Tough Cookies for Thee
In November 2011, the New York Post reported with glee how a supporter of Congressman Bob Turner forcibly removed an Occupy Wall Street protester from Turner’s swearing-in ceremony. The article mentioned parenthetically that the “hero” ex-cop, Kevin Hiltunen, shown in the photo to be dragging a grown man out the door, is retired on a disability. Naturally, a curious discussion ensued in the comment section when one reader pointed out that Hiltunen seems exceptionally fit for someone who retired early and is collecting disability checks.
I have no doubt that the reader in question made that comment rhetorically, as a reference to Bob Turner’s Tea Party affiliation and Hiltunen’s lambasting of “socialism”. Nevertheless, outraged conservatives descended upon him like a ton of bricks with arguments that boiled down to how a person may be completely disabled even when he is perfectly capable of lifting heavy things and functioning in the world. Naturally, they called him on being a bleeding-heart pinko communist librul, and on showing insensitivity towards people who can’t work even though they can. Hey — who are you to say that a disk bulge doesn’t suck until you’ve experienced radiculopathy, hmm? All this was particularly touching in light of Bob Turner’s expressed commitment to “end subsidies” and “end government dependencies”. Kevin Hiltunen must be one hell of a fella to go so far out of his way to support a politician whose stated goal is to strip him of his pension and his disability benefits.
Or does Hiltunen and those like him hope to be rewarded for their hatred of the very “libruls” who fought for the benefits they are enjoying and feel entitled to today? The Tea Party is viciously opposed to the very idea of publicly funded social safety nets in principle. Ask a Tea Partier whether someone with severe depression or a torn meniscus should be able to retire on full (or nearly full) salary and a package of benefits, and he will laugh in your face. Or scream angrily about “socialism” and the “nanny state”. Unless, of course, the person seeking to retire is a fellow librul-hating Tea Partier, in which case the Tea Party is all for it.
Of course, this hypocrisy was pointed out again and again in the comment section. And every time, conservatives came back with the same tired argument: “But my husband is really, truly disabled even though he doesn’t look or feel it, so I know what it’s like and you don’t, and HOW DARE YOU??” And that’s really the root of it: individual conservatives see themselves as exceptional and deserving of the very things they would deny others. Why? Because their husband is special, and yours isn’t. Therefore, their husband deserves benefits, and yours doesn’t.
I was reminded of this story during the recent revelation that Rick Santorum’s wife had a late-term abortion to save her life. (Commentators have tended to split hairs on this one, but from a pro-life perspective as I’ve seen it, any medical procedure or medication that induces labor and leads to the birth of a non-viable fetus is an abortion.) The Santorums claim, of course, that since the fetus was doomed anyway and the mother’s life was in danger, the treatment was justified. This is a curious position to take for people who have repeatedly expressed that they are opposed to all forms of birth control (even if medically indicated) and would like abortion to be illegal in all cases, even where the mother’s life is in danger and even where the fetus will never become viable. It is a mistake to believe, however, that Mrs. Santorum’s abortion reveals some heretofore unseen nuance in Rick Santorum’s political position on this issue; rather, it is evidence of his belief that the rules he seeks to impose on others should not apply to his family, because they are good people, unlike all those sluts who are undermining society by using their ladybits for fun.
My father, a big fan of the Tea Party, once told me: “Why are you so worried about abortion? Abortion bans are necessary to restrict whores. If you ever needed one, you would always be able to go to those commies in Canada.” This really distills the philosophy behind all legislation, actual and hypothetical, meant to restrict and punish people for private, consensual conduct.
When I read Simone De Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, I was surprised to learn (but then again, I wasn’t) that at the time of writing (the late 1940’s), while some 50% of pregnancies in France ended in abortion, the overwhelming majority of abortions were performed on married women with the knowledge, consent and active participation of the husband. None of this was kept a secret, either. In that era, when both abortion and birth control were illegal in France, it was customary for middle-class married couples to take a mini-vacation in neighboring Switzerland, where they combined the business of abortion with shopping, sight-seeing and other pleasures. All this evidences a clearly light-hearted attitude towards abortion, for sure, and yet, the public was overwhelmingly opposed to making abortion legal in their own country. The rationale was clear: keeping abortion illegal is not about saving babies, it’s about punishing women who don’t deserve to have sex — namely, teenagers and poor women.
And so, the push for restricting access to contraception and banning abortions is fundamentally born out of anxiety over what the Others are doing with all these freedoms. Conservatives want to ban abortions with the implicit understanding that deserving women — or, more precisely, deserving white, middle-class, Christian, God-fearing married couples and their sexually mature daughters — will always be able to get an abortion in any event. Either they will take a mini-vacation in one of them godless librul states, or they’ll have a therapeutic D&C at a local hospital, and the understanding authorities will charitably look the other way. No, the bans are primarily necessary to put a stop to sluts.
But of course, even for “deserving” women who fit the traditional mores to a t, an abortion ban is intended to have a tremendous symbolic significance. My grandmother — the wife of a Soviet law enforcement official — had multiple abortions in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when Soviet law made them illegal. This was right after World War II, and the USSR desperately needed to replenish its decimated population, just at a time when people were least enthusiastic about having babies. Her case was not unusual; abortion was the primary method of birth control, and married women were expected to undergo as many as were necessary as part of a larger womanly duty to “take care” of unwanted pregnancy and contraception in whatever way one could find. It was not unusual for a woman to have upwards of ten abortions over the course of a marriage; it was routine, an open secret. Abortionists were mostly safe from danger. As long as they kept the cops happy and provided services primarily to “deserving” women, the authorities looked the other way. But when all was said and done, to be a married woman was to be a criminal — and the long-term cultural and psychological effect of this basic social construct was immense.
Today, my father has no qualms about expressing that women who have abortions are irresponsible, baby-murdering sluts. He is not deterred from saying this in front of my mother, who has had multiple abortions back in Russia at his behest and for his convenience, when she herself did not want to abort. To be clear, he does not blame the men who contribute to unwanted pregnancies, he only blames the women, who are simultaneously charged with the responsibility to “take care of it” and condemned for doing precisely that. So while a “deserving” woman may escape jail or lynching for having an abortion, she must still live with a healthy dose of shame and guilt.
Hypocrisy is routinely seen as a fallacy, a consequence of myopia and a failure of logic. I am not so sure about that. I am more inclined to see hypocrisy as a philosophy of personal exceptionalism and social control to be exerted over others. And that, to me, is the very essence of political conservatism — the concern that someone, somewhere, may be enjoying life a little more than he or she should, and the government should do something about that. Raging unemployment and expanding poverty? Rubbish; just let the rich do whatever they want, and the problem will resolve itself. A bunch of unmarried people having sex for the pleasure of it? Without their lives being endangered thereby?? Now, THERE’s a real crisis.