him. I would greatly love to see that debate.

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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3 Responses to further thoughts on Sandra Fluke, or Sandra Fluke Part II: The Flukening

  1. Red Jenny says:

    You suck at secret crushes. Really, you should just stop trying to be discreet. It’s not you at all and whatever tiny amount of effort you’re putting into it is wasted.

    And I don’t think the Democrats were playing a brilliant game of rope-a-dope and planning on reaping the harvest we’re now being given. I think that Democrats had one witness slot and decided to use it to showcase a young woman talking about why young women need affordable birth control. A bright move with limited options, probably, but not any kind of masterstroke. The Republican choice to demonize Fluke and through her tell nearly all women nearly everywhere whom not to vote for was an entirely unforced error brought about through the viciousness of the Conservative tail and the limb wagability of the Republican dog. Democrats may have thought that Fluke was a strong witness (again, given that they could only have one and that as Ophelia says we needed to keep birth control and women’s health (or, in Conservative parlance, ‘women’s health’) a topic of discussion at all)) because Republicans would be reluctant to impugn her. If Democrats expected Conservatives to make a banzai charge at her with Mitt Romney pathetically in toe and fall right off the cliff when they missed her, then Democrats are better politicians then we’ve ever given ourselves reason to suspect.

    Conservatives/Republicans aren’t insane haters because we provoke them to be so.

  2. LizR says:

    I’m so with you on taking this fight to the state legislatures. But even though there are good Christian reasons to use birth control, and plenty of Christian denominations not controlled by crazy old dudes who have seriously wacky ideas about why people should have sex and how they should do it, I still don’t think that Democrats can win on the religious freedom issue.

    The reason is simple. Even though the anti-birth control crowd is a tiny minority of Christians and using a wacky and stupid reading of the bible, religious leaders who think that the use of contraception is a sin exist. Not only do they exist, they control one of the most visible religious institutions in the world. Christianity in the U.S. is not a single coherent thing that you can pick a majority opinion out of and say, “there, this is what Christians think.” If a minority of Christians believe that Jesus rode down to earth on a unicorn and want to revere the pile of poop that the unicorn left behind, then our constitution is set up to have the state respect their beliefs, not to have the state interfere and say, “that’s a terrible idea with no basis in the bible and all of the other Christians disagree with you.” This was an intentional thing set up because our country was settled by Christians with minority beliefs, who didn’t want to have the state tell them to go do what the Anglican Church said to.

    It’s indisputable that some Christians do object to the use of contraception. They are a minority, and there are really good arguments for why this minority should not be able to enforce its “ewww contraception” belief on any of its employees who aren’t religious officials. These include basic employment law, the fact that health insurance is part of benefits package, the fact that religious freedom typically doesn’t extend to getting to make other people do things you don’t approve of, and so on. But the fact that a majority of Christians disagree with the Catholic hierarchy on birth control, the fact that they do so for excellent reasons, and the fact that God is rolling his eyes at the Catholic yahoos and their strange obsession with how and when people have sex all have absolutely no bearing on whether or not the Catholic Church gets to claim of a freedom of religion exception here. It is their belief, and they’ve got two thousand years of documentation to prove it.

    Given the constraints of that particular hearing, I don’t see what good option the Democrats had for their one witness. Maybe an employment lawyer or a doctor, but putting up a dissenting religious official would have handed the entire debate to the Republicans, since it doesn’t matter if a majority of Christians disagree with the Catholics. Sandra Fluke was a decent bet given the circumstances (since she could testify to the ways that the Catholic Church getting religious freedom here violates the rights of its employees), and, as Red Jenny says, the Republicans then did the stupidest thing they could possibly have done with the hearing, and guaranteed that everyone heard her story and knew what their real underlying thinking was.

    It’s actually interesting that you’re mulling the value of media optics above, because that’s the big benefit that I think we would get from reasonable Christians with no problem with control coming out loudly in favor of mandating its coverage. In terms of employment law and religious freedom, those Christians don’t matter at all. But the more fringey the Catholic hierarchy seems on this (ie, the more accurate the public perception of reality is), the less chance they have of getting public support for their measures. Religious officials can totally help to win the media battle on this issue, and I do think that the media battle is important, but they have no bearing on the legal arguments against the Catholic hierarchy here.

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