COMES NATURALLY #105
January 12, 2001
Copyright © 2001 David Steinberg
BUSH LEAGUE SEX
My father prayed as if his family's life and vitality were being debated on high as he bowed low.
- Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, on family values
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone:
You pave paradise, put up a parking lot.
- Joni Mitchell
Well, Bill Clinton certainly hasn't been paradise, but I do believe that the pleasure-loving wag who's getting ready to vacate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is going to be looking pretty good as we slog our way through the upcoming 1461 days of the god-help-us Shrub administration.
The White House scandals of the next four years are almost certain to be economic rather than sexual, much to the joy of all the forces in this country that believe fucking is usually sinful, but fucking people over is just fine as long as you're polite while you're doing it and don't let your profits run down your chin and mess your pants.
Discrete Oval Office blow jobs don't hurt anyone, but the economic skullduggery we are about to see from an unleashed corporate elite is going to seriously damage the daily lives of just about everyone from sea to sliming sea. For the next four years -- especially the two before the Democratic backlash presumably takes over Congress -- things are going to get so bad in real everyday life that it might just help people remember the difference between the foreground and the background of the political world -- between what really matters in political behavior and what really doesn't.
Maybe by the time the Democratic riptide of 2004 hopefully washes the smug new minority down the Potomac, people will have reoriented their priorities in a major way. Who knows? Maybe by the year 2004 the role of Presidential Fluffer will be a public, highly respected, well-paid, and widely sought position on the White House staff. I mean, anything that helps a President do his job in a spirit of kindness, generosity, and contentment is in the national interest, right? And, as I hope everyone reading this can remember from the not-too-distant past, if there's ever a time when the demons of cheap greed, selfishness, and meanspirited cruelty are just to ridiculous to take seriously, that time would have to be in the afterglow of really satisfying, fulfilling, humanity-affirming, ego-obliterating sex.
In the last 50 years, two notoriously sexual men have inhabited the White House -- John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. And while the politics of both these rakes leave a lot to be desired, I think it would be fair to say that their terms stand heads and shoulders above those of their asexual, absexual, and antisexual alternatives -- especially the likes of Nixon and Papa Bush. Now, I know that money lies even closer to the root of political evil than does sexual frustration and repression. But I also believe that there's a fundamental -- almost philosophical -- difference between people who embrace and honor their sexual natures and people who spend their lives denying and going to war with their sexual selves. Which is why I find it reassuring when arguably the most powerful person in the world happens to have a positive take on sex.
But I'm getting carried away. Let's switch focus from sexual politicians to sexual politics. As I see it, there are serious sexual consequences to the basic political calculus that Bush faces as both he and Congress take office in the absence of either clear Congressional majorities or any sort of popular mandate. As so many pundits have already noted, Bush must move toward the political center in order to get any kind of legislative agenda through a divided Congress. On the other hand, he also has to feed something to the rabid right wing of his own party lest they do to the Republicans in 2002/2004 what the Nader folks just did to the Democrats. Of course, Bush could placate the Christian right by giving them their way with the abortion issue, but I think even he knows that if he moves too radically against abortion both he and the Republican Party are going to face a powerful backlash in the next elections from the two-thirds of Americans who think a woman really does have the right to choose.
What Bush can throw to the Christian right without any such dire political consequences is the issue of pornography. And his nomination of arch-conservative John Ashcroft as Attorney General seems to say that he intends to do precisely that.
Ashcroft, the Bible-thumping Senator, former governor, and former attorney-general of Missouri, is both the son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers. "Dad's prayers were not the quiet, whispered entreaties of a timid Sunday school teacher," Ashcroft has written. "My father prayed as if his family's life and vitality were being debated on high as he bowed low." In his term as U.S. Senator, Ashcroft earned perfect performance ratings from groups like the National Rifle Association and the Christian Coalition while being rated a flat zero by the National Organization of Women and the League of Conservation Voters, and close to zero by the two groups most active in freedom of speech issues -- the American Civil Liberties Union and People For the American Way. If confirmed as the nation's top law enforcement officer, he is almost certain to return that office to the spirit of Reagan's notorious Attorney General, Edwin Meese.
"While it is extremely rare for [us] to oppose an Executive Branch nomination," says People For the American Way president Ralph Neas, "John Ashcroft is the antithesis of the person required to lead the Department of Justice. With the possible exception of Senator Jesse Helms, I do not believe anyone in the United States Senate has a more abysmal record on civil rights and civil liberties.... This nomination is an insult to every person who is committed to our nation's promise of equal justice for all....truly an astonishingly bad nomination."
Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League is equally outspoken. "Not since Ed Meese would the U.S. have an attorney general as hostile to a woman's right to choose," she says.
Ashcroft is personally opposed not only to drinking and smoking, but also to dancing. (Dancing?!) Last year he received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist South Carolina school that until this year flatly prohibited students from interracial dating. (This year, responding to criticism, BJU began allowing students to date interracially, but only with their parents' consent.) Ashcroft has campaigned stridently for a crackdown on "Internet pornographers," opposed federal financing of the National Endowment for the Arts, opposed needle exchange programs to help combat AIDS, and fought against outlawing discrimination against gays. He has been described by a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee as "one of the most conservative, polarizing figures on the committee.... a divider, not a uniter."
If Ashcroft is confirmed by the 50-50 Senate -- which is almost assured despite liberal opposition and promises of stiff questioning along the way -- we can be sure that antisexual propaganda will be front and center on the national scene in a way we have been spared since the dark days of the Meese Commission. The buzz words will be unimpeachable -- protecting children from abuse, combating patent obscenity, upholding community values and common morality. But the real intent behind the slogans will be much broader and more insidious since the real issue waiting to be attacked by Ashcroft and the Christian right is not pornography at all, but sex itself and the ready availability of accurate, diverse, and sex-affirming sexual information. Defenders of freedom of information are certain to be called "soft on pornography," but what they will really be being accused of is being soft on sex, soft on sexual entertainment, soft on sexual diversity, and soft on sexual information -- "softnesses" that, honestly identified, just about everyone would be proud to embrace.
Since the substantial power of an attorney general comes from the discretion he wields, subject only to the scrutiny of the president, the Ashcroft scourge is likely to be both broad and effective, and to last a full four years, even if the Democrats take control of Congress in 2002. Once again, local law enforcement agencies will be instructed by the Department of Justice on how to harass distributors and producers of both sexual information and sexual entertainment. Frivolous court cases, designed not to result in ultimate convictions but to financially bankrupt sex-related businesses will increase. Scare stories will be circulated about isolated cases of children who are subjected to abuse via the Internet. (Remember all those stories about kids being molested by Internet acquaintances? Funny how they disappeared once the battle over the Child Pornography Protection Act was over.) Aware of the possibility of legal harassment, publishers and distributors of books and magazines -- sexual and otherwise -- will become increasingly cautious about including any material of a sexual nature, no matter how mainstream, tasteful, or artistic. The issue will not be whether such material can be defended in court against obscenity charges (as almost all sexual material can), but the potential hassle and expense of being required to mount a legal defense at all.
Advocates of open sexual expression and information -- and everyone who simply wants to be left alone to enthusiastically pursue his or her sex life without government interference -- survived the distortions of the Meese years. We will certainly survive whatever wave of antisexualism John Ashcroft engineers as well. In the long run, the genie of open sexual enjoyment cannot be stuffed back into the tight little bottle that existed in the prim 50's -- before reliable birth control, feminism, gay rights, and the sexual exuberance of the 60's and 70's planted diverse sex for pleasure firmly in the nation's consciousness. But until people are willing to publicly and vociferously defend and vote for sex positivity as powerfully as they have for civil rights, gender rights, or rights of sexual orientation, sexual soporifics to the Radical Right will remain powerful tools to help the Republican Party hold its troubled coalition together.
[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see www.spectator.net). Three books by David Steinberg -- "Photo Sex," "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," and "The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," are available from David by mail order at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at email@example.com. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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