TAKE TWO. Let me try to explain this again. I was quoting Concerned Women for America. They and other conservative groups have, in recent years, written extensively about why even "perfectly ordinary hookers" should be considered slaves, and they have hailed President Bush for his leadership on this issue. According to Elaine McGinnis of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at CWA:

President Bush has stated in several speeches �� most notably in one at the United Nations �� that �prostitution is inherently harmful to women.�

There has been a growing consensus on the cultural right that prostitution is never a victimless crime, and that even in the United States, it is mainly something that depends on the exploitation of vulnerable and abused young girls and women. In their effort to redescribe prostitution as a form of human slavery, cultural conservatives are in sync with a number of feminist anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking activists. Laura Blumenfeld wrote about this effort in The Washington Post last fall, in an article about what Matt calls "perfectly ordinary hookers":

"The johns use and abuse these young women," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). "And pimps -- you can call them slaveholders, the masters out in the field."

The attitudes of Pryce, who introduced the legislation in the House, and Cornyn, a sponsor in the Senate, reflect a shift in how the government and the public respond to the sex industry. Traditionally, women have been blamed as the source of the problem. But Pryce calls prostitution "modern-day slavery" in which teenage girls are exploited and men fuel the crime.

Behind the scenes, an unlikely coalition of evangelicals, feminists, liberal activists and conservative human rights advocates are pushing the issue. They are trying to reframe the way people talk about prostitutes, calling them "survivors" and signing off e-mails with the slogan "Abolition!"

That's the conversation on this issue right now in conservative circles. That's the frame for this scandal. That's why it's going to be even worse than a regular old sex scandal involving prostitutes would have been, say, ten years ago. The conservative leadership in this country has taken up the anti-prostitution banner as a 21st century moral crusade. They are on the record with some pretty harsh condemnations of men who act as "slaveholders" to "perfectly ordinary hookers." I think they are sincere in their crusade, and I think Bush may surprise some people by taking this scandal much more seriously than the other ones that have recently swirled around his administration. A Republican prostitution scandal is an assault on the conservative self-conception. It must be dealt with harshly if conservatism is to stand for anything.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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