Feeling Their Pain: The Selective Morality of the American Taliban

As the American Taliban, known for marketing purposes as the Republican Party, continues its relentless War on Women, both at the federal and state level, there has never been a better time to subject these putative protectors of American morality to strict scrutiny. Seemingly every week brings news of another Republican-controlled state legislature enacting punitive new controls on abortion with the clear intent to make the procedure inaccessible, regardless of the Supreme Court’s continued recognition of a woman’s right to choose and of the possible electoral consequences of alienating women voters. No thinking person should be fooled for one moment by the right-wing’s claim to moral superiority. As we shall see, any political movement that sincerely placed moral considerations at the apex of its mission would find its workload almost too crushing to contemplate, facing evidence of its own country’s genocidal war crimes against other human beings and satanic brutality against the rest of the natural world. Against this backdrop of depravity, a deliberate focus on the consensual termination of human pregnancies reflects an allocation of priorities that is presumptively suspicious. But before we focus on this glaring inconsistency, we need to address the question of timing.

Why Now? A Quick Look at the Politics of Modern Misogyny

Superficially at least, Republican state legislative gains in 2010 may be seen as the proximate cause of the dramatic increase in hostility toward abortion. According to the right’s bete noire, the ACLU, state legislators introduced over 300 bills restricting abortion in the 2012 session. Four states now have only one abortion clinic, and across the country women find themselves hundreds of miles away from an abortion provider. In a running battle reminiscent of the storied career of Jim Crow, one of the latest gimmicks being deployed against female reproductive choice is the requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, an arbitrary rule gussied up as a public-health safeguard. In the battle against Texas’s new abortion law – which Rick Perryhas just been won by the American Taliban after Governor Perry convened a special session of the legislature to ensure its passage – both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Texas Hospital Association rejected these spurious public-health arguments and opposed the law as unnecessary and counter-productive. Even though only 0.3% of women experience abortion complications requiring hospitalization, the Texas law requires abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers. The goal here is not to address a genuine health problem but to drive abortion providers out of business – a backdoor way of nullifying a woman’s right-to-choose.

As far as the legal dimension of this phenomenon is concerned, there can be little doubt that the GOP senses blood in the water. With an aggressive corporate Court willing to go as far as murdering the Voting Rights Act and basing its token gestures on gay marriage very firmly (and very ironically) on the doctrine of states’ rights, Roe v. Wade and its progeny could easily be next on the chopping block. In probing the limits of what is legally possible [the actual test of constitutionality remains the “undue-burden” standard enunciated by Justice O’Connor in Planned Parentood v. Casey(1992)] these right-wing states are providing women with a foretaste of what would follow such a momentous Supreme Court decision, while providing the Court itself with multiple federalism-based excuses that such a decision comports with the democratic will of the people. The fact that gerrymandered state legislatures – as Marvin Jacobson pointed out in this Sunday’s Leesburg Daily Commercial – do not represent their people very well at all would fall by the wayside, along with the reality that democracy has been largely supplanted by plutocracy, with no small thanks to the Supreme Court itself.

With much public hand-wringing by Republican strategists about the need for the party to court the demographic groups that voted overwhelmingly for the covert plutocrat in 2012, it might seem irrational for the GOP to risk driving women into the arms of a welcoming opposition. To some extent, this self-defeating behavior reflects the schism within the party most easily seen in the immigration debate in the House of Representatives, where Tea Party members elected in 2010, and those who fear primary challenges from the right, are rejecting the token gesture offered to Hispanics by Marco Rubio et al. (Rubio’s contortions on immigration are almost as awkward as those of Rick Scott on Obamacare, exposing the tension between pandering to an ignorant, populist base and a calculating, profit-seeking plutocracy.) But surely there are other factors at work here besides intramural schizophrenia.

The use of social issues is a long-standing method of coalition-building employed by both of the rival mobs commonly known as parties. In this case, as we noted in our discussion of the Voting Rights Act, shameless exploitation of religious fundamentalism shepherds receptive flocks (especially of grey-haired sheep) toward the meat-grinder of pure plutocracy, encouraging Americans who really should know better to vote against their own economic interests. (The apogee of this exploitation may have come in North Carolina, where abortion restrictions were incorporated into a bill proscribing Sharia Law.) As the wealth and income gaps in the United States grow ever wider, the need for such distractions is becoming absolutely paramount to the maintenance of our sharp-tipped social pyramid. Conveniently, the plutocracy’s need for cognitive cover coincides with an era of great political purchasing power. Elected representatives care far less about the needs of their constituents than they do about the wishes of their donors, many of whom remain safely hidden in the 501(c)(4) shadows. In other words, the price of alienating a particular demographic has been deeply discounted by the exigencies of plutocratic power.

Besides, rich women are never going to have any trouble getting an abortion. They can easily hop on a plane to some den of iniquity in the incorrigibly liberal Northeast or, for those who wish to turn the trip into a nice vacation, on the West coast. The burden of the GOP’s War on Women falls disproportionately on poor women who were never going to vote Republican if they even voted at all. The needs of such women – such people – may be ignored except in so far as they intersect with the needs of America’s owners. And what the owners want is a steady supply of consumers for their products and cannon-fodder for their imperial wars of aggression. The current campaign against abortion has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with profit. For those who doubt that proposition, let us now (finally) turn to an examination of two blindingly obvious contradictions of the right’s claim to the moral high ground.

The Unborn v. The Born: The Hypocrisy of America’s Killers

The right’s touching concern for unborn human beings loses more than a little of its credibility when contrasted against their concern for those who have already been born. While one could easily make this argument by referring to the outcome of the world’s greatest health-care system, in which millions have no proper access to health services, or to the consequences of relaxing industrial pollution standards, workplace safety, or food inspections, the single most obvious problem ignored by the right-to-life charlatans is their failure to deplore the deaths of millions of people across the globe caused by American imperialism. And, tellingly, they don’t even complain when these mass murders are committed by the other side.

Thus, while Republicans in the House excoriated Bill Clinton for an improper use of tobacco products in the Oval Office, they had no complaints about his sanctions regime against Iraq which resulted in the deaths of one million people, half of whom were children. Perhaps if those Iraqi children had been fetuses within the wombs of Iraqi women, Republicans would have been mortified. Not to be outdone, Barack Obama has been steadily amassing his own death toll, which increases after every Tuesday meeting to discuss his Kill List. Do we see GOP-controlled legislatures passing resolutions calling for the immediate cessation of this indiscriminate murder of innocent Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, and others? Strangely, no. And while many local governments have erected Vietnam memorials to recognize the deaths of American servicemen in Indochina, where are the memorials to commemorate the deaths of the Vietnamese, Cambodians, or Laotians? Before condemning such a notion as an absurd celebration of an enemy, consider the following facts about America’s greatest orgy of violence, as recounted by Fred Branfman, an American journalist who saw the suffering firsthand:

From May 1964 until March 1970, U.S. Executive officials constantly denied they were even bombing in Laos. When the evidence became so great that even Richard Nixon had to admit the bombing, Executive Branch officials continued to lie by denying they had bombed any civilian targets at all—even as I was interviewing over 1,000 refugees on dozens of occasions and hearing from each that their villages had been destroyed and that they had witnessed countless civilian casualties….

One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the airNapalming Vietnam war. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?

And then, to my horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright’s hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson’s bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:

“Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.”

That last sentence is worth reading over and over again, for it perfectly encapsulates the moral bankruptcy of an empire that accords to other human beings all the dignity of ants infesting a lawn. And this attitude of superiority is nothing new.

[T]he secret that is never discussed is far larger. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations… all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrat and Republicans, conservative and liberal—have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.

Apparently, both the right to life and the Biblical commandment against killing are far from moral imperatives. They are mere talking points to be invoked at the convenience of the manipulators of feeble minds.

Star Parker: The Personification of Right-Wing Hypocrisy

Star ParkerWhen it comes to manipulators, one of the most dependable exponents of right-wing hypocrisy is the ludicrous figure of Star Parker, a woman who had multiple abortions herself (see the comments here for more on that) and now wishes to pull the ladder up behind her. Praising the House Republicans’ latest exercise in chickenshit1 politics, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which sought to outlaw abortions 20 weeks after conception, Ms. Parker lays a minefield that could haunt the right-to-life movement almost as long as all the unexploded ordnance kindly left by American invaders in Indochina (and still claiming lives and limbs today).

[D]espite the clarity that a child in the womb after five months is living, moving, and feeling, our president, who likes to present himself as a man of compassion, not only wasted no time in indicating he will veto this bill, but he doesn’t even want to have the conversation.

We certainly would not disagree with Ms. Parker’s scorn toward the president’s compassionate nature, as he is a psychopathic mass-murderer who should be tried at the Hague for war crimes along with his Republican predecessor. But the question of when a human fetus starts to feel pain is far from clear, although it is gratifying to see the Republican Party acknowledge that science should be used as a basis for policy-making. The consensus of the scientific community is that the brain does not even begin to form the neural pathways that allow for the perception of pain until at least 24 weeks. That said, let’s allow Star Parker and her party to continue to hoist that particular petard:

Shouldn’t the American people at least hear an explanation from their president why he would conclude that a child – moving and feeling in the mother’s womb – is not life? And if it is life, why is it not murder to kill this child? And if it is murder, why should it be legal in a nation that claims to be civil, moral, and free?

Obviously, the first explanation required here would be from Star Parker herself, who needs to explain what business she has hectoring women of reproductive age who wish to exercise the same degree of control over their own bodies as she did. Then, as we have already discussed, the American people need to know why no-one – neither this president nor Star Parker’s glorious movement – has had anything to say about the murder of millions of innocent people all over the world, when there is absolutely no doubt that they were alive and that they were murdered.

And still another explanation is required. If a nation that is “civil, moral, and free” values life that is “moving and feeling,” why does it slaughter ten billion living things every year in a system of colossal barbarism that dwarfs anything created by Hitler’s SS at Auschwitz, Dachau, or Bergen Belsen? For modern industrialized “agriculture” is the most horrific and utterly gratuitous taking of life the world has ever seen, yet the society that regards itself as the world’s most advanced fails to even acknowledge the rivers of blood that flow among its amber waves of grain.

Steve King and the Depravity of American Anthropocentrism

The pain and suffering experienced by sentient beings in America’s factory farms is, of course, out of sight and out of mind – hidden by a deadly combination of cynical marketing and consumer ignorance. And if America’s right wing has anything to say about the matter, that is the way it will stay. For along with the right’s War on Women there has been a less-well publicized war on animal rights. “Ag gag” bills that seek to criminalize undercover exposes of what really happens in American “agriculture” – and even go so far as to treat investigative journalists as terrorists – have been introduced in numerous states. So far, these measures have been largely beaten back and, to be fair, some of the opposition has come from within Republican ranks, such as Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee. Ag gag bills would make it impossible for us to show you the kind of graphic videos included in our discussions of cruelty in the pork industry and the annual slaughter of turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Sadly, as the Humane Society’s CEO, Wayne Pacelle, reported recently, what the friends of agribusiness can’t win at the state level they will attempt to secure at the federal level. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sought last year and this year to attach an amendment to the agriculture bill that would strip states and municipalities of their ability to regulate food production. As we have seen before, federalism is just as disposable as any other principle for America’s so-called conservatives, for whom service to corporate masters overrides all other considerations. Thus, King’s amendment is packaged as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), and throws both states’ rights and direct democracy under the bus. As Pacelle explains, the impact of the King Amendment is massive:

King’s goal is to overturn every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture – Prop 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves, and laying hens), Prop 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Prop 204 in Arizona (banning veal and gestation crates), and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing gestation crates). The amendment could also nullify six other state bans on gestation crates, horse slaughter bans in a half-dozen other states, the comprehensive animBattery Hensal welfare standards adopted by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and a raft of anti-downer laws and other animal protection laws designed to shield farm animals from abuse and extreme confinement.

But the reach of his amendment goes further. It seeks to nullify every state, county, or local law that creates any standard or condition relating to an agricultural production activity – so we’d have no state laws for agricultural facilities relating to worker rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, or public health. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping and far-reaching the King amendment is….

He’s also spent his 10-year congressional career attempting to block any and all animal welfare laws. He favors killing horses for human consumption, killing American bison in Yellowstone National Park, and trophy killing of polar bears, even though they are an endangered species. He is the best friend that dogfighters and cockfighters have in Congress, trying to stop any law-and-order bill to make life tougher on these criminals. And get this: he was even one of a handful of lawmakers to oppose legislation that seeks to include pets in disaster planning.

Yet this same Steve King is a card-carrying member of the right-to-life movement and milks the abortion issue for all it is worth. King defended the ludicrous misogyny of Todd Akin and argues that it is morally wrong to compel “pro-life” taxpayers to support abortions. Yet he has absolutely no problem with compelling animal-loving taxpayers to subsidize and support industrialized barbarism against defenseless, innocent, conscious beings. Nor does he have a problem with compelling pacifists – or anyone who takes the Bible seriously – to support imperial warfare, an enterprise that dwarfs federal support for abortions in both budgetary outlays and moral enormity.

Governor Rick Perry, propagandist Star Parker, and Representative Steve King are all leading members of an American Taliban. While this movement shares retrograde misogyny with its Afghan namesake, it enhances its repulsion by adding a uniquely American sycophancy for corporations, elevating the wants of fictitious persons over the needs of actual people. But the ultimate problem here is not the bizarre standards of the movement’s leaders; rather, it is the unthinking adherence of the movement’s followers. Any American who responds to this kind of leadership has some explaining to do – not just to their fellow Americans, but to themselves.

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  1. A term of derision once used by John Boehner, when in opposition, to describe bills that are going nowhere and therefore amount to a waste of everyone’s time. By that standard, he has become Speaker Chickenshit.

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