Conservative Waiver Mania, and Tragedy in the Rio Grande Valley

Related Links

Good-bye, anti-gay bills

Maddow’s Rio Grande Valley report

O’Reilly tries to come up with the “downside” to a female president

Hannity lashes out at single mothers

Bill O’Reilly mansplains to Valerie Jarrett

Yep, a lesbian works at Girl Scouts. So?


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be interviewing Brian Beutler about the conservative waiver mania. Things are getting really bad for women in the Rio Grande Valley, and the absurd and routine conservative attacks on women continue.

My interview with Brian was conducted before the anti-gay bill in Arizona died. Indeed, right now it seems like the whole push for these kinds of bills is stalling out, as Rachel Maddow reported.

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I’m including the interview that was taped last week, however, because once an idea like this takes off on the right, it rarely goes away that quickly. The notion that Christian fundamentalists are “persecuted” by other people’s rights is just gaining traction on the right, and while this setback is a good one, I don’t think we can consider this narrative over and done with by a long shot.


Rachel Maddow had an excellent report on her show looking at the Rio Grande Valley, which is probably more damaged by the war on women than anywhere else in the country. The Valley is one of the most geographically isolated, impoverished parts of the United States, and subsequently they’ve been most negatively affected loss of their legal abortion clinics because of the draconian anti-abortion bill that passed over the summer. But, as Maddow explains, their problems started long before the abortion clinics started shutting down. Things really got bad long before that, when in an anti-contraception frenzy, the state stopped funding family planning at many clinics. It created a massive surge in unwanted child-bearing and abortion, so they reinstated the funds, but for women in the Rio Grande Valley, the damage may be irreversible.

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They interviewed an old Planned Parenthood employee named Paula Saldana, who explained why she thinks this topic is so damn loaded in Texas.

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She pointed out that you used to be able to go to Mexico to get inexpensive, over the counter birth control, but the drug war and violence are making people afraid to do that. So Saldana has switched strategies. She and other women in the area who have been long-standing advocates for reproductive health have instead created a sort of family planning club thing, where they get women together to educate them, at least, even if they can’t provide the help and services that Planned Parenthood used to provide. But even though they aren’t getting paid and they have little to offer in terms of affordable condoms and birth control pills, or for that matter, cancer screenings and check-ups, they have added another component: political organizing.

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I want to be optimistic about this, and in many ways I am. Just a few short years ago, the discourse about reproductive rights was basically stalled out. Most Americans were pro-choice, but they also tended to think of anti-choicers as well-meaning people who just had very strict ideas about when life begins and what obligations women have regarding that. Every discussion you would have would get derailed by this tedious debate about when life begins, a debate that was disingenuous to its core, since people who claim to believe life begins at conception don’t actually do things like celebrate your conception day instead of your birthday. But attacks like these have made it clear, as Saldana said, that this is about sex and not about life. And it’s about women and their families. So yes, there’s good reason to hope that people are getting politically organized and motivated in a way they weren’t before. So that’s great. But I worry that even if the tide is turned, making up lost ground may be impossible. Anti-choicers did a lot of damage in a few short years, and even if we can start fixing the damage, at best it will take years, maybe decades to rebuild the infrastructure. It’s not just that Planned Parenthood in Brownsville that closed, either. Dr. Lester Minto, who ran the only abortion clinic in Harlingen, hasn’t been able to perform abortions because of the new law since November. But as we detailed on this show in an interview with Lindsay Beyerstein, he has been helping women who self-abort get safe aftercare. But that is over now, too.

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I don’t often get choked up watching cable news shows, but that did it to me. Dr. Minto has been an outspoken, aggressive advocate for women, but now he is going away and probably won’t ever be coming back.


Insert interview


Periodically for the past few months, I’ve been tracking how right-wing media is increasingly obsessed with gender-baiting, bringing every possible issue that they can back to the idea that women are just getting too big for their britches and need to be taken down a notch. And yes, this is another one of these segments, because frankly, I think it’s a fascinating trend that bears careful watch. Consider the media arm of the war on women, a widespread effort by conservative leaders to convince their followers that one of the biggest problems in America today is that women have too many rights and are getting too close to equality, and that is the source of much, if not most of the country’s pain. Just the random and frequent attacks on women, then, ends up creating the sense of moral justification for the continued legal attacks on women’s rights.

But above all, what amazes me about this nonsense is how blatant it is. Like Bill O’Reilly on a recent show freaking out about what else, the possibility that Hillary Clinton or some other woman will become president.

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He tried to play it off like he thought there must also be male-specific downsides, but that is obviously just straight nonsense. After all, no one ever actually holds “being a man” against a candidate for president. That’s why his hand-waving about how there’s “differences” with the implication that different can still be equal is so utterly dishonest. When people say women are “different” than men, they mean inferior, but just don’t want to be held accountable for that opinion. O’Reilly’s female guests, a Republican and a Democrat, both balked at his generalizing about the sexes, pointing out that individuals differ more from each other than the sexes ever could. Which again suggests that the very premise of the segment—that women are some kind of separate, special variety of human that needs to be judged against the male norm for any supposed deficiencies—is utterly offensive.

Of course, Sean Hannity managed to make controlling and policing women a centerpiece in yet another attack on Obamacare. He was angry about Joe Biden selling the job flexibility that Obamacare provides women.

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That is not what Biden said at all. He was highlighting how the availability and affordability of health insurance under Obamacare makes it easier to scale back at work or even quit for a few years, but in most of these cases, we’re not talking about people who have no money of their own. Look, the amount of government assistance you can get is not and will never be enough to raise a child on, full stop. Health insurance isn’t going to be the make it or break it issue here. But boy, it’s sure funny how conservatives think that being a housewife or even scaling back at work to spend time with your kid’s is a woman’s highest calling, right until such woman is single, a woman of color, or working class, and then suddenly you’re a horrible mooch. Raising children is, if you’re a middle class married woman, sold to you like it’s a full-time job and supposedly the most important job in the world, but it’s treated like a waste of time if you’re not in that privileged class. This kind of gross hypocrisy about women has been going on so long that it barely registers as hypocrisy. But it is. More to the point, Hannity is trying to kick up dust about the usual slate of right-wing resentments that women are making choices without getting conservative permission first. It’s just a weapon being used against health care, not a real argument at all.

The conservative media ability to make anything, really anything, about their anger at women for making independent choices really reached a new level when Valerie Jarrett went on The O’Reilly Factor to talk up the president’s new “Brothers’ Keeper” initiative. As one might guess from the name, the initiative is not about women at all, but about men, specifically young men of color. The program is about investing in young men of color, helping them get an education and a job, things like that. But somehow O’Reilly managed to make it about how he wants girls to stop having sex.

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Because young girls would have never considered the possibility of not having sex, except that for in their nightly viewings of The O’Reilly Factor, the First Lady told them not to. I mean, obviously, O’Reilly is full of it here. He doesn’t actually think that would work, nor is he dumb enough to think that Michelle Obama thinks that would work. He just wants his silly little worldview, where sex is the source of all sadness in the world, to be validated by the First Lady and wants his audience to get mad at her because she refuses to do it. But beyond that and beyond Valerie Jarrett’s saintlike patience with O’Reilly, I have to point out that the program was supposed to be on an initiative for young men. That’s how single-minded the obsession with yelling at women and policing what we do with our bodies has become in right wing media. You can’t even talk about men without O’Reilly bringing it back to women and why we’re all failing him by making private sexual choices he doesn’t agree with. That’s an obsession, and needs to be understood for what it is.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, no seriously, what is it about the Girl Scouts edition? Rush Limbaugh has joined in the right-wing hate-a-thon aimed at the Girl Scouts, which may be the most innocent organization to have ever existed.

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He just keeps sputtering about this, as if it’s self-evident that a lesbian should be permanently barred from working for Girl Scouts because. No reasons given why. This is the sort of bigotry that historians will drag out decades from now so that modern people can gawk at how open and ridiculous the bigots were. In fact, it’s so silly to think a lesbian can’t do a perfectly fine job working for Girl Scouts, I like to think we’re already halfway there.