Joe Barton and Cargo Cult Excuses in the Broken System

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we’ve got a two-fer to celebrate! See, the latest Republican sex scandal has hit the news: Joe Barton, an excruciating corporate lackey from Texas who goes in for that family values hogwash, has been exposed as having sent dick pics and masturbation videos of himself to women who weren’t his wife and having lots of non-marital sex. His excuse for this behavior was quite interesting–and a good illustration of exactly why Christianity is failing and deserves to do so. I’ll show you what Joe Barton’s excuse is and how it illustrates his cargo-cult understanding of consent. To help us bring that point home, I’ve got some scans from that dating seminar too! It’s a Thanksgiving miracle, right here at Roll to Disbelieve.

A cross adorning the site of a cargo cult. (Tim Ross, CC.)
A cross adorning the site of a cargo cult. (Tim Ross, CC.)

A Republican’s Republican.

In the hands of Republican strategists, hatred, exclusion, and the stripping-away and denial of people’s bodily rights all becomes family values, which evokes in Christians’ minds the image of holy paladins fighting for the downtrodden and disadvantaged.

There are two different ways that Republican politicians can emerge as the cream of the crop in shameless pandering about famblee values. We’re most familiar lately with the moral crusaders bleating and thumping their chests about borshun and gay marriage and bathroom bills. We’ve examined at length why Republicans got into bed with religious wingnuts as well as why and how these politicians shrewdly deploy culture-war talking points to push the faithful into voting in desired ways.

But the other side of the Republican coin is pandering to the party’s true masters: big corporations’ leaders, who are arguably the real controllers of the party. If Republican politicians could appease their masters in ways that didn’t require fundagelical votes at all, you can bet that not a single one of them would care about famblee valshnues, being as it is a concept intended purely and only to get fundagelicals into voting booths and pressing the correct buttons for the correct candidates.

When a Republican politician can be good at both forms of pandering, then surely he is the famliest valuest Republican of them all.

That’s where we find Joe Barton. He’s been a darling of the Religious Right for decades with his unique fizzy, foamy combination of bigotry-for-Jesus, misogyny, poor-shaming, and corporate brown-nosing. He doesn’t typically catch the attention of his subculture’s critics because he doesn’t grandstand about his exact religious affiliations and fervor like the worst of his peers do to bolster their street cred with fundagelicals, but make no mistake at all: he’s down in the bottom of the barrel right alongside his party-van pals Roy Moore and Mike Huckabee and has been from the very start of his time in the House of Representatives (his first election was in 1984). Not grandstanding about his church affiliation might well be the only thing that I semi-approve of that this guy does.

(But then, a Republican doesn’t need to actually be a fervent fundagelical to effectively pander to fervent fundagelicals. Some of the most effective shit-stirrers of the Religious Right are trying their best to keep their faith cards very close to their vests. And it seems clear that the Reconstructionists and Dominionists of the Christian Right sure think that Joe Barton’s one of theirs–even, perhaps, a key part of how Texas became such a dysfunctional Dark Carnival of religious overreach.)

And wow, the Family Research Council (FRC) adores Joe Barton. You might remember them as the nice people who employed Josh Duggar through their lobbying group Family Research Council Action–and then had to fire him after his sex abuse scandal broke. Like a lot of lobbying and watchdog groups do, the FRC gives politicians scores to describe how well-aligned each one is with fundagelicals’ politicized goals.

Joe Barton earned a 100% rating from the FRC just a year ago–alongside a 0% from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (in 2014). That means he’s never met a fundagelical talking point he didn’t like or a culture war he couldn’t wade right into with both fists flailing. He’s very much a belligerent, chest-thumping example of a typical fundagelical culture warrior–as well as willfully ignorant of what the Constitution says or means in his rush to try to enshrine his chosen flavor of Christianity into government under that redefined religious liberty buzzword that his tribe thinks fools anyone but themselves.

It’s really his pandering to the party’s crazy-billionaire money that tends to raise critics’ ire, though. Back in 2010, Esquire put Joe Barton in the #1 position in their list of the “10 Worst Members of Congress.” It wasn’t because of his pandering to fundagelicals; instead, he earned his place on the list because of his beyond-shameless pandering to corporate interests, in this case the oil/gasoline company BP. At the time, he served on the Energy and Commerce Committee. When it came time for him to question the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, over their oil spill in the Gulf Coast, Barton instead apologized to Hayward–TWICE, no less–for his peers’ audacity in suggesting that BP perhaps pay for the environmental catastrophe they’d unleashed. Esquire openly called him “a lobby puppet,” “a helpful valet,” and “the very face of corruption in Washington.” They declared that “in their wildest dreams, Big Oil could not have imagined a more obsequious servant” — and Joe Barton’s corporate masters rewarded their loyal, nattering shill with some USD$1.5 million over 20 years. He later retracted the apology, but one wonders if he would have done so if he hadn’t been hit so immediately with criticism over it.

And last, Joe Barton is the craven Republican culture warrior who told a constituent of his during a town hall event in Frost, Texas to “shut up” about his opposition to federal legislation that would have given women better protection from violence.

So Joe Barton years ago sold his soul to the highest bidder in exchange for almighty mammon. Too bad, so sad, American taxpayers and Planet Earth. Get better lobbyists next time, eh wot m8?

As it turned out, though, this obsequious lobby puppet wearing the very face of corruption also turns out to be a blazing, raging hypocrite on the other side of the Republican pandering coin as well: fanvilly vanshoes.

Who’d’a thunk?

The Scandal.

Recently a picture turned up on an anonymous Twitter account of Joe Barton’s naked bod, apparently including his junk. As far as I can tell, nobody’s fessed up to publishing it there, but he has verified that it is indeed an authentic picture of him and L’il Joey.

Now, certainly he’s not the first Republican Congresscritter whose nudes have surfaced. In fact, one of the more dramatic of these, in my opinion, would be the ones apparently of Puerto Rican Senator Roberto Arango (and his posterior) that showed up back in 2011. And we cannot easily forget the anti-gay North Dakota Senator Randy Boehning, who sent an unsolicited dick pic to a man on dating app Grindr in 2015. So really, Joe Barton’s joined an illustrious and rapidly-expanding brotherhood of Republicans who campaign for famleer varuloos during the day but by night practice very, very different values.

Here’s how it went down: in 2011, while he was still very much still legally married to his second wife Terri, Barton was online trolling for some strange. One particular woman — let’s call her “Alice” — responded to something he wrote on Facebook and I guess he liked the look of her profile pic or something because he slid into her DMs and they began chatting from there. At some point he sent her the nude selfies, and eventually she got treated to a video of him masturbating.

“Alice” was one of those women who gets really flutterpated by the attention of powerful men, and this one was paying her a lot of attention all of a sudden. They finally had a couple of what sound like the least fulfilling sexual encounters of all time before he realized that his new lover was actually in communication with at least a few of his other lovers.

Because yes of course this most unlikely-seeming of Casanovas was actually sharing himself with a whole bunch of other women. And it seems to me that ratfink skunks like Joe Barton are about the last men who really want to hear that their various mistresses are making friends during recess.

So he did what one would expect a Paladin of the Most Holy Order of Famnee Valminoes to do in this situation: he totally panicked and threatened “Alice” with legal action if she ever talked to anyone about how they’d totally soiled themselves with sin–and he did it in a conversation she recorded.

“Alice” did not have his consent to record the call, and you can bet that in the wake of the scandal’s publicizing he’s been making a very big deal out of that. When he threatens his lovers with retaliation for exposing his complete hypocrisy, he prefers it to be kept totally secret, dammit! “Alice” herself says that she totally didn’t publish the pictures or make public the tape she’d recorded but that she felt “intimidated” by his threats, so it’s understandable to me that she’d want to protect herself. I myself recorded a similar tape of Biff threatening me by phone after our breakup. He required a refresher course on its existence every so often–and I’m 100% sure that this tape’s existence is all that kept him from retaliating as hard as he could against me for leaving him and refusing to return. So gang, I’m sympathetic. Can’t help it.

And the excuse he offered “Alice” was very telling.

The Cargo Cult of Consent.

Here’s what Joe Barton told “Alice” in answer to her question of how exactly he would sic the Capitol Hill Police on her:

I would tell them that I had a three-year undercover relationship with you over the internet that was heavily sexual and that I had met you twice while married and had sex with you on two different occasions and that I exchanged inappropriate photographs and videos with you that I wouldn’t like to be seen made public, that you still apparently had all of those and were in position to use them in a way that would negatively affect my career. That’s the truth.

He later issued a statement in which he stressed the “consensual” nature of their affair. And that insistence on consensuality has formed a big part of every one of his statements on the matter. He’s also stressed that his partners were “mature women,” thus painting a very favorable picture for his constituents that contrasts with his party-mate Roy Moore’s predatory behavior toward underage girls.

Our first impulse might be to laugh till we cried about how a Republican who’s spent his career fighting the idea of consent is now using the language of consent as a magic shield to try to get people to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP about his hypocrisy. And we’d be quite right to laugh. Joe Barton only has the very vaguest idea of what consent means–which is how he rationalizes a staunch and brutally misogynistic stance regarding women’s rights and safety.

It’s very easy to think, reading his excuses for why it was totally okay for him to violate his religious tribe’s rules about dating and sex, that he seriously thinks that these excuses will work because he sees people who are not in his religious tribe using that language regarding consensual sexual relationships. 

He’s like a cargo cult believer.

cargo cult is a religious cult created by people in developing cultures who try to imitate a technology or behavior in order to gain for themselves the same magical benefits that they see coming to the people who possess that technology or the skill to perform that behavior. (The concept already applies well to pseudoscience, which contains a lot of the trappings and even jargon and gadgetry of real science to create patently childish and error-filled theories and conclusions.)

As an example, say that the people in a particular developing culture see airplanes flying in from the sky to land on a runway. They don’t know how planes work at all and certainly can’t create real ones that really fly. But they pick up on external features and details involved in airplanes–like wings and propellers–and think that if they can recreate those features as best they can, they’ll get the benefits of airplanes, namely RL loot crates of goods that could only come to their island nation that way.

So they build these really primitive imitation airplanes and worship these things, thinking that if they do this then they’ll get the same benefits that they see coming to the people who have real airplanes. Other cargo cults associate the loot crates with military maneuvers, so they try to imitate those maneuvers as best they can to invoke the magic for themselves.

As RationalWiki puts it so well, cargo cults are really an illustration of something Arthur C. Clarke used to say: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Joe Barton has no idea what consent is, why it’s important, or why it’s part of a robust suite of human rights for both men and women. He just knows that he sees other people saying that any relationship between consenting adults is okay, and he’d really, really love for the people criticizing him to “shut up,” as he said to that town hall guy not too long ago.

Joe Barton and Consent: the Reality.

First, Joe Barton doesn’t actually understand consent, much less like it.

From “Alice’s” description, Barton used his status as a Congresscritter to impress her–and it worked. When things went south, he was equally quick to lash out at her with implications that he’d have her arrested by the Capitol Hill Police–an organization that she might not even have realized existed and that sure sounds kinda Secret Police-y. The threat was meant to frighten and intimidate her, and she got the message loud and clear.

Further, the fundagelicals he’s pandering to are complementarians, which means that they believe that women categorically do not have equality with men or the right to consent or not consent to anything men do to them. Men are always superior to women. Men always have all the real power in any relationship they have with a woman, while women always have to cobble together whatever influence they can over the men who own their bodies. Women pass from one owner to the next in succession: from fathers to husbands (and back again if their marriages sour). That’s why feminism, with its absolute insistence that every person owns his or her own body, scares them so much: it deprives fundagelical men of any justification for lording themselves over women, and empowers women to reject that unfair system.

Even if Joe Barton actually relied on consent to inform his worldview regarding sex/relationships, he’s very selective about when he respects its power–which his crusade to end ALL legal abortion EVERYWHERE tells us. Abortion is, at heart, a consent issue–and fundagelical leaders know that on at least some level, since their tactics are aimed at negating women’s self-ownership rather than lessening the need for abortion. Barton’s efforts to strip women of their rights in one arena make his efforts to claim that consent governed all his actions in another arena look very, very weird.

Second, if he’s pulling out his nuclear option of threats of deploying scary-sounding government forces and filing criminal charges against “Alice” over the idea that she might share his n00dz with (it sounds like) his other mistresses, it is crystal-clear that he is happy to use coercion and force whenever it suits him.

His outburst at the town hall is how he really engages with pushback. One wonders if “Alice” made a few very important mental connections when she heard about that story.

Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But it gets worse.

When he initially asked “Alice” if she wanted to see a picture of him right when they began chatting privately online, she said NO.

She was very up-front about that. She said, “Oh no, no. Please do not do that.” She did not consent to receive that stuff from him.

He sent it anyway, counting on his to be star-dazzled enough by his status to get over whatever pique she might have felt over him trampling her boundaries like that.

Talk about skeevy!

WWJD?

Third, Joe Barton doesn’t get to make himself into a fundagelical culture warrior if he can’t even abide by the tribe’s extremely clear rules.

It’s annoying when fundagelicals try to impose rules on others that they either can’t or simply refuse to follow themselves, and this is no exception to that generality! He had to know that it would be hypocritical to court the favor of the Religious Right while simultaneously “scouring the internet looking for a new sexual liaison,” as “Alice” put it.

Joe Barton, like Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and a host of other serial abusers and predators, shows us very clearly that fundagelicalism’s rules for relationships don’t work and that the system has no way to keep powerful men from preying upon powerless women–and no way to rebuke or rein in those powerful men when–not if–abuses and scandals come to light.

(The phrase it’s okay if you’re Christian/Republican didn’t just emerge out of thin air.)

The Rules Aren’t Optional.

I promised you scans and now we’re at the scans part of the evening!

The “Love/Life Principles Dating Seminar” I attended (details in the previous post) as a teen in the mid-1980s had quite a lot to say about sex and dating rules in fundagelicalism. The whole seminar began with a quick introduction to why the Christian god seemed to have so many rules about that topic!

First off, the seminar had to establish how dangerous people were to themselves without a firm ruleset imposed upon them.
P4. First off, the seminar had to establish how dangerous people were to themselves without a firm ruleset imposed upon them.

“There Is A Difference Between A Rule and a Principle!” (p.4)

As page 4 of the seminar makes clear, fundagelicals think that the “basic reaction to rules and laws” for human beings is to “Rebel,” which is what I dutifully filled in on the very first blank. Our “sin nature,” according to the seminar’s creator, creates in us “our basic motivation,” which is “self rule.”

Self rule is the worst thing ever, too! People who rule themselves instead of submitting properly to their slave-master deity get into no shortage of trouble (girls especially, as we’ll see as we go along).

And fundagelicals, who should know better than anybody else how important their god’s rules are, aren’t immune at all to that desire to “Rebel” with “self rule.” So in their worldview, their god created his rules to protect his slaves and keep them out of terrible trouble. To them, there’s always a reason why this god dictates stuff.

The results of this philosophy are nothing short of cosmically hilarious, as fundagelicals struggle over and over again to come up with Just-So Stories to explain why their rules are so labyrinthine, pointlessly distressing and cruel, and totally arbitrary-sounding. Nope, it’s not like that at all! Instead, those rules exist because humankind would destroy itself without a little gentle guidance from a loving Daddy God.

Page 5: "Let's Understand Some of God's Principles So We Can Understand His Reasons for the Rules!"
P5: “Let’s Understand Some of God’s Principles So We Can Understand His Reasons for the Rules!”

So that’s what this seminar is about: making the participants feel that they are defective and broken so that they’ll be more likely to accept this seminar’s imposed ruleset and not push back against how inhumane and cruel the rules sound.

As page 5 goes on to elaborate, “When God says ‘don’t’, [sic], He does so for at least two reasons: 1. To Protect you. 2. To Guide you.”

It’s worth noting as well that this binder’s creators–as well as the Southern Baptist megachurch that sponsored this travesty–fully buys into the idea of Hell, too, so these rules aren’t just a flippy-dippy feel-good self-help instruction left by a helicopter-parent god who just lurrrrrves his slaves so much he can’t let them figure anything out for themselves. They are all accompanied by a vicious, brutal threat: Hell. There’s only one penalty for disobedience, and it’s eternal, eon-bending years of physical torture for a person’s finite thoughtcrimes over a century or so tops. 

So when we see fundagelical leaders or panderers who are breaking the tribe’s rules about how people should behave and conduct themselves, then we need to keep in mind one very, very important truth:

Fundagelicals think that their rules are not only imposed by an omnipotent god, but that this god imposes those rules for a very distinct reason. That reason is to protect and guide his slaves, who otherwise would destroy their lives without having rules laid down very clearly upon them under the threat of eternal torture for noncompliance.

And thanks to seminars just like this one, this viewpoint is one of the most common you’ll run across in the religion regarding why most Christian groups’ rules look the way they do.

That means that Joe Barton is well aware of how important it is for him to be celibate outside of marriage. He knows that divorce is off-limits except in super-narrow situations (which his two ex-wives might have been allowed to do thanks to his adulterous leanings). He knows that non-marital sex is absolutely not okay. He even knows that masturbation is totally off-limits.

But none of that mattered when he actually wanted to do all that stuff himself.

Freedom for me, not for thee: that’s Fundagelicalism 101!

Next time, we’ll be looking at self-rule itself: why Christians seem so scared of it, and why leaders should be scared of it. See you next time as we cover why this seminar seems custom-designed to destroy young people’s ability to make friends.

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