RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Once the word “transvaginal” became a big joke on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” it wasn’t long before Virginia’s conservative Republicans realized they had overreached on abortion.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and GOP state lawmakers Wednesday abandoned a bill requiring women to undergo an intrusive type of sonogram before an abortion — an abrupt reversal that demonstrated the power of political satire and illustrated again how combustible the issue of women’s reproductive health has become over the past few weeks.
“You never want to get on the wrong side of popular culture,” said Steve Jarding, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Democratic consultant who has run campaigns in Virginia. He added: “When people are laughing at you, you know you’ve gone too far.”
First of all, conservatives’ entire reason for existence is to be on the wrong side of pop culture. Everything they do, from slamming “liberal Hollywood values” to their state and national legislative efforts, is because conservatism by its very definition is a knee-jerk reaction to pop culture. Every single thing the culture has embraced — being educated, protecting the environment, providing for the needy, birth control fer crissakes — has in recent years been labeled elitist, liberal, and therefore, bad. American conservatives have valiantly fought against pop culture since it was invented, since the first parent railed against that evil rock and roll music, the PTA held its first book barbecue, and the first school principal initiated a dress code.
But I do agree that mockery works and words have power. I really believe what sunk the Virginia ultrasound legislation was the word “transvaginal.” The word “vagina,” as Eve Ensler well knows, is a cultural sand pit. It’s a veritable, um, booby trap of icky associations and images of the nasty. So no, it’s not that Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live mocked Virginia conservatives: let’s face it, those folks have been mocking conservatives for years. No, it’s that they did so by screaming the word “TRANSVAGINAL” at the top of their lungs.
And here is how we win, liberals. The left is not nearly as good at political linguistics as is the right; we don’t have a Frank Luntz. So listen to Southern Beale: Attach the word “vagina” to anything conservatives want to do and I guarantee they will run for the hills like the scared little babies they are. It’s not a war on women’s reproductive freedom, it’s a war on VAGINAS. You’re not defunding Planned Parenthood, you’re threatening VAGINAS. And hell, why stop there? It’s not Social Security, it’s VAGINA Security. Global Vagina Warming. National Vagina Security. Why the hell not.
Years ago someone in the lefty blogosphere coined the phrase “SCARY VAGINA” — it might have been Atrios, heck he’s the source of pretty much every blog meme we have. It’s a euphemism for politicians’ fear of women in power, and it ironically started as an attack on Democrats who were too afraid of the abortion issue to stand up for women’s reproductive rights. But it grew to encompass conservatives when they developed Hillary Clinton Derangement Syndrome.
So now I ask you this: who’s afraid of Vagina Wolf? Democrats have learned a powerful lesson here: stop worrying and love the vagina. Because Republicans haven’t, and they won’t.