George Saunders is an award winning writer of short stories and essays. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.
REASON 03: Obama has fully funded the Violence Against Women Act, and supports its reauthorization.
I’m a husband and a father of two daughters. I have a mother, sisters, nieces. So the Violence Against Women Act has real meaning for me.
It’s basically my country saying: women are to be valued here.
The Act, written by Joe Biden, enacted by the Clinton administration in 1994, does some very simple and important things to protect and assist victims of sexual violence and abuse: it funds rape crisis centers and hotlines, allows for the creation of community programs to prevent violence, protects victims who have lost their homes due to domestic violence or stalking, and creates programs to address the unique needs of immigrant women, women of different ethnicities, and women with disabilities.
The ACLU described the Act this way: "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations."
When Barack Obama was running for President in 2008, he promised to fully fund the Act. According to PolitiFact.com, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Political Reporting, he has more than fulfilled that promise. After citing the Office of Management and Budget, which says that Obama’s budget for 2011 "includes $538 million, an increase of $120 million, to support women victims of violence, including domestic abuse and sexual assault victims," PolitiFact goes on to state that President Obama has increased funding for the Act in his 2010 budget and has requested further increases for 2011.
“Promise kept,” concludes PolitiFact.
As of this writing, House Republicans are delaying the 2012 reauthorization of this bill; they have proposed an alternate version (which the NY Times characterized as “regressive”) that differs from the version President Obama has proposed in that it would exclude his new proposed protections for gay, immigrant, American Indian and student victims.
Think about that for a second: Obama is saying that a gay woman who gets abused, raped, or assaulted is as worthy of help as a straight woman; that a woman of American Indian descent who gets abused, raped, or assaulted is as worthy of help as a white woman; that a woman who happens to be a student and is abused is as worthy of help as a woman who is not a student; that a woman who is not a U.S. citizen but is here trying to better her life, enduring all of the hardships and fear and power imbalance and homesickness associated with that choice, and then gets abused, raped, or assaulted, is as worthy of help as a woman who happens to have been born here.
Pretty radical stuff: all women who are abused, raped, or assaulted deserve our support, regardless of race, age, or immigration status.
So this is one of the reasons I admire President Obama and will be voting for him in 2012: he had the right idea about the Act (i.e., increase its funding), improved the Act (by expanding it to include a wider and needful demographic), and is now, quietly and resolutely, fighting for his improved (i.e., more compassionate) version of the bill.
President Obama understands that an important part of our national mission involves the act of the strong reaching down to lift up the weak. His vision of America (like the one Whitman described so beautifully in “Democratic Vistas”) holds that the essential purpose of a democracy is to improve the lot of everyone. Those of us who have our livelihood, and are educated, and are blessed to have some level of control and dignity in our lives – those of us who are safe – are obligated to help those in more precarious positions. Those of us not being abused have a responsibility to use our position of strength to aid those who are. That is a noble and fading vision of America but without it, who are we? What do we stand for? Absent this vision, we are in danger of degenerating into simple materialists, lined up at the trough, grunting: “Pragmatism!” A citizen’s job is to create more citizens, with “citizen” defined as: someone capable of fully participating in her/his society.
The president recognizes, philosophically and legislatively, that a victimized woman is being denied full personhood; his support for the Act makes the clear statement that, yes, it actually is a legitimate function of government (i.e., us, collectively, we the people) to intervene on her behalf, to use our largesse to lift her up and support her and protect her in her time of need – and to prevent future repetitions of her situation.
Life is short, very short, and what are we doing here if not trying to become more generous and loving? This ethos should inform our politics: our leaders should be bold in their empathy, tireless in their desire to see pain reduced; hopeful in their view of mankind; courageous enough to endure the slings and arrows of petty politics in pursuit of noble goals.
In my view, President Obama is this kind of leader, which is why I will be proudly voting for him in 2012.
Syracuse, New York