This is another post about US politics. Lately I’ve had some posts about US politics that weren’t very good (came off bitter/concern-trolly and not at all illuminating) so if you have suggestions for improvement, let me know. The other thing of course is that US politics is a topic on which there is a huge saturation of people writing, both intelligently and stupidly, so it seems not that worthwhile. I’ll try to do it less in the future. Anyhow. More links and references about specific statements are to be added later, or maybe not if I get lazy or forget.
The Rush Limbaugh – Sandra Fluke fiasco has been making me sad. Not even because I’m outraged Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a slut and a prostitute and demanded a sex tape (a shit move from a shit individual) but because episodes like this are tableaux on the way to the culture warification of absolutely every issue. I know it’s maybe short-sighted given how many people listen to him, but I don’t care at all about Rush Limbaugh and what he thinks or says. But because of his stupid tirade, we’re somehow stuck reading about the nuances of slutshaming Sandra Fluke instead of talking about the simple and clear fact that the policy she was advocating for is the correct one and in fact should be embraced by everyone. What is the policy? The policy is passing a regulation that contraception should be covered by health insurance plans in the U.S. There was an issue in that some employers are morally opposed to contraception. The new policy changes basically “the letter of the law” but nothing else in that if employers are morally against provision of a certain benefit mandated, then they won’t be paying for that specific benefit in name as the insurance company will be obliged to throw it in “for free”. Everyone who knows how money works understands that this will not change anything except that now employers don’t have to “formally” subsidize contraceptive coverage. And in any case, covering contraception even if it was actually totally for free is a no-brainer financially for insurance companies anyway. But regardless. Employers can’t possibly have or claim the right to bar their employees from using their compensation in ways the employer finds objectionable. Thus, with the new arrangement’s removal of formal payment by employer for contraception in the insurance plan all questions of religious freedom are neatly taken care of. Other complaints center on contraception itself: e.g. that contraception is in general evil and “destroys families”. This is literally nonsensical, as Julian Sanchez explains (and then neatly explains what is actually meant by these complaints). Still other conservatives (see e.g. Robert Stacy McCain linked above) are against this policy on the grounds that contraceptives are cheap. But um, if so, great! Then it’ll be cheap to cover them! If you step back from the controversy, there is literally no good reason to be against this policy. But now because of its culture warification, conservatives have to find ways to be against it, and liberals defend it on the basis of defending Sandra Fluke, rather than on the merits. So no, Sandra Fluke should not be called a slut, but that this is the deciding question on insurance coverage of contraception is more of a victory for Rush Limbaugh than people seem to think. He may lose this round, but when everything is culture-warified, he wins.
To realise why that is so, you should read two of the most intelligent pieces of political commentary I’ve read this week: J.F. at the Economist talking about the culture war as a means to avoid policy disputes, and Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine talking about the culture war as being at the service of a deeply extremist economic policy.
Now, some may say, to echo the brilliant emissary of South Vietnam’s National Liberation Front, that some should do one, and others the other. Why not try to win the culture war at the same time as trying to come up with better policy? To that my response is that cultural shifts are not politically driven – if you thought erroneously slutshaming Sandra Fluke was wrong/right, you’re gonna do so regardless of what Pelosi or Santorum says. Fighting the culture war on a political stage is a useless, stupid distraction.
What’s even more saddening is that culture warification as a method of obfuscation and distraction works and it’s spreading. For example, taking a hint from south of the border, Conservatives in Canada have been busy attempting to culture warify environmental policy (probably because if they actually spelled out their environmental policy, it would be enormously unpopular). When Environment Minister Peter Kent or Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver are challenged on any number of issues, be they the oil sands in general, the Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat, the Keystone XL to Texas, the shuttering of arctic pollution monitoring, the gag order on federally employed scientists, etc., rather than defend them on the merits (and believe me, all of these policies do have actual merits, even if I disagree with some of them strongly), they claim that concerns are by “jet-setting” “foreigners” and “radical environmentalists” who “don’t care about Canadian jobs,” etc. They’re insinuating that if you’re against Conservative environmental policy, you’re not a real Canadian. I don’t have to tell you that that’s a bunch of lies. And yet, the result is real environmental policy questions are not addressed because bad answers to environmental questions are packaged with a set of “values” that many people agree with. It’s disgusting and is basically the main reason I will not be voting Conservative in Canadian elections anywhere in the near future.
Even in Canada, it’s Rush Limbaugh’s world, we’re just living in it. And that’s fucking sad.