Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

The wrong way to be right about women’s rights

Posted by metaphorical on 12 May 2007

I would grant women the right to make that choice. — Republican presidential candidate Rudi Giuliani.


Rudi Giuliani made a key speech last night defending views that were popular enough when he was mayor of the epicenter of American sin, six years ago, but put him at odds with the Republican base all candidates must win, or at least neutralize, in order to buy a ticket into the general election, at which point defending sin can once again have its benefits.

“If we don’t find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can’t figure that out, we are going to lose this election,” he said.

While the media focuses on how much good, if any, Giuliani did for himself by honestly describing his disagreements with the social activist wing of the conservative movement on abortion, gun control, and gay rights, I’d like to look at the language he used. Because while others are busy praising his candor (and rightly so), I think he still found a way to pander to the Republican base. In doing so, he managed to find a way to be wrong even as he was being right on women’s rights.

The NY Times has at least three articles with Giuliani’s speech variously exerpted, but both of the quotes I want to look at can be found in today’s front-page article. The first is this:

“Where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint,” he said. “You give them a level of choice here.”

In the first part of the sentence he seems to be talking about all of us, the people in favor of abortion rights and those opposed. But at “I believe” the sentence pivots to us and them, where “their” viewpoint is suddenly that of those in favor—even though Giuliani is one of “them”!— and therefore “us” is those opposed—even though he’s not one of the “us” in question!

He continues with this odd us/them distinction, where somehow he says “us” when he himself is one of “them,” and enriches it by mining the deep vein of paternalism that runs through right-wing activist politics.

“Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it,” he said. “So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.”

Now the “they” is even more isolated—not all abortion rights defenders, but women who defend abortion rights— “the ones that are most affected by it.” And now that he’s only talking about women, Giuliani can apply the paternalistic coup de grâce:

“In a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent and equally moral and equally religious, where they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal, I think you have to respect their viewpoint,” he said. “I would grant women the right to make that choice.”

“It’s okay,” Giuliani wants to tell the Republican base. “Yes, you have the right to withhold abortion; I’m not saying otherwise. But like children coming of age, these women have to be allowed to make their own mistakes. And I as your father-figure president would grant them that right to make that mistake.”

“We agree,” Giuliani is telling the base, “philosophically, even if we don’t politically. We agree that abortion is wrong, but just as importantly, we agree that we have the right to determine the legality of things like abortion, gun ownership, and gay partnerships.”

26 Responses to “The wrong way to be right about women’s rights”

  1. JoAnne said

    The wording that is a problem for me is, “I would grant women the right to…”

    From a certain perspective, he can’t “grant” me those rights. I already have them. I would have them regardless of what the Supremes seem to think about it.

    I’ve got many abortion rights de jure and, because of my economic and social status, de facto, which many other women do not have.

    But even in a world where I was not allowed to exercise any rights, the right to free speech, trial by jury, and so on, I still have them.

  2. Blue Athena said

    I guess I just find it kind of entertaining at this point. I mean, what else can he do? If you were his campaign manager would you suggest he barrel ahead with an all out pro-choice message, and throw the election from the start?

    I actually think it’s all kind of brilliant. People get away with this stuff and win elections. And you can always only wonder whether anyone really believed it or whether the population just isn’t quite as naive as we think it is.

    Like this post. Do I really believe that you don’t get why he said the things he said? That you think there are some other honest and sincere people out there not playing the same game? Or do I see your own criticisms as part of the game? Because I think you get it. You know it’s the only way he can get elected. It’s how the game works.

    And you acting surprised is a part of that game. Because your not, really surprised our shocked are you?

    Have you got a politician out there for me who’ll say “I think women should be encouraged to have abortions when they carry genetic diseases. Or when they’re lives will be turned upside down. After all, the fetus isn’t developed more than some lower organism. An abortion is less cruel that eating meat from tortured farm animal. Heck, my wife had an abortion right before I started running for office.”

    Any expression on the subject is going to be a lie from anyone with half a brain. Or they will never hold office.

  3. lauredhel said

    Blue Athena:

    Have you got a politician out there for me who’ll say [...] “Heck, my wife had an abortion right before I started running for office.”

    I realise we’re in a slightly different political climate here, and she had already been elected, but Australian Democrats Senator Lyn Allison stood up and said in the Senate last year: “An estimated one in three women have had an abortion, and I am one of them.”

  4. Athena, I didn’t mean to express any surprise, and I’m not even sure Giuliani did what he did intentionally; I’m sure a clever politician just does these things instinctively.

    Lauredhel, I thought that was pretty cool when it happened. I don’t even know how I knew about it; maybe from your blog, or a mailing list (it’s not like news like that would ever be reported in the American press).

  5. Swanny said

    I disagree. He’s being intentionally vague. I feel that the language he uses can be taken as you imply as the us and them (typically you look for the most divisive interpretation possible, Capt. Conciliation, how’s that Edwards campaign coming, btw) or you could take it as I did to be inclusive with “us” referring to both sides. The unfortunate phrase as I see it is “some level of choice.” The whole structure of that sentence is about both sides and doesn’t take a side. It could just as easily be twisted to be saying to Pro-Death people that they must accept that the Partial Birth Abortion ban as a way of allowing the larger majority of non PBAs to continue.

    As far as the second part, when he’s crowned emperor-for-life in ’08 I will be gunning for that job of taking care of those who fought against the forces of righteousness and good. I will remember you, oh yes I will. Ever been to Gitmo?

  6. He’s being intentionally vague.

    I don’t think so. He’s speaking in code, the way Republicans do. It sounds like he’s pro-choice, but in fact he’s signalling that he reserves to himself the right to decide whether or not women get to make their own choices. He “grants” them that right only because (and presumably only for so long as) the social consensus on the issue remains unsettled, or as long as religious people remain divided on it (an especially creepy little twist). It’s classic GOP doublespeak – claim to be one thing while secretly using the code words that show you’re not, in order to convince both sides of the spectrum that you’re with them; as with any coded communication, however, it’s the coded part, not the plaintext, that’s the real message.

    Excellent analysis, Meta. The bit about “us” and “them” is amazing; good catch.

  7. digglahhh said

    Athena,

    I think the idea is that anybody who is even willing to play the game is unworthy of being elected. Yes, that includes all the candidates, and that is the point!

    Giuliani is a fascist, power-drunk tyrant. If that isn’t enough to pander to the right wing, then what is?…

    So what if he is really pro-choice or that he keeps his dick in his pants like a chart-topping rapper at NBA All Star Weekend? Real Republicans should prioritize, sweep that shit under the rug and vote for his Napoleon complex.

  8. Blue Athena said

    “I think the idea is that anybody who is even willing to play the game is unworthy of being elected. Yes, that includes all the candidates, and that is the point!”

    I disagree. Anyone who has the skills to lead a country and is not willing to play the game is either selfish or naive.

  9. digglahhh said

    “I disagree. Anyone who has the skills to lead a country and is not willing to play the game is either selfish or naive.”

    See, this is where we differ. I’m more inclined to think that having the real skills needed to lead the country and the willingness to engage in political hackery, pander to the dimwitted and embrace sound byte politics are mutually exclusive characteristics.

  10. Athena, there’s a lot of truth to that, but (a) do we really know in advance who has the skills? (b) do we even know what the skills are? and (c) surely some of what the electorate disagrees about when they vote for different candidates is what those skills ought to be.

    I think Digglahhh’s point was that anyone willing to play the game is too ambitious or foolhardy to be a great president. I think that’s a bit cynical, but only a bit. With a Democrat-majority Congress, Clinton’s might have been a great presidency, and Carter’s problems had nothing to do with ambition or foolhardiness. Kennedy was plenty ambitious, but if he’d had 8 years, we probably would have called them great. But these seems to be the exceptions. Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush were each both overly ambitious and foolhardy (and the last 3, flat-out incompetent).

  11. digglahhh said

    I’m surprised that even you, Meta, buy into the Clinton Bush dichotomy.

    I’m not really sure what Clinton did that was so great. We sustained our Middle East military operations, didn’t scale back any of our other covert ops, did some government ousting, international provocation, broke important barriers that protect us from corporate rule, severed the welfare system…

    I mean, getting head from a chunky intern with self esteem issues is pretty cool, and “everyman” of him to do; I’ll give him that.

    But, it is my opinion that no meaningful discussion, and hence, reform, of the American political system can happen until people on both sides realize that George Bush and Bill Clinton are FAR more similar than different.

  12. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh said: “See, this is where we differ. I’m more inclined to think that having the real skills needed to lead the country and the willingness to engage in political hackery, pander to the dimwitted and embrace sound byte politics are mutually exclusive characteristics.”

    I, on the other hand, think that knowing how to get elected is an absolutely essential skill to leading the country. If I’m right, then you don’t get elected unless you play the game. If your also right, no one with “skills needed to lead the country” will ever be elected.

    But putting aside the fact I’m not sure your right, someone does have to be elected. And it *will* be one of the people who can play the game. Putting your eggs (or donations) in the basket of a non-game player is a waste of eggs.

    Back to whether you are right. You assume that those skills are mutually exclusive, I assume they are not. Probably because I’ve seen people I believe have these skill sets. But none of us who know the game are going to be foolish enough to name who we believe is playing it.

    If your right, I doubt there are any elected examples above small town politics.

  13. Well, I’ll cut to the chase if Athena won’t. I think Edwards knows how the game is played, has a good chance of being elected, and would be a good, perhaps great, president. I suspect that’s who she has in mind anyway.

  14. Blue Athena said

    Suspect away. :)

  15. digglahhh said

    “But putting aside the fact I’m not sure your right, someone does have to be elected. And it *will* be one of the people who can play the game. Putting your eggs (or donations) in the basket of a non-game player is a waste of eggs.”

    So is supporting any of the cookie-cutter highest bidders we call candidates. The only non-egg-wasting behavior is to attempt to reform the system so we get some vastly different baskets.

    This is like looking for a husband at a titty bar and resigning yourself to marry the guy with the nicest suit.

  16. Blue Athena said

    You don’t *have* to get married. You do have to have a president.

    But again, I don’t think that just because they’re playing the game they’re motivations are bad. Part of this is differences in what we believe psychologically possible, and I don’t think we can settle that here.

    I tend not to take most of what politicians say seriously and kind of enjoy the game of guessing what (yes, if anything) they really believe. I mean it’s sad and all, but there isn’t now or ever going to be an alternative so I try to enjoy the activity of reading through the lies. I guess I think you have to make the most of the world as it is or do some equivalent of moving into a cave.

  17. digglahhh said

    “I tend not to take most of what politicians say seriously and kind of enjoy the game of guessing what (yes, if anything) they really believe. I mean it’s sad and all, but there isn’t now or ever going to be an alternative so I try to enjoy the activity of reading through the lies.”

    That’s fine, from a mental masturbations standpoint. I like to play mental games too.

    But what is comes down to is the question of how much it matters. In what tangible sense will the differences between two candidates impact your life? Are they different model cars completely or just the different colors?

    I stopped playing the game of guessing what the candidates really believe when I found out that you can be right 98% of the time without even paying attention, as long as you always guess “Long live the white male aristocracy and corporate state – fuck every one and everything else.”

  18. I’m surprised that even you, Meta, buy into the Clinton Bush dichotomy.

    It was easy to think that in 1999 and even 2000. The people who voted for Nader did so firmly in the belief that there was only a hair’s-breadth difference between Gore and Bush. Compassionate conservatism vs hard-nosed practical, limited liberalism – what’s the difference? I voted for Gore mainly because I knew who would make better Supreme Court and other federal court appointments.

    It’s inconceivable that Gore would not have gone to war in Iraq. (Heck, it’s likely that Gore would have stayed awake during his national security briefings, and just possible that 9/11 could have been averted.)

    Instead, the man who wrote “Earth in the Balance” certainly would have promoted technologies and policies that reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil after 9/11, if not before.

    He would have appointed Supreme Court justices who understand and respect the Constitution.

    He wouldn’t have let Microsoft off the anti-trust hook after the DoJ won its case.

    He would have allowed FEMA to remain an agency of competence, as it had become under Clinton’s administration. Nor would he have undermined competent career administrators at EPA, FDA, DoE, the other DoE, the DoJ, and every other department and agency in the federal government.

    He wouldn’t have illegally wiretapped thousands, perhaps millions of Americans.

    He wouldn’t have insisted on the right to undermine your privacy in a hundred other different ways, up to and including viewing the record of what library books you check out.

    He wouldn’t have funded religious organizations to the tune of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars.

    He would have continued the peace negotiations in the Mideast that were close to succeeding at the end of 2000.

    He would have signed Kyoto and could have aggressively brought China and the rest of the developing world into its rubric in the next round.

    U.S. Attorneys would be able to pursue cases, or not, without wanton political interference or at the cost of their jobs.

    Habeas corpus would still be the law of the land.

    The Geneva Convention would still be the law of the land.

    That’s just a few differences off the top of my head. There are thousands of others. Oh, we wouldn’t be giving billions to the pharmaceutical companies, defunding much science research and politicizing the remainder of it, and accentuating the gap between rich and poor with idiotic tax cuts. Lord, the list just never ends.

    It’s absolutely inexcusable to think there’s no difference between Clinton and Bush, or Gore and Bush, after six years of the worst presidency since at least Warren “let the Roaring 20′s begin” Harding and probably since Andrew “so what if they lost, let the South do whatever it wants” Johnson.

  19. digglahhh said

    Why wouldn’t we be doing any of that?

    Here’s the ones I’ll give you:

    - better Supreme Court nominations

    - better staffing of FEMA (though they’ve been pretty a pretty integral component of many of our more sinister domestic covert ops for a while now, anyway)

    - Microsoft anti-trust, I guess.

    - Signing Kyoto sure, I’m not informed enough to comment about being proactive past that.

    Here are the ones I’m not sure about:

    - religious organizations, this is probably determined by what his advisors think

    - Attorneygate

    Here are the ones that I think would have happened anyway or were already happening on a covert level anyway:

    - promoted alternatives to foreign oil, probably. How effective it would have been is up for debate.

    - Peace negotiations in the middle east is an oxymoron as long as we are involved at all.

    - illegal wiretapping and violations of privacy have been going on forever. COINTELPRO never ended.

    - Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention are things we only followed when we felt like it anyway.

    How many of these differences are meaningful, and how meaningful they are in the face of other overwhelming similarities is another question. And I,m aware I set the match-up, but this is between the man who is considered the worst president in the history of our country and the revisionist Democratic deity, Al Gore.

    Take your average candidate from either party (however you’d like to define that) and now dissect the differences.

  20. Blue Athena said

    “That’s fine, from a mental masturbations standpoint. I like to play mental games too.

    But what is comes down to is the question of how much it matters. In what tangible sense will the differences between two candidates impact your life? Are they different model cars completely or just the different colors? ”

    But what you were saying seemed to be pretty much that none of the candidates could deserve the position. Precisely what you said was “I think the idea is that anybody who is even willing to play the game is unworthy of being elected. Yes, that includes all the candidates, and that is the point!” That would make your endeavors the pointless ones.

    On the other hand, I do believe that there are people worthy of being elected, and that it is our responsibility to find the worthy candidate. It’s not *just* fun. And it’s a lot more productive than sitting around complaining that none of them are worth it because they lie and manipulate. Of course they lie and manipulate.

  21. digglahhh said

    Well, let’s put it this way, I consider voting to be a guilty pleasure of mine.

    I believe there are worthy people for the job too. Unfortunately, I also believe that the quid pro quo, the cognitive dissonance of the mass, the campaign finance structure and so forth, weeds them out early in the process.

    This isn’t a contest about who is wasting their time, it is a serious question as to whether we suffer from broken candidates or a broken system. John Edwards isn’t the best we can do – he might however be close to the best that the system can do.

  22. digglahhh said

    I had composed a long response to Meta that got spam filtered because I put it in a list form.

    Suffice to say that my response to his list of things that are different was pretty equally split between contentions that I accept, contentions that I am somewhere between unsure and skeptical about or that don’t really matter all that much, IMO and contentions that I either disagree with or I feel have been taking place long before Bush.

  23. And frankly I found your list puzzling, Digglahhh.

    - religious organizations, this is probably determined by what his advisors think

    I’m referring to Faith Based Initiatives. No Democrat (no sane person) would have done this. Even Reagan didn’t come up with this kind of shoveling pork into churches at the expense of the 1st Amendment.

    - Attorneygate

    This too was unprecendented. Even Nixon didn’t do anything like this.

    Here are the ones that I think would have happened anyway or were already happening on a covert level anyway:

    - promoted alternatives to foreign oil, probably. How effective it would have been is up for debate.

    Huh? We have none. After 9/11, when Bush could have asked anything of this country, he did nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Most presidents would have started raising gas taxes, poured money into R&D, given tax breaks for solar panels, built or subsidized wind farms, thought about going back to 55 mph speed limits, and funded much of this with excess-profit taxes on the windfalls the oil companies were getting. Bush did none of this. Most administrations aren’t this far up the asses of the oil companies. Most administrations aren’t virtually still on the payroll of Texas and Wyoming coal & gas companies.

    - Peace negotiations in the middle east is an oxymoron as long as we are involved at all.

    Whatever. Clinton was very close and ran out of time.

    - illegal wiretapping and violations of privacy have been going on forever. COINTELPRO never ended.

    We’ve never seen anything like the illegal NSA wiretaps. Fucking Ashcroft almost resigned because this was so over the top.

    - Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention are things we only followed when we felt like it anyway.

    Simply not true. We had one bad moment for habeas corpus in the middle of WWII, which is an embarrassing part of our past, but was a real war with a real enemy, two things lacking here.

    We’ve never not respected the Geneva Convention in 100 years of opportunity.

  24. digglahhh said

    Simply not true. We had one bad moment for habeas corpus in the middle of WWII, which is an embarrassing part of our past, but was a real war with a real enemy, two things lacking here.

    I’d ask the Black Panthers about this one, that is the ones for which we didn’t just skip the middle man and just outright murder. I’d ask some of the Miami dissidents who support the Cuban 5. In a generic sense, and not referring specifically to Habeas Corpus, but simply all forms of unlawful imprisonment, we have a rich history. So, technically, we haven’t rounded up black males in ages 18 – 30 and put them in internment camps, we’ve just rigged the legal justice system to do that for us. I think you find that distinction to be more meaningful than I do and that you are more concerned with the ps and qs and I’m more concerned with the spirit. That’s okay, I’m not really concerned with being “correct” here.

    “We’ve never not respected the Geneva Convention in 100 years of opportunity.”

    I’m not so sure. One, there are a lot of vague clauses in the GC protocols, from what I’ve read. Two, what about things like the massive LSD testings?

    We have never engaged in military activities without distinguishing ourselves from the civilian population while engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack?

    My knowledge of the GC is not as extensive as yours, I’m sure. So, I won’t engage this argument any more actively.

    “Huh? We have none. After 9/11, when Bush could have asked anything of this country, he did nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Most presidents would have started raising gas taxes, poured money into R&D, given tax breaks for solar panels, built or subsidized wind farms, thought about going back to 55 mph speed limits, and funded much of this with excess-profit taxes on the windfalls the oil companies were getting. Bush did none of this. Most administrations aren’t this far up the asses of the oil companies. Most administrations aren’t virtually still on the payroll of Texas and Wyoming coal & gas companies.”

    Again, not so sure. Remember, 9/11 wasn’t totally about oil, Bush made it so in his reaction. Oil’s role in 9/11 was just that of an example of the type of international behavior on your part that outrages Mid East fundamentalists. I can’t possibly fathom John Kerry reacting to 9/11 by reducing speed limits, sorry.

  25. digglahhh said

    Second to last sentence, I obviously meant “our” not “your.”

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