The women-hating rage of the Republican right

I’m blogging all of this because it’s an excellent piece that you need to read in its entirety. (Be afraid America; be very afraid.)

As soon as I saw the video, I knew it was destined to be played on an endless loop on the news networks. A couple of Rand Paul supporters outside a debate between Paul and his opponent for Kentucky senate, Jack Conway, pinned a MoveOn.org activist to a curb with deliberation before one of them stomped on her head, luckily with enough ineptness that the victim was left only with a minor concussion.

It was a shocking example of inchoate rightwing rage turned to violence, displayed in a way that Americans associate solely with white supremacists.

But it was more than that. The entire incident had a whiff of not just election rage, but of gendered violence. Large men stripping a wig off a slight, unarmed woman and pinning her to the ground? Not exactly the chivalry that conservative men like to wax on about. To make it worse, the stomper demanded an apology from his victim, echoing the battle cry of wife- and child-beaters everywhere: “See what you made me do?!”

All this happened, coincidentally, on the same night that MSNBC aired a documentary called The Assassination of Dr Tiller that looked into events surrounding the killing of abortion provider Dr George Tiller, after a previous bombing of his clinic and a direct attempt on his life. He was the 8th person murdered by anti-choice extremists.

There are many beliefs that propel rightwing rage, but anti-feminism is one of the few that manages to inspire so much violence. Indeed, in all this talk about taxes, economic stimulus packages and other policy issues, let’s not forget how much gender-based rage is motivating the hard right this election.

The men who attacked the MoveOn activist seemed sent from central casting on a call for “rightwingers with massive masculinity issues”. The stomper himself was swiftly outed as a man named Tim Profitt and police summons were issued against him. It also turned out that he worked for the Rand Paul campaign, as the Bourbon County coordinator, a position from which he was hastily dismissed.

Mike Pezzano, the man who held down the victim, Lauren Valle, helps organise for an “open carry” organisation – basically, a group of gun nuts who feel that it’s just not as fun carrying their steel phallic symbols around unless everyone can see them. (As Gawker noted, “[T]hese guys are walking arguments against the second amendment. They can’t even be trusted with their own feet.”) Barefoot and Progressive took a screenshot of Profitt’s Facebook page, and, of course, anti-choice politics are right at the top. Toting guns and making sure women who get pregnant stay pregnant – the twin favourite issues of the anxious masculinity set.

The Paul campaign is a natural home for anyone who harbours resentments about women’s changing roles in society. Paul is strongly anti-choice, opposing abortion rights even in cases of rape or incest, and supporting laws that would likely be used to challenge women’s rights to some forms of birth control. His father, Ron Paul, who paved the way for running as a “libertarian” kind of conservative, opposed the Violence Against Women Act. Despite his support for forcing pregnant women to bear children whether they like it or not, Paul opposes having the state pay for childbirth for women who can’t afford it. If you have a uterus, it seems there’s nothing you can do with it that’s acceptable.

Not that Paul is alone in this. The entire campaign season has been a sea of sexist and downright misogynist pandering from Republican candidates. Senate candidate Ken Buck mocked his primary opponent Jane Norton for wearing high heels. Sharron Angle decried maternity leave and has denounced working mothers. Carl Paladino won the Republican primary even after it was revealed he enjoys sending out emails full of brutally misogynist porn, including a picture of a woman being penetrated by a horse.

The fact that there are many female candidates hasn’t changed this equation, either. In fact, sexist pandering is one of the favourite tactics of female Republicans, in the form of insinuating that their opponents are emasculated. Ken Buck defended his mocking of Norton’s sex, because she had already made digs at his manhood. As the Washington Post reports, practically every female Republican candidate uses emasculation as a weapon to make themselves look tougher: Sharron Angle told Harry Reid to “man up”, Christine O’Donnell took swipes against her primary opponent Mike Castle’s manhood and sexual orientation, and Sarah Palin accused President Obama of not having “cojones”.

Outsiders looking in would be forgiven for thinking American politics is basically a contest over who has the biggest package; and since it’s a metaphorical package, women feel like they get to play now, too.

The relentless exploitation of gender and sexual anxieties by Republican candidates and pundits has left the conservative base an incoherent, but very angry mess. For evidence, I present this video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Republican senate candidate Joe Miller’s supporters. They’ve been reduced to a fact-free rant of fear that someone is coming to take their guns and anger that women are allowed to say no to unwanted pregnancies. Real political concerns left the room long ago, pushed out by overwhelming misogynies.