Close Reading Bob Goodlatte

 

 

 

 

 

 

(E-mailed response from Congressman Bob Goodlatte to one of my requests that he support the ACA and Planned Parenthood.  The e-mail reply from Goodlatte arrived in my inbox on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.)

Do you remember your high school and/or college teachers and professors requiring close readings of literary texts?  The kind of close reading for which you summarized the plot or movement of the segment, discerned the principal theme, and examined the rhetorical devices that made the piece a work of art that communicated an idea?  Well, it’s hardly possible to do all that with Bob Goodlatte’s form letter genre, but I’m going to complete here a brief analysis of a Goodlatte letter.

This week, I’m taking a page out of my friend and colleague Chris Gavaler’s blog.  Since December 2016, Chris has written Congressman Bob Goodlatte a letter every day, and all the letters are posted in Gavaler’s “Dear Bob” blog.  This is an amazing undertaking, which has allowed Chris to become extremely well-versed on our regional and national political issues, educate others on what he has learned, and take daily action.  The Goodlatte staffers all know who Chris is, and they have met with him on several occasions.  In his blog, Gavaler often signals the absurdity of Goodlatte’s responses to him. The responses sometimes don’t address at all the issue raised by Chris; sometimes they pretend to address Chris’s question but go in a conveniently different direction; the responses usually reassert Goodlatte’s supposed moral superiority over everybody but Donald Trump, who, for Goodlatte, is a paragon of virtue.  Gene Zitver, also from our area, maintains the “Goodlatte Watch” blog.  The Gender Shrapnel Blog has also  looked at Goodlatte’s political and communication shortcomings in several posts (Theatre of the Absurd; Bob Goodlatte Does Nothing Again, Only it’s Worse; Bob Goodlatte Needs a Better Job Description).

Over the phone, by formal petition and e-mail, and in person with Goodlatte staffers, I (along with a good number of people in my area) have protested many actions taken by the congressman and his party members. These actions include, but are certainly not limited to, refusing to execute duties as Chariman of the House Judiciary to investigate ethics violations of the current “president,” Goodlatte staffers’ composing the Muslim travel ban order, supporting any and all repeal and replace efforts proposed by the GOP, running sham “telephone townhalls,” and never appearing in person at the meetings scheduled by his staffers to meet with constituents throughout the 6th District.  I’ve received many replies from Goodlatte staffers, in both paper and e-mail forms.  They are predictable in their bureaucratic rhetoric, verbosity, and tone of patronizing superiority (a kind of “sit next to me and let me explain a few things to you, little girl” tone).  Sometimes they address the issue I raised; sometimes the letters have nothing to do with the concern I articulated.

Here I offer a close reading, paragraph by paragraph, of the most recent response I got from Congressman Bob Goodlatte.

Salutation: “Dear Dr. Mayock” –Good start!  I do have a Ph.D., but I don’t usually ask people to call me “Dr.”  On the Goodlatte web form, choosing a title is required.  I sometimes choose “Mr.,” sometimes, “Reverend,” sometimes “Dr.”  Just depends on the mood of the day.  I always figure I’ll get a quicker response if my chosen title seems to indicate to Goodlatte and his people that I’m a dude.

Paragraph 1: “Thank you…” I appreciate the polite acknowledgement of my contact with Bob.

Paragraph 2: “No matter where we stand on abortion as individuals, we can agree that 1.6 million abortions per year is an American tragedy…”  I have actually never addressed the abortion question or anti-choice legislation in any of my communications with Goodlatte.  I have only stated that the proposed ACHA would defund Planned Parenthood, which plays a fundamental role in healthcare for underserved communities.  Planned Parenthood does not equal abortion services, but I’m sure glad they exist to provide abortion services when so few other resources are available.  Why?  Bob, come sit by my side, and I’ll share the following reports with you!:

Making Abortion Illegal Does Not Reduce Number of Women Having Terminations, Study Concludes (Independent, 2016)

Planned Parenthood Means Fewer Abortions  (New Yorker, 2015)

U.S. Abortion Rate Reaches Record Low Amidst Looming Onslaught Against Reproductive Health and Rights (Guttmacher Study, 2017)

New Study:  Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates.  Contraception Does. (Slate, 2016)

Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality  (NCBI/NIH, 2009)

5 Facts About Abortion (Pew Research Center, 2017)

Paragraph 3: “I believe that we would agree that the solution lies in providing better education and more compassion to all involved in this difficult experience.”  Bob, stop assuming you know what I believe.  This rhetoric is bossy and manipulative.  I do not agree with you because abstinence-only education is woefully insufficient and because people don’t want your compassion (again, you’re imposing moral superiority), but rather viable solutions.  The White House has amplified the religious refusal rule, and Congress is working to weaken or completely undo Title X, a major family planning program that includes contraception.  In addition, the global gag rule could soon apply here in the United States as well.  None of this demonstrates one iota of compassion.  These anti-women measures, pushed by all-men bodies, are misguided, shortsighted, and discriminatory.

Paragraph 4: In this paragraph, Goodlatte criticizes the Affordable Care Act, saying, “It’s easy to see why this mess of big-government mandates and red tape has not provided the health care solutions so many families need.”  Actually, Bob, if you had advocated for Medicaid expansion, a fundamental part of the ACA, in Virginia, then there would be far fewer families in need.  You are creating a problem and then blaming it on the ACA and Democrats.  A crafty move, but dishonest at its core, and also absolutely detrimental to hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  Furthermore, hasn’t your party just spent six months and billions of taxpayer dollars to try to pass the shoddy AHCA and its ridiculous offshoots?  That sounds a lot like big government and red tape to me.

Paragraph 5: “For years, the majority of my constituents have told me that Obamacare does not work for them, and I agree.”  Can I please see the data?  I know plenty of constituents who have attempted real contact with you on this issue, who disagree with your assertions, and who are unable to get an audience with you.  You are cherry-picking here, Bob.

Paragraph 6: “I am committed to ensuring that those in Virginia’s 6th district have a choice in selecting insurance that fits their needs and their budget and urge my colleagues in the Senate to come together and put together a reform bill that has patients at its heart.”  Really, Bob, “fits their needs and their budget?”  These do not go together when we are talking about the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and their powerful lobbying efforts.  Check out this post to see why the AHCA had patients very far from “its heart” and very much in its pocket.

Goodbye:  Standard fare.

This one sample of the many letters I have received from Congressman Goodlatte reveals the machine behind the man, a machine composed of the GOP’s overreach into people’s personal lives, gaslighting rhetoric, and false concern for real people.  Goodlatte is so busy kissing the “president’s” posterior that there is no way he can actually listen to the people of Virginia’s 6th District.  This is not governance, Bob.  It’s a waste of all of our time and money.

AHCA B.S.

How many of you out there have a pre-existing condition or know someone who does?  Hmm, let me count, yes, that looks like, well, everyone.  Do you have a father with prostate concerns or diabetes or a weak heart?  Do you know women who have given birth? (I’m guessing you know a few.)  Have you ever heard of a newborn with a serious medical condition?  Do you have or know children with special needs? Are you someone or do you know someone who has limited funds for routine care and/or unexpected medical needs?  Do you live in a state that has rejected federal funds for Medicaid expansion?

As I write this, the roll call of House of Representatives votes on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is in.  217 Republicans in the House voted to pass it.  Not one Democrat did.  Final tally: 217-213 (with 20 Republicans voting against and one no vote).  *See this link for the full list: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll256.xml.  Excuse my French, but this is absolute bullshit.  Hyperpartisanship is killing the United States public.  I’m no longer just speaking metaphorically.  This health care act is killing us.  (Remember: The ACA was helping us.)

The representative from my district in Virginia, Bob Goodlatte, declares himself proud to appear on the list of “ayes.” He is, kindly put, a Trump lapdog.  Goodlatte, in the company of mostly white, male, and Christian Republicans (*see this slideshow for the demographic breakdown of the Congress: https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/slideshows/the-115th-congress-by-party-race-gender-and-religion), has again chosen to ignore the constituents of Virginia’s Sixth District in order to pander to national, damaging trends.  Why do the demographics of our members of Congress matter, you might ask?  They matter because Trump and the trumpkins continue to push a traditional supremacist agenda that benefits them and their cronies and deeply damages the lives of those who are not like them.

We know this to be true if we do our own sample roll call of executive orders given since January 20, 2017:

“Implementing an America First Offshore Energy Strategy” (4-29-17)

“Buy American Hire American” (4-18-17)

“Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” (3-28-17)

“Revocation of Federal Contracting Executive Order” (undoes fair pay and workplace regulation work done under President Obama; 3-27-17)

“Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” (seeks to give more power to the executive; 3-13-17)

“Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers” (ignores completely [and repackages in the reverse] violence against black people and black lives; 2-9-17)

“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (1-27-17)

“Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” (1-25-17)

“Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” (crackdown on sanctuary cities; 1-25-17).

Many of the executive orders emphasize an expansion of executive power.  Look at the words.  Pay attention to the rhetoric, which both discriminates and co-opts language from the left. If you’re not a trumpkin, you are less than human.  If you are black, LGBTQIA+, Muslim, a woman, Latinx, or from another nation, you don’t deserve to live here, work here, love here, or be cared for here.

Make sure to take a look at Alabama’s H.B. 24, which was signed into law two days ago.  The bill allows “some state-licensed adoption and foster care agencies to reject qualified prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs” (cited here on the Human Rights Campaign website).  It is challenging and soul-sucking to absorb this bald discrimination and hatred.  Furthermore, again, look at the words.  Pay attention to the rhetoric.  This bill is called the “Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act.”  The use of “inclusion” co-opts language from the left and can easily lead to false conclusions about the legislation itself.  There is nothing inclusive about this legislation.  It excludes LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples from adoption and fostering.  It reduces the pool of prospective parents and excellent caretakers for children in Alabama.  It is bullshit.

The partisan Indivisible guide provides information here about the AHCA, or Trumpcare.  They state starkly that there are 10 principal reasons for which we should worry about the AHCA.  I am copying and pasting them here because we need to see the numbers and read the discrimination, and we’re going to need to keep bringing this proposed (and half-passed) devastation to the attention of people in the United States:

IF YOUR REPRESENTATIVE VOTED FOR TRUMPCARE, THEY VOTED TO:

  1. Take away health care from 24 million Americans. This is according to nonpartisan estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This will result in 24,000 – 44,000 more Americans dying every year from lack of insurance. Not to mention medical bankruptcies, lost wages, untreated illnesses…
  2. Hike deductibles by $1500 on average. TrumpCare pushes Americans into low-quality, high cost-sharing health insurance by providing meager tax credits compared to the Affordable Care Act. This is the opposite of what Trump promised in his campaign.
  3. End the federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions. TrumpCare incentivizes states to drop consumer protections, meaning insurance companies will be able to charge people more if they have a pre-existing condition. 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition. People could face premiums well over $100,000 a year.
  4. Allow insurance companies to charge older Americans significantly more for their health care. A single, 64 year old adult making $26,500/year would have to pay $14,600 in annual premiums—a 750% increase from current law.
  5. Cut $880 billion from Medicaid, a program that more than 70 million Americans, half of which are children, rely on. TrumpCare cuts federal funding for the program, which will result in states having to ration care and cut the quality of services.
  6. Put lifetime and annual benefit caps back on the table for even those with employer coverage. This means a baby with a serious medical condition could use up its lifetime limits in the first month of life under TrumpCare.
  7. Make women pay more for health insurance than men. Because insurance companies could charge more for pre-existing conditions like breast cancer or assault survival and because pregnancy care no longer would be a required benefit, women would once again pay morefor health care than men.
  8. Defund Planned Parenthood. Nearly 3 million Americans, especially women and families, receive affordable health care services annually at Planned Parenthood facilities. TrumpCare prohibits any funding from going to these clinics.
  9. Harm children with special needs by cutting Special Education funds for schools. Medicaid funds a large portion of education for students with a variety of disabilities. Buried in the bill is a provision that no longer recognizes schools as required Medicaid providers, on top of the massive cuts to the program.
  10. And, it does all of this in order to pay for $600 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. I’ve said this several times in this post.  Look at the words. Pay attention to the rhetoric.  And then call out the bullshit for what it is.  We must stop moving dangerously backwards.

Stag-Nation

Here is just a smattering of recent battering headlines:

“The Rise, Then Shame, of Baylor Nation” (The New York Times, 3-9-17)

“Sexual harassment:  Records show how University of California faculty target students” (The Guardian, 3-8-17)

“Inquiry Opens into How a Network of Marines Shared Illicit Images of Female Peers” (The New York Times, 3-6-17)

“Why So Few Women in State Politics?” (The New York Times, 2-25-17)

“Donald Trump remains silent as white men continue to terrorize America” (New York Daily News, 2-17-17)

“How a Fractious Women’s Movement Came to Lead the Left” (The New York Times, 2-7-17)

“Report that Trump Wants Female Staff to “dress like women” Sparks Movement on Social Media” (The New York Times Live, 2-3-17; reported by MSN here)

“The Trump Administration’s Dark View of Immigrants” (The New Yorker, 2-2-17)

These are national headlines that clearly speak to the white supremacist heteropatriarchy in charge of our nation.  I usually soft-pedal my language a little more, avoiding such charged terms as “white supremacist heteropatriarchy,” but let’s call things as we see them.  The photo above, from Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” speaks more than a thousand words.  The “president” has effectively created a boys’ club (almost all white) of men between the ages of 55 and 80.  He has sent the message that all people who aren’t part of this group are unworthy.  We know, though, that this group only survives through its attempt to appear strong by making others weak.  Groups like these are doomed to fail.

In the meantime, I wish I could say that the United States were just stagnating.  The unfortunate fact, however, is that we are moving rapidly backwards.  The world can see it, we know it, and only the little Trump pumpkins continue to prop up our stupid dictator.  *Check out Mexican surrealist painter Antonio Ruiz’s painting “El líder/orador” to understand this reference to the people I would like to officially dub the “trumpkins.”  Take note, too, that Ruiz painted “El orador” in 1939, a significant year in dictator history.

(http://www.artnet.com/artists/antonio-ruiz/past-auction-results)

There is no room to breathe now as we play defense on behalf of the First Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX, and the Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, we are reasserting what we thought were core values, such as welcoming individuals and groups from other nations, understanding that often it is better to keep families together, rather than wrench them apart, body autonomy, and loving our neighbors.  As the stags run (and ruin) our nation, they eliminate from their path anyone and everyone who is unlike them.  Those who are unlike them is a large and ever-growing subset of people.

Nevertheless, high-level business people know that well-run organizations encourage expression of divergent opinions and the cultivation of healthy debate.  These elements keep the organizations on their proverbial toes—innovative, collaborative, comprehensive.  (See Section III of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace for data and practical solutions on this issue.)  Isn’t democracy at its very core the idea that the people—in all of our differences and commonalities—will learn about the issues, educate others to be part of a well-informed citizenry, debate wholeheartedly, and then make decisions together about the best courses of action for all?

The national examples of stag-nation that I’ve provided here are replicated at the state and local levels.  In my state, Bob Goodlatte for decades has honed a dictatorial machine fed by national, white, male supremacist machinations.  (See previous posts in the Gender Shrapnel blog for examples of Goodlatte’s scary-ass brand of government.  Also check out Chris Gavaler’s Dear Bob Blog and Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch.)  At the regional level, Ben Cline has consistently supported policies that are dangerous to all women.  (See last week’s blog post for more information.)

At the University of Virginia, where women comprise 56% of the student population, less than 30% of the presidential search committee is comprised of women, with two of those women being students.  In daily life, I watch my children perform in concert after concert whose playlist includes only male composers (some of whom, at least, are of color).  They participate on an official school academic team, for whose competitions they are asked questions primarily about Western civilization up to the year 1800 (i.e. not many women included, unless they are mythological figures or real-life muses).  They play on sports teams for which the girls teams are still playing in the smaller gyms or swimming in the shallower lanes.  They learn at school that transgender people will be forced into a bathroom not of their choosing.  In other words, we as a culture are not even moving forward on the smallest of everyday issues that affect us all (or many of us, at least).  We are seeing and experiencing how draconian governmental restrictions are severely limiting self- and group-definition and freedoms at the national, regional, and local levels.  This will affect our culture for decades to come.

What are Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Goodlatte, and Ben Cline so afraid of? Why must we who live in this country cater to their bizarre fears?  If they’re afraid of nothing and simply want unquestioned power, then why are we letting them have it?  We need fewer trumpkins and more resistance.  After “Willly Wonka”’s Veruca Salt, we need more resistance, and we need it NOW.