Austerity and the Conservative Dog Whistle

Words matter.  Definitions count. Take rape, for example.  House Republicans apparently believe that rape is only really rape if it involves force.  You’d be hard pressed to get Rep. John Boehner to publicly admit as much, but he doesn’t have to.  He just needs to stand behind one of his first policy priorities of the new Congress.  His “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, originally introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J) proposes to limit the rape exemption for abortion funding to only those cases of “forcible rape.”

Now only a certain kind of Republican could come up with the fallacy of “forcible rape”.  You mean to tell me that “consensual rape” exists?  Seriously.

This bill, which has 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors (that’s right, there are a few Democrats in there as well, though really, are we shocked anymore?) is one of the new speaker’s top priorities.  If passed it would deny federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including statutory rape which, by definition, does not require “force.”

Not only would the bill prevent federal assistance for abortions, it would also prohibit the use of private dollars to pay for that abortion if those dollars are tax exempt, meaning that any one of the millions of Americans who use a health savings account would not be able to tap those funds to pay for the procedure.

Jumping on the redefinition bandwagon is the Minnesota legislature who would like to repeal the Local Government Pay Equity Act, a measure designed to “eliminate sex-based wage disparities in public employment” by requiring that those doing similar work be paid comparable wages.  As is pointed out here, the background is pretty simple.  A government employee used to be able to classify women as one job title at a lower pay scale as men, even if that woman was doing the same or similar work– one could be an administrative assistant while the other was a legislative assistant.  Pretty much the same job, but worlds apart in pay–and respect.

Which is really the turning point of this movement.  Respect.  As both examples illustrate, respect for women at a most basic level is something currently lacking in mainstream Republican politics.  But they can’t say that.  So instead they talk about “fiscal responsibility” and “wasteful government spending” and “cutting excess and unnecessary spending.”

This new austerity has become the dog whistle for civil rights roll-back.  Expect to hear a lot more of it in the coming months as Republicans use it to package an agenda they’ve been working on since the Warren Court.

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