Alberto Gonzales and the Road to Handmaid’s Tale

by Sunsara Taylor

Revolution #009, July 24, 2005, posted at

It’s been years since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s portrayal of the fictional “Republic of Gilead.” The narrator, Ofglen—who is denied even her own name—describes a future land where women have been reduced to breeders; where minorities labor in chains to clean up the fields of toxic waste; and where “heretics” and rebels are gruesomely executed in the public square to set an example.

Lately, real life—a public book-burning in Colorado, a U.S. senator calling for the execution of abortion providers, the demonization of gay people, the popularization of restrictive and repressive “covenant marriages”—has provoked me to recall scenes from this book. Each day, in increments, events are slipping ever further into the unconscionable. So when I saw a woman reading The Handmaid’s Tale on the train a few days ago I had to talk with her.

At first she stuck to comments on the plotline and writing style, but soon she too crossed over into the chillingly similar realities of today. The tale of the handmaid is from the Bible, and Atwood portrays a society where such stories are enforced literally and women are “issued” by the state to men for the purposes of domestic work and childbearing. We discussed how today’s Christian fascists aren’t at all concerned for fetuses or even real children, but are dead-set on controlling women’s reproduction and sexuality and reducing us to breeders as well.

Like many I have spoken to, she wondered out loud why the Democrats keep rolling over and refusing to stand up for women’s right to abortion, against the war, or anything else that really matters. She underscored how bad this is given that there is an opening to be filled on the Supreme Court. She is clearly exasperated and at a loss when she says, “I hope that Bush appoints Gonzales and that he will have trouble from the right wingers.”

I was taken aback. I have heard all the complaints from the major theocrats that Gonzales was not tough enough on abortion and affirmative action. But Gonzales signed off on the opinions justifying the hell of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. And I can imagine, without much effort, Gonzales approving the same practices of holding people incommunicado, without either charges or lawyers and the same practices of psychological and physical torture used there, should women like this at some point come into the sights of the state.

This woman—who is afraid of a real-life Handmaid’s Tale—finds that very fear trapping her in exactly the dynamic that will lead us down the road to the Republic of Gilead, accepting and even promoting something who just weeks ago was unconscionable because today they seem (!) slightly less terrifying than the alternative presented. What does it tell us when the “slightly less terrifying” end of the political spectrum is an architect and apologist for a whole system of torture?!

The World DEFINITELY Can’t Wait!

"There is not going to be some magical ’pendulum swing.’ People who steal elections and believe they are on a ’mission from God’ will not go without a fight.

"There is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party. This whole idea of putting our hopes and energies into ’leaders’ who tell us to seek common ground with fascists and religious fanatics is proving every day to be a disaster, and actually serves to demobilize people.

“But silence and paralysis are NOT acceptable. That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept. There is no escaping it: the whole disastrous course of this Bush regime must be STOPPED. And we must take responsibility to do it.”

from “The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!