Tag Archives: feminism

To Succeed, Fail Boldly

Five doomed proposals for changing the national conversation

From one point of view, it all came to nothing.

Two weeks ago, liberals around the country thrilled to the story of Wendy Davis’ filibuster. With a few minutes of help from a raucous gallery of protesters, Texas State Senator Davis’ 11-hour speech ran out the clock on the special session of the legislature that Governor Rick Perry had called to pass a draconian anti-abortion bill.


For two weeks, anyway. But Perry was still governor, so he called yet another special session. And the Republicans still had majorities in the legislature, so Friday the same bill passed the Senate and was on its way to Perry’s desk. In spite of massive protests, in spite of a viral video that made another new heroine out of Sarah Slamen, the legislative result is the same as if everyone had just stayed home.

Soon we’ll probably be able say the same thing about Moral Mondays in North Carolina. The Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature and they’re not afraid to use it, so they’re going to pass whatever they want, no matter how many religious leaders protest, no matter how many Carolinians they have to arrest.

So it’s pointless, right?

In the long term, no, it’s not pointless. This is the only way things change.

Losing my shrug. Let’s start with the obvious, even if it doesn’t seem all that consequential. A few months ago I’d have shrugged if you told me Texas and North Carolina were about to pass a series of laws that would impose real hardships on women and the poor. “The South,” I’d probably have said, “what can you expect?”

Well, Wendy Davis and William Barber have taken away my shrug. Like lots of other blue-state folks, I have been reminded not to write off Texas and North Carolina. Red states are not monolithic blocks of small-minded people. Progressive forces may be losing there right now, but they’re fighting. And people who keep fighting just might win someday.

If you don’t believe that, recall how the Religious Right and the Tea Party got where they are today. For decades, right-wing extremists rallied for proposals they couldn’t hope to pass into law, and mostly still haven’t: human life amendments, balanced budget amendments, the gold standard, defunding the U.N., and so forth. They failed and they failed again. And sometimes they succeeded when no one had given them a chance. (When the Equal Rights Amendment passed the Senate 84-8 in 1972, its ratification seemed a foregone conclusion.) But today their point of view has to be dealt with, and in some states is dominant.

Before you can win, you have to change the conversation. And the only way to do that is to fight battles the conventional wisdom says you can’t win. You’ll lose most of them. For a while you’ll lose all of them, because the conventional wisdom isn’t stupid. But that’s how things change.

The only way to change the direction of the wind is to keep spitting into it.

How conventional wisdom shifts. I have written in more detail elsewhere about how conservatives manipulate the supposedly liberal media. Journalism is not a conspiracy, but there is an unconscious group process that decides what news is, what can be stated as a simple fact, and what has be covered as controversial. Partisan groups can pressure that process and get their desired response, independent of whether most individual journalists agree or disagree with their views.

In that article I focused on how outside pressure can make known facts seem controversial. So, for example, global warming is almost always covered as if it were in dispute, when in a scientific sense it is well established. But powerful voices will argue with journalists who say global warming is a fact, so instead they write he-said/she-said articles, or leave the global-warming angle out of a story entirely.

Today I want to focus on the opposite side of that same unconscious media groupthink: Anything that is stated forcefully by one side and not contested by the other will be covered as if it were a fact.

So: Texans are all conservatives. Only people on the right care about “morality” or “the family”. “Moral issues” are the ones about sex — abortion, contraception, homosexuality — and the moral position is the conservative position. Feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, making sure workers get a fair wage — all that sermon-on-the-mount stuff — those aren’t “moral” issues.

If you don’t regularly and loudly contest those notions, they’ll get reported as facts. They’ll provide the background assumptions that frame the coverage of everything else.

Wolf Blitzer’s evangelism. The clearest recent example of this principle was Wolf Blitzer’s embarrassing interview with an atheist mother after the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in May. Blitzer badgered the woman to “thank the Lord” for her and her child’s survival until she finally had to confess her atheism.

So is Blitzer is an evangelical Christian trying to push his religion on CNN? Nope. Wikipedia says Blitzer is a Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors. I can’t say from that precisely what he believes about God, but he was almost certainly not pressuring this woman to proclaim her Judaism.

Instead, Blitzer was applying two seldom-contested stereotypes:

  • Oklahoma is in the so-called Bible Belt, so everybody must be some kind of conservative Christian.
  • There are no atheists in the foxholes. When life and death hang in the balance, everybody becomes religious.

Probably Wolf had been hearing loud proclamations of Christian faith all day, and no voices on the other side. (This is another kind of groupthink. It’s not considered rude to thank Jesus in these circumstances — even in the presence of people whose loved ones Jesus apparently chose not to save. But conservative Christians would take offense if you said, “Stuff like this just shows that everything’s random and you can’t take it personally.”) So it became a background “fact” of his reporting that the people of Moore were having an evangelical Christian response to their survival.

Candle-lighting vs. darkness-cursing. We can wish for harder-working more-objective journalists who will seek out the truth and cover it fairly, regardless of the power dynamics. But in the meantime journalism is what it is, and we’re just being stupid if we let conservatives manipulate it and don’t fight back.

The facts on the ground today are that the media will challenge a pro-choice Catholic to reconcile the contradiction between his politics and his faith, but not an Evangelical who votes to cut Food Stamps or reject Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. (Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you fed me. … I was sick and you cared for me.”) Want to change that? Join the Moral Mondays protests in Raleigh, or start something similar in your own state capital.

In the short term, you may not change any votes in the legislature. But if enough people contest the previously uncontested “facts”, those “facts” leave (what Jay Rosen and Daniel Hallin call) “the Sphere of Consensus” and enter “the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy”. The conventional wisdom changes.

From defense to offense. So far the big progressive protests have been efforts to resist conservative aggression: rollbacks of women’s rights in Texas, unemployment insurance in North Carolina, workers’ rights in Michigan and Ohio.

It’s time to go on offense. In addition to resisting the regressive agenda of the right and timidly putting forward small proposals like universal background checks for gun buyers, progressives need a blue-sky positive agenda that we keep making people notice. Just because we can’t pass it in this term of Congress doesn’t make it impractical. (When have conservatives ever been constrained by that?) You have to keep proposing it until people get used to hearing it; only then will they look at it seriously.

So here are five bold proposals that are “doomed” according to the conventional wisdom. Their complete impracticality is a “fact” and will continue to be so until loud voices move them into the Sphere of Controversy, from which they can get serious consideraton.

  • The Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA passed Congress in 1972 and fell three states short of ratification when the ratification deadline passed in 1982. Supporters of the three-state strategy claim the deadline doesn’t count and in 2011 got ratification through one house of the Virginia legislature. But the ERA gets re-introduced in every session of Congress, most recently in March. Only the fact that the conventional wisdom says it can’t pass, protects politicians from explaining why they disagree with “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
  • Single-payer health care. Of all the existing plans to help the 50 million Americans who lack health insurance, Obamacare is the most conservative. (It’s Romneycare, after all.) Conservatives opposing Obamacare have offered no plan to fulfill the “replace” part of their “repeal and replace” slogan. And yet, if you watch Sunday morning political shows on TV, Obamacare is the “liberal” position. It’s better than the status quo, and I support it on those terms. But single-payer is what gives Europe, Japan, and the industrialized parts of the British Commonwealth lower costs and higher life expectancies than we currently have. It would do the same for the United States.
  • End corporate personhood. Few actual humans defend the idea that corporations should be people with full constitutional rights. A variety of constitutional amendments have been proposed to reverse this piece of conservative judicial activism (which in particular has no basis whatsoever in the originalist constitutional interpretation conservatives claim to favor). Bernie Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment says: “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations.” Everybody who runs for office should be challenged to state a position on that.
  • A federal Reproductive Rights Act. The current reproductive-rights situation in states like Texas resembles Jim Crow: Women’s constitutional rights are not repealed directly, but are made impractical by a series of restrictions transparently introduced for that purpose. In the same way that the Voting Rights Act protected minorities’ right to vote (until recently), a federal Reproductive Rights Act should impose federal oversight on states that have a history of infringing women’s rights.
  • Replace the Second Amendment. The overall situation of weapons and society has changed so much since 1787 that it’s hard to attach any meaning at all to the full text of the Second Amendment. I don’t have a revised text in mind yet, but I think the amendment should defend the right of individuals to procure appropriate tools to defend their homes, while giving Congress the power to control military hardware.

“Religious Freedom” means Christian Passive-Aggressive Domination

In an Orwellian inversion, “freedom” is now a tool for controlling others.

It’s over. Try something else.

For many anti-gay activists, the recent Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 were the handwriting on the wall.

It wasn’t just that they didn’t get the result they wanted, but that in DOMA the Court’s majority simply didn’t buy the argument that homosexuality represents a threat to society. Neither does the general public, which supports that decision 56%-41%. (The margin under age 40 is 67%-30%, with 48% approving strongly.) The big post-DOMA public demonstrations expressed joy, not anger.

Just a few years ago anti-marriage-equality referendums were winning in states all over the country, but in 2012 one failed in Minnesota, while referendums legalizing same-sex marriage won at in Washington, Maryland, and Maine. Ten years ago, the first legislatures to make same-sex marriage legal were dragged by their state courts, but this year Delaware, Rhode Island, and Minnesota went there voluntarily, bringing the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal (as of August 1) to 13, plus the District of Columbia. (I’ll guess Oregon and Illinois will go next.)

It’s even clear why this is happening: Because gay millennials are not in the closet, everybody under 30 has gay and lesbian friends who dream about meeting their soulmates just like straight people do. To young Americans, laws blocking that worthy aspiration are pointlessly cruel and ultimately will not stand — not in Alabama, not in Utah, not anywhere.

So the generational tides run against the bigots of the Religious Right. Some still aren’t admitting it, but wiser heads are recognizing that it’s time to switch to Plan B.

The new face of bigotry: “freedom”. Fortunately for them, there’s a well-worked-out back-up plan: religious “freedom”.

Accept the inevitability of gay rights, advises Ross Douthat, but “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.” Here’s the idea: If your disapproval of certain kinds of people can be rooted in church doctrine or a handful Biblical proof-texts, then forbidding you to mistreat those people violates the “free exercise” of religion you are promised by the First Amendment.

To make this work, conservative Christians need to divert attention from the people they are mistreating by portraying themselves as the victims. And that requires cultivating a hyper-sensitivity to any form of involvement in activities they disapprove of. So rather than sympathize with the lesbian couple who gets the bakery door slammed in their faces, the public should instead sympathize with the poor wedding-cake baker whose moral purity is besmirched when the labor of his hands is used in a celebration of immorality and perversion.

There’s a name for this tactic: passive aggression. It’s like on Sanford & Son when Fred would clutch his heart and start talking to his dead wife because Lamont planned to do something he disapproved of. Passive aggression is the last resort of people who have neither the power to get their way nor any reasonable argument why they should.

In fact the baker will be fine, as Willamette Week demonstrated by calling two such religious-liberty-defending bakeries and ordering cakes to celebrate a variety of other events conservative Christians disapprove of: a child born out of wedlock, a divorce party, a pagan solstice ritual. The bakers did not object, because their hyper-sensitive moral purity is an invention, a convenient excuse for treating same-sex couples badly.

But Jim DeMint insists that

A photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington, and a baker in Colorado have already been victims of such intolerant coercion.

And Matthew Franck is horrified that religious universities will have to provide same-sex married-student housing; religious “schools, universities, hospitals, hospices, and clinics; social service agencies, retirement homes, eldercare and childcare facilities, food pantries, and soup kitchens” who employ “teachers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, counselors and clinicians, caregivers, food-service workers, housekeeping and grounds staff, even pool lifeguards” won’t be able to refuse employment to people with same-sex spouses. Adoption services, marriage counselors, divorce lawyers, artificial insemination clinics etc. will have to deal with gay and lesbian couples … as if they were real human beings or something.

The race parallel. We worked this stuff out during the civil rights movement, because all the same ideas show up with regard to race.

Plenty of people claim a sincere religious belief in white supremacy, and root it in Biblical texts like the Curse of Ham. (This goes way back: American slave-owners found Biblical license for keeping their “property”.) But the law does not honor these claims, and somehow religion in America survives.

Here’s the principle that has served us well: In private life, you can associate with anybody you like and avoid anybody you don’t like. But if you offer goods or services for sale to the public, you don’t get to define who “the public” is. So when you’re making lunch at your house, you can invite anybody you like and snub anybody you don’t like, but if you run a lunch counter you have to serve blacks.

We’ve been living with principle for decades, and (other than Rand Paul) no one worries much about the racists’ loss of freedom.

That should apply to same-sex couples now: If your chapel is reserved for members of your congregation, fine. But if you rent it to the public for wedding ceremonies, same-sex couples are part of the public just like interracial couples are. You don’t get to define them away.

If that makes you reconsider whether you want to be open to the public, well, that’s your decision.

The sky will not fall. We just went through this with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which supposedly would violate the religious “freedom” of evangelical military chaplains (who apparently had never before needed interact respectfully with people they believed were sinners). The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins predicted:

You have over 200 sponsoring organizations that may be prevented from sponsoring chaplains because they hold orthodox Christian views that will be in conflict with what the military says is stated policy.

That stated policy was: “All service members will continue to serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs, and they will be expected to treat everyone with respect.”

AP went looking for chaplains who couldn’t live with that and found “perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal.” A Catholic priest overseeing 50 other chaplains reported “I’ve received no complaints from chaplains raising concerns that their ministries were in any way conflicted or constrained.”

If any of Perkins’ 200 religious organizations has stopped sponsoring chaplains because DADT is gone, I haven’t heard about it. The chaplains’ hyper-sensitivity to openly gay soldiers was imaginary, and went away when the government refused to take it seriously.

The abortion parallels. The reason the Religious Right believes their passive-aggressive “religious freedom” approach will work on same-sex marriage is that the same approach is already working on reproductive rights.

It all started with a reasonable compromise: After the Religious Right lost the battle to keep abortion illegal, laws guaranteed that doctors who believe abortion is murder can’t be forced to perform one. This is similar to letting pacifists be conscientious objectors in war, and I completely support it.

But from there, Religious Right “freedom” has become a weapon to beat down the rights of everyone else. Since 1976, Medicaid has not paid for abortions — at a considerable cost to the government, since birth and child support are far more expensive — because pro-life taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund something they think is immoral. There’s no parallel to this anywhere else: The taxes of pacifist Quakers pay for weapons; the taxes of Jews and Muslims pay the salaries of federal pork inspectors.

Conservatives like to accuse gays and blacks of claiming “special rights”, well this is a special right: The conservative conscience gets considerations that nobody else’s conscience gets.

And conservative special rights keep growing. The argument for defunding Planned Parenthood is that public money not only shouldn’t pay for abortions, it shouldn’t even mix with money that pays for abortions. (“Giving taxpayer funds to abortion businesses that also provide non-abortion services subsidizes abortion,” says one petition.) I had a hard time imagining a parallel, but I finally came up with one: What if Jews were so sensitive to violations of the kosher rules that Food Stamps couldn’t be used (by anyone, for anything) in groceries that sold pork?

That would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

In some states, medical “conscience” laws now protect anyone in the medical system who wants to express their moral condemnation: If the pharmacist disapproves of your contraceptives, he doesn’t have to fill your prescription. One of the examples cited by the model conscience law of Americans United for Life as something that needs to be fixed is “an ambulance driver in Illinois being fired for refusing to take a woman to an abortion clinic”.

Clearly that ambulance driver’s immortal soul was at risk. The hyper-sensitive pro-life conscience needs to be protected from any contact with women making use of their constitutional rights.

Religious “freedom” and contraception. The other front in the religious “freedom” battle is contraception.

The Obama administration has had a lot of trouble finding the proper religious exemption to the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act. That’s because it’s hard to find the “right” version of something that shouldn’t exist at all. Contraception coverage does not violate any legitimate notion of religious freedom for any religious organizations, religious affiliated organizations, or religious individual employers. Their claims should be rejected without compromise.

The principle here ought to be simple: The employer isn’t paying for contraception or any other medical procedure; the employer is paying for health insurance. Health insurance is part of a worker’s earnings, just like a paycheck. And just like a paycheck, what the employee chooses to do with that health insurance is none of the employer’s business. If I’m the secretary of an orthodox rabbi, his religious freedom isn’t violated when I cash my paycheck and buy a ham sandwich. Ditto for contraceptives, health insurance, and the secretary of the Archbishop of Boston.

Religious organizations’ hyper-sensitive consciences are pure passive aggression. The classic example here is Wheaton College, which couldn’t join other religious organizations in their suit against the ACA because it discovered that it had inadvertently already covered the contraceptives that the tyrannical ACA was going to force it to cover. This was such a huge moral issue for the college that nobody there had noticed.

Worst of all is the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which got a favorable ruling on an injunction recently. The Hobby Lobby case is the mating of two bad ideas — corporate personhood and employers’ right to control the medical choices of their employees — to produce something truly monstrous. HL’s case hangs on its claim that it is a “person” with regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and so its corporate “religious freedom” allows it to restrict its employees’ access to contraception.

Persecution or Privilege? Here are the kinds of sacrifices I make for my readers: I listened to the full half-hour of James Dobson’s post-DOMA radio show, where Dobson, Perkins, and Bill Becker threw around phrases like “the collapse of Western civilization in one day” and “the whole superstructure … can come down”. They described Christians as “an oppressed minority” and agreed that “persecution is likely in the days to come”.

But what is “persecution” exactly?

Tony Perkins expresses the challenge like this:

Do you believe God’s word is true and therefore you’re going to live your life based upon that truth, or are you going to shrink back in the fear of man and of them calling you bigots.

Whenever Christians discuss their “oppression”, fear of being called bigots plays a central role. According to CNN’s Belief Blog,

[Peter] Sprigg and other evangelicals say changing attitudes toward homosexuality have created a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.

In other words: Christians are oppressed unless they can express their moral condemnation of others without being subject to moral condemnation themselves.

Why would anyone imagine the existence of such a one-sided right? Simple: In practical terms, that’s a right they have had until recent years. Not so long ago, the James Dobson types were so intimidating that they could preach any kind of vicious nonsense about gays and face no response.

So what they are experiencing now isn’t persecution, it’s privileged distress, the anxiety a privileged class feels as its privileges fade and it slides towards equality with others. And rather than try to get over their distress and soothe their anxiety, they are intentionally pumping it up in a passive-aggressive attempt to claim victimhood and control the rest of us.

That bubble needs to be popped.

Category Error – the problem with that “breadwinner mom” study

Tuesday I had never heard the term “breadwinner mom”, but by Wednesday afternoon everybody seemed to have an opinion about it — and a reaction to everybody else’s opinions. By Thursday, the reactions to the reactions were the story, and the conversation stopped having much to do with the underlying study.

And that’s too bad, because an important point needs to be made: breadwinner mom is an act of statistical malpractice. The term is badly defined and should never have been attached to a hard statistic like “40% of American homes with children under 18”.

The study that defined it generated so much bad discussion because it couldn’t possibly have generated good discussion; virtually none of the statements you might make about the entire 40% are both true and interesting. You can turn breadwinner mom into a stereotype or you can leave it alone, but you can’t talk about it intelligently.

To see why, let’s start at the beginning. Wednesday, Pew Research released a study. It begins with a statement that (as I’ll explain below) is not entirely true:

A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

A few paragraphs later we get the definition:

These “breadwinner moms” are made up of two very different groups: 5.1 million (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million (63%) are single mothers.

You have to be careful when you create a category “made up of very different groups”. Because once you’ve done that, it’s easy to forget how diverse the category is and talk about it as if it were a unified phenomenon.

For example, we might define a category called “minorities” that combines blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and homosexuals. That would get us a big number — probably almost as big as the 40% Pew claims for breadwinner moms — but at the cost of making the category too cumbersome to say much about. All “minorities” have some reason to feel out of the mainstream and can point to various kinds of discrimination, but it’s hard to find any single issue that cuts across the entire collection. If we started throwing the term around, probably the big number would stick in people’s heads, but the definition would get replaced by a stereotype — poor, dark-skinned people who live in urban ghettos — which would apply to many of the blacks and Hispanics, but would misrepresent most of the Asians, Jews, and homosexuals.

Now imagine being a professional-class suburban Jew who finds himself called to account for the problems “minorities” cause in the urban ghetto.

You might think two groups wouldn’t be hard to keep straight, but under examination, both “single mothers” and “married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands” dissolve into a variety of dissimilar groups.

In a footnote, Pew says:

Single mothers include mothers who are never married, divorced, widowed, separated, or married but the spouse is not in the household.

So some of our “single mothers” are married, and some are not breadwinners. Another footnote says that Pew won’t count single mothers who live with their parents, but think about the range of women still included:

  • A high-school dropout juggles a fast-food job and a baby, and gets food stamps and some money from her parents, but no help from the baby’s father.
  • A professional-class mother (whose youngest child is 17) recently divorced. She plans to restart her career soon, but for now lives on a combination of alimony, child support, and the cash settlement from the divorce.
  • A widow with children has a part-time job, but couldn’t get by without the pension and/or life insurance settlement from her deceased husband.
  • A Murphy Brown type gave up on finding Mr. Right, but has enough money and enough support from friends and family to raise her child well.
  • A lesbian can’t marry in her state, but shares child-raising with a long-term partner.

Couples where the wife out-earns the husband are also diverse:

  • The husband is a good-for-nothing who neither works nor helps around the house.
  • The husband doesn’t have a paying job, but takes care of the house and kids.
  • The wife temporarily supports her husband while he finishes a degree or starts a business.
  • The husband is disabled.
  • The household lives off the income from the wife’s inherited wealth.
  • Two professionals both make good salaries, but the wife’s is slightly higher.
  • Both spouses have successful careers, but the husband’s is in a less lucrative field.
  • The husband is older and has retired before the kids are out of the house.
  • Two unskilled workers struggle to find minimum-wage jobs; this year the wife got more hours.

Now lump all those households together, give the new category a catchy name, and then post this graph about how it’s growing.

What have you accomplished, really? Well, mainly you’ve created a monster, a Rorschach Test onto which people can project all their fears about social change. What you haven’t done is raise a worthwhile topic for discussion, because what true statement can anyone make about all those households?

Deep in those numbers somewhere is a phenomenon that’s actually disturbing: children born to never-married women who are too young and too poor and too uneducated to give them a decent shot at success, especially without help from a spouse. That’s nowhere near 40% of households, but it easily becomes the stereotype for the whole group.

That stereotype is what Fox Business Channel’s Juan Williams was reacting to when he said that this trend “is tearing apart minority communities even more than white communities”. Are minority communities being torn apart by women who get high-paying jobs? Of course not. But they might get torn apart by households that don’t have either the personal or monetary resources necessary to give their children a shot at success. A study of that trend would be useful — is that number growing? I’d really like to know — but it wouldn’t have a big headline statistic like 40% of American households.

It’s no wonder a high-achieving mom like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly lashed back at the male Fox pundits who stereotyped her.

But you know who also should be offended? Dads. By lumping single moms together with primary-provider moms, Pew is saying that the two situations are similar. In other words, a man who can’t out-earn his wife might as well not be there at all.

Think about it. John McCain and John Kerry are out-earned by their wives. Michelle Obama has a book out. What if it became such a wild best-seller that her income went higher than Barack’s? Would it then make sense to lump the President in with men who got a girl pregnant and vanished?

Paul Ryan: Veteran of the War on Women


Right after Paul Ryan was named as Mitt Romney’s VP, I did what every other political blogger in the world did: wrote an article almost entirely about his economic policies. Of course I did and we did. In minds of politics-watchers everywhere, Ryan means the Ryan budget, with its strange combination of bold detail and cowardly vagueness. Just mentioning Ryan’s name launches an argument about taxes and Medicare and long-term deficits.

But a day or two later, I felt a wave of deja vu. Isn’t this exactly what happened in 2009 and 2010?

The Tea Party. Remember? The Tea Party burst onto the scene in April, 2009, billing itself as a non-partisan, grass-roots movement of people fed up with taxes and deficits. Taxed Enough Already — remember? The culture wars could wait; the problems of debt and government spending were too urgent.

An occasional liberal Jeremiah tried to warn us how phony this framing was, but for the most part we let them get away with it.

And then what happened? As soon as the election was over and Republicans (so much for non-partisan) controlled the House in D.C. and the entire state government in places like Wisconsin and Florida, their first priorities turned out to be abortion and all the other “values” issues they had swept under the rug during the campaign.

As the new Congress was settling in, Rep. Mike Pence segued like this:

Our economy is struggling and our national government is awash in a sea of debt. Amidst these struggles, some would have us focus our energies on jobs and spending. … I agree. Let’s start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad. The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X. The time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America.

Annual Planned Parenthood funding under Title X was about $70 million. Take that, trillion-dollar deficit!

Rachel Maddow was one of the early major-media people to sound the alarm, in a series of segments she labelled Really, Really Big Government.

That is the message they campaigned on in November—freedom, liberty, letting people do what they want!

And then they arrived in Washington and immediately started working on putting government in charge of every single pregnancy in America. Even as they slowed the legislative calendar way down, stopped doing much of anything else, they advanced not one, not two, but three super radical bills to restrict abortion rights.

Ryan’s Role. Paul Ryan was co-sponsoring every one of the Religious Right’s “super radical bills”. The National Right to Life Committee says:

Ryan has maintained a 100 percent pro-life voting record on all roll call votes scored by National Right to Life through his entire tenure in the House, which began in 1999.

It’s important to understand just how radical the recent stuff is, because we’re used to the abortion struggle taking place on a fairly small battlefield — Medicaid funding, late-term abortions, parental notification — where the issues really are debatable. But since the Tea Party came into power, we’ve been fighting over issues that used to be on the fringe or completely off the table.

Forced ultrasounds. The general public didn’t catch on to the changing battlelines until women protested the Virginia forced transvaginal ultrasound law this March: In the original version of the bill, women seeking an abortion would be forced to have an ultrasound probe shoved up their vaginas. (Texas already started enforcing a similar law in February.) The legislature had no medical justification; they just figured women who want to abort are too dumb to understand what a fetus is unless the government forces them to look. Or maybe the point is to humiliate women before granting them their constitutional rights.

Maddow and others began calling Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell “Governor Ultrasound” — a nickname that probably pushed him off Romney’s VP short list.

Well, Paul Ryan is Congressman Ultrasound. He co-sponsored the federal Ultrasound Informed Consent Act. Women would be forced to submit to and pay for a medically unnecessary procedure because Paul Ryan believes they’re “uninformed”. (I wonder how he’d feel about making anybody who wants to buy a gun observe the autopsy of a gunshot victim. Don’t they deserve to be “informed” too?)

Rights for single-celled organisms. Another radical addition to the abortion debate are “personhood” laws, which define a fertilized ovum as a human being deserving the full protection of the laws.

Such a law would not only outlaw all abortions, it would also ban any form of birth control that works by interfering with the zygote’s ability to implant in the uterus — like the Pill.

The birth control pill, for example, prevents pregnancy in three ways: The pill thickens the cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg; it suppresses ovulation by mimicking pregnancy-level hormones in the body, preventing eggs from being released from the ovaries; and finally, as a fail-safe, the pill makes the lining of the uterus inhospitable to any fertilized egg that might slip through. The time between fertilization and implantation (when a pregnancy becomes medically detectable) usually takes about a week.

In public, advocates of personhood bills deny they’d ban the Pill. But among themselves they sound more like this:

A justly written personhood amendment should ultimately outlaw all abortions  including both the intentionally induced “miscarriages” of the hormonal birth control pill and the blatant infanticide of the partial birth abortion.

Personhood laws would also outlaw in vitro fertilization as currently practiced, because the test-tube zygotes that aren’t implanted must eventually be destroyed. A pro-life article that tries to dispel this “absurdity” actually verifies it:

Couples trying to get pregnant through IVF procedures would have nothing to fear from Personhood legislation unless they consented to the intentional destruction of their embryonic children. [emphasis added]

Who would support such a radical law? Not voters. No personhood referendum has come close to passing, even in Mississippi.

But Paul Ryan is a more radical culture warrior than the average Mississippian. He co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which says:

the Congress declares that … the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood

Ryan’s defenders sometimes claim this bill merely empowers states to protect the personhood rights of fertilized ova, but it says what it says. If this passed, how long would it take the Thomas More Society to file a class-action suit against birth-control-pill manufacturers on behalf of zygotes?

Employers’ Rights Trump Workers’ Rights. Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that eliminated a hole in the equal-pay-for-women laws.

Ryan also co-sponsored the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act of 2012. Motivated by the concerns trumped up against ObamaCare’s contraception mandate — Wheaton College had to stop covering contraception so that it could join the lawsuit against being forced to cover contraception — Ryan’s bill goes way beyond that case, to prevent the government from enforcing any coverage “if an employer with respect to such plan is opposed to such coverage by reason of adherence to a religious belief or moral conviction.”

So the Christian Science Monitor wouldn’t have to cover any cancer treatment beyond prayer. And what if an employer just has a “moral conviction” against spending money on workers?

In his own voice. Finding Ryan’s name in a list of co-sponsors doesn’t tell you much about his level of commitment or the thinking behind it. For that you have to turn to his writings and speeches.

In September, 2010 (when the Tea Party was playing down culture-war issues) Ryan wrote The Cause of Life Can’t Be Severed From the Cause of Freedom, which explains why “freedom” requires forcing women to obey the tenets of Ryan’s religion.

I recommend reading the entire article, because you will learn a lot about how Ryan’s mind works. No actual pregnant women are mentioned or even imagined. His argument is entirely abstract; the lives and situations of real people carry no weight.

What’s more — and this style is very familiar if (like me and Paul Ryan) you read way too much Ayn Rand in high school — all the important ideas are hidden in the framing, so the argument consists entirely of tautologies. (The third and concluding part of Atlas Shrugged is titled “A is A”, as if something important could be deduced from that.)

So how does Ryan defend the absurd idea that zygotes deserve all the rights of fully-developed human beings? He doesn’t; he just labels them “people” and then defends the rights of people. He compares Roe v Wade to Dred Scott — there being no noteworthy differences between black slaves and single-celled organisms — and concludes:

I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human.

Zygotes have rights because “I cannot believe” otherwise. And if you claim not to believe it, or not to be certain enough to use government power to force women to bear their rapists’ babies, you are “feigning”. Ryan knows you agree with him deep down; you’re just pretending not to.

That’s how he thinks.

And if he ever ascends to the presidency, or if he becomes the family-values point man in a Romney administration, that’s the level of public debate we can expect.

Demonizing the Girl Scouts

An outrageous part of the culture war that isn’t getting enough press is the Religious Right’s demonization the Girl Scouts. The gist of the attack (found here) is typical guilt-by-association stuff: If there’s some reason to name the Girl Scouts in the same sentence as Person X or Organization Y, then the Scouts are responsible for anything X or Y can be accused of doing.

Last month, Catholic bishops joined in by starting an investigation. Like Americans in general, about 1/4 of Girl Scouts are Catholic, and many Scout troops are associated with Catholic parishes. What are the bishops worried about? The WaPo explains:

Critics of the Girl Scouts contend their materials shouldn’t have any links to groups like the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam, or other groups that support family planning and contraception. Other critics are unhappy that the American Girl Scouting organization is a member of an international scouting association that supports contraception access.

Some parents have reported that when their daughters go out to sell Girl Scout cookies, they have had doors slammed in their faces by people refusing to buy their treats because they think the profits go to support abortion and birth control.

Why would people think that? Because the Right has been linking the Girl Scouts to that demon of demons, Planned Parenthood. (Indiana Congressman Bob Morris called the Scouts “a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood”, and his regional Girl Scout organization responded.) How can anyone argue with logic like this from the Washington Times?

The best evidence that the Girl Scouts have not actually severed ties with Planned Parenthood is that Planned Parenthood has not tried to destroy them.

(Weirdly, the guilt-by-association thing doesn’t apply to the Washington Times itself, which was founded by the Moonies in 1982 and has been owned and operated by them ever since. The Religious Right is fine with the WT being America’s flagship conservative newspaper.)

A good overview of the actual Girl Scouts and why they enrage the Right was published last September on Slate.  From the beginning, Amanda Marcotte argues, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were set on different paths.

While scouting for boys was about preserving the tradition of rugged, outdoorsy masculinity, scouting girls looked to the future, shucking off Victorian models of women as delicate flowers and replacing them with physically capable and adventurous women. …

These origins set the two organizations on strikingly different paths, despite their common emphasis on physical activity and volunteerism. The Boy Scouts still employ a nostalgic worldview, while the Girl Scouts focus more on keeping with the times.  …

It’s telling that Christian right critics avoid dealing directly with the group’s “go girl!” brand of empowerment, choosing instead to promote lurid tall tales. Maybe their tactic amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of just how mainstream the Girl Scouts’ feminism is, and just how far from the mainstream the anti-feminist views of the Scouts’ Christian right critics have become. The Girl Scouts focus on building self-esteem, teaching girls to care for their health, and promoting educational opportunities that help the girls’ economic futures. Its Christian right critics cling to a tradition where women exist primarily to serve.

This is part of a larger pattern: Increasingly, the Christian Right is rejecting the traditional American model of a melting pot and embracing a kosher-kitchen view of society, in which everything must be in its proper cabinet, safe from contamination.

Any organization founded on the view that we can put aside doctrinal differences to pursue common goals — Girl Scouts, public schools, public universities, umbrella charities like the United Way, and so on — is targeted either for takeover, destruction, or replacement by a group that has been cleansed and purged. (The most absurd replacement is Conservapedia, which is necessary because Wikipedia is unclean.) The attack is always the same: These groups mix us. They expose us to the views of others. They stir our time, money, and effort into the same pot with the time, money, and effort of people who might disagree with us on other issues.

For example, the Right’s problem with the Susan Komen Foundation wasn’t that Komen funded abortions. (It’s an anti-cancer organization that has nothing to do with abortion.) But by mixing with the anti-cancer activities of Planned Parenthood, Komen became unclean. It has to be purified, destroyed, or pushed beyond the pale before it in turn contaminates the righteous women who want to cure breast cancer.

Girl Scouts is a melting-pot organization. Girls who might have different beliefs or goals or heroines mix together around the common goal of maturity, empowerment, and making the world a better place. But as they color their visions of a better world, girls might discover outside-the-lines groups like the Sierra Club or Doctors Without Borders.

Contamination! Unclean! Unclean!

77 cents, part II: What if secretaries became programmers?

When I was a kid in the 1960s, wage discrimination against women wasn’t something you had to ferret out with statistics.

My grade school was owned by the Lutheran church my family belonged to, and the congregation had to approve  the teachers’ salaries each year. So everyone knew that Male Teacher and Female Teacher were two different professions with different pay scales. If we hired a man and a woman straight out of the same Lutheran teachers’ college, we’d pay the man significantly more.

Everyone knew why: Male teachers (even if currently single) would need to support a family, while women (even if currently childless) taught either before or after their real profession, which was raising children.

That kind of thinking hung on longer in religious workplaces than elsewhere, but it wasn’t uncommon. Men made more than women, even if they were doing the same job. It was out in the open because nobody was ashamed of it.

Today, such overt separate-pay-scale discrimination is both illegal and socially unacceptable, so remaining wage discrimination (if any) must be hidden. That’s why we do statistics.

Last week I verified that at the grossest level, women still make less. In 2011, women working full time made 82 cents for every dollar made by men working full time. (The often-quoted 77 cents figure is a year older and figured slightly differently, which tells you something about the sensitivity of the calculations. In what follows I’ve been careful not to mix data from different sources. Everything comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics table that leads to the 82-cent estimate.)

But why do women make less? Is it for reasons we can all live with, or is the pay gap an injustice that needs fixing? Several reasons are frequently offered, together with explanations why we can live with those reasons. (Never forget that those are two separate conversations. Even if the whole pay gap could be boiled down to something as simple as “Girls don’t like math”, we’d still need to discuss whether that’s a problem we can or should fix.)

For each proposed reason, there’s a study proving that it’s not the whole story. Today I want to look at one of the most popular explanations of the pay gap: Women choose lower-paying professions. In other words, the overall averages compare female special education teachers to male aerospace engineers. No surprise who makes more.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has a study “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation” proving that occupational segregation (as they call it) is not the whole story. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers from 2011 (the same ones in that 82-cent calculation), they list the 20 most popular occupations (out of around 400 listed by the BLS) for men and for women. Four occupations are on both lists, and six more are too segregated (i.e., construction worker, teacher assistant) to provide a reliable estimate of the minority gender’s earnings.

In the 30 remaining occupations, men make more in 28, and the other two are low-pay occupations where the female advantage is small: Female “stock clerks and order fillers” make $1.03 for every male dollar, and female “bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks” make $1.003. On the other pan of the scale, men have huge margins in high-pay occupations like “financial manager” (where women make 66 cents on the male dollar) and “chief executive” (69 cents).

So clearly, occupational segregation isn’t the whole story of the wage gap. But here’s the more interesting question: Granted that it isn’t the whole story, how big a part is it?

Maybe there’s a study that answers that question, but I didn’t find it. So I crunched some numbers myself. I started with the numbers in Table 1 and Table 2 of the IWPR report, restricting my attention to the 30 comparable occupations.

Eliminating the duplicate occupations and totaling up, we’ve got 18.4 million men making a total of $16.4 billion per week ($892 each) and 20.9 million women making $15.0 billion per week ($715 each), or about 80 cents on the dollar. So these 30 occupations are slightly better than average for both men ($832 overall) and women ($684), with women making almost the same relative wage (80 cents on the dollar) as in the total survey (82 cents).

To understand what I did next, imagine that there are only two occupations: male-dominated “software developers” and female-dominated “secretaries and administrative assistants”. (These are two of the 30 from the IWPR study.)

 occupation  # men  men $  # women  women $
 software  812  $1606  179  $1388
 office  84  $757  2059  $651
 Total/average  896  $1526  2238  $710

(The number of workers is in thousands.) So our miniature, two-occupation economy (call it “2-Job World”) employs 3,134,000 people (896,000 men and 2,238,000 women) and has a total weekly payroll of  $2.96 billion ($1.37 billion to men, $1.59 billion to women). Overall, its men average $1526 per week and its women $710. So the unfortunate women of 2-Job World make only 46 cents for every dollar a man makes, even though they make 86 cents on the dollar in each occupation. (That’s why I picked those two for my example.)

Amateur economists in 2-Job World — there are no professional economists, that would be a third job — could analyze their pay gap by constructing two counter-factual models. In each model, each occupation maintains the same the total number of jobs and the same total payroll, but women move towards equality in two different ways.

In 2-Job World Fantasy #1, the ratio of men and women in each profession equalizes. Overall, 29% of the workers are men. So in Fantasy #1, 29% of workers in each occupation are men. But the wage gap within each occupation stays the same: 86 cents on the dollar. That changes the table to look like this:

 occupation  # men  men $  # women  women $
 software  283  $1735  708  $1499
 office  613  $728  1530  $626
 Total/average  896  $1046  2238  $902

Basically, bringing lower-paid women into software allowed us to raise salaries in general, while bringing higher-paid men into the secretarial pool forced us to cut salaries there. But now we have an economy where there is no occupational segregation, and women make (surprise) 86 cents on the dollar.

In 2-Job World Fantasy #2, we leave everybody in their current job, but equalize pay within the occupations, so everybody makes the average salary for their occupation. That gives a table like this:

 occupation  # men  men $  # women  women $
 software  812  $1567  179  $1567
 office  84  $655  2059  $655
 Total/average  896  $1481  2238  $728

And here you wind up with women making 50 cents on the male dollar. You’ve only nudged the pay gap by 4 cents.

(I know what some of you are thinking: Where’s the extra 10 cents? Shouldn’t the 4 cents from equalizing pay and the 40 cents from equalizing occupational segregation add up to 2-Job World’s whole 54 cent pay gap? Congratulations, you have just discovered non-linearity. Equalizing pay in the already-desegregated world of Fantasy #1 would have a 14-cent effect, while it only has a 4-cent effect in the original 2-Job World.)

So 2-Job World looks like some people’s intuition about our whole economy: The big money is in getting women to become programmers instead of secretaries.

But when I applied the same two fantasies to the more representative 30-Job World, it came out exactly the other way. In 30-Job World (where women make 80 cents on the dollar), Fantasy #1 (desegregating the occupations) only gets us a 3-cent gain to 83 cents.

But Fantasy #2 (where both men and women make the average salary for their occupations) raises women’s relative pay to 92 cents. It gains women 12 cents rather than 3 cents.

So at least in 30-Job World, getting equal pay within each occupation turns out to be about four times more important than getting equal representation within the occupations.

Why? While programmers and secretaries are part of 30-Job World, the bigger effect comes from occupations that are already fairly well integrated, but men just make more, like retail sales supervisors: about 1.3 million men and 1.0 million women, but the women make 79 cents on the dollar.

Is that how things work in the overall economy (400+ Job World, if you use the BLS categories)? I’m not ready to say that yet. But until I see a better analysis, I’m going to be very skeptical of anybody who claims the wage gap is even largely due to women’s choice of professions. I’d be surprised if it ultimately explained more than a nickel of the gap.

Technical notes:

If you need to see for yourself, I’ve posted the larger tables: 30-Job World Actual, 30-Job World Fantasy #1, 30-Job World Fantasy #2.

I anticipate this objection: When I eliminated the 6 occupations where there wasn’t a large enough sample to get a good estimate of one gender’s wages, I disposed of exactly the occupations where desegregation would make a difference.

Strange things happen when you put those occupations back in, and they work backwards from what the objector might expect. Five of the six are male-dominated working-class jobs. When you lump them together, they pay less than even the female average in 30-Job World.

So the main effect is to pull the male average down, which gets the wage ratio in 36-Job World up to 83 cents. From there, Fantasy #2 gets you to 94 cents. Fantasy #1 is hard to apply (because you don’t know what to pay the minority gender). But if you equalize even further (just for those 6 occupations) by paying the minority gender the overall occupational average , you only get up to 84 cents — higher than in 30-Job World Fantasy #1, but showing a smaller improvement over 36-Job World Actual.

77 Cents

Last week I linked to a sexist exchange on Meet the Press where Alex Castellanos all but pinched Rachel Maddow’s cheek and told her she’s cute when she’s angry. (He didn’t quite go that far, but it would have been a logical next step.)

Lots of people (including Rachel herself Monday evening) came back to that argument (probably making it one of the most widely viewed MTP segments in some while), asking the proper now-that-the-dust-has-settled question: Forget how outrageous Castellanos’ manner was or how well Maddow responded – who was right?

Context. The subject was the political gender gap, and Rachel was arguing that it is based on policy rather than image. Romney can’t win over women voters just by giving his wife a more prominent role in the campaign or sending other female surrogates out to campaign for him, because his policies give women good reasons not to like him.

To support that point, she brought up gender inequality in the workplace: Women make less than men. President Obama pushed and signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for women to sue for workplace discrimination. Romney won’t say whether he would have signed that bill or not. (But he has promised not to try to repeal it.) So in terms of substantive policy, what is Romney’s plan for ending gender discrimination in the workplace?

She didn’t get that far. As soon as she said “Women in this economy still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make” Castellanos interrupted, saying “there are reasons” why women make less than men. When asked specifically, “Do women make less than men for the same work?” he answered “No.”

So who’s right? I find this kind of discussion hard to follow on TV, where it’s so easy for each side to talk past the other, shifting the argument to a slightly different issue rather than directly refuting or admitting the point just made by the other side. But now that I’m sitting at my computer, with time on my side and Google and Wikipedia strapped onto my utility belt, who’s right?

First observation: Who’s right about what?

The argument has one major issue in the background: Do women face workplace discrimination? Several similar-but-not-identical factual questions relate to that issue:

  • On average, do working women make less money that working men? This one is easy, and the answer is yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that men working fulltime in 2011 averaged $832 a week, while women working fulltime made $684 – 82 cents on the dollar. (The 77 cents number came from 2010 and was based on annual earnings rather than weekly. I’m not completely sure why that makes a difference.) In general, things have been slowly equalizing; the weekly-earnings number was 62 cents in 1979.
  • Do women make less money than men for the same quantity and quality of the same work? This is a tougher question, because how do you define “same quantity and quality”? For any two workers, you can almost always find some difference in their qualifications or duties or output. The question is whether we’re talking about legitimate distinctions or ones dreamed up after-the-fact to justify discrimination. It seems undeniable that some women make less for the same quantity and quality of the same work – Lilly Ledbetter, for example. If this never happened, Romney could cheerfully support the Fair Pay Act knowing that it makes no actual difference.
  • How much of the pay gap between men and women is due to discrimination? This has come to be the center of the debate, and it’s what I wanted to focus on, but I can’t because the research either wasn’t as clear or as easy to find as I wanted. So I offer an IOU: I’ll get back to it next week after I’ve had more time to sift through the numbers.

Here’s what I’m looking for: The insidious thing about this argument is that pay-gap-due-to-discrimination is not something you can measure directly. All you can do is start with the 82 cents on the dollar and see how much of that deficit you can attribute to some legitimate cause. After you allow for everything reasonable you can think of, you can say with some confidence that the rest of the pay gap is unreasonable.

So what I’d like to find is a study that chips away: X cents is due to men and women being in different professions. Y cents is due to women entering high-paying professions recently and so still being relatively younger than their male colleagues. Z cents comes from having less seniority because they interrupted their careers to have children. And so on, leading to D cents that is inexplicable unless employers discriminate.

I can find pieces of that, but I’ll hold them for next week in hopes of painting a clearer picture.

In the remainder of this post, I’d like to knock off some side-issues.

The just-so story. On Meet the Press, Castellanos made this argument: If the 77 cents thing were true, then

every greedy businessman in America would hire only women, save 25% and be hugely profitable.

Let me turn that logic back on itself: If Castellanos’ argument were true, then there would never have been any wage discrimination in America against any group ever.

All through the 1930s, any greedy owner of a major league baseball team could have hired can’t-miss stars like Satchell Paige or Josh Gibson for peanuts. (Gibson, the “black Babe Ruth” died at 35, three months before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Paige arrived in the majors in 1948, well past his prime. At age 47, he was still good enough to pitch in the 1953 All-Star game.)

No owners did. Why? You’d have to ask them. But discrimination does happen. It can’t be dismissed with a just-so story about capitalism.

Are statistics the whole story? If gender discrimination happens at all, it’s wrong and should be illegal, independent of whether it happens often enough to affect the averages. Since when do we decide moral issues by statistics? (Compare: Pro-life activists are not mollified by the fact that partial-birth abortions are an insignificant percentage of all abortions.)

What’s reasonable? Kevin Drum was all over this point: A lot of what is considered a “reasonable” explanation of the pay gap is just discrimination by a different name.

When all’s said and done, women are punished financially in three different ways: because “women’s jobs” have historically paid less than jobs dominated by men; because women are expected to take time off when they have children, which reduces their seniority; and because even when they’re in the same job with the same amount of experience, they get paid less than men. All of these things are part of the pay gap. Whether you call all three of them “discrimination” is more a matter of taste than anything else.

What’s a problem? As Kevin pointed out, many women interrupt their careers for children. For the moment, leave aside the question of whether men’s careers should be equally disrupted. I just want to point out that there was a time in American history when large numbers of men had their careers disrupted: World War II.

When they came back from the war, our country decided that those interrupted careers were a problem, and something should be done about it. Hence, the G.I. Bill of Rights, which paid for millions of returning servicemen to go to college or get some other kind of training.

When women come back to the workforce after raising children, though, they’re on their own. That’s a kind of discrimination right there.

The Sifted Bookshelf: “Delirium” by Nancy Cohen

What if all the conventional wisdom about culture-war politics is wrong? You know the stuff I’m talking about:

  • The social issues favor Republicans. Coastal elites may have progressive attitudes towards female equality, reproductive rights, guns, gay rights, and so on. But the broad mass of ordinary Americans is deeply conservative.
  • Clinton and Carter proved that Democrats have to court the Bubba vote. The angry-white-male “Reagan Democrats” are the key to winning national elections.
  • The public doesn’t trust the moral values of liberals. McGovern and Mondale went down because they were too far left, Gore was tarred by Clinton’s sins, and so on.
  • Abortion caused the Religious Right to rise up. The preachers saw Roe v Wade and knew they had to take action to defend their long-held moral values.

In Delirium: How the sexual counterrevolution is polarizing America, historian Nancy Cohen looks back over the politics of the last half-century and concludes that it didn’t happen like that. This is a rich book, full of forgotten detail, but one over-arching story comes through: It’s the Religious Right that’s unpopular with the larger electorate. When “values voters” win, they win by stealth and re-interpret the results afterward.

The clearest examples are the Republican mid-term victories in 1994 and 2010. In both cases, overall turnout was low, Religious-Right turnout was high, and the public campaigns focused on other issues. Both the 1994 Contract With America and the 2010 Tea Party stayed away from culture-war issues in public, while assuring Religious-Right leaders behind the scenes that they would act on culture-war issues once they got elected (which they have). Candidates who missed the memo on stealth — Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller — went down to defeat.

The conservative formula for success is simple: You want the invisible Religious Right networks of viral email and church study groups behind you, and you want evangelicals ringing doorbells and making phone calls for you, but your public campaign should have as little to do with them and their issues as possible. In 2000, all the fundamentalists knew that George W. Bush was their man, but he won with a moderate image as a “uniter” and a “compassionate conservative”.

Conversely, Bill Clinton may speak with a Bubba accent, but he won in 1992 while publicly reaching out to both feminists and gays to a greater extent than any previous major-party candidate. And the more that Republicans tried to make Clinton’s personal sex life an issue, the more popular he got. Clinton left office with a higher approval rating than Ronald Reagan. Al Gore’s biggest mistake was to distance himself from the popular Clinton in an effort to placate the evangelicals who voted for Bush anyway.

The other striking theme from Delirium is that abortion is an issue-of-opportunity for the Right. The original issues are gender equality and sex. To hear them tell it now, the Religious Right was always against abortion because the Bible is against it. When Roe v Wade made abortion legal, leaders like Jerry Falwell knew they had to get involved in politics.

In fact, the causality worked in the other direction. The Bible says next to nothing about abortion, and gives no support to the bizarre idea of ensoulment-at-conception. (As best I can determine, no one held this belief until recent centuries, and Protestants didn’t pick it up in any numbers until the late 1970s, when their politics demanded a clearer theological reason to condemn abortion.) When Roe v Wade was decided in 1972, many conservative religious leaders supported abortion rights or had no opinion on the issue.

The Religious Right actually began when conservative Christian women began organizing against the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972. Abortion was not their major issue. Only after Lottie Beth Hobbs had established the grass-roots potential of an anti-feminist religious movement and drew its battle lines did the male preachers join in. Jerry Falwell didn’t preach his first anti-abortion sermon until 1978.

Girls Heart Republicans and other short notes

In case you were having trouble figuring it out, Herman Cain explained the Obama/Romney gender gap to the Fox News audience:

Yes, President Obama is very likable to most people, if you just look at him and his family. But if you look at his policies — which is what most people disagree with — it’s a different story. And I think many men are much more familiar with the failed policies than a lot of other people.

Which leads Digby to ask: “Who are those ‘other people’ (besides men) you speak of?”

You know, Digby: Girls. Those darling little ladies who swoon at pictures of Obama’s cute kids and don’t worry their pretty little heads about manly subjects like health care or the trade deficit. They say all kinds of silly things to pollsters, but come November their menfolk will set them straight and they’ll vote for Romney. (They’ll probably pout about it for a week or two afterwards — and their heads-of-household might want to be careful about eating the meatloaf on Inauguration Day — but they’ll do what they’re told.)

I’m glad Cain explained it so clearly. Otherwise, I’d have no idea why girls might not like Republicans. Well, there’s the whole we-want-you-to-carry-a-dead-fetus-to-term thing. But that’s yucky. I’m sure girls don’t think about stuff like that.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is another Republican girls ought to love. He dismissed the whole war-on-women theme by pointing to female Republican senators who agree with him:

There is no issue. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from Maine I think would be the first to say — and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska — ‘we don’t see any evidence of this.’

Except … well, they actually say the exact opposite. ThinkProgress observes:

Three of the four women McConnell names have already come out against the GOP’s war on women — Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). In fact, Murkowski specifically pushed back on claims like McConnell’s, saying, “If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters.”

Doesn’t that make you want to elect some more Republican senators so that McConnell can be majority leader?

You might think that a Republican woman who gets herself elected senator (like Murkowski or Snowe or Hutchison) might finally get some respect, that the men might listen to her (on women’s issues, at the very least) and not just use her as cover in a some-of-my-best-friends-are-dames way.

Think again.

A new study links conservatism to “low-effort thought”.

when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.

It makes a certain amount of sense. In situations where you don’t have two brain cells to rub together, you default to stereotypes and justifying the status quo.

If I’m stressed or tired, it’s much harder to think compassionately or generously. Much easier to think like this: Is there a problem? Somebody ought to find out whose fault it is and kick their butts.

As ego-boosting as this study is for liberals, there might be more to learn than that: When somebody who ordinarily seems to be a good person repeats some ridiculous conservative talking point, maybe the right response is just to say: “Seriously?” Don’t slap them down, just encourage them to think a little harder.

Jim Robinson, founder of the conservative community blog Free Republic, announces an anti-Romney revolt.

I’ve stated many times since Romney started running for the presidency way back when that I’d never vote for him and I will not. … There will be no campaign for this Massachusetts liberal liar on FR!!

Uh, Jim, why?

Romney is a pathological compulsive liar. Lie after lie papered over with more lies. Doesn’t even flinch when caught in bald faced lies, simply tells another big whopper to cover up or dodge the issue. Funny thing, the man actually seems to believe his own latest lies and simply ignores the glaring record of his past actions/lies.

Check out the comments Robinson gets: overwhelmingly positive, with only the occasional “Are you nuts?” thrown in.

That “liar” meme is catching on. Steve Benen is up to #13 in his ongoing series Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity. Most of it isn’t spin or shading; it’s real that-never-happened stuff.

Crazy Congresspeople #1: Missouri’s Todd Akin explains to a constituent why his fellow Republicans in Congress hasn’t impeached President Obama yet:

I can’t speak for the other 400 and some congressmen, but I believe when they take a look at impeachment the question is do you have the votes to do it?

You don’t need, like, grounds to impeach a Democratic president, just (as Hunter at Daily Kos summarizes): “You know, stuff.”

Crazy Congresspeople #2: Florida’s Rep. Alan West knows how many “card-carrying Marxists” are in Congress: 78 to 81. He later clarified that he was referring to every member of the Progressive Caucus.

Hey, Alan: They did away with cards years ago. It’s all biometrics now. And sub-dermal computer chips. Have you checked for those? Communists have their alien allies insert them into your body while you’re asleep.

Crazy Congresspeople #3: North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx, who has

very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that.

She knows there’s no reason for it because she and her husband graduated with almost no debt back in the 60s, when states gave more support to schools like her alma mater UNC and tuition was much lower. (I’ve already told you what I think about student debt.)

Let’s add a crazy state legislator to the list: Iowa’s Mark Chelgren proposed that child-support-paying Dads should be able to demand that their ex-wives take a drug test. (No War on Women here.)

You know who’s not conservative enough now? Orrin Hatch. Not so long ago he held down the far-right end of the Senate, but the Tea Party has moved past him. “I despise these people,” he says.

Teen pregnancy is down, but it’s still highest in the states that encourage abstinence-only sex education.

A 72-year-old grandmother tells the story of her abortion in 1978 in No One Called Me a Slut. It was a difficult decision, but she was treated with respect and she hasn’t regretted what she did.

I have five grandsons and three granddaughters, and I passionately want each one of them to be responsible and have the same legal right to choose that I had.