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Election 2010: Choosing the Abuser

Bob Burnett

Every day, 10,000 US women are assaulted by their husband or boyfriend. Most often they do not leave and the violence continues; psychologists call it battered women’s syndrome. On November 2nd, we’re likely to see the political counterpart, where American voters – despite a history of egregious Republican abuse – decide to give the Grand Old Party one more chance.

The American Psychological Association reports, “Nearly one in every three adult women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.” Roughly four million US women are assaulted each year. Often the assaults are repeated and follow a pattern: drinking or drug use; insults and criticism; physical violence; and apology. Most adults know someone trapped in an abusive relationship; a woman who despite the advice of her friends and family can’t find the wherewithal to leave the abuser.

A larger percentage of Americans have been the victims of abuse by the Republican Party. We’ve seen our neighborhoods destroyed, our air and water fouled, our jobs shipped overseas, our children denied health coverage and decent schools. We’ve watched the looting of America, seen the riches of our country diverted to the offshore bank accounts of the wealthy.

The GOP assaults follow a familiar pattern: manufactured resentment; insults and criticism; financial violence; and false remorse. The Republican violence typically begins with their propaganda machine spewing hate messages: “Democrats want to subvert America, turn it into a European-style socialist state.” “Obama isn’t a citizen – he’s a terrorist.” Next the GOP criticizes Democratic politicians, blaming them for Wall Street bailouts and “robbing our children’s future” by creating a massive Federal deficit. They cover their lack of concrete proposals with clever slogans: “Return government to the people;” “Put adults in charge.” But underneath the agitprop is financial violence: handouts to the wealthy, destruction of our infrastructure, desecration of the environment, and abandonment of the needy. Occasionally there’s an instant of remorse – towards the end of his regime, George Bush seemed guilty about ruining the American economy -- but then the cycle of abuse restarts.

Psychologists say the typical battered woman is “depressed and anxious, with low self-esteem, a poorly integrated self-image, and a general inability to cope with life's demands.” If that sounds familiar, it’s a profile that fits many Americans in these difficult times. TIME political correspondent Joe Klein recently completed a 24-day, coast-to-coast trip across the US. What he found was anger and anxiety; a pervasive sense of powerlessness.

There’s a growing consensus that America’s best days are behind it; that we have lost our way: we’re hemorrhaging jobs and they’re never coming back. Klein observes: “The Republican position on jobs is clear; stimulate the private sector with lower taxes and fewer regulations. The Democratic position on jobs is inexplicable.”

Perhaps Klein’s observation explains why Americans want to give the Grand Old Party one more chance. Psychologists tell us that victims of battered women’s syndrome are often afraid to leave their abuser, as real change is perceived to be more painful than the familiar pattern of abuse.

The poster child for Republican abuse is Arizona Senator John McCain. Like most abusers, McCain was himself an abuse victim – in 1992, during the South Carolina primary, the Republican establishment, led by Karl Rove, turned on him. McCain learned his lesson and jettisoned his image as a “maverick” and independent thinker. This year, when faced with a Tea-Party primary challenge from Neolithic former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, McCain blew him out through a combination of money ($20 million) and extreme conservative positions. Hayworth observed that McCain had become, “a political shape-shifter.” McCain admitted, “I’ve always done whatever’s necessary to win.”

Despite his reputation as a curmudgeon and the Senator most disliked by his colleagues, McCain was once revered as the “conscience” of the GOP. In the past he co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill and backed climate change legislation, as well as comprehensive immigration reform. Now, in his frantic scramble to retain his Senate seat, McCain has abandoned his former positions. In an insightful VANITY FAIR article, political writer Todd Purdum observes that, if re-elected, McCain’s dominant objective will be to work against Barack Obama.

The most recent Arizona senatorial poll shows McCain with a 28 percentage-point lead over his Democratic opponent. Despite his abusive behavior, many voters believe staying with Job McCain is preferable to change.

Psychologists tell us that many victims of battered women’s syndrome are confused. Some believe they deserve to be assaulted.

Perhaps American voters are confused. Perhaps they believe they don’t deserve anything better than the dreadful Republican policies that have shafted America. Perhaps they believe that politicians like Bush, McCain, Palin, and Boehner are the best they can expect. Perhaps they’ve internalized the classic blues song: I’ve been down so long that down looks like up to me.

Perhaps mid-term voters are like the battered woman who justifies her decision to return to her abusive partner by saying: “He’s all I have and says he’s sorry. I’m going to give him one more chance.”

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Bob Burnett is a retired Silicon Valley Executive -- he was one of the executive founders of CISCO Systems -- turned writer. He can be reached at

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