Kicking Off the 2012 Presidential Campaign


Jessica Valenti talks about her new documentary version of “The Purity Myth”. A review of some comments made by candidates competing for the Iowa Caucus, and Michele Bachmann bows out of the race.

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Ron Paul’s tall tale

Bachmann claims the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation

Rick Santorum opposes contraception

Santorum believes states should have the right to outlaw contraception

Obama echoes Bachmann’s tactics on contraception

Bachmann’s daughters not allowed to ask out boys

Bachmann claims that Gardasil “ravages” young women

On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll run down how the right wing bent of this Republican primary season isn’t undone simply because the most moderate Republican in the field won Iowa. Jessica Valenti comes on to explain the purity myth, and I say good-bye to Michele Bachmann, who has bowed out of the race.

Taking a break from all the sad and angry-making news, here’s a cool little item from CNN.

  • new year *

It would be cool having a different birthday and birth year from your twin. I would insist that everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to both of us right at midnight.

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While it does seem that the nomination is almost surely going to go to Mitt Romney, that doesn’t mean the past half year of non-stop Republican primary coverage was for not. The constant rise and fall of various far-right candidates had an impact, pulling the nation’s discourse to the right. You can track this in many different ways, but for the sake of this show, I’m going to talk about reproductive rights. I would argue that the ongoing coverage of far right candidates has created space for even more extremist anti-choice views to be aired in public and considered acceptable views. The danger in this, of course, is that once it becomes commonplace for people to denounce the birth control pill on TV, for instance, not only does that put the pill in more danger, but it makes opposition to abortion rights seem less extreme. We actually saw the culmination of this problem at the end of 2011, as I’ll explain. But first, a rundown of things that candidates said during the heavy campaign season that I feel generally would have been more frowned upon in public even a year ago.

First, the award to the most fantastical story-telling goes to Ron Paul, for making this claim in an ad he blanketed Iowa with.

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I’m going to say upfront that I am intensely skeptical of this story. You frequently hear anti-choicers trading stories like this, and they should be treated like you do stories about Satan putting messages in Queen records or stories of Proctor & Gamble working for Satan: the sort of blatantly untrue tall tales that right wingers pass around, often realizing they aren’t true, but they like them anyway because it makes them feel self-righteous. It’s worth noting that this story is incoherent when you apply the anti-choice philosophy to it, anyway. Since they claim to believe that a single-celled fertilized egg is the same thing as a child, why focus on a late term abortion? It’s no worse than an early one. Simply telling these stories suggests that they grasp that a woman who gets an 8-week abortion of choice isn’t committing murder, and their claims to believe otherwise are disingenuous.

That a blatant bit of urban legend creation got into a campaign ad endorsed by a candidate is startling enough, but his hostility to late term abortion doesn’t really move the dial to the right. But this next quote probably did:

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This launched nearly a month of discussion about the HPV vaccine in the public discourse. That would have been fine, except that by doing that, this lie that the vaccine is dangerous got a lot of airing, and now it’s probably going to be even harder to dislodge this myth from people’s minds. Certainly, this helped make it easier for politicians of all stripes to make the argument in public that women’s access to non-abortion reproductive health care should be restricted on the grounds that good, chaste girls don’t need that stuff anyway.

Rick Santorum particularly made a point of repeatedly attacking legal contraception on the campaign trail. 

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And in case it wasn’t clear, he explained to Jake Tapper that he rejects the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down state laws on contraception.

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He’s trying to hedge a little and pretend this is about some sort of strict view of the separation of powers, but as his previous comments show, he’s actually just hostile to contraception. But I love how he phrases it. If you tease out what he’s saying, he’s basically saying the Supreme Court’s power is illegitimate. If the state has an absolute right to pass any law it wants, even those that are in strict violation of the Constitution, then what’s the point of the Constitution? If they can’t enforce the Constitution, they are basically pointless. I don’t imagine Santorum thinks that’s always true, so I have to assume he’s hiding behind this to justify his hostility to contraception.

It’s easy to write all these things off as the words of cranks and also-rans, but unfortunately, the anti-choice pressure they’re exerting has an impact on more mainstream politicians. I can’t help but think the shift to the right and to open disdain for contraception and STD prevention was a factor in Barack Obama taking this stance on over the counter sales of Plan B.

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Since the drug is quite safe, the only factor in play here is fear that girls under 17 could access contraception they can control without male cooperation. Like with Bachmann claiming that the HPV vaccine is dangerous when it’s not, Obama  is simply using unevidenced fears about dangers as a cover for an attack on basic contraception rights. Since he is pro-choice, I suspect this is more a reflection of his campaign’s fears going into this election than his actual beliefs. But the fact that you have more candidates going on TV and attacking non-abortion reproductive health care is why his political staff probably panicked and moved to the right on this. So even though Paul, Bachmann, and Santorum have no chance of winning this race, their comments have left a mark.

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insert interview

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* play hello under all this *

Now that Michele Bachmann is out of the race, I’m beginning to feel like I’m going to miss her. Sure, there were plenty of times that I disagreed with her, often vehemently. But she added a little something to the GOP primary campaign. Something short. Something Midwestern. Something female. Now it’s the usual bunch of dudes up there and I feel something’s lost.

But I think this is a good time to go over the long list of Bachmann’s greatest hits when it came to comments about gender and sexuality. We’ve already reviewed her claims that the HPV vaccine could cause mental retardation, but let’s face it. That barely scratched the surface. A recent favorite of mine had Bachmann sharing her views on the rights of young women in her own household to pick up the phone and call boys.

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Since kids haven’t done the whole formal “may I ask you on a date?” thing in roughly 30 years, if not longer, restricting girls from asking boys out doubly makes no sense. Most “asking out” teenagers do is deliberately informal. The only way to enforce that rule is to never let girls make a move in a boy’s direction ever, for fear that seems forward. Sitting by the phone waiting for someone to magically call you with no effort on your own behalf is not known to work in the modern era. I wish I could get an honest assessment from her girls on how this system is working out for them.

Bachmann’s idea that young women’s sexuality is scary and should be strictly controlled is, well, something of an obsession of hers. Thus her scorched earth campaign against the HPV vaccine. Not only did she claim it causes mental retardation, but she found many other occasions to suggest that the vaccine was some kind of blight on humanity.

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There is literally no evidence for this supposed ravaging. Now, cervical cancer does, in fact, ravage your body, especially if you don’t catch it early. Meanwhile, Bachmann doesn’t lose it over other vaccines, which are equally dangerous to Gardasil, which is to say not very much at all. Why the double standard? Well, it’s obvious. The “ravages” Bachmann is alluding to is this perverse right wing theory that by giving the vaccine to young women, they’re going to feel compelled to start going out and having sex. The only part of the body that Bachmann seems worried will get “ravaged”, in other words, is the hymen. Nothing else seems to matter. Certainly not the cervix or the body attached to it.

Okay, so I won’t miss Bachmann’s scare-mongering about the HPV vaccine very much. But I will kind of miss her bloviating about abortion.

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It takes a special kind of person to claim they didn’t know what abortion was before Roe v. Wade, and then to conclude that they, in their intense ignorance, are somehow an expert on it. It takes someone even more special to pretend that legalizing abortion somehow made it come in to being. How would the court have known what abortion was, if it didn’t exist before 1973? We don’t know. We just know that Bachmann is very, very sure of herself, and will not let anything like ignorance get in the way of that assurance. And for that, we will miss her on the campaign trail, very much.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, Limbaugh lays it all out for you. Rush Limbaugh basically admitted on a recent episode that supposedly small government conservatives do want government to be big enough to fit into your uterus.

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Well, obviously, it’s not the sanctity of life or they wouldn’t be the first to rattle the sabers when the war cry was sent out. Sanctity of male dominance would be a better measure of that. They’re against government when it protects women’s rights, and for it when it takes them away. He’s right. That is pretty simple, when you think about it. 


Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

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