The Real Scandal

Sarah Seltzer

Until Americans, and our media, stop insisting that our male leaders be a manly and upright family fellow with a docile wife who gazes at him adoringly, we shouldn't be surprised when that spouse remains devoted in the face of infidelity.

Last Monday and Tuesday, the endless cable TV and online news buzz took a sharp turn away from the Hillary-Obama "they said what?" back-and-forth. Spitzergate had arrived, gift-wrapped for the media and a rabid public. The proclivities of the now-resigned New York governor held the entire country in their sordid thrall for three full days, and continue to make headlines.

Over the past several years, the public and the press has been unable to latch on to the obvious deceit and corruption going up to the highest levels of the Bush administration, almost as if that kind of scandal, the kind with lives lost in the balance, is too big to grasp. We can't comprehend young men sent into battle without proper equipment. And we can't even fake mass outrage when we learn about a real sex scandal — the unbelievably high instance of sexual assault in the military. Those controversies are too wide-reaching, too depressing for us. But as soon as a politician commits sexual misdeeds, the impact is so measurable, so relatable to our own lives, that we seize on it. His wife! His family! What would I do in the situation?

But besides demonstrating our propensity to glom onto an old-fashioned sex scandal, the revelations about Spitzer have shown how deeply misogynistic currents run through our society, entwined with our conceptions of power. We adore leaders that fit a mold of tough, controlling men, whichever side of the aisle they hang out on — and then are surprised when our "cowboys" or "steamrollers" do hyper-"male" things like bombing civilians or sleeping with a series of prostitutes. Maybe we need to redefine what it means to be a strong leader.

Spitzer's actions were especially painful for feminists and women's advocates. Here was a man beloved by women's groups, even a full-on ally of marriage equality, who wanted to enshrine reproductive rights in the fabric of state law. He was supposed to be our friend. But even if he "got it" intellectually, there was a side to the governor that obviously got off on thinking women were his property (or, given his need to do things that were "un-safe," were somehow sub-human). On the day the scandal broke, he left a conference of excited women's health activists stranded, and then totally devastated by the realization that the man they had counted on had left his integrity at the metaphorical threshold of the Emperor's Club.

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Whatever the armchair psychologists assume was behind Spitzer's behavior — arrogance, a subconscious need to self-destruct, an addictive compulsion — he expressed that id by subjugating women, plain and simple. And he's hardly the first public servant to do so. This is a clear reflection of living in a patriarchy, a society that still equates power with hyper-virility.

Going to prostitutes, even those who masquerade as "high-class," is less about sex than about power over women, and a sense of male entitlement. Clearly, somewhere along the road that led Spitzer through elite institutions and into the upper echelons of government, the notion that all women deserve respect failed to sink in — while the notion of aggressive pursuit of authority sunk in quite well.

The gender divide on TV between men and women reacting to the scandal spoke volumes too — several male pundits declared prostitution a victimless crime, which earned the ire of women commentators, who were focused on the plight of Spitzer's wife. Little was said about the clear victimization of the women who worked at the Emperor's Club beyond the typically sordid and slut-shaming headlines. ("HO, BABY! THE LOVE GOV GAL JERSEY SHORE HARLOT WHO BROUGHT HORNY SPITZER TO HIS KNEES," is one gem.) Regardless of one's stance on the legalization of prostitution, it's impossible to deny that sex workers are one of the most ill-treated segments of society, but the idea of the young "Kristin" as a member of exploited subclass who was further exploited by Spitzer failed to catch on.

Rather, Silda was the victim whose pained face defined the scandal. Many female writers wondered with outrage why Spitzer's wife "stood by her man" — but we've created a political system where a politicians dutiful spouse is as important as his policies. A candidate or officeholder's spouse is expected to drop everything and stand with him or her — and most political families revolve around the patriarch, and will do so as long as men dominate politics. The press hated Dean's physician wife Judith Steinberg and Maureen Dowd enjoys ragging on Michelle Obama, because there's a fear with strong women that their husbands literally can't control them — and they have independent lives that will be difficult to subsume into the first ladyship. Compare that to the free pass given to Laura Bush. Americans appear to demand a spouse who can be reigned in for the sake of the campaign and then express surprise when she remains devoted in the face of infidelity. Silda's response doesn't surprise me at all, since she's poured so much of her own intellectual energy into her husband's career, as the system demands. No wonder she wanted to help him save face, at whatever personal cost.

Until Americans, and our media, stop insisting that our male leaders be a manly and upright family fellow with a docile wife who gazes at him adoringly, we're endorsing an patriarchal power structure. This presidential election, and the renewed focus on gender roles it has brought up, may be a good opportunity for us to reassess the machismo that overwhelms American politics.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.