Most of my friends and colleagues know that I am a Iowan by birth and upbringing, and granted my age, Senator Charles Grassley has been a permanent feature of the political landscape there pretty much my entire life. My father was a politician a and my family was thus steeped in politics, at all levels–we thought about it a lot, and it’s one of the things that led me to my scholarship.
Grassley was, in my young mind, a man who had different fundamental beliefs about the world and how it worked than me and many of the people in my family. I could live with that; that sort of competition among differing visions of collective life and its largely unknowable parts were for me the very grist of politics–it’s what politics is, to no small degree, for.
But mostly, I thought Grassley was a gentleman. A sharp politician, pretty ruthless at getting what he wanted, sure, but a gentleman at heart.
The vicious way he undercut President Obama’s SCOTUS pick wasn’t cool, but I understood it. Grassley and his followers think they are saving the babies, after all, and dirty hands and all.
I admit: over the years, I’ve looked up to Grassley at various moments.
But then after the Senate’s crap tax bill, The Des Moines Register had this quote from Grassley:
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley told the Register in a story published Saturday. “As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Now, the Register leans left. (All media leans; any editorial viewpoint has a perspective. That’s doesn’t mean you get to take the license that FoxNews and Breitbart do and just make up whatever shit they want like No-Go zones.)
The blowback on Grassley’s remarks was predictable, and he’s since come out and said the quote was taken out of context. Uh-huh. How, exactly? It’s a pretty straightforward quote. But let’s see the blithering rationale, reported in the Post, shall we?
“My point regarding the estate tax, which has been taken out of context, is that the government shouldn’t seize the fruits of someone’s lifetime of labor after they die,” he said in a statement. “The question is one of basic fairness, and working to create a tax code that doesn’t penalize frugality, saving and investment. That’s as true for family farmers who have to break up their operations to pay the IRS following the death of a loved one as it is for parents saving for their children’s college education or working families investing and saving for their retirement.”
Ok, in the real world, he could have just said something much pithier at the outset: “We believe that it’s right to reward frugality and let people leave their children what they have accumulated.”
But instead, Grassley pulled of his mask to let us know *exactly* what he thinks of women. And it’s awful. And he should apologize.
He won’t. He’ll clarify, he’ll double-down. I don’t to agree that intergenerational transfers of wealth should be exempt from taxation, but it’s not an outlandish position to take. But the “bitches and hos” assumption is. Women don’t earn. They live off men. The good ones become baby factories in return for their keep; the bad ones hang out and laugh too loudly in taverns and put out for drinks and decadent liberal Hollywood movies.
The thing is: I am sure that Senator Grassley always thought this way, to some degree. But the fact that he felt so free to vocalize it, in a newspaper that has been none-too-friendly to him, says a lot about Donald Trump and tone-setting. As I’ve written a million times here, tone-setting matters and when you have a president who relishes saying things like “grab ’em by the pussy” and a party rallying around a mall creeper, the darker parts of your attitudes get to come out for display. He knows his people will never hold him accountable, even though they should.
It’s bad for everybody, this lowering of the discourse around women in the Republican Party. I doubt it’s good for the GOP, and it’s very bad for women. I don’t think we have to police everything that everybody says, and I’m tired of the outrage machine, too, but there’s something fundamentally bad about public rhetoric that derides entire groups when it comes from the mouths of elected leaders.