In GOP We Trust: The Consequences of 2010

Written by: Michael Baharaeen

In the 2010 midterm elections, the country held a national referendum on the policies of President Obama and the Democrats, or rather how Republicans characterized these policies. There is no other way to explain it because the GOP’s resounding campaign message was persistently anti-Obama/Pelosi/Democrats. This message had a ripple effect through every level of government, from Congress to governorships to state house races. How did the Democrats combat this message?  As Jon Stewart mused, when challenging DNC Chair Tim Kaine on his show, the only argument from Obama and the Democrats seemed to be, “Don’t vote for the other guys. They suck…worse?1

In fact, the national dialogue from Washington at the time had become so obfuscated with mistrust and misinformation – no thanks to the endless surfeit of special interest monies to Super PACs — that voters had given up and were willing to throw out whoever was in power.  We have a two-party system, the Democrats happened to be in the majority, and the economic recovery had not been quick enough for the liking of most voters, and these circumstances working in tandem led to an influx of Republicans in political offices across the country. Unfortunately, many voters in the lower and middle classes cast their ballot for Republicans, a party anathema to the former group’s economic interest.

When Republicans took over in January, they claimed that the budget deficit was the source of all of our woes and began seeking cuts to social programs right and left; this, despite the fact that most respectable economists were saying that in economically depressed times, the deficit, while important in the long run, should take a provisional back seat to government spending and investing – i.e. take a short-term hit in order to facilitate long-term growth. But the Republicans took this newfound power and began voting to eviscerate many programs from the federal budget that benefit the middle and lower classes.

Planned Parenthood was one of the first targets of these cuts. They receive federal funds to provide a wide array of services to women, especially those with lower income: prenatal care, postnatal care, contraception, and information campaigns to help protect women from STDs. They also offer, as about 3% of their services2, abortions to women in need of them. By law, federal funds are not allowed to support this service. But this did not stop Republicans from decrying the agency as providing abortion-on-demand and voting to strip their funding. It didn’t matter that Planned Parenthood provides many of their other services in order to prevent the need for abortions; it didn’t matter that their funding makes up a microscopic portion in the deficit. If it had not been for Senate Democrats stopping this measure (and presumably a veto threat by President Obama), this very important service would have become obsolete for many Americans who desperately need it.

This crusade was followed closely by union-busting. Unions, which serve to enhance workers’ rights and to ensure fair wages and worker treatment, were one of the cornerstones of America’s “Golden Years.” From the 1930s, with the introduction of the New Deal, to the 1970s, unions were thriving, as was the country. They secured better working conditions for all workers, won the five-day work week, and helped bring about the realities of paid vacations, sick leave and maternity leave. However, due to state budget cuts, public sector union pensions and health benefits were put on the table in many states, including Wisconsin. (This may have actually seemed a reasonable proposal had the state government not just given corporations huge tax breaks3, which helped create the deficit that the state was now attempting to ameliorate on the backs of the working class.) Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, was not looking for shared sacrifice when pushing this initiative; instead, he was going after an institution which was central to developing the working class.

After the pensions and health benefits were on the table, something to which the unions agreed, Governor Walker decided to go one step further and take away the right of union members to bargain collectively. The concept of collective bargaining is central to a union: it allows all members to have one united voice when negotiating the terms of their contracts, benefits, etc., with the management. Once it was obvious that the governor’s intentions had far surpassed attempting to balance the budget and had shifted to dismantling the strength of unions completely, many Wisconsinites began to reconsider their vote to install Governor Walker and a Republican-controlled state legislature in 2010. (In fact, shortly after the Wisconsin controversy, Public Policy Polling released a poll suggesting that if a recall election were held for the governor, the majority of voters would have voted for his Democratic opponent4). Additionally, others may have realized the importance of actually voting in mid-term elections.

But one of the best examples of how Republican austerity measures have awakened a sleeping beast in the body politic is their response, or lack thereof, to the increasing number of large-scale disasters that have struck our country, from flooding and hurricanes to droughts and tornadoes. Instead of providing disaster relief immediately, Republicans withheld funds until they were offset by cuts somewhere else in the budget. This has never been how the United States operates in times of emergency. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire…I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it.’… I don’t want $15 – I want my garden hose back after the fire is over.” (On a side note, many of the same GOP politicians voting against disaster relief then turn around and claim that we should do nothing to combat climate change, which many have stated has contributed to our recent tragedies5).

As a reminder to the American public of just how much the spending cuts have impacted everyday citizens, particularly those hurt by the recent disasters, the New York Times published a heart-wrenching, front-page story on September 26, entitled ‘Flood Victims Who Are Fed Up with Congress.6’ At first glance, I thought that people were finally waking up to the reality that the policies of this Congress have been nothing but devastating to the least fortunate among us. But upon reading into it, some of those interviewed actually believed that everyone in an elected position was to blame for the deteriorating conditions around the country, and one even suggested voting out every single incumbent: “If they are in, they should be out.”

This merits some consideration. Why have Democrats been drawn into this conversation? As one can see, the only reason devastated areas are having difficulty recovering is that the Republican-controlled House will not provide any emergency funds. One can only speculate that blaming the government as a whole is a direct result of what people hear on the news.  The mainstream media has fallen victim to the ‘false equivalency’ phenomenon. When people blame both Democrats – the party trying to rush emergency aid to ravaged areas – and Republicans – the party withholding funds – for our current state of affairs, it is clear that an inaccurate message is being conveyed to the public. Cable news and other media outlets have succumbed to Conventional Wisdom Syndrome, a disease which leads one to posit that real reporting consists of, “One side says this, the other says that,” and never challenge incorrect claims or the spreading of mistruths.

Norman Ornstein recently admonished the Washington Post for its coverage of the ongoing debate over the funding of natural disasters7. In the article to which he refers, the Post columnists insinuate that both sides are at fault for our current predicament. As the piece’s authors put it, “Democrats decided to pick a fight over a side issue: an insistence by the GOP to pay for more disaster relief funding by cutting a popular auto-industry loan program. Republicans refused to back down.8” Ornstein rebukes this approach by correctly stating that in the past, when disaster relief has run out and more is requested, Congress has always provided supplemental funding and worried about offsetting the costs later.

Ornstein’s rebuke of the Post article raises important questions: how many times have the Republicans threatened to hold the country hostage during times of great distress until getting what they wanted? How does this fit the paradigm of politics as the art of compromise? Moreover, which Republican policies are in the best interests of the average voter in this country? Voters unfortunately neglected to realize that the people who only four years earlier had finished squandering President Clinton’s budget surplus – through two rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy, two unfunded wars, and a very costly Medicare prescription drug program – were now somehow serious about addressing that same deficit and could fix the economy by implementing the exact same policies as before.

So how is this Congress addressing the deficit? Instead of shared sacrifice, their policies asked the middle, lower, and working classes to bear most of the brunt. In the same breath they then demanded that more tax cuts be given to the rich, or, as Republicans call them, the “job creators.” It doesn’t matter that the reason for asking the rich to pay more in taxes is because they own such a disproportionate share of the wealth9. It doesn’t matter that the “job creators” in Corporate America are sitting on $2,000,000,000,000 in unused funds and yet are still not hiring any workers or providing people with loans10. No, according to elected Republicans, all that matters is that government is evil, and those affluent enough to make campaign donations are in dire need of more tax breaks. Then they might decide to hire more workers.

People should be wary of the claim that government has no positive functions. If it were not for government – and, specifically, liberals in government – society would not enjoy the social safety nets that we have today (such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) which protect the vast majority of lower- and middle-class Americans. As I have asserted in the past11, Democrats, for whatever reason, are struggling to articulate their case for good government to the American people. The Democratic Party’s platform is comprised of policies aimed at strengthening the middle class, attending to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, and alleviating ever-growing income inequality, while the Republicans insist on standing up, first and foremost, for the richest one percent12. Yet many Americans continue to vote for the party whose elected officials have helped create a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

As the cliché goes, elections have consequences. For the sake of building a stronger middle class, addressing the needs of the poor, putting us back on sound economic footing, and moving our country forward, it is vital that voters learn from this last election and take note of how to remedy that result in November 2012. If a frank distinction between the two parties is not made clear to voters very soon, they will continue to elect people who do not hold the interests of the majority of voters in mind. Only after receiving an unfortunate wake-up call might these voters want to change their ways. And by then, I’m afraid it will be too late.

 

1 http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-september-8-2010/tim-kaine

2 http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/

3 http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/unions_arent_to_blame_for_wisc.html

4 http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2011/02/do-over.html

5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-link-between-climate-change-and-joplin-tornadoes-never/2011/05/23/AFrVC49G_story.html

6 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/us/flood-victims-getting-fed-up-with-congress.html

7 http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/95331/washington-post-government-shutdown-eric-cantor

8 http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/partisanship-flares-again-thwarts-passage-of-stopgap-funding-bill/2011/09/23/gIQA2jPmrK_story.html

9 http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

10 http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/feb/10/barack-obama/obama-says-companies-have-nearly-2-trillion-sittin/

11 https://tsudems.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/the-misinformation-permeating-the-national-dialogue-and-what-president-obama-can-do-about-it/

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What does pro-choice really mean

Written by: Amanda Shetler

“Choose Life: It’s a gift from God.”

These were the words scrawled across one of the few billboards that caught my eye on a road trip home from Kirksville to Des Moines. Unlike many pro-life advertisements, it was plain: simply a white background with black writing. Scribbled beneath its short message was the reference to a biblical verse, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch it. 

As I sat there in silence, reflecting upon the relentless attempts by religious groups to sway society’s actions on this particular issue, I couldn’t help but find the advertisement a bit ironic. For in an effort to persuade against the use of abortion, the billboard also serves as an advocate of the Democratic Party’s stance on this specific issue. The very first words encountered by the passerby are “Choose Life,” and it is precisely this choice which is the foundation for the Democratic Party’s platform. Now, this got me thinking––was the group who created this sign aware that their attempt to influence a questioning mother also cognizant of their blatant promotion of our party’s platform––a platform most religious groups hold in contempt?

Before I jump completely into my discussion on this issue, I would like to briefly relay my intent. In no way am I convinced that these words will alter a person’s perspective, nor do I contend that I possess the answers to this hotly contested debate. Instead, I desire to lessen any discrepancies between what society believes the Democratic Party advocates, and what it truly advocates. Ignorance is all too common involving issues such as these, and I have confidence that a clear discussion can assist in the alleviation of these misperceptions. In the hope of increasing awareness and decreasing misunderstanding, I write the following words.

I am not a murderer; I do not advocate killing. Unfortunately, however, my pro-choice stance often leads many people to believe I am, and that I do. First, it must be understood that the opposite of “pro-life” is certainly not “pro-death,” as it is often misconstrued. Instead, the pro-choice stance is explained by the Democratic Party in a speech given on July 24, 2009, in Fargo, ND: “We support the reproductive rights of women as defended by Roe v. Wade. We advocate for comprehensive sex education, family planning, and reimbursement of the costs of contraceptives. We encourage providing support for pregnant women such as pre-natal and post-natal care, counseling, and WIC programs.” This statement is reinforced by a similar discussion on the issue in 2000. At this time, the Democratic Party claimed that its goal was “to make abortion more rare, not more dangerous.”

In order to better understand the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that serves as the basis of our pro-choice platform, it is imperative to analyze the history of abortion laws. In the mid-to-latter part of the nineteenth century, states began limiting when and if a woman could receive an abortion. The final Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision explains that these laws were implemented for three reasons:

a. In response to Victorian social concern.

b. Abortions at this time were hazardous to women and mortality rates were high.

c. To protect not only the pregnant woman, but also her child (at this time, society theorized only that life begins at conception).

As abortion laws became more and more strict, many women left their home states to receive an abortion in states with more relaxed laws. But statutes in many states were often so vague that doctors were unsure as to whether or not they were acting within the law. Thus, statutes became tighter, and it is these that serve as the humble beginnings of the abortion laws that were present in the mid-twentieth century.

That is, until 1973. Most everyone who has an opinion on this topic is well aware of the Roe v. Wade decision in which the Supreme Court ruled an 1854 Texas abortion law unconstitutional because it directly contradicted the right to privacy implicitly present in the U.S. Constitution. Although there is no explicit reference to a citizen’s “right to privacy” in this document, various court cases before and after this particular decision  claim that it is implied in the following amendments:

a. First Amendment: Freedom of expression, religion, press

b. Fourth Amendment: No unreasonable searches and seizures

c. Fifth Amendment: No one may be deprived of “life, liberty, or property” without the due process of law

d. Ninth Amendment: Addresses the rights of citizens that are not specifically listed in the Constitution (this is the primary amendment used in the Roe v. Wade decision)

e. Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: protects certain fundamental rights against government actions

According to Justice Harry Blackmun who wrote the majority opinion on the case, the “right to privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

So what exactly does this decision mean for pregnant women seeking abortions? In layman’s terms:

a. During the first trimester (about 12 weeks) states are not allowed to limit a woman’s access to abortion procedures.

b. From the end of the first trimester until viability (the point at which a fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb with or without artificial support, as stated by the Supreme Court; somewhere around 24 weeks), the state can “regulate abortion in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”

c. After viability (again, around 24 weeks) the state can regulate, and even prohibit, abortion except where necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

This is the current law as it relates to abortion. It’s imperative to understand that different laws are in place in each state regarding abortion after the first trimester. I encourage those interested to visit the Guttmacher Institute’s website http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_PLTA.pdf to find out more about the differing state statutes.

We now better understand the Democratic Platform as it relates to this issue, as well as the history and current status of abortion laws. I would like to wrap up by discussing my own view on this difficult issue. As a Democrat, but more importantly as a citizen of the United States, I am pro-choice. I say this in the belief that this choice must be made within the first trimester; I do not advocate or support those abortions occurring after the first three months, and most definitely after viability.

This said, I do not contend the government under which I live has the right to infringe on my, or any woman’s, ability to make a moral decision such as this. I am completely aware, however, of the argument from pro-life supporters resulting from this statement. Oftentimes, the opposing side claims that abortion is murder, that our government has created laws punishing those who commit murder against an innocent victim, and allowing abortion is completely contradictory to these laws. However, abortion and murder cannot be viewed under the same light. There is such a discrepancy between whether life begins at conception or birth, and until an answer to this disagreement can be scientifically proven, the debate will continue. One can argue that a baby has a heart beat at how many days, or fingerprints at a certain number of weeks, but I will personally continue to believe that life does not begin until a child can reach viability; there is nothing that can convince me otherwise.

In addition, many pro-life advocates make the argument that abortion is immoral, and from this, claim that it ought to be illegal. I agree that this is a great moral issue. However, it is a moral issue for the individual who is put in the situation to decide, NOT the government under which she lives, and most certainly not those who are in no way connected to her. The separation of church and state in our country has prevented us from legislating on religious issues such as these many times before. Therefore, this is not a question of law, but rather a question of morality, ethicality, and religion––all things that our country allows us to freely choose. I know that I, personally, could never make a decision that harmed another being. But the beauty of this, is that I at least have the choice. My morals, ethics, and religion are not decided for me; I am exercising my right as a free person to make decisions and choose what is most applicable to myself and to my life.

Furthermore, my pro-choice stance stems from my realization that there is no way to completely prevent unwanted pregnancies. As stated before, Democrats are tireless advocates of comprehensive sex education and encourage the use of contraceptives. It is these actions that assist us in our goal of decreasing sexual activity in those who are not prepared for, or do not desire, the consequences. We believe that this, subsequently, decreases the amount of abortions. However, it is naive to presume that people will not engage in sexual activity, regardless of how much they have been educated or know not to. Just as it is blasphemous to believe that a government can legislate sex, it is equally ignorant to assume that a law preventing abortions would indeed halt them. Some women will never have an abortion, regardless if it is an option or not. At the other end of the spectrum, however, there will always be women who become pregnant and tirelessly search for a way in which to end that pregnancy. Creating a law that claims it illegal to do so will not stop them from seeking assistance, but will instead force them to pursue a far less safe and potentially fatal method.

Lastly, I would like to point out a sad discrepancy between the pro-life movement and the Republican’s opposition to the recent attempts at healthcare change. It may just be me, but I find it quite ironic that the Republican party fervently fights for the rights of unborn children, yet easily opposes healthcare legislation that would protect them from health hazards once they are living, breathing Americans.

When it comes to a decision such as this (whether abortion is legal or illegal) what makes the pro-life side believe that their morals trump the morals of people like myself, who believe in free choice and the right to privacy? What makes them presume that they have the right to choose a route for me––decide the way in which my own life will go. Yes, a woman may have put herself in a situation that our society views with contempt, but does that mean that she must be forced to take on the morals and ideals of someone she has never met––morals and ideals with which she may not agree? No, by taking the risk and engaging in sex, she must deal with the consequences in a way she feels best applies to her.

If one is to think critically about this current debate, he or she would realize that as of 1973, both sides––both pro-life and pro-choice views––are implemented in our current abortion law. Right now, a woman has a choice to make: continue with the pregnancy, or not. The pro-life stance is represented by her ability to choose to continue with the pregnancy; the pro-choice stance is represented by both. Most importantly, however, there is nothing forcing her to do either––she is the ultimate decision maker.

I cannot reiterate enough that pro-choice does not mean pro-death. Democrats are not murderers––I do not advocate murder. As stated earlier, I know that this blog will not change minds, and the controversy associated with it might cause a stir. But I am a tireless advocate for the lessening of ignorance, and it is for this reason that I hope the above words at least leave readers with a better understanding of the Democratic stance, the history and current status of abortion laws, and most importantly the reasoning behind my pro-choice stance.

Remember, “Choose Life: It’s a gift from God.”

 

References:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/apache.3cdn.net/809ee3067412bc6b90_g9m6b56q1.pdf

http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Democratic_Party_Abortion.htm

http://www.guttmacher.org/sections/abortion.php

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=410&invol=113

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=410&invol=113