Will the last Republican woman turn out the lights?

Keep talking, Mike Huckabee. Your creepy obsession with women’s libidos will just elect more Democrats

Published January 24, 2014 3:43PM (EST)

Michele Bachmann                                  (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Michele Bachmann (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

How can we be shocked by anything said by a member of the party whose elected leaders distinguish “legitimate rape” from some other kind of rape, and insist  “marital rape” can’t possibly exist? We shouldn’t be shocked, and yet we can’t help it, when a nationally seasoned right-wing nut job/entertainer like Mike Huckabee grabs a microphone and opines about women who can’t control their libidos.

By now you’ve surely heard what Huckabee told the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, about how his party can fight Democrats for the votes of women:

I think it’s time for Republicans to no longer accept listening to Democrats talk about a war on women. Because the fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war FOR women. For them to be empowered; to be something other than victims of their gender. Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a government provide for them birth control medication.…And 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 or 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’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say, Enough of that nonsense.

OK, there’s so much that’s obviously awful about that statement, but let’s start with the way he ends it: by scolding “women across America,” who “have to stand up and say, Enough of that nonsense.” It follows that if you’re too lame to stand up to that nonsense, you’re just another dumb broad who can’t control your libido.

I’m very torn about what Huckabee said. As a woman, I want to say: Shut up, Mike Huckabee. Stop talking about women’s libidos. Stop talking about our sex lives. Leave us alone. Respect our privacy.

But as a Democrat I want to say: Keep talking, Mike Huckabee. The way you’re going, Republican leaders’ wives won’t even vote for them anymore.

Huckabee is not only not backing away from his comments, he's fundraising around them. "I am apparently the worst conservative ever or at least the most annoying one according to the left wingers in Washington today," Huckabee wrote in an email to supporters, according to TPM. "My remarks to the RNC today were immediately jumped on and blown sky high by hand-wringing, card carrying liberals from coast to coast, some of them in the media." He asked for money so he could say to liberals: "We told you so," adding: "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 toward women and families."

Sadly, the sometimes reasonable Michael Steele tried to defend Huckabee in our "Hardball" debate Thursday night, insisting that Democrats are the ones obsessed with the contraception issue, even as it was Huckabee, unprovoked, all on his own, who made birth control – and even more creepily, our libidos -- the centerpiece of his pitch to women. It wasn’t a reporter’s question or a debate partner’s parry, it was Mike Huckabee, sent from God to lecture women about controlling our libidos.

Steele went on to say that Democrats just love talking about contraception, but the truth is, I am so fricking sick of talking about contraception with men on cable television. Particularly Michael Steele, bless his heart (here’s an earlier discussion).

I’d rather be talking about pay equity and raising the minimum wage and why most adults on food stamps are women. I’d like to debate government doing more to fund childcare and preschool. If we want to talk health, I’d like to explore healthcare disparities, and why breast cancer, for example, is more lethal for African-American women. I can go on and on. So spare me the complaint that Democrats are manufacturing the talk about contraception for political gain.

There are two reasons Republicans keep getting tripped up on these women’s issues. The first is, they’re the ones who have nothing else to talk about. They oppose pay equity and raising the minimum wage; most of them voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. They’ve relied on culture war issues for so long, in the absence of strong economic policies that can lure voters who aren’t wealthy, that these culture war themes have become their “Uncle Sugar,” bad for them, but reliable and familiar, so they keep going back. I should clarify: bad for winning national elections, but great for raising money, as Huckabee's grifting email shows.

The other reason is: They really believe this garbage. Huckabee himself is on record that women should “submit graciously” to their husbands – so “controlling their libidos” means only having sex with their husbands, and only when he says so. Just this week, in his new memoir, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce wrote that he believes "the wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice.” Virginia state Sen. Dick Black doesn’t believe “marital rape” is a crime, opining, "I don't know how on earth you could validly get a conviction in a husband-wife rape when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie and so forth. There's no injury, there's no separation, or anything." Black just dropped out of the running for a congressional vacancy, insisting he’d prefer to keep his state Senate seat.

So Republicans can dismiss their troubles with women as a “Todd Akin problem,” or a “Dick Black problem,” but they have a Republican problem: too many Republicans genuinely believe that women are the second sex, the fairer sex, the weaker sex. To reduce women to their libidos is the very definition of making them “sex objects,” but Mike Huckabee – and sadly, maybe even Michael Steele – can’t understand that.

Oh, and for the record: Who is “Uncle Sugar”? He sounds like a pimp. Is Huckabee back to the Rush Limbaugh argument: that women who want birth control covered by health insurance are prostitutes? Or is it just the avuncular form of the Obamacare “sugar” that Ted Cruz warned about? That makes women not prostitutes, I guess, but maybe like horses, trading their loyalty for a lump of sugar?

This party seems headed for extinction, and it can’t come too soon.

By Joan Walsh

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Contraception Editor's Picks Gop Michael Steele Mike Huckabee Republican War On Women The Right Todd Akin