Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The GOP Radio v. Snowe

Last week there was a media frenzy over Maine Representative Olympia Snowe’s vote in favor of moving President Obama’s Health Care Bill out of the Senate Finance Committee. Snowe was the only Republican to vote in favor of the Bill. While assuring the committee and other members of the public, “[m]y vote today, is my vote today….It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow,” Snowe has been courted by Democrats ever since.

As one of few moderate Republicans in the Senate, Snowe often wields a lot of control over close votes. She supports environmental protection, gay rights, and belongs to many pro-choice groups, while at the same time supporting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the death penalty, and John McCain in the 2008 election. She has often been dubbed a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by those bothered by her voting record.

Criticism of Snowe is nothing unexpected, but the nature of the attacks after her health care vote is shocking. The emerging dialogue from conservative critics is not that there is a problem with Snowe’s politics, but her gender. Jim Quinn discussed her vote to the sounds of the song “Stupid Girl” by the band Garbage, commenting, “it probably fits pretty well.” Michael Savage referred to her as Jezebel, after playing the Frankie Laine song lyrics “If ever the devil was born without horns, it was you. Jezebel, it was you.”

And while not the most reliable new source, a radio talk-host critique just wouldn’t be complete without a little Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh described Snowe and others who favor bipartisanship as using “the voice of the new castrati” – which he defined as meaning "those who have lost all manhood, gonads, guts, and courage throughout our culture and our political system."

Now, feminist analysis of Rush Limbaugh’s preaching could fill books (and probably does), so the aim of this post is not to spend time on his overall misogyny, equation of courage with possession of male anatomy, etc. What I do think is troubling, however, is that in disagreeing with Snowe’s vote, all of these men make a point of equating her reasoning with her gender identification. She is stupid, and she is a woman; she is equivalent to the devil, and she is a woman; she is the voice of those who have lost all political courage, and she is a woman. To me, the “and” feels like a “because”.

A political disagreement is one thing, but why is it acceptable to use her womanhood as an attack? There are so many posts out there about gender and politics, but does the fact that Snowe is a Senator afford her more/less/equal respect than a woman like Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama?

This healthcare debate is far from over, and with a 70% approval rating from the state of Maine, these comments are probably not likely to carry much weight with Snowe. However, with a constituency that is more divided or a political figure slightly less moderate, what kind of power do these sentiments hold?


BSH said...

It is not often that I give much credence to my home state of Maine. There are moments, however, such as Senator Snowe's bold vote last week and the upcoming marriage equality vote (I believe that the people will vote to keep marriage equality), that make me respect the people of that state. Senator Snowe represents a true Republican that I believe can only be found in New England these days. The religious right has co-opted the Republican party into an entirely new entity. Republican values, as represented by a few remaining senators and congress people, all (mostly) from the northeast, show us what the history of the party is. Limited government means something - it makes perfect logical sense that a Republican would be pro-choice because Republicans (used to?) believe that the government should play a smaller role in an individual's life.

The party has moved far beyond this, however. They are quick to denounce people like Snowe, Susan Collins, Jim Jeffords (VT), Bill Weld (former governor of MA) who don't fall within the new conservatism. Though I supported Snowe's challenger, Chellie Pingree (a progressive Democrat from Coastal Maine), when I was still a Maine voter (and for that matter cannot fathom voting for a Republican candidate at this point in my life), I greatly respect this handful of politicians who give voters a choice.

Snowe and Collins pay attention to their constituency - independent, live and let live people - and represent them well in the Senate. It is not surprising to me that most of the states that have legalized gay marriage or civil unions are in New England. New Englanders have a different sense of history and politics than most of the country, and are less concerned with "hot topic" issues. Yes, there is a conservatism in these states, and some of it is religious. But it is not the new conservatism brought by mega-churches, and it does not require blind faith in political leaders who are not actually qualified to be political leaders but who guarantee that they will vote the right way on a few select topics (gay marriage, abortion, etc).

Kathleen's observation that Snowe has a 70% approval rate in Maine highlights the point of my commentary. She did what was best for her constituency and for the people of the US. Her constituency understands that, and they trust her to continue to vote in their interests regardless of party politics.

BSH said...

This video (around the marriage equality vote in Maine) illustrates well the type of people Snowe represents.

Erin S. said...

To me the abuse of Snowe is a typical example of how the Republican party has made itself synonymous with patriarchy, chauvinism, and the maintenance of oppressive power structures.