Just say ‘No’ … to what?


Perhaps the strangest thing about the recent vote on the Franken Amendment is its political implications. Or, as Jon Stewart so aptly put it, “How is anyone against this?”

    Sec. 8104. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any existing or new Federal contract if the contractor or a subcontractor at any tier requires that an employee or independent contractor, as a condition of employment, sign a contract that mandates that the employee or independent contractor performing work under the contract or subcontract resolve through arbitration any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

The basic proposition is that one should not be expected to sign away their right to mundane justice as a prerequisite of employment in the private sector, especially in such an acute question as rape.

Josh Kraushaar at Politico offers the basic analysis:

Franken’s amendment, which passed 68-30, received the support of 10 Republican senators. However, most Republicans opposed the amendment because it went against the wishes of the Defense Department, and argued it gave Congress too much influence in altering defense contracts.

Those concerns, however, are immaterial to Democratic strategists, who believe the vote will be politically costly to the two Republican senators facing competitive races – Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced after the vote, putting out a statement attacking Vitter “for choosing special interests over justice and the interests of the American taxpayers.”

And a senior Democratic strategist working on defeating Vitter told POLITICO that the vote will “very likely” come up in a campaign ad next year.

Republicans point out that the amendment was opposed by a host of business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and applies to a wide range of companies, including IBM and Boeing.

Watching the GOP sideline itself in the early rounds of the health care debate, many suggested Republicans were simply posturing themselves for the 2010 midterm election. This vote would seem something of a deviation from such a course. I do not think it so extraordinary that we should not be overestimating voters in these constituencies if we imagine them capable of looking at their wives and daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends, and thinking, “Now, wait a minute ….”

The Senators voting nay:

    Alexander (R-TN), Barrasso (R-WY), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Burr (R-NC), Chambliss (R-GA), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Corker (R-TN), Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Thune (R-SD), Vitter (R-LA), Wicker (R-MS)

These are not insignificant junior players. To the other, though, there aren’t many insignificant junior players among Senate Republicans; only three can boast of being freshmen, and two of them—Johanns and Risch—are among the nays.

The other, George LeMieux of Florida, is among the Republicans who haven’t yet completely lost their minds:

    Bennett (R-UT), Collins (R-ME), Grassley (R-IA), Hatch (R-UT), Hutchison (R-TX), LeMieux (R-FL), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), Voinovich (R-OH)

If the Democrats handle this one correctly, they should be able to make some Republicans sweat next year. Senate Republicans facing re-election in 2010, with nay votes bold

    Shelby (AL), Murkowski (AK), McCain (AZ), LeMieux (FL), Isakson (GA), Crapo (ID), Grassley (IA), Brownback (KS), Bunning (KY), Vitter (LA), Bond (MO), Gregg (NH), Burr (NC), Voinovich (OH), Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Thune (SD), Bennett (UT)

    — Retiring


Early reaction—you have to wonder about something that comes to the American conscience via The Daily Show—has alternated largely between amazement and outrage. On the west coast, Mark Morford writes for SF Gate:

First, you are required get over your initial disgust that such legislation is even necessary, that such clauses even exist and that the Pentagon is already doing business with such contractors (hi, Halliburton/KBR!), and that there has already been a truly horrible case validating it, wherein a 20-year-old female employee was allegedly gang-raped by contractors, locked in a shipping container, abused every way from Sunday, and found out later she was unable to sue.

Let us pause to imagine if, say, Wal-Mart had such a clause. Or maybe Toys ‘R’ Us. Starbucks. Let us imagine the appalled outcry. But Halliburton? Dick Cheney’s vile little spitwad of shameless war profiteering? No problem. Hey, it’s Republican-endorsed military contracting. No one said it was ethical.

But that’s not most the repellant part. Ready?

The most repellant part is the 30 U.S. senators — Republicans each and every one — who just stepped forth to vote against the Franken amendment, essentially saying no, women should have no right to sue if they are sexually abused or gang raped, Halliburton and its ilk must be protected at all costs, and by the way we hereby welcome Satan into our rancid souls forevermore. God bless America.

Let us repeat, for clarity. Franken’s amendment passed with a vote of 68-30. Meaning 30 U.S. senators voted against the elimination of the rape/sue clause. Meghan McCain, call your dad. He’s one of them.

Here is where you try and do it. Here is where you bring in the filter mentioned above, try to figure out where to slot such wretched information, how to make even the slightest sense of it.

And then you discover a horrible truth: you can’t. Turns out, when faced with such vileness, all filters fail. All balance is thrown off. You thought you had some sort of way to process and attain perspective? You are proven wrong.

So perhaps all we can do is ponder how pathetic and sad these various senator’s lives must be, how these bitter old men will now go home at night and announce around the dinner table that, yes, today they worked very hard to help improve the welfare of the nation by essentially enabling rape and sexual abuse, tried their darndest to prevent women who’ve been viciously attacked from having much legal recourse. And lo, Satan will chuckle happily.

And over in Tennessee, Stephanie Simmons wonders:

So, why the 30 Republican Nay’s, including our fair Senators from Tennessee? Some of the arguments against the bill include the view that government should not interfere with how corporations contract with their employees and that the bill’s purpose is really just to unfairly target one particular corporation, Haliburton Company and their subsidiaries. Well, the bill as written applies to any company with such a policy. Haliburton may be despised by many, but this witch hunt still unearthed an ugly witch. And the government determined it could tell companies how to treat their employees when the Civil Rights Act was passed, minimum wage was enacted and numerous other laws put into effect. Some might argue that the government does interfere with private corporations too much, but the government can certainly determine what types of companies they will do business with, and Haliburton can keep its contract and just stop working with the U.S. government. They do have options.

Our Tennessee senators, Alexander (R) and Corker (R) either agree with these arguments against the bill or have some other reason for voting against the Franken Anti-Government Contractor Rape Liability bill. The reason for their vote could have been based on some logical argument that I can’t think of or don’t agree with or it could be based on concerns of monetary support. I have yet to see any indication of the former.

And some supporters of the Democratic party are picking up the message already. Eric Roper notes for the Star-Tribune:

The Daily Show host is not the first to use the vote as fodder to criticize the GOP. The Louisiana Young Democrats attacked Sen. David Vitter for voting against “ensuring women have the right to seek justice.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow made a point of listing the “nay” votes during her show, and her colleague Ed Schultz said it was evidence that the Republican Party is sexist.

The question remains whether the institutional Democratic Party knows what it has. Liberals have watched the cautious progressivism of a Democratic Party largely viewed as bought and sold fail for far too long to capitalize on simple reality. Apparently still reeling from the Clinton years and the malaise of Al Gore, they could not fend off the Swift Boat attacks by pointing out a simple, inelegant truth: Larry Thurlow was lying. Nobody—and I mean nobody—stood up during the Reverend Wright controversy and asked the obvious, compelling question: What was the man talking about? What is the story there? After all, how one goes from a medic in the direct service of his president to “God damn America” would seem to be a revealing, relevant story. And none pushed the white preachers, at least not in the major media. Who cares if a white preacher says God punished American sins, or would reach out His hand against America? And if we’re supposed to hear about Barack Obama’s alleged lack of loyalty, why not serve up the Todd Palin story? It’s not just that the AIP was separatist, but that they were sponsored by Iran. I mean, come on. How much more tailored to the moment could you get, and the DNC didn’t pull the trigger.

You know, for most people, this issue is as removed as a professional athlete. That is, when you become a pro athlete, you sign away certain rights. Criticize the team or the league too much and it won’t matter whether you’re right or wrong, you’ll pay a fine for your disobedience. Then again, most people recognize that their own employers don’t want them trashing the company name.

But this is something far more intimate and vital. Think about what the Republicans are asking: In order to work here and earn taxpayer money, you must forfeit your right to pursue conventional justice if you are sexually assaulted on the job.

Those Republican naysayers who are running next year: make them answer for this vote. Force them to explain themselves with stuttering, halting, puffed-up indignity.

And in those constituencies where the naysayers are retiring, oblige their aspiring successors to denounce the vote, to declare themselves among the sane. Demand they criticize their predecessors.

I have a daughter who turns seven in a little over a month. Sure, that doesn’t have to mean anything to you. But what am I supposed to say?

So we’ll leave it to Jon Stewart:

I guess it’s an efficiency thing. You don’t want to waste tax-payer money giving it to someone who advises fake prostitutes how to commit imaginary crimes, you want to give it to Halliburton because they’re committing real gang rape.

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