It is important to remember that the successful outcome with Nixon removed from office was not inevitable. We came chillingly close to losing our democracy. And I have not even discussed his decision to continue a war we later learned he knew was hopeless in order to delay the political consequences. Nixon was also involved in illegal spying on political opponents, enemies' lists and financial corruption. Nothing that Obama, Bush, Clinton or any other President did comes close to the deliberate and fundamental violation of our rights by Nixon.
The Cause of the Extreme Level of Offensive Personal Attacks
There is room for good people to disagree with the President, believe he is doing a poor job and to prefer someone else in office. As discussed earlier, the level of hatred and personal attacks are not justified by his character, behavior or policies and it is not close. There are a group of factors that have created this extreme response and it is important to understand them in order to reverse the trend of coarsening our political discussion. If the public tolerate the abuse of President Obama, we are likely to see it repeated against all other leaders.
1. In 1964, Republican leaders in Congress joined Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act. A group of Democrats supported the Reagan tax cuts. Senator Ted Kennedy helped President Bush pass the No Child Left Behind Act. Democrats and Republicans repeatedly came together to pass and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). More recently moderates in both parties have been removed from office and each party takes more extreme positions. This has made it harder to reach the needed compromises and creates an environment in which ever more outrageous personal attacks are tolerated based only on a difference on policy issues.
2. The public has permitted deliberate lies to work so that politicians have learned to use this outrageous practice that weakens our country. We saw this in the 2004 election in which lies that the war in Iraq was justified because Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9-11 terrorist attack and had weapons of mass destruction. The debate over health care was infected with lies like the claims of death panels. The lies discussed earlier about Obama being Muslim or not being born in the United States have been part of this trend of our toleration of these lies. Although the media occasionally provides "fact check" type stories, they have failed to make clear when some claims are clearly wrong. Obviously they do not wish to be seen as partisan, but when statements are clearly false, this needs to be part of the story. For many years conservatives accused television networks and other media of bias, but a recent study found that those who watch Fox News are less knowledgeable than if you do not watch FOX. Extremists like Rush Limbaugh seem to have no concern about the accuracy of his statements, but many listeners believe his lies.
3. The worst offenders usually bristle at suggestions that racism is behind their personal attacks against President Obama. I have tried to acknowledge there are other forces that contribute to these attacks and not every one is caused by racism, but it would be naïve to believe racism plays no role. Many of these personal attacks were made before the President even took office. It is fair to say that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a black President. Some of the offensive statements have involved racial stereotypes making it easy to recognize. Those accused of racism would do well to follow the example of instructors in our batterer program and stop to consider why someone finds their statement racist rather than reacting defensively. Most of the time they will find the accusation is accurate and could help them avoid offensive conduct in the future.
One of the most troubling aspects of the deteriorating civility in political discourse has been open statements by elected Republican leaders to the effect they want President Obama to fail. It is no surprise or offense that they would like to see a Republican elected in his place in the next election. The problem is when they take actions designed to deliberately hurt the country and particularly the economy in order to make him look bad and thus encourage his defeat on election day. On several occasions it has appeared that their lack of cooperation or willingness to seek compromise was done not out of principle but in furtherance of a plan to hurt the President's chances by hurting their constituents.
What happens if they get elected in this election or some future election and the Democrats use the same obstructionist approach? In this closely divided nation it will be rare for a party to have the sixty votes needed to control legislation in the Senate in addition to control of the House and Presidency. This is a formula for long-term disaster. I hope both parties will avoid this kind of obstructionism and perhaps more important I hope the public will punish any political party that engages in such tactics by voting against them.
I do not believe Republican politicians woke up one day and decided they wanted to figure out all the ways they could hurt women. In each case they were focused on something else they saw as a benefit and failed to understand the harm to women until much later. They attacked Obama's attempt to compromise the contraception issue as a way to support their deeply religious supporters, but in doing so failed to recognize that access to contraception is a well settled issue. They also seemed unaware that many women use contraceptives for health issues. In the case of Rush Limbaugh, they needed his support and failed to find the courage to denounce offensive behavior they would not have tolerated from almost anyone else. In Virginia they backed off the mandated rape of women seeking an abortion, but much of the damage had already been done. In each case they could have acknowledged their mistakes, changed their positions and created a mechanism to better hear women's voices. This requires a level of humility we don't often see from sexist men or powerful politicians.
It appears that Republican leaders have decided to respond to the harm they have caused to their relationship with women through denial and blaming others. Unfortunately, this strategy sometimes works, but the harm they have caused seems so obvious that it is unlikely to work this time. I believe they could instead take a couple of actions that would not conflict with their political philosophy, would provide real benefits to women and would improve the way they are being viewed. It would be an example of doing well by doing good.
The first thing they need to do is join with Democrats in the bi-partisan passage of VAWA. In the past, Republicans have always supported VAWA and there should be nothing in their political philosophy that would support men's right to assault and brutalize their partners. VAWA provides support for many useful projects that help make women and children safer. Indeed this should be viewed as a fundamental part of any pro-life policy. VAWA has helped in creating new research that would help make even more progress in the work to end domestic violence.
The second thing they should do is propose or join in support of policies to create what might be called Quincy Model 2.0. This would use the best practices I described in the earlier article that have been shown to result in a dramatic reduction in domestic violence crime. Most prisoners have a childhood history involving domestic violence or child abuse so adoption of these practices would drastically reduce crime. Republicans have always made crime reduction an important priority. Many Republicans have sought to promote abstinence so that children do not engage in sexual activities with other children. The common mishandling of sexual abuse allegations by the custody courts places children at risk. Surely if Republicans don't want children having sex with other children they will even more want to protect them from sexual assault by adults. Finally Republicans want to reduce the deficit and cut taxes. Implementation of the Quincy Model 2.0 would save $500 billion every year and the savings would gradually increase as children live their lives without witnessing domestic violence. This would permit proposals that reduce debt and cut taxes without cutting vital services women need.
I believe these actions would improve the conditions in our society and improve the way Republicans are viewed by women. I know there are many skeptics in the political community, but I am confident women would prefer safety to a campaign issue. Together we can end the war against women.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email from their web site http://www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com
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