At the rate prominent Republicans are turning on Todd Akin this week, you’d think he actually said something to offend them.
When Akin told an interviewer that rape victims don’t need abortion rights because victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant, he wasn’t going rogue. Instead, he was simply repeating the GOP’s official position on reproductive rights in a really, really tasteless way. If Akin’s example is any guide, straying from right-wing orthodoxy in today’s Republican party is less of a crime than simply calling attention to it.
It’s true that Akin’s bizarre belief that rape victims have ways to “shut that whole thing down” is common only among the fringe of the fringe Right. But the anti-abortion orthodoxy that is now part of the official Republican platform is a direct result of that sort of magical thinking. It helps, when denying reproductive choice to all women, to imagine it only benefits a certain type of abortion-craving bogey-woman who brought this on herself. Sometimes that requires some helpful mythology and weird science to smooth over the reality of women’s lives.
It’s the reality of real people that Republican leaders are desperately trying to avoid. As soon as Akin’s comments hit the national news, prominent Republicans starting calling for him to step out of the Senate race in Missouri. Par for the course, once it became clear that that was the thing to do, Mitt Romney eventually joined the onslaught.
What’s puzzling is that Romney and the others aren’t criticizing the substance of Akin’s remarks. They’re just really angry that he’s making them look bad.
It’s strange, but you almost have to admire the right-wingers who are standing up for Akin. At least they’re being honest about what their real position is. Akin’s fellow unhinged congressman Steve King of Iowa backed up his friend’s comments, saying he had never “heard of” someone getting pregnant through statutory rape or incest. Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh said Akin was “wrong” but that he couldn’t understand why his fellow Republicans were in a “rush to pile on.”
Here is what Romney and his fellow Republicans need to do if they want to actually convince Americans that they respect women: stop catering to the wishes of anti-choice extremists and start listening to women.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Two days into this controversy the GOP platform committee approved the “Akin plank” codifying the no-exception policy that Republicans up for election were trying to sweep under the rug. Two weeks after the Akin plank is officially endorsed by the party, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, an unflinching supporter of the policy, will speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual confab supported by some of the most extreme anti-choice groups out there. Two of those groups, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, were among the first to defend Akin. AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer even went as far as to compare Akin himself to a victim of rape.
Romney and his party are trying to run from Akin while holding on to everything he stands for. It’s a tough trick to pull off. So far, they aren’t getting away with it.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post Blog, August 23, 2012
Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s new vice-presidential pick, is best known as the author of and lead cheerleader for a budget plan that would decimate the social contract and require the middle class to pay for massive tax breaks for the wealthy. But it would be a mistake to focus just on his horrible economic ideas. Paul Ryan is not just a one-trick pony.
For instance, while Ryan preaches Ayn Rand’s gospel of economic greed and personal freedoms, he isn’t so fond of individual freedom when it comes to gay people or women. In fact, when it comes to reproductive choice, Ryan is nostalgic for the 1950s. He co-sponsored a so-called “Personhood bill,” which would classify abortion as first-degree murder and outlaw some of the most common types of birth control. A similar bill in Mississippi was rejected last year by 55 percent of voters. That’s right: on reproductive freedom and birth control, Paul Ryan is to the right of Mississippi.
That’s not even to mention Ryan’s support for last year’s “Let Women Die” bill, which would have allowed hospitals to refuse abortions to women, even if their lives were at risk. He also voted, along with most of his Republican House colleagues, to completely eliminate Title X, the program that provides family-planning services, including affordable contraception, to low-income women.
In a rambling essay in 2010, Ryan asserted that Roe v. Wade was a Supreme Court error “virtually identical” to the Dred Scott decision, in which the court ruled that African Americans had no rights as citizens. If Romney’s pick of Robert Bork to head his judicial advisory committee wasn’t clue enough, we now know exactly what would happen to reproductive rights under a Romney-Ryan administration.
Ryan had one brush with support for gay rights back in 2007, when he voted for an early version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a few minutes after voting to kill the bill. But since then, he’s fallen in line with the Right, opposing future versions of ENDA, hate crimes protections, adoption by gay couples, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and of course anything resembling marriage equality. Now he feigns indifference to the whole issue, saying, “I don’t know why we are spending all this time talking about this.” He should ask a few LGBT people why we’re spending time “talking about this”: they might be able to explain why the issue of equal rights is more than a distraction from his plan to gut Medicare.
And then there are the other issues where the Corporate Right and the Religious Right have conveniently found themselves in agreement. Ryan is in the distressingly large “if it’s snowing out, global warming can’t be real” camp, or what the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer calls a “biblical view of the environment.” He speaks the language of the Religious Right’s pick-and-choose approach to the Constitution, saying in his nomination acceptance speech, “Our rights come from nature and God, not government. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes” — code for a Christianist government and the destruction of the social safety net, the twin goals of today’s unified Corporate and Christian Right.
Ryan not only speaks the language of the Religious Right, he is one of them. Ryan is a confirmed speaker at the upcoming Values Voter Summit, a yearly confab hosted by the anti-gay, anti-choice Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel and American Family Association. There, he’ll join right-wing luminaries including anti-Muslim activist and conspiracy theorist Jerry Boykin, anti-Planned Parenthood prankster Lila Rose, and Kamal Saleem, who bills himself as a reformed ex-terrorist… and who is widely considered to be a fraud. The event is a must-attend for candidates who want to appeal to the farthest extremes of the Religious Right, which clearly Romney and Ryan are more than happy to do.
Paul Ryan has a friendly demeanor and an earnest desire to make his case about his terrible economic policy. But we shouldn’t let his focus on turning Medicare into a coupon distract us from the fact that he also wants to bring women’s rights and gay rights back decades and cater to those who think the government should be run exclusively by and for evangelical Christians.
Paul Ryan is the whole package: massive tax cuts for billionaires on the backs of the middle class, plus the Religious Right’s wish list of regressive social policies. In his choice of Paul Ryan, Massachusetts Mitt has sent a rare unambiguous signal about where he wants to take this country. And it’s nowhere we should want to go.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, August 14, 2012
In a perfect world, advocates for women’s health who believe human life begins at the instant of fertilization, and advocates of women’s health who believe in a women’s right to choose, ought to be able to find common ground in their shared mission of finding a cure for cancer.
Liberals were at least willing to give it try. Out of respect for the ethical misgivings of religious conservatives, liberals agreed all funds raised for cancer research and screenings ought to be carefully segregated from the financial support given for abortion services so that no one morally opposed to abortion would feel compelled to lend support to the procedure, however indirectly.
But conservatives were having none of it. In their mind abortion is a sin and a crime and that was that. Any organization connected with the procedure was irredeemably unclean. This was true even if the organization in question performed many other life-saving works and if abortion constituted just 3% of the overall health services the organization provided.
And so, the life-giving alliance between two of the nation’s most prominent organizations in the fight against breast cancer – Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation — may forever be ruined after Komen leaders temporarily pulled funding for Planned Parenthood in deference to the demands of anti-abortion contributors who have long targeted Planned Parenthood for extinction.
The estrangement of these two long-time allies could very well set back the cause of finding a cure for breast cancer, a disease that killed an estimated 39,500 women in 2011 with more than 230,000 new cases reported. But fighting breast cancer seems less important in the minds of anti-abortion militants than destroying an organization they detest as evil.
Even within the Komen organization itself the decision by Komen’s brass to sever all ties with Planned Parenthood seemed to come out of nowhere. That may help explain the angry letters written by those at Komen’s local affiliates who announced they would defy their bosses and continue doing business with Planned Parenthood no matter what the organization’s new policy may have been.
Nonetheless, conservatives were quick to blame liberals for the rift, saying liberals should have been more sensitive to the concerns of abortion opponents in the first place by recognizing that associating in any way with any organization that provides abortions was, for the religiously devout, utterly impossible.
In a column harshly critical of the media’s portrayal of Komen’s leadership as betraying the health needs of women, New York Times conservative Ross Douthat said the decision by Komen to disassociate itself “from the nation’s largest abortion provider” was no more “political” than was the decision by liberals to enlist Planned Parenthood in the fight against cancer in the first place.
For every American who greeted Komen’s decision with outrage and derision, says Douthat, “there was probably an American who was relieved and gratified” by the funding cut for Planned Parenthood, since there are “millions of Americans, including millions of American women” who loath the organization for the 300,000-plus abortions it performs every year and for its “tireless opposition to even modest limits on abortion.”
Maybe. But after conceding that the fight against breast cancer should be “unifying and completely uncontroversial,” Douthat then attacked the media for suggesting the fight against breast cancer should take priority over the objections of abortion opponents, as well as for what he called the “wave of frankly brutal coverage” against anyone seen as sabotaging the fight against cancer with their ideologically-motivated objections.
That the fight to save lives could actually be undermined by those who advertise themselves as “pro-life” is further proof that the most important contribution the Founding Fathers made to democratic thought was to separate religious commitments from governing ones.
The whole point of politics, writes professor Theodore Lowi, is in fact to “trivialize all manner of beliefs drawn from private life” – including religious belief — so as to put them into a form where they can dealt with politically, meaning where compromise is possible.
That is because when private beliefs are pursued without full appreciation of their public consequences, “Act I of the tragedy of the true believer has begun,” he says.
The price we pay for living in a diverse and modern world is that there can be few, if any, non-negotiable demands. The price we pay for securing “domestic tranquility,” in other words, is that we must be governed by politics and not by rote application of rigid religious dogmas or political ideologies where life’s complexities are resolved by reference to 10 easily memorized talking points – or commandments.
Predictably, those who oppose Planned Parenthood and the good-faith compromises that have been made to keep the focus on breast cancer prevention have framed their dispute as an extension of their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of “worship.”
It’s a trump “People of Faith” have been playing a lot.
Just this Sunday, the letter from our own Cardinal that was distributed at Mass began peacefully enough with a greeting to all his “dear brothers and sisters in Christ.” But then, sparing no words, the Cardinal took out after President Obama like Thomas Jefferson against George III as our Cardinal inveighed against a decision by the President on birth control the Cardinal said “strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty of all citizens of any faith.”
I’ll make a deal with the Cardinal: He can have his waiver from the government’s new requirement to provide birth control if the Church puts its objections up for a vote with its employees. Since we’re talking religious liberty here, let’s see if Catholic workers think their religious freedoms are being imperiled by having access to health insurance that pays for birth control.
If workers vote to deny themselves coverage for contraception because their religious convictions forbid it, then I for one agree we should honor that. I’d also be willing to grant the Church a waiver if it agrees to first divest itself of all those benefits it gets from the government and from We the People. But otherwise, the Church must pay to play.
Let’s keep things in perspective here. The Catholic Church maintains schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to fulfill its mission of service to the community. But it also supports these institutions in order to enhance its political power and its ability to use those institutions to shape American culture generally.
It’s in disputes just like these that the Church’s true political nature is revealed to us as the Church flexes its political muscle and shows just how elastic its definitions of “religious worship” really are.
We’re not talking about penitents singing psalms in their pews. In the present dispute, to “worship” means to advance the Church’s anti-contraception agenda by denying contraception coverage to even those non-Catholics who work for the Church, using the premiums it pays as leverage to re-frame the nature of its disagreement with President Obama as one over “religious freedom.”
In the debate over “Obamacare,” “worship” meant pressing for further restrictions on abortion by using as leverage the fact that taxpayer dollars were being used to subsidize the coverage of 50 million uninsured Americans.
But the Church hardly needs provocation or pretexts like these to advance a political agenda or to hide that agenda behind the First Amendment and glittering generalities about religious liberty.
For the Catholic hierarchy, freedom of worship means the right to prevail politically and on any matter Church leaders decide is important.
I remember very well working for Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci when then Boston Cardinal Bernard Law made a special trip to the State House to fight us on the Governor’s nomination of Margaret Marshall to be the first woman chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Cardinal opposed Justice Marshall because she had ruled in favor of abortion rights in the past. And despite the Cardinal’s objection, she was confirmed anyway.
Law, who was later forced to step down in disgrace over his shocking mishandling of the Church’s child abuse scandal in Boston, continued a long tradition of politically promiscuous Bay State Catholic leaders dating back to Cardinal William O’Connell, who towered over Boston politics from 1908 to 1944.
“Authoritarian in temper, medieval in outlook, Cardinal O’Connell sought to remake Boston’s Catholics as soldiers of a modern day Counter Reformation,” wrote Jack Beatty, senior editor of the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly.
Among O’Connell’s political dark horrors, Massachusetts killed a proposed amendment banning child labor that the Cardinal called “socialistic” because it put “the State above the Parents” – presumably preventing those parents from hiring out their children as indentured servants if they so wished.
Along with the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, O’Connell also fought liberalization efforts to legalize the sale and distribution of contraceptives – even for non-Catholics – fueling a controversy that wasn’t resolved until the Supreme Court finally ruled anti-contraceptive laws unconstitutional in 1965.
And, until the 1960′s when these laws were finally repealed, women who taught in the Massachusetts public schools were compelled to resign once they became pregnant because of the Church’s objections to women with small children who worked.
Across the board in American politics today — and not only in matters of religion – right wing interests have been undermining America’s democratic institutions and conventions by insisting we bow down to their demands that they get to re-shape America entirely to their liking.
Politically, we’ve seen this manifested in the institutionalization in the US Senate of minority rule by mostly Southern reactionaries.
Culturally, we’ve seen it in the resurgence of talk about state’s rights for sub-groups, like white conservative Christians, who are dominant at the local level and hope to resist national standards on such things as gender, racial and religious equality.
Even in economics, demands by Republicans that public policy be geared almost exclusively toward assuaging investor “uncertainty” can be seen as a massive redistribution of political sovereignty away from the public and toward the rich who ultimately gain whenever the public interest is subordinated to the arbitrary and subjective whims of the “job creating” investor class.
The larger danger we are talking about here goes by an old-fashioned name that the Founding Fathers used a lot: “Faction.”
The friend of democratic government never finds himself so alarmed for their character and fate “as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice,” writes James Madison in his famous Federalist 10.
And it’s the “instability, injustice and confusion” of factions like a Catholic Church that equates politics with Constitutionally-protected “worship,” or the financial backers who pressured the Komen foundation to compromise its own life-saving mission to advance an extreme pro-life agenda, that Madison said has always been “the mortal disease under which popular governments have everywhere perished.”
Like the leaders of most faction, the Catholic bishops say they are not running a democracy here. And they are right. But the bigger question is whether they will let us have one at all.
By: Ted Frier, OpenSalon, February 7, 2012
Last night Ryan Grim reported that the GOP may force a government shutdown largely over funding for Planned Parenthood under Title X:
At a late-night White House meeting between the president and key congressional leaders, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made clear that his conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through legislation known as Title X. “This comes down to women’s health issues related to Title X,” a person in the meeting told HuffPost.
The negotiations are dominated by men: All of the principal negotiators in both parties are male, as are most of the senior staff involved. (House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have largely been left out of key talks.)
House Republicans have been insisting the roadblock to cutting a new budget deal is not just the culture-war riders attached to the spending plan, but a source familiar with a top-level White House meeting earlier Thursday said most of the discussion in fact was about the riders.
The Hyde Amendment already prevents government funding for abortions, and abortions are a tiny part of the services Planned Parenthood provides.
The government is on the verge of being shut down because Republicans want to inset a provision into the budget that would prevent millions of women from getting contraception or cancer screening. This could be brinkmanship:Because the Republican base sees a shutdown as an end unto itself, the Republican leadership has a really strong political incentive to stretch this out as long as possible and cut a deal at the last minute. If this is the case, then culture war rhetoric serves as political cover for Republican leaders who want to cut a deal that might be hard to sell to the base.
In the past few weeks, we’ve been treated to a bevy of coverage insisting that Republicans have abandoned the culture war and are focusing on fiscal issues. Republicans like these stories because they make them look less extreme. But as Greg noted earlier today: “In its current form, at least, the budget debate is not meaningfully about fiscal matters. It’s over abortion, women’s health, and whether our environmental policies should be premised on climate science.”
What’s more, it’s not like pursuing the culture war and trying to defund the federal social safety net for women are mutually exclusive goals. In this case, they’re complimenting each other — when you’re trying to appease the Republican base, there isn’t a much better sweet spot intersection between the culture war and fiscal conservatism than women’s reproductive health.
By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, April 8, 2011