by Gloria Feldt on July 8th, 2008
in Election Watch, Women & Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Explanatory note: While the debate continues over at my previous post about Obama for Women, and I still wouldn’t vote for McCain under any circumstance, I’ve had to take a step back as I realized just how seriously damaging Obama’s comments about abortion and sex education could be. This situation is all the more reason he must give the sexism speech as I have suggested. He needs to do more than merely “clarify” his position on these issues; he needs to take a much bigger look at  his own thinking about women’s rights and  rightful place in the world.  Here goes:

I was planning to attend Barack Obama’s big fundraising reception in New York Wednesday night and make the maximum contribution to his campaign, but I have torn up the invitation.

My decision isn’t about the money, though the thought of writing a check for $4600 takes my breath away. It seemed that important to do my part to prevent the 100% anti-choice John McCain’s election and a de facto third Bush term.

I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary because I believe she’s the most capable of meeting the enormous challenges the next president will face undoing the damage to women’s rights, health, and justice caused by Bush. Still, I’ve admired Obama since I met him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Later, in Washington after he was elected to the Senate, I sensed he was genuine in his commitment to women’s equality. So, despite my still-raw feelings about Hillary’s concession, I was prepared to go forward this week and commit full support to Obama.

Then the danger signals started.

Now, I’ve spent enough years on the political frontline to know that before getting that post-inauguration chance to do cleanup work, let alone start on new initiatives, any Democratic candidate must first navigate the political crucible that immediately engulfs him or her upon becoming the party’s nominee. And it doesn’t surprise me that Obama would seek to broaden his base by meeting with groups such as evangelicals and conservatives who are unlikely suspects to become Obama voters in large numbers. But I am shocked at the magnitude of what Marie Cocco has properly dubbed Obama’s “pander tour”.

During the last two weeks, the thunderclouds of doubt have gathered ever more ominously until they cast Obama’s character into serious question. First there was a distant rumbling in his sudden support for FISA, followed by his support for the Supreme Court’s ruling expanding the right to handguns. His statements about religion in public life and intentions to expand faith based funding programs were nervous making, though he did temper his comments with talk of Constitutional protections for church-state separation.

By the time he spoke to an evangelical group, sounding for all the world like he was withdrawing his long held opposition to the Federal abortion ban by running, not walking, down the slippery path of parsing what reasons for abortion the law may deem acceptable or not—infantilizing woman and devaluing their moral capacity and human right to exercise it—I was seriously questioning whether this man would have the necessary mettle to withstand any challenges at all. Or worse, is he just another politician swaying with the winds and running for cover at the hint of a little thunder?

He’d obviously allowed the anti-choice misstatement of the abortion ban’s provisions to frame his answer, when any lawyer ought to know that buying into your adversary’s argument is guaranteed to doom your own. He replied to their questions as though the abortion ban law concerns only abortions late in pregnancy when in truth it states no time or gestation factor and could seriously limit access to abortions much earlier in pregnancy.  Equally disturbing, his words override the principle of medical judgment in what constitutes risk to the woman, as transcribed in Relevant Magazine:

Strang: …there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

Obama: I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions…

But the last straw was his comments on sex education, when he gratuitously offered up language coded to out-triangulate any triangulating he had ever accused Hillary of doing:

Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think [is] the proper role of government.

So just about the time state after state has recognized the damage done by abstinence programs and withdrawn from federal funding for them, we’re going to have a president committed to abstinence education? I don’t think so. And this coming from a man who in the Senate is a sponsor of the Prevention First Act and the Freedom of Choice Act? I certainly hope not.

In the big picture, Obama’s character begins to appear as someone who is quick to deflect, demur, defer to his challengers. The dreaded flip-flopper, whom voters always see as a loser. When the frame is focused on reproductive rights and health specifically, we see a candidate who is either uninformed (not likely) or speaks with an unacceptable lack of moral center about abortion, sex education, and family planning.

I truly hope Obama will have sense enough to come in out of the rain of his self-induced controversy and recognize that he’s a lot more likely to persuade women like me to support him than he is to get the votes of those who press for him to betray his previously stated pro-woman principles and will almost certainly abandon him at the ballot box anyway.

For now, he has a long way to go to convince me my $4600 would be a good investment.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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