Watching the lead up to the GOP convention, I’m beginning to see a strategy by which the party is trying to manage the unpopularity of its extreme platform language about abortion and the members of the party, such as Akin, who say equally extreme things about women’s lives.
They’re deploying a Gaslight strategy. If you’ve not seen it, Gaslight is a wonderful black and white suspense movie from 1944. In it, a diabolical husband con-artist is after his new bride Paula’s valuable jewels, which are stashed somewhere in the house. He needs to get Paula out of the way, to an asylum, so that he can find the jewels and, in the long run, claim her fortune.
So, through gradual tricks and deceptions, that he keeps insisting he doesn’t see or hear, he convinces Paula that she’s going quite mad, and will end up in an asylum with “no brain left at all.”
Pins and a brooch get lost. Pictures mysteriously disappear from walls, and so on. Paula’s husband tells her that she’s seen, done, and heard things herself, when she’s sure she hasn’t. Paula’s being driven insane by trickery and subterfuge perpetrated by the person who claims to know nothing about the misplaced and lost objects, and who feigns to have her respect and best interests at heart.
Alas, Paula comes to doubt her own sanity. She’s seeing and hearing things that her husband keeps insisting aren’t really there, and aren’t happening.
This is how the Republican party is Gaslighting us, too. It goes like this: Say one thing, put it into your statement of position and belief in your 2012 platform, and into your legislation, and then deny that it matters, that it was said, that you saw it, or that you ever felt or believed it to be true.
Some examples: On ABC’s “This Week,” Virginia governor Bob McDonnell called the matter of abortion rights for rape victims “details” that the Democrats use to distract from the only “real issue” voters care about, and that would be the economy.
In an interview Paul Ryan dismissed the phrase “forcible rape” in legislation he sponsored as just some “stock phrase” from other legislation, and not, presumably, to be taken seriously when he used it.
In what has to be one of the most bizarre explanations for a policy stance, the GOP is now disavowing its own platform as something that’s more like a “piece of paper” and not to be taken literally, as a statement of their beliefs when it comes to the attempt to enshrine 14th Amendment personhood rights for fertilized eggs and blastulas into law.
Romney evades his party’s platform in similar style by punting the abortion and “personhood” rights matter to the Supreme Court—abortion’s just something the Supreme Court decides, he says, and it can’t be made political…. As if as President he’d have no sway over who got appointed to that decision-making body of the Supreme Court.
Other spokespeople and pundits have dismissed the radical, extremist abortion language in the 2012 GOP platform by saying that it’s been there for decades! This is my favorite Gaslight technique. Oh, I get it now. If your party’s been extreme and radical on an issue for a long time, then it’s okay. It doesn’t really matter that they’re extreme and radical now. Huh?
If anything, the longevity of this radical language attests to the many moons that the GOP has been slurping about for votes from the radical religious right, and now—quite understandably, from their perspective—those vote-supplying social conservative chickens, so to speak, are coming home to roost, policy-wise, and they’re roosting in the GOP platform, with language and policy positions that support their views.
Much as the rest of the GOP either pretends to or sincerely would like to disavow these fringe, radical elements in their family, they can’t. The language is there, and those are among the “real issues” for women and men who happen to enjoy the gains of the 20th century, no matter how hard the GOP now tries to trivialize its own radical positions—and tries to trivialize the people who take their own statements seriously.
Actually, the one thing that really unifies religious social conservatives and the well-educated, professional, pro-choice women with whom Romney suffers the most dramatic gender gap is that we both agree that whatever our divergent position on the matters, abortion, birth control, the meaning of sexual agency, and reproductive rights are more than a “detail,” a “distraction from the real issue,” a “stock phrase,” or a piece of paper.
We both think that reproductive policy is one of the big issues out there. We both care about them. Of course, we care about the economy, too. It turns out it's possible to care about more than one issue at a time, conveniently enough.
American women: with these tricks on abortion, reproductive rights and the personhood amendment, consider yourselves Gaslighted.