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The Aspirin Papers

Henry James’ novella, The Aspern Papers, is about an unscrupulous obsessive who tries to deceive two vulnerable women to obtain the objects of his desire, the letters of a long-dead poet.

This, “The Aspirin Papers,” is about a group of unscrupulous obsessives who try to deceive all of America to fulfill their obsessive desire: a return to an ancient dreamtime when men ruled the universe and women, when not dutifully and passively prone before their masters, kept their mouths shut.

Reference is made, obviously, to the following comment from Foster Friess the Fabulous Plutocrat and Rick Santorum mega-contributor:

You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.

Friess was commenting on the wildly anachronistic dust-up over contraception, during which some Catholic bishops and other members of Friess’ all-male club decided that employers ought to have the right to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to their female employees.

The scoundrel and narrator of James’ story, says, “It is not supposed easy for women to rise to the large free view of anything.” Friess & Company agree, I assume, and call upon science to confirm that “the large free view” is simply unavailable to womankind owing to the decumbency of their holy and true vocations, pleasing men and birthing babies.

Implicit in Friess’ statement is the belief that women are always there before their male superiors, their legs open and inviting. Depending upon circumstances, this is, in the Friess frame, either proper, wifely duty or such devilish temptation that it is too much to ask even god-faring men to resist. Therefore, steps must be taken. Here, ladies, please hold this aspirin in place with your knees until you are called upon.

Congressional Republicans are busy arguing that the issue is about religious freedom, not contraception. If a woman’s employer happens to be, say, the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is morally opposed to contraception, then said Church should be allowed to deny contraceptives to said employee. To require otherwise of said Church violates the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty. Pish posh. If that was true why did Congressional Republicans rush to file legislation giving that contraceptive-denying right to all employers?

And Friess, no stranger to Republican insiderdom, inadvertently let the cads out of the bag with his aspirin-between-the-knees comment. As I noted elsewhere, most arguments in America that claim our obedience to religious doctrine are mere comedy. We’re simply the best at ignoring these commandments. We are damn good at lying about it, too. Baptists are the best dancers. Catholics down more birth control pills than communion wafers. And Jesus’ pleas to aid the poor are taken about as seriously as an Ogden Nash poem.

Great heavens, this is 2012. Back in the 1960s a friend’s mom, rather scandalously at the time, pinned to her den wall a poster of the Pope pointing out toward the viewer like Uncle Sam. The caption read, “The Pill is a No-No.” That was 44 years ago. And the Pope’s message was being laughed at then!

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, who ran away with my World’s Best Blogger award last week when he quoted singer-songwriter Guy Clark (from “Rita Balou,” “You’d of thought there’s less fools in this world”) when writing about the new Virginia law:

…that requires women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion to have a probe stuck up in them so that they will be shamed like the sluts they are before God and the various meddling members of the House Of Delegates who believe that a woman’s place is in all those movies they watch for five minutes (or less) in their hotel rooms at the annual god-botherer’s convention in Atlantic City…

Anyway, Pierce has also worried aloud that the Republicans will ultimately prevail in this matter by shouting louder than the rest of us, a fear all-too-justified by recent history. By the time the election rolls around, the issue might appear to be over religious freedom and not the re-enslavement of women.

Already we see some Democratic strategerists suggesting the issue will pass when cooler heads (theirs) prevail and the debate returns to the economy, stupid. I hereby ask those tempted to vocally marginalize the progressive side of this debate to place an aspirin or maybe even an ibuprofen between their lips. (Ibuprofen, by the way was patented in 1961, the same year the FDA approved Enovid 5mg as an oral contraceptive, so the gesture would have some aesthetic symmetry.)

It is an issue the Right will use to turn out its base in 2012, and they will not quit shouting about it. If we don’t contest their poppycock, pardon, they’ll succeed in their rhetorical transubstantiation. It needn’t be said that public opinion is on our side on this issue. The proof of that lies in American beds. The issues are women’s health and equality before the law.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith