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Missing Miss Kitty Amidst the Gunsmoke
Published on November 2, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Missing Miss Kitty Amidst the Gunsmoke
by Rosa Maria Pegueros
 

Back in the Good Old Days, we watched as television cowboys settled every conflict with a showdown at high noon outside the saloon: The one quickest on the draw was invariably the good guy; problems were settled in a television hour, and America could go to bed with an easy mind.

Cowboys always had a special draw on our hearts and minds. Television and its romance with westerns gave us two of the dominant trends in our country: A short attention span and the use of guns to settle any conflict. Is it any wonder that faced with a presidential candidate who told us that we had to curb our oil gluttony, Jimmy Carter, and a genuine television cowboy, Ronald Reagan, America chose the cowboy? Twenty years later, Al Gore, a brainy vice president who had written a book on the environment lost to another cowboy, George W. Bush.

Dubya is a genuine Texas cowboy (albeit a scion of a New England blueblood family with an Andover-Yale-Harvard education) with a fondness for clearing the brush on his property, speaking forthrightly, and publicly practicing his born-again Christianity. To the conservative Americans who were very upset over the “moral decline” of the Clinton years, the tee-totaling, Bible-thumping Texan was a great choice.

To those of us who define morality more broadly than by the momentary foolishness of a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, Dubya’s election was a disaster. While the new president assured us that he was a uniter, not a divider, he lost little time in turning the country sharply to the right. After 9-11, when Dubya’s floundering presidency was focused by the attack on the World Trade Towers, Bush turned his attention towards Iraq. Three years later, we find ourselves mired in Afghanistan and Iraq, unable to win either war, with over 1110 American soldiers killed in Iraq, over 100 in Afghanistan, and long occupations stretching before us.

But that’s not all that changed, Since 9-11, any ruse of concern about women’s rights (except those threatened by Saddam Hussein) has disappeared. Affirmative action? Forget about it.

So complete has the government departed from the concerns of equality for women that any presidential candidate who might have suggested a female running mate, or any woman who put herself forward as a presidential candidate was laughed off the stage. Things were gittin’ serious now; we need a man to handle it. A real man, not some French-speaking girlie-man who couldn’t stand up to them Arabs.

This strain of macho posturing has run through the entire two years of this campaign. Even though the Democratic challenger turned out to be a man who had fought for his country and for his beliefs in arenas from the Vietnam War to our courtrooms to the floor of the United States Senate, the president and his men have seen fit to attack John Kerry’s manhood at every available opportunity. It was easier, I suppose, than facing off on the issues and the president’s record. Leaving aside, for the moment, today’s election, consider the condition of women’s status. During the last four years, W. has succeeding in rolling back women’s progress in several areas in direct and indirect ways.

Affirmative action, which has helped women towards the goal of full equality, has been seriously hampered by W. Much of feminists’ energy has been involved in fighting to maintain women’s right to a legal abortion as W. managed to pass such changes as allowing the killing of a fetus to be considered murder under the law, and dueling with the Supreme Court over the late-term abortion legislation. The former demonstrates this administration’s success in re-defining the terms of a debate to circumvent existing law: whereas progressive women regard the late-term abortion to be a necessity to save the life of a mother, Bush has used the issue to gain an inroad towards the abolition of all abortions. Four more years would lead us back to the society before Roe vs. Wade, with its back-alley abortions and criminal penalties for providers.

His attack on women’s right is much broader than just the battleground of reproductive choice. As if Bush’s squandering of the $127 billion (Fiscal year 2001) surplus through his tax cuts and adventurism in the Near East were not enough, the House and Senate colluded on a huge corporate tax bill that was signed by the president which “would shower corporations and farmers in politically sensitive states with about $145 billion worth of new tax cuts,” according to the New York Times. If these cuts become permanent, and the wars continue, we can expect the national deficit to hit $422 billion this year. The Congressional Budget Office forecast a worsening picture over the next 10 years: nearly $2.3 trillion.

This is a disaster for a country, and an even worse disaster for American women whose salaries are suppressed by the lower wages, still only 78 cents to every dollar a man earns, and the smaller number of jobs available to women,. Lest you think that this figure reflects only the plight of blue collar workers, a Washington Post article about the salaries in the Bush White House showed the same ratio: men earn an average of $76,624 a year, and women earn $59,917 on average, with obvious exceptions. Twelve of the seventeen staffers earning at the top of the scale, $157,000 are men; and more men are employed in the top jobs.

Add to these hair-raising figures some of the other effects of too little government money: Educational systems and social services operating with staffs reduced to a ridiculous level; lost clerical and social services jobs which have been among the largest employers of women; reductions in funding for students at a time when women outnumber men on college campuses; fewer teaching jobs, traditionally a female employment; privatized hospital systems that have cut nursing personnel and are having lower level workers perform the work that should be done by professional nurses. Add to these, the reduction of state personnel to monitor and license day care facilities leading to abuse of these systems. The list is endless. After all, women hold up half the world.

Affirmative action, reproductive choice, pay equity, are among the top issues directly undermined by the administration but there is another level to this attack on women which is exemplified by the treatment in the press of Teresa Heinz Kerry. While the Fourth Estate is supposed to be independent of the Executive Branch of government, more often than not, it is its willing lackey. By casting First Lady Laura Bush as the ladylike, feminine, traditional political wife, certain elements in the press tried to demonize Heinz Kerry by contrast.

When Teresa Heinz Kerry told a reporter to “shove it,” the press jumped on the opportunity to crucify her; they had already been circling the waters like sharks tasting chum. To her credit, Laura Bush expressed sympathy with Heinz Kerry, saying that she empathized with her because she too knew what it was like to get caught in a game of “gotcha” with the press.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration has sealed its bond with the conservative wing of the G.O.P. with an emphasis on “traditional values,” including the roles of men and women, and in its attacks on gay marriage despite the fact that Vice President Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian who lives with her long-time partner. The hysteria that erupted from the Bush-Cheney camp over John Kerry’s mention of this fact during one of the debates can be read as still another example of the administration’s hypocritical political orchestration: first express mock horror over Kerry’s mention of this fact which, they argued, only hard core politicos knew and to which Kerry intended to expose to Republican supporters for the first time. Baloney. It wasn’t such a big secret. It had been written about and talked about, even mentioned during the Republican convention. The real function? To attack Kerry in the guise of concern for the Cheney’s “embarrassment” despite the fact that they claimed they loved and were proud of her, thus slamming Kerry and pacifying their homophobic right wing.

Most of Commondreams.org’s readers have already done their civic duty and are out driving elderly voters to the polls or volunteering in swing states so I am not looking to persuade anyone of Kerry’s superior qualifications for the presidency. A new era begins tomorrow, we hope, of the Kerry presidency and a return to sanity. He will be saddled with a crushing debt, two ongoing wars, a deteriorating environment, and an emotionally and politically exhausted citizenry. He will need all of our good will, support, encouragement, and resolve to right the sinking ship of state but he will also need us to help him remember the enormous energy that we have put into his election, and how the Left energized and supported the Democratic mainstream.It’s a brand new day and no matter how hard it gets, it can only be better than the last four years have been for women.

Rosa Maria Pegueros is an associate professor of Latin American History and Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She may be reached at Pegueros@uri.edu

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