Monday, August 27, 2012

The Republicans Are Akin

August 27, 2012, 11:05 a.m.

And Platforms Are Like a Box of Chocolates

["My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." -- "Forrest Gump," (1994).]

Both parties' platforms, and candidates, are stews of many ingredients -- comfort with, commitment to, and membership drawn from the over- and under-privileged; ideology, including sense of noblesse oblige, support of unions and social programs, proportions of individualism and communitarianism; the demands of special interest advocates and contributors; factions within the party; and historical positions.

There are many differences between the parties on the issues. Most will be saved for future blog entries.

But when it comes to women's issues there is good news and bad news. The good news is the progress -- having just celebrated the anniversary of women's constitutional right to vote (first proposed 1848, finally granted in the Nineteenth Amendment, August 26, 1920), Title IX (40th anniversary), women bringing home more Olympic medals than the men (thank you Dr. Christine Grant!), and even the Augusta Country Club finally admitting at least two women to membership.

The bad news? The Republicans didn't get the memo.

There are two ways in which the Republicans are Akin at their Republican National Convention in Tampa this week.

(1) They are achin'. One of their own, Todd Akin, a Member of Congress who sits on the House Science Committee and is now running for a U.S. Senate seat, has revealed that his lack of compassion for pregnant rape victims ("he argued against allowing abortions in cases of rape") is exceeded only by his ignorance of their biological science. ("He claimed a woman's body can typically fend off pregnancy during a 'legitimate rape' . . ..")

Candidates fear Akin's identification as a Republican may make it more difficult for Mitt Romney, and other Republicans, to win in November. "Romney calls on Rep. Akin to drop Senate bid over 'rape' comments," Fox News, August 21, 2012 ("Mitt Romney joined several other Republicans Tuesday in calling on Missouri Rep. Todd Akin to give up his bid for Senate over his controversial comments on rape, as the Republican congressman continued to hold his ground and vowed to stay in the race.").

(2) They are Akin. It turns out that Akin is no errant Republican minority of one wandering in the wilderness when it comes to banning all abortions with no exceptions. The reason Akin is a walking Republican disaster is precisely because his "no exception" views are not unique to him. Although previously unknown to many voters, Akin's no-exception stance is the position of a great many Republicans. It has long been a part of the national, and many state, Republican platforms. Although Romney has tried to distance himself, it is the view of the vice presidential candidate hand picked and thoroughly vetted by Romney, Congressman Paul Ryan, plus a goodly number of Ryan's House colleagues.

(For example, the Republican's 2008 Platform says, "we assert . . . and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children" -- with no mention of exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. 2008 Republican Party Platform, p. 52.)

And this year?
This year, the Republican platform will include abortion language adopted last week that reaffirms the party's objection to legalized abortion, with no mention of exceptions for cases of rape or incest. . . .

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said last week . . . "[T]hese guys are proud pro-life candidates and we're a proud pro-life party."
William Douglas, "Romney and GOP lay out agenda," Miami Herald/McClatchy Newspapers, August 27, 2012 [Gazette, "Romney, GOP Lay Out Agenda," August 27, 2012, p., 1].

Of course, it's possible to make too much of party platform planks. As the sub-head, above, puts it, "Platforms Are Like a Box of Chocolates" -- and to continue Forrest Gump's line, "you never know what you're gonna get."

Parties aren't too insistent on candidates endorsing and following up on platforms. Elected officials who intend to follow them may find that a change in conditions -- war, the economy, the weather, public opinion -- can necessitate a change in direction, and policy. Presidents discover the power of the House and Senate to frustrate their best intentions -- just ask President Obama.

However, the Republican Party's opposition to a range of women's rights, including abortion (sometimes with, sometimes without, exceptions) is much more than a platform plank. It has been embedded in proposed (and enacted) legislation. It has been the stuff of Republican officials' campaign and other speeches. It is something that enjoys widespread support among those who hold office as Republicans.

Consider, for example, this assessment of Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan's positions on women's issues:
For years, he has been a reliable vote against workplace equity for women, opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to file wage-discrimination lawsuits, and two similar measures.

The full outpouring of hard-right enthusiasm is based, to a large degree, on Mr. Ryan’s sweeping opposition to abortion rights. He has long wanted to ban access to abortion even in the case of rape, the ideology espoused in this year’s Republican platform. (Mr. Romney favors a rape exception.) Mr. Ryan also co-sponsored, along with Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a bill that would have narrowed the definition of rape to reduce the number of poor women who can get an abortion through Medicaid.

Besides that, he has co-sponsored more than three dozen anti-abortion bills, including measures that would require women to get an ultrasound first, bar abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia and end federal spending for family planning programs. Though he urged Mr. Akin to end his Senate race last week over an offensive remark about “legitimate rape,” Mr. Ryan has actually co-sponsored more of these measures than Mr. Akin.

“I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” he said in 2010.

He also co-sponsored a bill last year to allow employers to decline coverage of birth control if it violated their moral or religious convictions, and his budget would end all government financing for Planned Parenthood while slashing spending on prenatal care and infant nutrition.
Editorial, "Paul Ryan’s Social Extremism," New York Times, August 27, 2012, p. A18.

Here is a comparable assessment: "A much more far-reaching bill [than Republicans' bills banning abortion] co-sponsored by Ryan, the 2011 Sanctity of Human Life Act, states that the 'life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent' and empowers states to 'protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions' that meet this definition of personhood. Not only would this give states the ability to treat any kind of abortion as murder, experts have said it could also ban in vitro fertilization procedures and some forms of birth control like the 'morning after' pill." Benjy Sarlin, "A Brief Guide To Paul Ryan’s Abortion Record," TPM, August 23, 2012.

I have written relatively favorable evaluations of both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan in prior blog entries -- in which I do not discuss their positions on the issues. "Why Mitt Romney? Better Than 'Least Worst' Republican," March 22, 2012; "Is Ryan Ready . . . To Be President?", August 14, 2012.

That distinction is perhaps the most important take-away from this blog entry. As I commented along with the praise of Romney,
"no matter how wonderful a presidential candidate of either party might be, he or she brings with them a cast of thousands to which at least some deference must be paid. (Although, as President Obama has shown the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party that got him the nomination and much of the election, it need not be all that much deference.) I'm not thrilled with the national and Iowa leadership of either party. But I think the Democratic Party's gang of party members, major contributors, political consultants, staffers, lobbyists, elected officials, influence peddlers, and hangers-on would be at least marginally better than those who would surround and pressure any Republican president.
Without parsing possible distinctions, let's concede that all four -- Obama, Biden, Romney and Ryan -- are each, as individuals, sufficiently intelligent, skilled and able to perform in the office for which they are running.

That is why it is a bit misdirected to consider this presidential election a choice between two (or four) white guys. It is, rather, a choice between two large wagon loads of baggage, and the folks who are pulling one wagon rather than another. Frankly, if both the House and Senate were controlled by progressive Democrats, I think Romney's record as Massachusetts governor provides some evidence that (with the possible exception of tax cuts for the wealthy) he would govern, as president, somewhere to the left of where Obama has been able to go. (I am not so sure the same thing can be said of Ryan.) [E.g., support for assertion about Romney, added subsequently: Binyamin Appelbaum, "Business and Political Experiences Pull Romney 2 Ways on Economy," New York Times, August 28, 2012, p. A1 ("Mitt Romney declared during his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 1994 that the federal minimum wage should rise with inflation . . .. Mr. Romney has now maintained that position for almost two decades, [as something] good for workers, good for employers and good for the broader economy. . . . [H]is steady support for an idea vigorously opposed by conservatives and business groups underscores the complexity of predicting how he might manage the national economy.").]

That is why the parties' platforms, prior legislative proposals, and the deeply-held ideological convictions of the candidates need to be our focus.

Here's where the Republicans -- as a Party (not all individual Republicans) -- are on issues involving women in general and abortion in particular. The differences between the parties, and candidates, is stark. The choice is pretty clear. The choice is ours to make.

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