Sunday, February 19, 2012


One of Rick Santorum's billionaire supporters told Andrea Mitchell that all this kerfuffle about birth control could be solved if we all just did what women did in the good old days and put an aspirin between their knees.  This capped a week where the modern GOP shocked the establishment by demonstrating what they really think.

Initially I thought he meant an actual aspirin could be used as a birth control technique, because I'd heard the same thing when I was a kid.  And so all the old questions recurred: Is it the acetylsalycilic acid that does the trick?  Was willow bark an ancient precursor to this kind of - admittedly hit and miss - modern DIY birth control?  I imagined women in nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers carrying around strips of willow bark on the off chance they decided on a quickie with the cute guy in the tent three trees over. 

But no, it turns out Foster Friess, who's name puts him in the top 5 for this campaign season's patrician idiots list and who could easily be confused with a damn fine hamburger stand, was talking about women keeping their legs closed when they're faced with the possibility of sex that would lead to unexpected consequences, such as a baby, or a sexually-transmitted disease, or the heartache of having a partner hang around when you'd rather they just leave.

So, for me: illusions about the efficacy of pre-modern folk pharamaceuticals exploded.  For anyone who might think about voting in the 2012 presidential election: It appears Rick Santorum is using your grandpa's wisdom to generate social policy. 

My grandfather was a great guy: hard working, intelligent, well-read, kind.  He was also virulently anti-Catholic, something he inherited from his father, who was in the Klan in southern Ontario and an Nth generation Orange Lodge member who didn't whitewash their role in keeping the popish heathens at bay.  He thought there was nothing wrong with the African-American guys he'd met in the American army in Italy, but they did have an inferiority complex he couldn't understand.  I don't even know what his opinions on gay people would have been, because that was pretty much a verboten topic in 1970s small-town Alberta.  He also thought it outrageous that there were laws that said he couldn't hire pretty girls and tell them to wear short skirts so he could attract wealthy businessmen to ogle the girls and spend more money.  He didn't think his daughters or granddaughters would ever take jobs like that, of course, because they'd been raised properly, but he wasn't above, in a theoretical sense, exploiting the improper upbringing of other daughters and granddaughters to make a buck.

My grandfather would likely have agreed with Chris Rock, in this case, and while Mr. Rock expresses a fairly common sentiment, I've also personally known many non-damaged, psychologically healthy women who worked as strippers during college.  (To assuage your curiousity and the inevitable ad hominem, they were roommates or acquaintances of roomates.)  And if wearing a slinky little black dress while you're waitressing was evidence of improper upbringing then pretty much every women working in a white tablecloth restaurant from Chico to Portsmouth is damaged.

But despite my grandfather's great-guyness, he's not someone I would have looked to for advice on the freedom of action of groups that had been under deep historical repression through most of his lifetime.  Which is a long way of saying: He was a product of his times and his upbringing, and his understanding of how people should behave, while more liberal than his father, was based on lots and lots of misconceptions.

Foster Friess just says what a whole large swathe of North America really thinks.  They don't think diversity is a good idea; they think the invention of the Pill in 1960 was a mistake; gay people are OK as long as they don't, ahem, shove their lifestyle down everyone's throats; and you can't do anything about miscegenation because its love, but let's just remember its the kids who would suffer because other people's racism.  Some of their kids think that too, but as a percentage, fewer of the previous total.

At some point Mr. Friess's opinions - and those of Rick Santorum - will be grouped in the category of "how could they have thought that?" that we now currently reserve for ... well, lots of things.  There will still always be people who think the earth is flat, and god created the universe in seven days about 4000 years before Jesus was born, and who think December 25 was Jesus's actual birthday and Easter his actual date of death, and who never come to realize, in all their days, that easter is on different days every year.

But that doesn't mean we should look to those people to set social policy.      

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