In this post, I would like to explore the sexual underpinnings that have framed the debt-ceiling debate. I think it’s fairly evident that sexuality, although always present in politics, has been largely suppressed and underreported on by the media in their discourse during the past few weeks. In an attempt to understand what this debate means for the country and for the individual, politicians and the media have fixed their gaze on the differing economic ideologies of the two parties, concluding that ambiguous financial mechanisms spell out class warfare and nothing else. As President Obama noted in his speech last night, “Many are fed up with a system in which the deck seems stacked against middle-class Americans in favor of the wealthiest few.” Predictably, using the age old mantra of conservatism that taxes are bad, Speaker John Boehner responded by saying, “The president has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach — which in Washington means: we spend more… I know those tax increases will destroy jobs.” Although it would be difficult to rule out the importance of class in this debate, I would like to suggest that a sexuality counter-narrative exists, and is more significant than you might think.
Sexuality nearly broke into the mainstream discourse last week during a House of Representatives scuffle between Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Tea Party Republican Allen West. After stating that she found his policy views “unbelievable ,” Rep. Schultz received an e-mail from a furious Rep. West who wrote, “you have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!” Members of the House Women’s Caucus were quick to hold a news conference to decry the sexual implications that Rep. West had brought into the argument. However, after two days of minimal coverage, this episode was largely written off by the media as a personal dispute that ran amok. Sexuality was framed as a distraction from the dire financial and economic woes that surrounded the debt-ceiling debate, and it was quickly forgotten.
What the Schultz-West episode illustrates is the sexual hegemony enjoyed by males in positions of power in the United States congress. Running out of material arguments and insults, Rep. West was quick to instigate an argument based on sexuality and gender, implying that Rep. Schultz supposed aggressive remarks on the House floor did not live up to socially constructed characteristics of what it means to be a “Lady,” and therefore she was out of line.
Worst of all, however, is that Rep. West’s inciting email pointed towards the inflexibility that the Tea Party and their congressmen have towards those who disagree with their viewpoints. By claiming that their ideology has some sort of inherent and natural association with those of the Founding Fathers, members of the Tea Party like Rep. West believe that they hold the authority to label something as deviant, whether it be political, sexual, or otherwise.