Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee triggered outrage this week with just one word: "libido."
Republicans insisted that the politician-turned-TV/radio host who was speaking at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting had been misquoted. There's no way what he said could actually have been offensive, because he was accusing Democrats of something bad... and that's always good.
They didn't get that with one word Huckabee confirmed the worst fear of many: Republicans are brutishly trying to legislate women's physiology. And the resulting reaction from right-wingers betrays their inability to comprehend why the so-called "War on Women" framing is so effective.
"If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be."
It's Democrats who tell women they can't control their libidos, Huckabee insists. Not Republicans. Be outraged at them!
The National Review's Charles Cooke points out that Huckabee explicitly said, "women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do" before suggesting that it was probably "unwise" for the ex-governor to use those words because he didn't get across that Republicans think women can control their libidos.
That Huckabee and Cooke think the female libido is an acceptable topic for political discourse reveals the GOP's problem.
Making women's sexual desire a political issue isn't just a bad idea because Mike Huckabee is the last person in the world most people want to hear discussing sex. He could easily be cast as "The Least Sexual Man in the World" with the catchphrase, "I don't always talk about women's libidos, but when I do, the birth rate goes down."
The problem for the right is that the creepy way it sexualizes women's health care ultimately betrays their contempt for women's basic health needs, privacy and autonomy.
Rush Limbaugh branded a law student a "slut" because she spoke to the medical necessity of birth control. This was the shot heard 'round the world that opened the so-called "War on Women." Republicans then put Rush's assertion into policy by supporting legislation that would give employers the right to veto certain medical treatments.
As MSNBC's Adam Serwer pointed out, the idea that your insurance should cover certain medications isn't new. The idea of an employer veto is -- and it only arose because the administration mandated that birth control be covered for all women who need or want it, a mandate that is thoroughly supported by medical experts as a cost-saving and efficacious treatment. And Mike Huckabee didn't think think he was telling women they couldn't control their libido when he signed a law mandating birth control coverage in 2005.
Suddenly now Republicans feel that the owners of Hobby Lobby should have the chance to weigh in with their expertise.
The public is in favor of the birth control mandate, even when the employer rejects it on religious grounds. But Republicans know that the argument appeals to their base on the grounds of "religious freedom" to make choices for others, specifically women.
But they've decided that they can turn the "War on Women" frame by asserting Democrats are tricking females with all that health care and ability to make their own reproductive choices jazz.
"Democrats are the ones who have denigrated women and demeaned them," Huckabee said on Saturday, defending himself after an avalanche of criticism that even sucked in Miley Cyrus. He went on to say that Democrats are making it appear as if the only "real issues" for women are having "a prescription for birth control and getting a free abortion."
In a fundraising email to supporters, he wrote, "Guess what liberals? If you can't stand to look at yourself in the mirror, then get ready for more of this talk, because conservatives are going to continue to fight back against your destructive policies towards women and families."
Please, Huck, don't hurt us!
The mandate attempts to make birth control a non-issue, giving millions of women a medically necessary treatment and preventing abortions. Access to an abortion gives women an option to make choices about their own lives that men will never have to face.
Republicans who simultaneously believe that birth control isn't essential health care and abortion should be illegal may assert that they trust a woman to "control" her libido. But they're also saying that reproductive health care isn't essential to a woman's life and that the consequences of sex should be uniquely borne by cis women.
To the right, that's their version of being pro-choice: Women choose to have sex, and conservatives choose the consequences. Of course, there's something darker going on, as Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock pointed out. The official Republican Party stance is that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape, a belief they share with about 20 percent of the country.
Huckabee shares Akin and Mourdock's stand. As does Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Political scientist Alan Abramowitz believes abortion won't be an issue in 2014, unless some Republican candidate inartfully points out that while the party may believe women can handle their libidos, it also believes that they should be forced to bear the child of their rapist, if necessary.
The worst fear many have about Republicans is that they believe a woman's body is an object to be politicized, undeserving of privacy once it has been fertilized by a man, or -- if she has the wrong employer -- even before.
Mike Huckabee may believe that a woman can control her libido, but he also believes it's her problem if a man cannot control his.
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