Sadism as politics: Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, anti-abortion politics & kicking the poor
July 1, 2013
The victory in Texas on Senate Bill 5 - the successful filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis and the crowd of pro-choice Texans who packed the Capitol to stand with her, who shouted down the vote in what Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst petulantly called “Occupy Wall Street tactics" - may be short-lived, as Governor (and failed Republican presidential candidate) Rick Perry has already declared that he’s calling another special legislative session to pass the bill.
As if that’s not enough, Perry gave a speech Thursday at the National Right to Lifeconference and used Davis’ personal life as an example of someone who was “born into difficult circumstances,” the daughter of a single mom and a teen mother herself.
Perry’s immediate need not just to argue with Wendy Davis and the people who stood with her but to shame them personally, to tell a crowd that "The louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done" is just the latest reminder of what this kind of anti-abortion politics is really about: power.
It’s not just a tactic to move toward banning abortion slowly, inch by inch, hoping that we don’t notice our rights disappearing. This strategy of passing more and more restrictions on how and when and where and with whose permission one can obtain an abortion is itself a method of demonstrating and reiterating power over our bodies; it’s a sharp reminder that they exercise this power largely because they can. Because as members of a privileged class - economically and politically as well as by virtue of race and gender - they will wield that power, not for our own good but in spite of our desires, and the more we scream the more pleasure they take in their victory. The discipline, Perry’s comment shows, is the point.
Perry, and his comrade-in-sadism Paul Ryan, aren’t just anti-abortionists, of course. They’re also big fans of punishing and controlling the poor - usually imagined, often not entirely correctly, as non-white people. Ryan has proposed drastic cuts to Social Security, wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher program, and just last week voted to support an amendment that would boot people off food assistance if they can’t find a job; Perry wants to drug test the unemployed and recipients of food stamps and presided over the largest cuts to public education since World War II.
And of course, the granddaddy of today’s vicious, sadistic politics is Newt Gingrich, about to be launched back into our living rooms via CNN’s resurrected Crossfire program. Americans remember him recently telling us that low-income children should work as janitors in schools and should remember him, too, as the driving force behind the 1990s welfare “reform” signed and promoted by Bill Clinton. Welfare reform is perhaps the perfect policy to demonstrate where these issues come together. The Gingriches of the world would deny low-income parents the right to plan their families, and then would punish them for having families at all by forcing them into dead-end low-wage jobs, all the while beating them up rhetorically as well for not being the kind of full-time parents that conservatives dream of. Reproduction is always another pathway to punishment.
And we shouldn’t forget that the night before Perry spoke these words, he presided over Texas’ 500th execution since resuming capital punishment in 1982 - of a woman, Kimberly McCarthy, convicted of the 1997 murder of her neighbor during a robbery. Perry’s been in charge of more than half of those 500 executions - 261, to be exact - over the course of his three terms as governor, more than any other governor in the country.
In consensual S&M, the exchange of power, the restriction of freedom down to what a dominant allows, is done for pleasure, for boundary-pushing. It’s about control willingly given up - without that willingness, play violence turns real. The thrill is seeing how far you can go, not in actually being abused.
In the game that Perry and his comrades are playing, there has been no informed consent; there is no safe-word we can use to stop the pain, and the “no” of thousands of Texas women is just an excuse to try it again. We may think we see the psychosexual glint in Perry’s eye when he talks about women “screaming,” but what he reveals is much bigger than a personal kink - it’s the connections between sadistic economic policy, sadistic reproductive health policy (if you can call it that) and sadistic “justice” policy.
These issues are of a piece, and the piece is control. Many of us like to point out that abortion is an economic issue, and this is certainly true, but what Perry shows us is that even economic policy is about more than money. It’s not enough that unemployment remains high and the people in Texas who are finding jobs are largely finding them in low-wage, no-security industries; no, he has to keep finding ways to turn the rack. A thoroughly cowed working class that has to beg for scraps is less likely to rise up and exercise its own power when the punishment for doing so grows ever harsher. Those of us who’ve spent time in and around the labor movement know that the boss is often willing to grant workers a raise if they’ll give up their demands for a union - giving up a bit of power and control to the workers is infinitely more threatening to bosses than money. They regularly shell out plenty of cash to anti-union “consultants" to make sure their underlings remain suitably scared. The question is not money, but power.