Tuesday, August 14

:: I Love the Smell of Bridges Burning

I followed a link to a story at the Huffington Post today. I almost never read the (what do people call it? The Huffer or something? I don’t know) Huffer so it was a bit of surprise.

The article I was chasing is Christina Page’s “What Pro-Choice Presidential Candidates Should Be Saying.” Fellow Bloggeresses (nice coinage, Zippy), I know you would share my assumption that this would be a very easy article to write – after all, this sort of advice has been pumped out by groups and consultants alike for what, 3 decades now? Still, very oddly, Page manages to make a lumpy mess of it. And no, I am not just being mean. Let me explain.

The problem becomes apparent in the very first sentence: "Pro-choice presidential candidates are missing a huge opportunity to win over an unlikely voting bloc: pro-life voters". Hmm, Ms. Page is going to tell us something that all the candidates, with their collective brain trusts, have all missed. What are the chances?

Second sentence: "The debate over reproductive rights has for decades existed in the abstract, a volley of 'values' that's been heavy on emotion and light on fact." Which is worse – that the sentence is a non sequitor, or that it isn’t true? I don’t even know where to begin – there's the service providers, the evidence-based advocacy, the personal stories… good lord, the very existence of the Guttmacher Institute should put this "light on fact" notion to rest.

Page then launches into a standard “if you hate abortion so much why aren’t you doing more to prevent it” attack on the anti-choice movement, followed by a round of “why are we the only ones who care about this.” That's fine, though its odd that she suggests, by way of proof that pro-choice groups care about prevention, that readers go to the NARAL website instead of reminding readers of the 85+ years of services provided by Planned Parenthood. I suspect this has to do with her role as a consultant for “several national pro-choice groups” (and really, if you consider how many times they’ve changed their name – from NARAL to NARRAL to NARAL Pro-Choice America – it probably should count as three groups) but seriously, I’m just guessing here.

She continues with a good laundry list of prevention-related facts and the steps Bush etc. have taken to make the world a worserer place. Its a bit like a fact sheet sans formatting, but I’m not complaining. You can’t repeat this stuff often enough. She also shares facts about late term abortion, though at this point she returns to her device of framing the information as something new to the candidates, stating “pro-choice candidates need not shirk from the most difficult issues either.”

Oh really. Unless she's talking about mixed-record prospects like Biden, Kucinich and probably Bill "I'm no scientist" Richardson, this is very misleading.

I forget if Edwards had to vote on partial birth abortion and what his position was, but I think it is perfectly clear that the Clinton White House vetoed, without hesitation, PBA both (was it twice, or more?) times it was barfed up by the Congress. Oh, history, shmistory. “A wise pro-choice candidate will not skulk and apologize for agreeing with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights matters. A wise candidate will reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach is effective, safer and in keeping with our values of personal freedom and protection from government intrusion in our most personal matters," she intones.

Now, I think I get what Page wants to do: use interest in the presidential race as a hook to deliver roughly one message box (triangle?) and two fact sheets-worth of information to the uninitiated. The strategery is the little bit of sugar that she hopes will make the medicine go down. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that it misrepresents the real issue. The three major Democratic nominees are all pro-choice, though now I am wondering about Edwards and PBA. HRC of course has been using the prevention message in its current form at least since she spoke at the Family Planning Advocates of New York event back in…. when was that? Please don't make me look these things up. And of course her strong and vocal support of reproductive rights goes back at least as far as the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995. I am sure Obama has said all the right things, and I imagine his background as a community organizer gives him particular insight into this issue. Further, the work he did on HIV/AIDS awareness during his trip to Africa was fantastic.

So the problem is not with the candidates, and it is simply inaccurate to imply that anyone has been “skulking” or “apologizing” (except maybe for Edwards, who didn’t show up to the PP candidates forum and didn’t stand up to Bill Donohue). The comments that follow Page’s article demonstrate, unfortunately, that many of the Huffer's impressionable readers think just that.

If anyone needs to be brought up to speed it’s the political reporters, not the political candidates. For as long as I can remember (and that's longer than I like to admit) the press has refused to cover birth control as a political issue. Reporters are used to covering abortion, and they like the typical "spokesperson A says this, spokesperson B says the opposite" format because it insulates the reporter from charges of bias. Facts about things such as cause-and-effect give the pro-choice side the advantage and thus are very inconvenient. It pains them when we are right, because it makes their job more difficult.

Framing her post as political advice makes it seem timely and pertinent, but the device is ethically flawed. We’re supposed to be on the side of helping people get at the truth about candidates’ positions -- not muddying the water when it suits our purposes.


ladybec said...

Well, since my Congressional Scorecards are home in DC and not with me on my business travel in Atlanta and Planned Parenthood and NARAL aren't archiving old votes so well on their websites, I had to do some internet research to figure out that Edwards was not in the Senate yet when they voted on PBA under Clinton.

But I find it hard to characterize the Democratic nominees as shirking the tough issues when they almost all (except Biden, and we all know he's mixed on this anyway) came out very strongly against the Supreme Court's recent decision and not just the health exception part. We're a tough crowd, but I can't find a lot of fault on that one. Sure, I wish they would focus more on prevention and could get their talking points on sex ed figured out (i.e. let's banish the phrase "wrong touching" from future conversations about the issue), but I agree with you, Ciccina, that at this point, it is more an issue of what political reporters cover, and they steadfastly refuse to see contraception and sex ed as political issues, despite efforts that were probably going on before Christina Page was born (or maybe it just feels that way - perhaps NARAL just discoved this issue, but some people have been working on it for a long time...)

By the way, what is the point of posting this article on the Huffer (I love that) anyway? You're not really winning over any pro-life voters there, and you're just getting pro-choice voters riled up that the candidates (supposedly) aren't being "pro-choice enough" even when they are.

Ciccina said...

Funny you should ask that, LB. I was very surprised to read the comments to the post... I had no idea the Huffer's readership was so... naive. I get the impression that they are mostly quite young, though that's probably not true. I don't want to go off on them too much, but here are a few of the more striking comments:

"Although I agree entirely with this article and I think the pro-choice movement needs to adapt these talking points, I also feel we need to start calling pro-lifers what they really are--misogynists."

"This is an excellent article and needs to be reviewed by all presidential candidates, especially Hillary Clinton."

"One thing to remember is that the GOP, and the Bush family in particular, do not give a damn about the religious right beyond its votes. They have done nothing more than talk about abortions. The question that should be asked is what do they gain for big business, the true base, by attacking birth control?"

"I guess if I were advising candidates, I would have them avoid the issue. Someday when citizenry is more important than hot button knee jerk reactionary politics, the people will listen to these arguments. We are not there yet AFAIK."

"As a pro-lifer in a Red State - I couldn't agree more. Some day, I would like to see an organization formed that was not on either end -but right in the middle - that focused on unwanted pregnancy prevention, with education, free contraception, whatever it takes so that we have less abortions of the healthy unborn."


zippy said...

I admit that I'm not at all surprised. It always frustrates me the shallow thinking that go into any blog comments (besides OURS, of course!). I'm equally frustrated by how abortion is used as a club to beat candidates over the head. It's true that there's really no safe place to go: start talking about prevention, and the pro-choice folks will bash you for not talking about abortion. Start talking about abortion honestly and openly, and the middle is totally lost.

However, I do think the Dems should start calling the opponents on birth control. Just say it all the time: do you support access to family planning for all people, not just the rich ones? Do you think that all people should be forced to have a conservative Catholic sex life, even if they're liberal atheists? (Oh, wait, they probably do...)

(LB, I'm looking forward to your post on "wrong touching;" how titillating!)

Of course, I also think that the misogynist comment is correct, and maybe that should also be a campaign question: "Senator Brownback, when did you start hating women? Will you continue woman-hating policies in the White House?"

Three stars for the bloggeress who can come up with a bumpersticker calling anti-choice republicans woman haters. I'm trying without success; "The GOP hates women" is tempting, but I know nice Republicans who don't...