Friday, August 24, 2012

Not The Debate Romney Wants

The best argument for replacing Barack Obama in the White House is the economic argument.  Specifically, unemployment.  That the President just hasn't done all he could to boost employment, leaving the rate stagnant at historically high levels for several years, is clear enough.  While Mitt Romney may not be the best qualified to offer a viable alternative - while governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation, according to - that discussion is far preferable to the one brewing in the wake of Rep. Todd Akin's remarks about rape, fertility, and abortion.  Romney knows it, he and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, have been trying to distance themselves from Akin, or convince him to drop out of the Missouri Senate race; according to reports, the Romney campaign even requested no questions be asked by a local television news station during an on-air interview (none were planned, according to the local news outlet).

The reason is simple enough: 1992.

In 1992, even as Ross Perot (remember him?) shot way ahead both of President Bush and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, focusing in speech after speech on the need to control spending, the Republicans decided to give prime speaking time to Pat Buchanan, because he had run a tough primary fight against Pres. Bush.  In that speech, Buchanan declared the reality of the culture wars.  Pretty much everyone who either watched it or was present and not a Buchanan supporter was aghast; it has been noted as among the reasons Bush, who a year and a half before enjoyed approval ratings in the 90's, won only 38% of the popular vote.

Democrat Bill Clinton, however, did something smart.  Revealed later in a movie about his successful campaign called The War Room, campaign staff hung signs that read, "It's the economy, stupid."  While tossing bones to various Democratic and Independent constituencies, his campaign focused on the stagnant economy, and the need to reduce the rate of growth of federal spending while stimulating the economy.  In the three way Presidential race, Clinton won.

That is the campaign Romney wants to run.  That is the message Romney wants to get out.  That is the issue, Romney knows in his heart, upon which Pres. Obama is most vulnerable.  Thus, having down-ticket Republicans carry on about rape and abortion and denying African-Americans the vote because they might vote for Democrats, are all distractions.  The focus for Romney needs to be on the economy.  Otherwise, he knows, he'll lose.

Romney has a further problem on this score, however.  While it may well be he would prefer to limit the Presidential contest to economic policy, neither he nor his running mate can escape the reality that the Republicans have tacked further and further to the right on social issues (much as that might be difficult to imagine for many who have following politics for as long as I have), producing what Russ Walker, a Tea Party member as well as Republican platform committee member, has called "the most conservative platform in modern history."   While the rundown offered by includes economic policy, there are a variety of social and "cultural" issues that are prominent, from abortion through same-sex marriage to immigration policy.  While platforms tend to be little more than statements of principles, there is little doubt that, should Romney/Ryan win this election, and the Republicans control both Houses of Congress, this very radical set of policy proposals will, at the very least, be every bit as important as questions around employment.

There is a further problem that Romney just cannot address.  While he may devoutly wish to limit the Presidential campaign to the economy, down-ticket Republicans will not be shy in addressing other issues, including abortion.  In the wake of Todd Akin's recent comments, a brighter light is shining on this entire set of ideas, i.e., that somehow women have some magic power that distinguishes rape from sex, preventing conception if it detects the former. What that light reveals isn't pretty.  Writing in today's Washington Post, conservative columnist Michael Gerson says:
Being an opponent of sex education in the schools does not require a politician to have a poor grasp of human biology. And this is especially counterproductive in a pro-life politician, because advancing knowledge of biology has generally favored the pro-life cause by revealing the humanity of a developing child. 
The first sentence is absurd; opposing sex education creates ignorance of human biology, as study after study after study has demonstrated.  Furthermore, the kind of ignorance on display isn't a bug of this particular subset of anti-choice nonsense, but a feature.  An interview with two historical theologians available on-line at demonstrates that this kind of thinking is deeply rooted in mainstream Christian theology going back to St. Augustine.

The second sentence Gerson wrote about is factually false.  It may well be the case that our technology has created a situation in which fetuses delivered earlier and earlier in the gestational cycle can survive.  It may well be the case that sentiment accords a higher value to a sonogram photo and fetal monitoring results among many people.  This does not mean, however, that the fetus has somehow magically become a human being in the process.  Writing at At Und Fur Sich, Adam Kostko calls fetal personhood a "fantasy".
Given the unique situation of the fetus, the only coherent outcome of granting the fetus personhood is to deny the pregnant woman personhood. The fact that misogyny often accompanies pro-life positions is not an unfortunate accident — it isnecessarily entailed by the pro-life position. The pro-life position takes an autonomous adult human being and makes her into the unconditional servant of another (ostensible) human being. Hence the fact that the pro-life movement is populated either by misogynists or sentimental people who avoid thinking their position through to the end (as when protestors at abortion clinics can hold up signs declaring “abortion is murder” and yet resist the idea that the woman seeking an abortion should be treated as a murderer).
Of all the issues before us this election year, abortion would seem to rank far down the list.  A powerful vocal minority, however, continues to insist, as a friend of mine recently said to me in a discussion on this very topic, that we tolerate mass infanticide merely by supporting abortion rights in this country.  The automatic conflation of the fetus with an infant in this case demonstrates a refusal to recognize the reality of the fetus as a fetus, granting it without either evidence or argument a status it does not and cannot have.

That there are many Republican politicians who agree with Akin, not just on abortion but on the whole phony biology of rape and fertility, is being hushed up in the attempt to silence Akin and get the national conversation back on the economy.  The problem, of course, is the Republican Party cannot escape the reality that they are committed to the very positions Akin has made public; while the United States may elect Mitt Romney as their next President due to the foundering economy, what that may entail is creating statutory or even Constitutional provisions on a host of social issues that are not only contrary to science and public ethics, but outside the needs or even attitudes of a majority of the American people.

Which is why Mitt Romney doesn't want to have this debate.  Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want Todd Akin and his words to disappear, even though they agree with him (including the phony-baloney pseudo-science). They understand what many Republican politicians have understood for a very long time.  Even though they agree with the belief that supporting abortion rights is tantamount to supporting infanticide, they don't want to talk about that because they know they will lose.

Virtual Tin Cup

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