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Friday, June 12, 2015

Jeb Bush and The Scarlet Letter

The Huffington Post ran an article about how Jeb Bush recommended the public shaming of women who had children out of wedlock way back in 1995. Bush's ideas about public shaming extended beyond unwed parents. He said American schools and the welfare system could use a healthy dose of shame as well. He felt that the juvenile criminal justice system also "seems to be lacking in humiliation." In 2001 he declined to veto a  bill that required single mothers who did not know the identity of the father to publish their sexual histories in a newspaper before they could legally put their babies up for adoption.  I am not sure what led to them dredging up this policy, but there are two things that strike me about it.

The first is that it is yet another perfect example of misogyny.  Bush's rhetoric included condemnation of men walking away from their responsibilities as parents, but it did not include shaming them publically.  While women bear children, they do not do so in the absence of a man's contribution to the biological process.  The disproportionate blame Bush places on women is a window into how he really feels about them.  Take note of that when you enter the voting booth.

The second is the referral to a book.  The Huffington Post noted: "Bush points to Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, in which the main character is forced to wear a large red "A" to punish her for having an extramarital affair that produced a child, as an early model for his worldview. "Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter is a reminder that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots,” Bush wrote."  Okay, that is technically true but it completely misses the mark on what the book is about.  This this just makes him look ignorant at worst or like he didn't read the book at best.  The take home message, as any high school student who read this in English can tell you, is that the public shaming of Hester went terribly wrong. The book is a cautionary tale against the value of shaming, not a support of it.

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