Empty gestures

empty gesture

While it true that most politicians of any stripe engage in empty gestures – mainly symbolic votes and proposals – modern conservatives have raised the empty gesture to an art form. Examples of this include anti-choice Republicans in the 2014 midterms pretending to support the sale of over-the-counter birth control, despite having long records of support for “personhood” measures that would lead to many forms of contraception being banned. That was an empty gesture that went a long way toward helping Republicans like newly sworn-in CO Senator Cory Gardner(R) to persuade credulous pundits and voters who would normally be alarmed by their actual positions and voting records that they were not as threatening as they really are.

Sometimes the empty gesture is not even a strategic vote or policy stance. It can be pure political theater, such as the GOP having a Latino Congressman deliver Sen. Joni Ernst’s exact response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in Spanish.

Curbelo’s office confirmed that he will not be delivering his own remarks.

By the way, Ernst has endorsed English as a national language and once sued Iowa’s secretary of state for offering voting forms in languages other than English. Her office did not respond to requests for comment.

Curbelo has broken with his own party on immigration to support a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Ernst has repeatedly expressed opposition to “amnesty.”

After that embarrassing report, the GOP changed its tune and allowed Curbelo to make his own remarks. Not that it mattered since the whole point of the endeavor was probably not to impress Hispanic voters anyway. It was more likely aimed at moderate white voters, to assuage any guilt they may feel about voting GOP.

Another recent empty gesture by Republicans is a pair of Republican Congresswomen withdrawing their support for a 20-week abortion ban bill (an empty gesture in itself since it will be vetoed).

On Tuesday afternoon, during the House’s session, Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) requested to remove their names from HR 36, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The exchange was recorded on C-SPAN.

HR 36, which has passed the House twice in recent years, was expected to be approved by the full GOP-controlled Congress this year, particularly since the Republican leadership has turned to restrictions on later abortions as a top policy priority. It was introduced on the very first day of the 114th Congress’ session and is scheduled for a vote in the full House this Thursday, which marks the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

But at the end of last week, the National Journal reported that Ellmers was raising concerns about the proposed abortion ban. In a closed-door meeting of Republican lawmakers, Ellmers reportedly said that focusing on a national abortion ban so early in the session threatens to alienate young female voters, a demographic that the GOP has been vying to attract. The congresswoman also expressed concerns about the legislation’s narrow exception for rape victims, which currently requires them to report their assault to law enforcement officials in order to have access to later abortion services.

Things don’t get out of closed-door caucus meetings and become national news unless people want them to. It looks like the GOP is trying to both help Reps Ellmers and Walorski (both Republicans in swing districts) and to appear as thought they’re still committed to that “outreach to women” thing. Think of this as a play-within-the-play. The symbolic 20 week bill is is pitched at the culture war conservative base and the meaningless revolt by these two Congresswomen is an empty gesture calculated to appeal to “moderates”. Man, they are really getting good at this!

But the conservative politician who has most perfected the art of the empty gesture has to be Pope Francis (what, you don’t think he’s a politician?), who has managed to convince a lot of people, including liberals, that he represents a shining new era of tolerant Catholicism. Upon closer examination, however, there are reasons to be skeptical of this.

He thinks atheists are okay!

In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.

Responding to a list of questions published in the paper by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

As an atheist, I appreciate the vote of confidence in my ability to be moral, I guess. But the Pope’s assurance that I might go to heaven means exactly nothing to me since I have seen no credible evidence that such a place exists. It’s about as empty a gesture as it gets, though fairly harmless on its face. It earned him a bunch of cool points from the likes of Bill Maher, though.

He thinks gay people are okay!

Erm, not really.

Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Brazil, he reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not…

…His remarks on gay people are being seen as much less judgemental than his predecessor’s position on the issue.

Pope Benedict XVI signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.

But Pope Francis said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

So being a closeted gay priest is fine but being a gay person with a love life is still “sinful”. Not much of an improvement, really, but the “who am I to judge?” empty gesture is the one that made it around the world.

He thinks the theory of evolution is okay!

Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.

“When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said. “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

Yawn. The Church has accepted evolution for decades. Do you really think they’d allow their prestigious universities around the world to be tarnished by teaching Creationism, or any iteration of it, as science? They keep that stuff in theology classes where it belongs.

He thinks women are okay!

So this is where it gets really gnarly. As someone who was raised Catholic, I get that Francis reminds you of that chill priest who played the guitar and cracked jokes during Mass. I loved that guy! And I want to give Pope Francis the full benefit of the doubt that he is trying to act in good faith where women are concerned. Sadly, however, his efforts fall short. On the ordination of women as priests, nope.

On the role of women in the Church, he said: “We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more.

“But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.”

Okey doke, Pontiff. That is something more concerning to people still practicing the faith, though, and not something I’m losing sleep over. The Church’s positions on reproductive rights, however, are another story since Catholics actually wield a lot of power in global health policies, including here in the US. The Church’s stances take on a particular importance in that light and the Pope has been in the news quite a bit lately pontificating (pardon the pun) on them. Here he is sharing his jazzy modern thoughts on family planning:

“Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits…but no,” he told reporters at a Monday news conference, according to Reuters. The pope said some Catholics who have many children don’t promote “responsible parenthood,”…

That’s an ironically judgmental statement, since those Catholics are following what is widely held as Church doctrine, no? But wait, it gets worse:

…and specifically mentioned a woman he had encountered previously who put her life at risk to have a seventh child by cesarean section. He called her decision “an irresponsibility.”

Oh right, she alone put her life at risk! No mention of the father and not the slightest inclination of awareness on his part that the woman may not be in a position to say no to her husband when he wants sex. The Pope simply assumes that she drives everything and is, somehow, following Church dictates out of pure wanton selfishness. Wait, what? It gets still worse:

“Does she want to leave seven orphans?” he said. “This is tempting God.”

Orphans? Note the complete erasure of the father again! Leaving aside the Pope’s disturbing implication that his God is a capricious monster who would inflict the most horrific punishment upon a family merely following His edicts – but apparently not with the precision that He and the Pope require – what does he really expect this woman to do? Here’s a hint:

Although the rabbit analogy may seem to suggest contraception, more realistically it probably implies that the pope regards Natural Family Planning to be a reasonable solution. The Catholic church considers birth control pills, devices, and condoms to be “artificial contraception.”

Yes, definitely a poor woman with seven children should master a complicated regimen involving constant temperature taking and mucus measurement or just insist upon celibacy with a husband who may or may not agree to any of that! Good plan, Pope! So much better than an IUD or a tubal ligation.

This was clearly meant to be an empty gesture by a conservative politician (what, you STILL don’t get that the Pope is a politician?) but it inadvertently revealed more about the retrograde motives of the Catholic Church than the Pope probably intended. He was trying to assure the world that the Church is aware of overpopulation and of their own image problems on women’s rights but he simply could not constrain his own thoughtless misogyny. Oops. Sadly, it seems to have worked (at least based on the reaction of some liberals I know) because people tend to pay attention to the parts of the empty gestures that they want to and not the entire context.

4 responses to “Empty gestures

  1. Donna Gratehouse

    Santorum’s response is a perfect illustration of how the Pope’s empty gestures are so useful for him. Santorum is pitching a fit over nothing since not a single church policy is changing but the Pope is getting cool points from liberals because of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Maher resumes his mancrush on him.

  2. captain*arizona

    The latino community knows who there enemies are and as the kleons say revenge is a dish best eaten cold!

  3. Rick Santorum apparently isn’t buying the Pope Francis Kool-aid.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/santorum-pope-rabbits

    Of course, the American Catholic movement didn’t ever believe the last Pope when he told George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.