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