Consider the Source

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appears to have crossed the Todd Akin Line in an online discussion at WaPo today, as WaPo’s own Valerie Strauss reports:

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said Tuesday that America’s educational troubles began when women began working outside the home in large numbers.

Bryant was participating in a Washington Post Live event focused on the importance of ensuring that children read well by the end of third grade. In response to a question about how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, he said:

“I think both parents started working. The mom got in the work place.”

Bryant seems to have instantly realized he’d stepped in it (and/or a frantic staffer signaled to him off-camera), and so he started qualifying and back-tracking without retracting his remarks. And so they remain on the record.

Is it unfair for us progressive gabbers to pounce on him? I have somewhat mixed feelings. Sure, politicians say things they don’t mean to say from time to time. But it’s not exactly my job to help the likes of Phil Bryant stay on message. So the simple approach in trying to decide if a “gaffe” like Bryant’s is significant is to consider the source. After all, Todd Akin himself in his famous and politically fatal ruminations on rape was echoing a very familiar meme of the anti-choice movement, in defense of a position (no exceptions to an abortion ban for victims of rape and incest) that he continued to maintain without interruption before and after the “gaffe.” It was fair to say that although he regretted his failure to confine the remark to entirely friendly audiences, he was honestly if inadvertently giving us a glimpse into his world-view, and that’s always relevant, particularly when you are talking about someone who would very much like to deny women the right to choose.

So what about Phil Bryant? Are there reasons to suspect he’s prone to the view that the women-folk screwed up American education with their uppity ways?

Well, there was this incident back during the 2009 battle over a “personhood” initiative (banning all abortions, all “abortifacients” like Plan B, and arguably many forms of regular old contraception) that turned out to be too extreme even for Mississippi voters (as reported at the time by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal):

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that “Satan wins” if voters reject Initiative 26 that defines personhood at fertilization.

“This is a battle of good and evil of Biblical proportions,” the Republican gubernatorial nominee told a pro-26 rally attended by about 30 supporters at Tupelo City Hall.

Bryant appeared with American Family Association’s Rev. Donald Wildmon, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Alan Nunnelee in support of the initiative.

Cristen Hemmins of Oxford, an opponent, attended the event with four other anti-26 advocates. Hemmens, who was raped and shot twice during a kidnapping as a college student, asked Bryant, “Why can’t you men have any sympathy for women like me?”

Bryant told her he is sympathetic to situations like hers but said he believes “that the child has some rights, too, even in that condition.”

Does this perhaps create a soupcon of reasonable suspicion that Bryant believes in an eternal social order dictating that women just need to get used to second-class citizenship and focus on their reproductive duties? Call me unbalanced if you wish, but I think it does. And since the jesuitical practice of hiding one’s true views as a tactical matter is very commonplace among Christian Right types, I think we are at least entitled to consider Bryant’s remarks today as a valid data point.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.