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Monday, April 6, 2015

Space: the conservatives' final frontier

Every election season generates a new set of euphemisms. First out the gate, this time- on the Republican side- is "space."

It seems to be another dog whistle word for the ravers on the right foaming latterly about the restoration of their religious freedom, previously purloined by persons unknown.

The term is another attempt to pander to the crazoids by letting them define what it means- who knew "religious liberty" was so focused on getting the ordinarily barge-poled Government to carry water for the Church to get back at the gays.

It’s a matter of accommodation...Tolerance is a two-way street. If you are a print shop, and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates Fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church – because they hold those signs up? Should the government force you to do that?    
And that’s what these cases are all about … And that’s where we just need some space to say, let’s have tolerance be a two-way street.

Here's Jeb Bush, last Monday, on Hugh Hewitt's radio show:

This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.

And here's Jeb Bush two days later- last Wednesday- at a fundraiser where he tried to put a different- and more distanced- spin on the Indiana law. It doesn't sound that different, in the end:

By the end of the week, I think Indiana will be in the right place, which is to say that we need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for people to act on their conscience, that it is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our country.

Guardian columnist Jeb Lund explored the new conservative concept of space and found its elasticity as remarkable as it is easy to agree with:

It even sounds sort of sunny. This is about space! All of us, just roamin’, findin’ ourselves where we go. It was so good that it snookered people who should know better.

Evasive, optimistic explanations like Bush’s come from lessons learned earlier in the Culture War. Republicans have been able to run and fundraise for ages against Roe v. Wade, with the relative certainty that it’s going nowhere. But playing around with “space” accomplishes a lot for Republicans and their anti-abortion compatriots. There remains a space for women to exercise their reproductive rights, but conservatives can make it simultaneously big and small and achieve their agenda. In terms of big space, they’ve put nearly 1m women over 150 miles away from the nearest abortion clinic in Texas by shutting down all but 17 and threatening to lower that number to below 10 in a state of over 268,000 square miles. They’ve built more space between women and their reproductive rights by creating a vacuum of licensed abortion doctors by denying them privileges at local hospitals, like in Mississippi. You can fill the spaces around clinics with unscientific anti-abortion hectoring of women patients while literally filling space by violating women with a trans-vaginal ultrasound wand. And you can shrink space by limiting the legal “medical” span for an abortion more each and every year. The great thing is that birth control is still legal – for now – and no one gets hurt! We now just all have a space to explore the things we need.

But Bush’s “space” arguments echo another culture war argument conservatives made in the past, also on a religion basis: the case for segregation. Think Progress’ Ian Millhiser illuminated the similar rhetoric on “space” that anti-gay and anti-black discrimination share. When you’re some Heritage Foundation poltroon justifying a law that denies service to people based on who they love because they can obtain alternate services from other businesses, you’re just using market-speak for Separate But Equal. LGBT people don’t want a better deal or optimum product from the invisible hand of the free market, but any right to patronize a business at all. And god – or whatever else – help them if they live in East Jesus, Nowhere. Having to move to be recognized as LGBT citizens is not a reasonable alternative, but think of the space they can travel to do it!

This is all part of a pattern. When driving through the south, a fun game you can play when you see a Christian school is guessing whether it was founded in the same year as Brown v Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act or Roe v Wade. But what initially was a retreat from the rest of the country into protected private enclaves able to discriminate at will has grown outward over the decades, devouring integration, science, reproductive rights, gender equality and taxation with it.

Indiana’s RFRA’s only real purpose is to take these impermeable enclaves initially created to avoid the oppressive proximal exertions of other people’s civil rights, expand them under the guise of religious freedom and then immunize those who prefer those enclaves from private litigation until the unwanted and other are pushed away and finally out. Let “them” migrate to the cities, proponents of these laws seem to think, and find their alternative market opportunities there, until there is no reason for them to stay in Real America.

Barring that dystopic end, it’s better, electorally speaking, to retreat and cry religious persecution, while creating a little more space for discrimination each year. Mike Pence’s weasel-speak in defense of Indiana’s RFRA wasn’t the political mistake. He should sound like a coward; it’s a cowardly thing to pass a law to allow your citizens to be bigots without consequence and try to pretend like you didn’t just do that or don’t know that was its purpose. The real problem for Pence now is that the RFRA was so blindingly obvious in its intent that it might not make the state’s intolerant citizens sound like simple folk besieged on all fronts by LGBT people ruining the Christian sanctity of having only one plastic groom figurine on top of the sacramental wedding cake or only one girl name on the tulle wrapping around the floral arrangements prescribed in the New Testament. It might instead make them look not just like bigots, but like powerful bigots who perhaps aren’t the ones who need a law to protect their rights. Incredibly enough, the bigots might not be the victims here.

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