Caving on rape

    Wouldn’t this be a better world if politicians more often acknowledged those instances when they were making fools of themselves?Put your hands together for the House Republicans, who this week apparently came to the belated realization that they were shamefully insulting the majority gender. For several weeks, the party’s social conservative wing, led by anti-abortion purist Chris Smith of New Jersey, tried to float a bill that would make it more difficult for rape and incest victims to obtain Medicaid-funded abortions. Dissatisfied with the 35-year-old Hyde Amendment, which bans almost all federally-financed abortions but grants an exception for rape and incest victims, the newly empowered conservatives (joined by a small handful of Democrats) came up with a bright idea:Decree that the Medicaid money be made available only to incest victims under the age of 18, and only to victims of “forcible” rape.This is what happens when conservatives try to turn back the clock – in this case, by decreeing that one can properly distinguish between “forcible” rape (in their minds, real rape) and unforcible rape (in their minds, not really rape). According to this mindset, which is circa 1950, a woman is not really raped if, for instance, she is drugged before sex; non-violently threatened, or otherwise coerced, into having sex while on a date; or if she is mentally incompetent and then seduced. Under the bill’s right-wing language, statutory rape no longer would have been covered, either, either. Nor would any incest victim who was old enough to vote.Even some Republican aides on Capitol Hill – speaking anonymously to the press, because they were too embarrassed to address this issue openly – suggested that perhaps it was unwise to codify the reactionary belief that some rapes were less important than others. As one aide whispered to Politico, “last I checked, rape by definition is non-consensual.” It was noteworthy, this week, that nobody in the conservative camp dared speak publicly in defense of the rape provision.The provision also reeked of hypocrisy. Conservatives complain all the time about the intrusiveness of big government, yet, under this plan, they wanted big government to intrusively decide whether rape victims seeking Medicaid-financed abortions were in fact really raped (forcible) or not really raped (all other kinds, although the House GOP didn’t even offer definitions that would distinguish between the two; nor are there any distinctions in the federal criminal code). It surely would have been perverse if raped women had been compelled to share the specific, intimate circumstances of their victimhood, to prove to the government that they were worthy of Medcaid money.Anyway, the sexist language ticked off women’s groups and triggered press coverage; finally, yesterday morning, the Republicans killed the language. This was a welcome surprise. But why did they cave? They typically don’t care what the feminists think, or what Jon Stewart might say about them (Stewart’s segment was brilliant). On the other hand, the buzz among Republicans was that the provision was drawing too much heat, that it had the potential to offend females of all political persuasions (including their own), and that, tactically, they’d get some kudos for sensitivity if they dropped it.Whatever their true mix of motivations (Chris Smith’s spokesman insisted yesterday that the provision was unfairly “misconstrued”), at least they took action. It’s good that they renounced the Orwellian notion that some rape victims are more equal than others.On the other hand, read the fine print. The new version still discriminates against incest victims who are 18 and older. And, more broadly, the House Republican bill wants to make it tougher for women to get abortion coverage even from their private insurers. Given the fact that the House is 84 percent male, and that this bill’s co-sponsors are 90 percent male, perhaps it’s inevitable that big government would be enlisted to push women around. How come conservatives don’t consider this to be “socialism?”——-With respect to the top news story of the week, I’ve been thinking about the $1.3 billion in annual aid that America dishes out to Egypt, and about the Washington lobbyists who work for Egypt and inevitably help to grease the wheels. That’s how the town works; influence brokers with flexible consciences frequently take hefty fees from client states that torture and repress their own people.So I was wondering, who has been lobbying for Egypt? Turns out, courtesy of ABC News, that the short list is quite bipartisan. It features Tony Podesta, a Democrat whose brother was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff; Bob Livingston, who was destined to be the Republican House Speaker until he was derailed by a sex scandal; and a former Democratic congressman named Toby Moffett.You probably never heard of Moffett. But I knew him back in the late ’70s, when we were both in Connecticut, when he was young and idealistic. Now he’s a virtual metaphor for all the ways that Washington can soil the soul.To his credit, Moffett spoke to ABC News, insisting that his gig for Egypt is actually quite benign (“We are pretty much in the background, providing advice when needed”), and that it’s morally acceptable (“If a government was not friendly to the United States, then we wouldn’t be working with the guys”).But apparently, it’s morally OK (and financially rewarding) to be working with guys who, according to human-rights groups, torture political prisoners by burning them with cigarettes, and applying electroshock to their genitals and tongues. Apparently it’s OK to work with a dictator who keeps extending his 30-year State of Emergency law (after repeatedly promising otherwise), a law that permits him to indefinitely jail anybody who is deemed a threat to national security, and to allow the police to bust down doors in search of dissident suspects (one suspect’s pregnant sister died in her home after police attacked her with a baseball bat). Apparently it’s OK for a Washington lobbyist to work for a regime that squelches freedom of information (one publisher was kidnapped after he OK’d a book about dissident leader Mohammed ElBaradei).Four decades ago, Moffett was a Connecticut citizen activist who worked with Ralph Nader; then he got himself elected to Congress, with the intention of reforming it and doing good deeds. I was a (very young) weekly newspaper editor back then. Moffett was a third-year congressman in July of ’77 when he stopped by my office to talk. He was still fired up with idealism. He said he wanted “to reduce human misery or human deprivation, to change the quality of life in a significant way.”But he was worried that Washington might change him instead: “I hope that those of us who are relatively new and progressive and forward-thinking aren’t just dressing up a system that has so many things seriously wrong with it, (that) we’re only touching the very edges of it.”Washington co-opts everybody, he said in ’77: “You can’t underestimate the process of assimilating people. Even the most progressive, independent, aggressive outsiders. I think that process is more powerful than anybody.”How true. And how sad it is to see so many idealists devolve into morally compromised Beltway lifers.——-Let us part this week by marveling at the velocity of technological change. Check out this footage, from The Today Show. The year is 1994 and the hosts are flummoxed about a new gizmo that we in 2011 all take for granted. But don’t laugh too hard. Would any of us have done any better in ’94?

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