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Republicans soaking up the radiation


One could say that Republicans are all about the so-called "watered-down" legislation lately -- their own versions of what are thought to be Democratic initiatives, tailored to their base's passions and prejudices. (Marco Rubio's DREAM Act doesn't count; he's watering down what was originally a bipartisan initiative.)

House Republicans voted on and approved on one such bill yesterday, their watered-down Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). As much as the conservative base seems to care about making normally procedural votes into cultural battles, you'd think that they're doing it to gain favor with the majority of Americans. The cynical amongst us might wonder why any politician would do anything that wasn't somehow directly related to the maintenance of their own personal station, control and power in politics.

To explain why, I have to first apologize to another host on our network for "going meta," which I consider one of the more annoying rhetorical tactics in our political lexicon. But it seems that Republicans are doing their very best to cater to their own political advantage by not catering to their own political advantage. (How else to explain this, for instance?)

Let's start with the bill that embodies that notion, the budget Republicans voted for overwhelmingly (and symbolically) in the Senate yesterday: the Paul Ryan budget. When it comes to the Ryan budget -- which President Obama wouldn't sign even if it had passed -- by now, you know the drill. TPM's Brian Beutler summed it up well in his recap of the 41-58 vote: the Ryan budget kills Medicare in its current form, replacing it with a privatized voucher program that calls itself "Medicare." You know all those speeches the President has been giving lately about student loans? He's trying to keep the student loan interest rate from doubling...and the Ryan budget would double it. It would also cut food and nutrition programs for the poor, all in the service of giving really wealthy people incredible tax cuts. Ryan's budget does everything but kick your dog, it seems.

Considering how unpopular it was with voters the first time around, you'd think Republicans would be treating Congressman Ryan like, well, like they treat George W. Bush. Yet, he's being talked about as a VP candidate. And his budget, despite recent Republican concerns, keeps getting voted upon. Beutler offers an interesting theory:

It’s a governing agenda many Republicans would like to wash down the memory hole. But over the past year it’s become a Kryptonite touchstone for conservative purity — a plan most Republicans feel compelled to support, but which they understand to be politically deadly.

I'd employ a different comic book metaphor. The Hulk, a raging, green behemoth with the mind of a child (above), became the Hulk when his human alter ego absorbed a normally lethal amount of radiation. Adherence to conservative purity has become so paramount to most in the party that even when legislation that is utterly radioactive to voters is pushed, they vote for it anyway. They absorb all the radiation these bills offer under the belief that they somehow make them stronger, when all it does it make them look more savage and brutish. And unfortunately, their version of the VAWA opens the door to real-life monsters.

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) argued vociferously against the act in her testimony on the House floor yesterday, recounting her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault (video here):

“I took a ride with a guy I thought was a friend…and he decided to take a detour behind some buildings to rape me and choke me almost to death. I went to the hospital, was examined, they could see I had been raped. When we got to court I was on trial…what I wore that night was on trial and he was found not guilty,” Moore said.  “This was 20 years before had the Violence Against Women Act, before we gave law enforcement to the tools to know what the circumstances are. As a woman of color I am particularly aggrieved this bill ignores the circumstances of women who are minorities.”

Indeed, the GOP version of the VAWA takes the version Senate Democrats passed and excludes from it notable groups -- LGBT Americans, undocumented immigrants, and Native Americans -- from  protection under the bill. And it's not just minority groups at risk here, as Rachel Maddow noted in her A block segment last night (there's a reason why a mail-order bride firm was lobbying for the Republican VAWA). Rachel also noted the fact that at the same time, local Washington D.C. politicians are being bullied into supporting anti-abortion legislation. Restricting women's reproductive rights hasn't really helped out Mitt Romney with women voters. No wonder Republicans want to continue making it an issue.

Click below the jump to see our daily reads, and Rachel's interview with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia.