National Laughingstock, Again

By Peter Galuszka

Saturday Night Live’s recent mocking of the Virginia General Assembly’s proposed legislation to force women considering abortion to have trans-vaginal ultrasound exams and establishing conception as the moment of life’s beginning makes the Old Dominion the butt of national jokes once again.

It seems that no matter how Virginians try to build their Commonwealth into a prosperous, happy and rational place, their legislators or politicians let them down. Virginia seems cursed to be regarded as a backward and Gothic Southern state where the rich few are in charge, oppression is rampant and enlightenment far out of reach.

SNL’s skit on Feb. 18 was just another in a series of embarrassments.

Former U.S. Sen. George Allen, now running again for the Senate, brought national shame on Virginia when he rudely called S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old aide for opponent Jim Webb “macaca” during the 2006 campaign. Since Sidarth is dark-skinned and of Indian decent, the comment painted Allen as a racist. He apologized, but lost the election in large part because of the gaffe.

A year before, Virginia’s legislator likewise drew international mockery for the so-called “droopy drawers” bill. The law would have called for $50 fines for wearing underwear over the top of the waistband of one’s trousers. “Most of us would identify this as a coarsening of society,” according to one legislator.

Showing underwear has been a cultural style that’s been fashionable among young people around the world. It had been popular among young African-Americans, so the racial implication was clear. It’s far from the only slight the white-dominated General Assembly has thrust on people of color. As late as the 1960s, for instance, it was a felony for a white person to be married to an African-American.

To be sure, a handful of other states have passed similar ultrasound requirements. Yet Virginia, despite its fine universities and well-educated labor force, simply cannot escape its image as a backward place. Virginia’s leadership needs to take the Old Dominion into the 21st century, or maybe even the 20th.

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10 responses to “National Laughingstock, Again

  1. As I recall, the legislator who authored the “droopy drawers” bill was himself black. That doesn’t make the legislation any less ridiculous, but it does undercut your implication that the measure was a not-so-subtle act of racism.

  2. I figure I will be a lot more supportive of the rights of the unborn just as soon as the parents of those born stop saying “No, because I’m the parent.”

    What is the point of having rights as an unborn, when you start losing them all the second you start to breathe?

  3. A good example of why I tend to stay away from social issues. But I do think that, when people push social issues in any direction, they need to expect others who believe differently to do the same in another direction. I have a hard time understanding how someone who supports legislation to recognize gay marriage, for example, feels someone supporting restrictions on abortion is out of line — and VICE VERSA. What’s sauce for the goose!

  4. For me – it boils down to what is the State’s compelling interest in people’s personal affairs?

    the reason why people seek gay “rights” is that they are seeking the same state-conferred “rights” that others have. Just equality under the law.

    you need look no further than the 1040 to see the disparity.

    I think that abortion is wrong but reality is harsh. In Haiti, kids are sold to others as de-facto slaves and the parents keep on having more. In this country, the number one predator, abusers and killers of kids is their families not strangers.

    and when you have the very same folks who are opposed to abortions – ALSO opposed to contraceptives and access to contraceptives and morning after pills – it takes on some bizarre aspects that when combined with govt and law – something is seriously amiss.

    why in the world would anyone be opposed to contraceptives and morning-after pills for others?

  5. Jim,
    Gee, I guess I’ll have to go look up the records. But whatever. You miss the point. The droopey drawers issue was enormously embarrassing to Virginia and played directly into the hands of image makers who already had a dim view of the state. It is a global market and a global impression. Even if you are right, go tell BBC World Services, “but hey, it was a black guy who suggested this.” I seriously doubt that most Afro-Americans would be placated by that. Why don’t you write the BBC? I’m sure that will change a lot of world views.

    • Uh, Peter, Did I really miss the point? How do you explain this: “Showing underwear has been a cultural style that’s been fashionable among young people around the world. It had been popular among young African-Americans, so the racial implication was clear. It’s far from the only slight the white-dominated General Assembly has thrust on people of color.”

      Yeah, the droopy-drawers bill was dopey, and Virginia deserved the ridicule it got. I just don’t think you help your case by tying a bill written by a black legislator to centuries of white racism. The fact is, a lot of blacks are unhappy with their youth sub-culture, just as whites are unhappy with their youth sub-culture. You severely distort reality by trying to turn it into a racial issue.

  6. I think racism in the Commonwealth of Virginia is largely a thing of the past. At least, racism in VA is no more severe than racism in America overall.

    The date I ascribe to racism in Virginia being no more than average is 1996 – the date that Arthur Ashe’s statue was finally erected in Richmond.

    As usual, Richmond was 30 years behind the times – but, better late than never – I guess.

    As for our General Assembly – no longer racist. Inept, incompetent, half assed, buffoonish, a clown show – yes. But racist, I don’t see it.

    There was a law against droopy trousers. And another prohibiting “truck nuts”. http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?081+ful+HB1452

    One is sort of aimed at African American youth (although my own sons erred on the side of droopy drawers themselves). The other was aimed at owners of pickup trucks (I have an F-150).

    Were these laws a waste of time. Perhaps (although maintaining a civil society is a reasonable exercise of governmental power in my opinion). Were they racist – no.

    But let’s get back to the point – respect for the Constitution. I hate abortion but I respect the Constitution. Therefore, I respect Roe v. Wade even though I disagree, in the strongest terms, with that decision. If you respect the Constitution then you don’t get to pick the parts you respect. You have to respect it all.

    The ultrasound law, the personhood bill, the excessive regulation passed last year all disrespect the Constitution. They all try to use a series of nattering laws to make abortion such an ordeal that women won’t have abortions. Roe v Wade is a fact of Constitutional life. These laws disrespect the Constitution. If you don’t like Roe v Wade – elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who will overturn it or amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion. That would be respect for the Constitution.

    Now, let’s talk Second Amendment. I am a big fan. Once again, I respect the Constitution. I respect the Second Amendment and the Heller decision. I would be very upset at any nitty – tatty infringement of that aspect of the Constitution. When liberals try to nickle and dime my gun rights away, it pisses me off.

    So, what’s the difference between abortion rights and gun rights?

    Nothing.

    Either you respect the Constitution or you don’t.

    I do.

    Even when I disagree. Like in Roe v Wade.

    Why is this hard?

  7. DJ – your principles are admirable but you’re dealing with unprincipled folks who blather on about the sanctity of the Constitution and the importance of appointing “strict constructionists” to “protect” the Constitution and not “legislate from the bench” … unless of course it becoming _necessary_.

    For myself, I’m a realist. I do not think the Constitution is inviolate. Remember, it’s just one of over 200 in the world and the world changes.

    I think the founders fully intended the Constitution to change and to change even without the amendment process.

    Apparently the Conservatives think this because they have no problem with rulings that overturn previous rulings or even stuff in the Constitution itself.

    but again.. someone who is opposed to abortions and at the same time opposed to contraceptives and morning-after pills is not dealing JUST in Constitutional issues.

    it’s almost as if they want our own version of Christian Sharia law.

  8. DJ,
    You’re spot on regarding respect of the Constitution. We are failing, as a society, to understand how important it is to advocate for change through the appropriate structure. People feel so passionate that they start believing that the ends justifies the means. Some of these laws are obviously quite trivial, like the droopy pants stuff. And some are monumental, like the abortion-related items. What they have in common in lawmakers trying to apply their personal beliefs on the citizens. I don’t like to see our freedoms stripped away. Personally, what bothers me most about abortion is that the father can be left out of the decision. I’m a mom of boys and a wife to seriously the best dad on the planet – so that might explain why that issue bubbles up in this specific way in my heart. But nonetheless, I read things like the personhood bill and this ridiculous invasive ultrasound crap and it infuriates me. These are decisions for the human heart, not a legislative body. Keep me safe, build some infrastructure, provide my kids some education, but stay out of the collisions and quarrels of the human soul. Why is it so hard for our legislators on both sides of the ridiculous aisle to get that?

  9. Bacon,
    Come again? Teenaged kids wearing pants with underwear exposed is, in your book, a worrisome trend that could undermine Western civilization?
    How about leg warmers in the 1980s?
    Travolta-like mullets in the 1970s?
    Long haired hippie types of the 1960s?
    Duck-tailed greasers of the 1950s?
    Bobby-soxers crooning for Sinatra in the 1940s?
    etc., etc.

    All I can say is that I am glad you are not my father. I’d have run away long ago!

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