succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My afternoon as a liberal at the Annual Convention of the Georgia Association of College Republicans

First, why I attended this convention - I think about all the misconceptions I've heard about liberals and Democrats and what they stand for and what they believe and realize what a hypocrite I would be if I did not at least attempt a better understanding of what conservatives and Republicans honestly believe and stand for. I want to believe that it's possible that we (or at least, a majority of us) can find common ground with regard to the problems and challenges facing our country, and that debate about philosophical differences regarding the best solutions to those problems is possible. I know. Call me crazy.

The first two speakers were Ralph Reed and Casey Cagle, both candidates for Lieutenant Governor of GA. This started out generally ok. Both talked about their desire to make life better for Georgians and said nice, passionate things about how they didn't have to be state senators or representatives or Lt. Governor, but they wanted to be because they believed they could make a difference. That's a nice starting place, in my opinion. They said standard sorts of conservative policy things, about tax cuts and helping businesses create jobs and whatnot. I disagree with most of these things in general, but whatever, it takes all kinds, and this is fine. Reed veered off a bit into language I personally find a little scary, talking about how government is 'ordained to protect God given liberties.' He also claimed that unknown numbers of marriages and lives were saved because he opposed expansion of casino gambling, and prevented from opening or closed 8 illegal casinos. Well, government saving my marriage and my life...that sounds kind of a lot like the invasive, big government Republicans seem to dislike, doesn't it?

Cagle also referenced God, saying he prayed about the decision to run for Lt. Governor. Again, religious language in politics creeps me out, but it's their thing, if they want to wear it on their sleeve that's their right (as long as that sleeve doesn't drip into state policies, which unfortunately in GA, it inevitably does). Cagle said some seemingly reasonable things about reducing the government bureaucracy that ties public teachers' hands and makes it difficult if not impossible to structure their curriculum around what works best for individual children. Then he praised the No Child Left Behind Act, which is essentially the definition of government bureaucracy.

And underneath it all there was this subtle, endemic sort of sexism. All the visible leaders within the College Republicans were white men, the people in attendance were heavily skewed both white and male, the majority of women there wore skirts and the one who introduced a speaker was meek and barely audible, in contrast to the three men who preceded her in the program who didn't need the microphone and moved casually and comfortably around the stage. All politicians and candidates were referred to blanketly as male - we want the best man for the job! We've always elected a strong guy! GA will vote for the guy they can trust! Cagle referred to his opponent in an earlier race as "attractive" and the "wife of a physician." Nothing else. Not a single detail about her as a person or politician. Speakers consistently referred to the liberal media and radical feminists.

Ok, so I was looking for it. I tried, but it was obviously impossible to sit there with an open, non-judgemental mind. But the few people I spoke to were nice, and up until this point, things seemed fairly reasonable. Except that everyone kept giving accolades to Phyllis Schlafly. Saying how she was one of the most important historical figures in the conservative movement and what a hero and inspiration and role model she was. As soon as she started speaking I kept looking to the woman sitting next to me for some indication that this was a little extreme, a little overboard, a little different from the beliefs held by everyone else in the room. Silly, naive me. Schlafly spoke about how Communists infiltrated the US Government during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. She said that Johnson was the worst president ever because he changed the character of many American people by allowing government handouts like welfare and food stamps, creating a citizenry with a sense of entitlement, with the idea that government should solve all their problems. She correctly noted that had the Equal Rights Amendment passed it probably would have been used to make gay marriages legal. Then she started things that are factually inaccurate. She said the ERA would have taken away rights women already have, and that the Constitution is a 'sex neutral' document and that women have had all of the exact same Constitutional rights as men from the first day it was adopted. Well, she's sort of right. The Constitution is sex neutral - it refers to People and Representatives, even the part where it says, "...which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including thsoe bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." We know other Persons meant black people. We know women weren't even considered people. And if women really had all the same rights as men from the moment the Consistution was adopted, why did we need the 19th Amendment and why weren't we allowed to vote until 133 years after the Constitution was adopted? She said the ERA would mean that women would be eligible for the draft, and well, that's true too, but equality means equality damnit, and why should men be singled out for such a burden? She complained that one of the planks for the women's movement was the idea of state-funded child care "so women wouldn't have to endure the oppression of raising their own children." This got a chuckle from the whole room. But wait, earlier Cagle mentioned that he was raised by a single mom who worked two jobs? Isn't it possible that she might have liked some state-funded child care? Shlafly railed about not trusted judges to rule on issues like the pledge of allegiance, the definition of marriage, the ten commandments, and the boy scouts. Wow, what a set of priorities she has. She implied, hell, stated, that Harriet Myers was a product of affirmative action. On and on and on. And still I'm hoping that this isn't really jiving with the audience. And then a young woman raises her hand during the question and answer period. Mrs. Schlafly, you've been such a supporter of the conservative movement, but also a good wife and mother. How do you manage to balance your life? I could have cried.

There's tons more, but I have to stop. I think I need a shower.


Blogger blithering moron said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all fairness, you attended a convention of *southern* Republicans in the bible belt. It's a little different regionally; western Republicans are more states-rights, libertarian leaning and you hear a lot less of the religious stuff in the memes.

But a lot of them are still pretentious old wihte men. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.


4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a new Dutch woman in my ballet class (with an impeccable English accent that both threw me off and allured me) who moved to Berkeley to be with her husband who just started her PhD in history. Anyway, she's working for an organization in SF which specifically helps women run for political office. Just a bit of random coolness.

5:22 PM  
Blogger A White Bear said...

Wait, so is this you *focussing* your righteous anger or just frothing it up higher? I think we're all glad you did this so you can report back, but I do worry for your mental health, love.

Phyllis Schlafly is an evil hypocrite, and everyone knows it, which is why that CR asked the question, "How do you stay such a good wife and mother?" She doesn't. She runs around, totally independent of her husband and kids, making her own living, being a strong self-reliant woman, and tells audiences they should keep their ladies at home in the kitchen where they really want to be. Her biggest fear is that feminism will prevent men from giving out diamond rings. Fuck diamonds; I want health insurance!

11:46 AM  

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