Another Year of the Woman? Really?

There was a short piece in Monday’s USA Today saying that 2012 is shaping up to be another “Year of the Woman.”   And they did have some very good news numbers to back that notion:

 …a notable number of candidates are running in potentially competitive races in both the House of Representatives and Senate that could send a wave of female lawmakers to Washington in November. If so, it would reverse the 2010 election trend that saw the first dip in female representation in the House since 1978 and only sent one woman, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, to the Senate.

In the 2012 Senate lineup, there are 10 female candidates — four Republicans and six Democrats — seeking office. Of the six states with female Democratic candidates — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin — none has ever elected a woman to the Senate.

Republican women are running in Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico.

I want to believe, oh how I want to believe. These numbers, though inching up, still represent a mere fractional increase—even if all of them are elected—a probability somewhere around that of hell freezing over.

At the rate we have been going for the last 20 years and since the first “Year of the Woman” in 1992, it will take 70 years to reach gender parity in Congress.

Still, the growing number of women running is a tribute to hard work by organizations like the Women’s Campaign Forum, White House Project, and Emily’s List over the last several decades, as well as newer groups such as Emerge America, Running Start, and the 2012 Project.

Let us also give a cheer for Hillary Clinton who put those 18 million cracks in the “highest and hardest” glass ceiling and showed young women once and for all that they really can grow up to be president.

The increase in women candidates also raises a new issue, heretofore swept under the rug. Whereas progressive, socially liberal women (Democrats and Republicans) opened the doors for all women to run for office, today woman run from across the political spectrum.

Candidates like right-wing Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin who oppose women’s reproductive rights, equal pay initiatives, and other policies that help women have a fair shot are indelible examples. In the past, women candidates of both parties were more likely to prioritize and support issues like education, health, child care, and reproductive justice. No more.

So no longer can women, or men who support women’s equality, blindly follow former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s admonition that “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Now, every responsible pro-woman voter must first check out female candidates’ agendas as well as their gender.

It’s time to be out of the closet about that fact and not fool ourselves that electing just any woman is good for women overall.

The solution to the problem always changes the problem.  Still, it’s a great problem to have.

And if 2012 brings about a measurable increase in women at the top of the policy making tree, it’ll be cheers all around. But let this also be a wake-up call to progressive women that this is the moment to step it up as voters, candidates, and activists.

Should Romney Be Running Scared into FL Primary?

Newt won it in SC after a dismal performance in NH. What do you think will be the next exciting episode in the Republican primary soap opera? And is Romney toast or has he just taken a temporary step back?

ARENA ASKED: Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary, the Associated Press projected Saturday night. Should Mitt Romney be running scared after his second-place finish? Or will the Jan. 31 Florida primary prove a firewall?

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MY ANSWER: Groundhog Day came early in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich’s candidacy popped its head up from what seemed to be a deep hole into which he had dug himself with his philandering and arrogance.

Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary shows that for all their anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, pro so-called family values rhetoric, Republicans care most about power for their own interests. If the earth really were flat, they would be rolling off the far right edge of it at this moment. Mitt Romney has never quite proved he’s ready to go into that abyss, so he is in real danger of joining Florida’s own Herman Cain on the sidelines after 1/31.

Romney should be running scared–of both Gingrich and Santorum, who mark my words will make some kind of unholy alliance to drive a stake into him in Florida. Endless money and even a tiny spoonful of voter common sense could yet save the day. But, no “sure thing” ever is. And so the fight goes on.

Here’s the original post on Politico.

Is Colbert a joke?

What do you think about Colbert’s presidential run? I will tweet the funniest retort.

Stephen ColbertArena Asks: Comedian Stephen Colbert has taken credit for Republican candidate Jon Huntsman dropping out of the presidential race, declaring on “The Colbert Report” that his announcement last week to form an exploratory committee for president has “completely changed the complexion of this race.” Since the announcement, Colbert’s super PAC has already begun airing an anti-Mitt Romney ad, and on Monday night released another commercial urging Americans to “vote Herman Cain.”

Is Colbert’s work raising awareness about campaign finance and elections? Or is the entire thing a joke?

My Answer: Colbert is a joke with a purpose. The question is whether the purpose is realized.

Don’t get me wrong. I love political parody shows like Colbert and Stewart. It’s great that they engage so many people in thinking about the political issues of the day, calling attention to hypocrisy, skewering bloviators, and actually highlighting both the important public debates and arcane nonsense that only political junkies like those of us who write for The Arena care about.

Colbert and Stewart’s brilliant take down of Super PACS and independent expenditures this week is a case in point. After a good laugh, a viewer can feel self-righteous in opposing big, unaccountable money in politics. But then what?

Whether Colbert raises awareness or not, the danger is that people will think they’ve actually participated in the political process when in truth, they’re being passive observers, until and unless they get personally involved on the ground with candidates and issues.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

The Grand Folly of Focusing on “Common Ground”

I believe in making common cause with people of all persuasions, but here’s what I learned about the quest for common ground on issues where people have diametrically opposing worldviews. Originally published at On The Issues Magazine.

©Elaine Soto
©Elaine Soto

The day before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was expected to rule, rumors circulated that the agency would approve Plan B One Step emergency contraception as a non-prescription item and allow it to be sold without age restrictions. Freelance writer Robin Marty predicted via e-mail, “Conservative reaction will be a total shitstorm.”

Instead, the next morning, it was Marty and other progressive women who doubled down in paroxysms of shock and anger.

The same unholy alliance of theology and right wing politics that defines zygotes as persons apparently had tied into knots the intestinal fortitude of President Obama and his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, in a raw political preemptive strike, unprecedented in American history, overturned the FDA’s scientific ruling that would have brought Plan B out from behind the pharmacist’s counter.

Our “Common Ground”-obsessed president had done it again — betraying the very women whose votes were the key to his election, while getting nothing in return from anti-choice extremists who would never vote for him, no matter how much he tried to appease them.

But wait. During his campaign, candidate Obama vowed to prioritize passing the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) to guarantee women reproductive self-determination as a civil right. How is it that within a few months after election, he not only said FOCA wasn’t high on his priority list, but also persuaded leading pro-choice groups to back the Capps bill to make federal restrictions on abortion for low-income women more pervasive than ever?

That cascaded into the political shitstorm known as the Stupak amendment, which, in turn, spiked federal and state anti-choice bills in a magnitude unseen since the mid-1990s. Without the countervailing force of proactive initiatives, the pro-choice side fell on the defensive again.

So much for common ground.

Meanwhile, the FDA did its job as a scientific body and removed the restriction that purchasers of Plan B had to prove they were 17-years-old. But even in the Bush-era’s dismal War-on-Choice once an FDA ruling was made, it stayed.

It’s been calculated that if all women had access to EC and used it properly, up to half of unintended pregnancies and abortions could be averted. Shouldn’t that make EC the ultimate “common ground” in the abortion debate? Logically, opponents of abortion should be lining up to advocate for emergency contraception. But as author Rita Mae Brown has said, “If the world were a logical place, men would ride sidesaddle.”

To understand the seeming illogic, it’s necessary to confront a triple whammy of reasons why attempts to find common ground fail: the wagging finger of patriarchy, the clashing world views about sex and the contrast of constituencies.

Wagging Finger of Patriarchy

Insisting that women are moral equals to men is still a big elephant in the room, sometimes even hard for people who identify as pro-choice to confront. Because it’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it. Harder still to see injustice when it’s all around you, and feminism is an unfinished revolution that aims to change a deeply patriarchal culture from within.

Obama’s Dad-in-Chief response to overturning greater EC access (the old “I don’t want my 11-year-old daughter to get it so I support the age restriction, medical advice be damned”) was presaged by his post election finger wagging at women when he reneged on FOCA: “I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they… suggest that this is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations.”

The same phenomenon emerges in public opinion polls that find the more in control of her own life and decisions a woman is, the less others support her decision to choose abortion. The less in control, the more of a helpless victim the woman is, the more likely people support her right to choose. For example, if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, around three-fourths of respondents think abortion should be available, whereas if a woman is married and financially stable, the ratio flips to fewer than one-quarter saying she should be able to terminate the pregnancy.

Differences in worldview about women and sex are rarely acknowledged on abortion and contraception…

Simply an issue of women’s freedom” doesn’t sound trivial to me, but when one is operating from a male-dominant framework, it makes all the sense in the world. It’s why every advance toward women’s reproductive self-determination has resulted is an explosive reaction, why in 1873, as women were just beginning to assert their rights, Anthony Comstock created the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice and fought to pass the laws making it illegal to send information about abortion or birth control through the mail. It’s why so many opponents of abortion are also opposed to birth control. It’s why doggedly logical pro-choicers’ attempts to foster common ground by making birth control available to prevent unintended pregnancy are routinely rejected by abortion opponents.

Although conservative fundamentalist groups such as Focus on the Family would likely be apoplectic at the suggestion, the fact is when we’re talking about family, what we’re really talking about is sex. Without sex, there is no family. And when we talk about sex, what we’re really talking about a complex web of social interactions, all of them defined to a significant degree by women’s personal agency and sexual power.

Michelle Goldberg writes in The Means of Reproduction, “There is one thing that unites cultural conservatives throughout the world, a critique that joins Protestant fundamentalism, Islamists, Hindu Nationalists, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and ultramontane Catholics. All view women’s equality and self-possession as unnatural, a violation of the established order.”

Clashing Worldviews about Sex

Freeing women from those ancient biological bonds of involuntary childbearing changes the gender power balance profoundly. And, yes, that does change the family structure.

Yet these differences in worldview about women and sex are rarely acknowledged in common ground discussions about abortion or contraception.

So what seems to pro-choice individuals like a slam dunk – EC is another method of pregnancy prevention; therefore, even those opposed to abortion should embrace it — is yet another sign of the impending fall of the republic to those who oppose abortion. The latter are just as queasy about birth control because they are queasy about any sex without procreative consequences. Their argument goes that if women — and heaven forfend, teens — have access to pregnancy prevention after intercourse, they will become promiscuous hussies.

No wonder then that in 1978, five years after Roe v. Wade, as the anti-abortion movement was starting its first forays to recriminalize abortion, a young reporter bounded into a news conference where I was being introduced as the new executive director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona and declared, “My nightmare is that 40 years from now, I’ll be a little old lady still asking the same questions, reporting the same story of the clash between the two positions.”

Forty years will soon be upon us, and the debate rages on.

Contrast of Constituencies

People with conflicting world views can work out some common cause: measures they can work on together to build relationships. Supporting local food banks, for example. But don’t expect common ground on policies rooted in something as fundamentally clashing as views about whether sex is for procreation or pleasure, and whether women will be treated as true equals or not.

Yet many — usually people supportive of the pro-choice view — still try to find the common ground. That, too, stems from fundamental differences in the two constituencies.

Pro-choice activists need to put a lot more starch into their spines…

To name a few such efforts: There’s the Common Ground project at RH Reality Check (duly eviscerated by Frederick Clarkson and by RHRC’s own editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson, as well). It tried to get out ahead of Obama’s Common Ground quest that resulted in a bill called “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” cosponsored by pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and anti-choice but pro-family planning Tim Ryan (D-OH) Not surprisingly, the legislation suffered its demise at the hands of the anti-choice majority in the House of Representatives.

There’s the well-respected Public Conversations Project founded by Laura Chasin that has tried mightily to facilitate productive common ground discussions about abortion. I myself joined with Chasin and several dozen other remarkably smart and sincere people in an online abortion conference sponsored by the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute and lasting, appropriately, nine months. But that labor couldn’t birth significant actionable common ground, either.

The two constituencies differ about the roles of women and the purpose of human sexuality. Oh, we all have the same body parts, many of the same aspirations for our lives and we almost all use birth control at some point. Kristin Luker found in her groundbreaking comparisons that pro-and anti-choice women are surprisingly similar in family demographics.

Difference lies, however, in the breadth of tolerance for other points of view. Some of those opposed to abortion, like the Catholic Bishops and fundamentalist Evangelicals, have no stake in finding common ground, because any shred of tolerance shakes the foundations of their absolute and unambiguous positions.

I asked mediation expert Victoria Pynchon how a mediator would try to bridge this divide. When she found herself sitting in flight next to a fundamentalist Christian Republican woman who “believes that a zygote is a person that trumps the life of a woman and believes in every literal word in the Bible as she was taught it,” she asked respectful questions to probe whether she would find an opening for genuine discussion of alternative views.

“Martha,” the name Pynchon gave her seatmate, articulated these beliefs: (1) life begins at conception; and, (2) “inconvenience” or even serious burden to a pregnant woman cannot justify the termination of any human life. Women, in particular, should be prepared to sacrifice their own lives to protect the lives of their families and children. She believed in a set of fixed moral rules from which there can be no deviation.

Eventually, “Martha” came to say, “I don’t know what I would do” if she were raped. But then she mused that Jaycee Duggar, whose years of enslaved sexual abuse resulted in children, nonetheless loves her offspring and wouldn’t wish them nonexistent.

“You have to be able to enable the other person to acknowledge a place of doubt,” Pynchon told me, in order to engage in a conversation that could lead to common ground between two diametrically opposed views.

But how do you translate that into actions? Or policies, for that matter?

For that, Pynchon didn’t have an answer. She concluded that the culture war over abortion isn’t based on views about what the Bible says or when personhood begins, “but deeper fears about authority vs. self-determination; rules vs. ethics or morals that require critical thinking; and, the desire to draw a bright line around human life so that no mistakes are possible.”

“Doubt R us,” I replied, describing pro-choice constituents. We love to turn over ideas and take contrary positions for the fun of it. Pro-choice is live and let live. It’s don’t tell me what to do or say or, especially, think. And that makes the perfect opening for people with moral certitude and water-on-stone persistence. They stay with an argument until they wear us down.

Course Adjustments Needed

The folly is in trying to force common ground, where one side has no stake in compromise, whereas the other side wants to appease.

Pro-choice activists need to put a lot more starch into their spines, clarify their bedrock beliefs and learn from their adversaries about the efficacy of persisting.

Women voters, in particular, can declare their independence (here’s a petition to deliver the message) when a president betrays their trust, and use the power of their voices loud and clear: “We elected you and we demand you stop giving our rights away or we will unelect you.”

Because in fact, no, we can’t all get along all the time. If women are to preserve what’s left of our human and civil rights to make childbearing decisions, we must get over thinking we can make everyone happy and, instead, lead ourselves forward to do what we know is right.

 

Is Mitt Romney unstoppable?

Keep those gloves on, Mitt.

Mitt RomneyArena Asks:Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary, the Associated Press projected as polls closed Tuesday night.

How much closer does this bring Romney to being the Republican nominee? Can any of his rivals realistically stop him in South Carolina, Florida or beyond? And which of them is the most likely to drop out?

My Answer: Romney won by barely the numbers he had to get to look like a real winner in his almost-home state. But he did what he needed to do and barring a self-immolating mistake will stay just enough ahead of the pack to become the Republican nominee.

It’s unclear to me why people (read, “media”) continue not to take Paul seriously, despite his strong showings in New Hampshire and Iowa. Many of his ideas are likely to prevail within the party even if he does not, and that could give Romney major heartburn in a general election. Paul is likely to stay in just to make this happen.

Huntsman made the showing he needed, but he can forget about the Southern states. Not only do they not speak Mandarin, but his positions are way too sensible to break double digits in bright red Evangelical territory. He’ll leave after South Carolina with his head high and probably a chance at another ambassadorship in the offing.

Newt will get increasingly full of pious baloney. Still, he knows the South and won’t bolt the race until he’d have to sell some of Calista’s Tiffany jewels to stay in.

Santorum rightfully got his nose rubbed in the dirt despite–or maybe because of–claiming to be the Jesus candidate. He has passionate acolytes in South Carolina, making it likely he’ll make a last ditch effort to rise from the near-dead.

So all in all, with Perry back for South Carolina, it looks like another bruising battle there and maybe on to Florida.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Will ‘man on dog’ bite Santorum?

For once I like title Arena gave to today’s question about whether Rick Santorum’s way out of the mainstream views about sex will get noticed after the media swarm in the wake of his IA caucus near-win. Please tell me you’ll help keep this buzz alive. Because in truth I don’t trust the press to keep shining a light on it–and there are devastating implications for women’s rights as well as gay rights if the public doesn’t know Santorum just how zealously would work to take them entirely away.

Rick Santorum (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)Arena Asks: In a recent CNN interview, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tried to put space between comments he made that appeared to equate homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, Political Wire reports.

“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing,” Santorum told the Associated Press during a 2003 interview. Santorum recently told CNN: “I didn’t connect them. I excluded them.”

Will these comments haunt Santorum on the campaign trail? Or will they be lost in the hubbub of the election cycle?

My Answer: Right now Rick Santorum is the Flavor of the Minute with the press. That’s the best thing that could possibly happen IF reporters keep on finding (which they will if they look) statements like his “man on dog” comparison to homosexuality. Santorum made that comparison, from which he is now trying to distance himself, in a slippery slope litany of what he speculates might happen if social definitions of marriage were to include the possibility of homosexual unions.

But he can’t distance himself from his repeated disdain for gays and lesbians let alone same sex marriage, IF the media keeps on doing its job. For example: “Is anyone saying same-sex couples can’t love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?” (Santorum’s Philadelphia Inquirer column, May 22, 2008)

It will also become increasingly obvious that at the root of his opposition to marriage equality is medieval beliefs about the nature and purpose of human sexuality as anything other than procreative in the patriarchal position.

Santorum’s outrage about the Lawrence v Texas decision that struck down Texas’s anti-gay laws caused him to reveal his opposition to birth control too. Santorum said: “[If] the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual sex within your home, you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery…It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold–Griswold was the contraceptive case–and abortion.” (AP interview, April 7, 2003)

He promises to go after contraception head-on if he were to become president: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (Speaking with CaffeinatedThoughts.com, Oct. 18, 2011)

Peel back those retrograde ideas about sex and “how things are supposed to be” and you inevitably find misogyny deeply rooted in fundamentalist and traditional Catholic theology.

Santorum’s warped and bigoted ideas about sex and social policy will only be lost in the shuffle IF the press fails to do its job and keep reporting them after today’s Santorum media-feast is over. It’s a big “IF” and the future of many fundamental liberties depend on it.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Would Santorum’s Surge Part Iowa Waters but Sink Him in General Election?

Hooray, just one more day till the Iowa Caucuses will be over. Then we can immediately start obsessing about New Hampshire. Meanwhile, what do you think about Rick Santorum’s chances for a strong finish tomorrow night?

2012 VoteArena Asks: On the last full day of campaigning before Iowa’s GOP caucuses, Mitt Romney is working to hold on to his narrow advantage as he faces a surging Rick Santorum. A Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed Romney and Ron Paul locked in a close race, with Santorum rising swiftly to challenge them.

Will Santorum’s surge last? How much of a threat does the former Pennsylvania senator pose to Romney’s lead?

My Answer: Elections are like rivers–never the same twice. Every election is a unique moment in time. And Iowa’s political waters are parting for Rick Santorum at the crucial moment, just before the caucus votes, leading some to anoint him the next Moses they hope can lead the party to victory next November.

With the solid workhorse and seemingly mainstream Republican candidate Mitt Romney is on one side and candidates on the other who are either loaded down with baggage or are just plain wacko, Santorum’s political fortunes could easily rise so significantly as a result that he becomes the strongest vice presidential candidate, even if his lack of money and organization prevents him from being a real contender for the top of the ticket.

Of course, because Santorum’s virulent anti-gay and anti-women’s reproductive freedom track record goes beyond rhetoric to policy leadership while in the Senate, he is ideal for the Republican Right’s true believers. But when it gets to the general election, that strident position, which will come to sound as loopy as Michele Bachmann’s outlandish assertions about the HPV vaccine, should sink any ticket he’s on in defeat.

Key constituencies beyond Iowa will remember that Santorum’s outrage about the Lawrence v. Texas decision that struck down Texas’s anti-gay laws caused him to reveal his opposition even to Griswold v. Connecticut which legalized birth control. Santorum told the Associated Press: “[If] the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual sex within your home, you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery…It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold–Griswold was the contraceptive case–and abortion.”

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Do Ron Paul’s newsletter explanations hold up?

And the Republican primary gong show goes on…

gongArena Asks: As Rep. Ron Paul rises in the Iowa polls he’s facing more scrutiny for newsletters once published under his name. Parts of the 1990s-era publications are suffused with paranoia, racial bigotry and support for the period’s violent militia movements. Paul denies authorship of the offending passages, though in his 1996 congressional run he admitted to writing some of them. Assuming others did write the material, the newsletters still went out under Ron Paul’s name. What does this say about the company he keeps? And if Paul didn’t have full control over content, does it raise doubts about his managerial/executive abilities?

My Answer:If Paul disavows the bigoted words, ripping off his inquisitor’s microphone isn’t going to help him prove it. In fact, anger over being asked for accountability will serve Paul about as well as Herman Cain’s (remember him?) angry responses to women who accused him of sexual abuse. And since racism and sexism are joined at the head, that’s a better analogy than it might appear on first blush.

Historically, underneath American democratic values of liberty and justice and a fair shake for all, a dark underbelly of greed and selfishness justified by xenophobia has always existed. Only Ron Paul can tell us which side of that equation he’s on. The written evidence is damning. If Paul wants voters to believe his disavowals, he should welcome the microphone. He’ll have talk a lot more about what he does believe, and he must be fully, openly, visibly accountable both for what he has done and whose company he has kept over the years.

My prediction? The next gong in the Republican primary will ring for Ron Paul.

 

Leadership Lapses on Payroll Taxes

A political consultant who taught me lots about the workings of the lawmaking process when I was new to retail politics told me that politics is in the end all theater. Rarely has his analysis seemed as accurate as watching the House Republicans today try to justify holding American citizens in a state of suspended animation, wondering what’s going to happen to their paychecks next year or whether their unemployment check will continue to come. One aim of the Republicans is to get voters to hate government, and that seems to be the one thing they are succeeding at. So I found Politico’s question today a little facile, but I answered it anyway. I’d love to know what you think , please.

RejectedArena Asks: House Speaker John Boehner has predicted that the House will reject the Senate-passed payroll tax holiday bill during a vote today. The two-month package would extend rates on the payroll taxes that fund Social Security, unemployment benefits and Medicare by increasing certain home-mortgage fees.

If paychecks go down in January 2012, who will they blame: House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Congress in general or President Obama?

It’s clear that the Republicans orchestrated all of this. Why is there even a question?

You can argue for or against any of the various provisions in the bill, but the political theater we are witnessing is purely being staged so the Republicans can tell the Tea Party and corporate “person” funders that they went to the mat even if it means destroying what’s left of the middle class economy they’ve already squeezed dry.

The Republicans wouldn’t be able to get away with this behavior if President Obama had led the public debate more proactively. He and the Democrats would be in a vastly stronger position if they talked more about American ideals than they do about making deals. But in the end the Republicans must bear the responsibility for their own recalcitrance. That’s what’s grinding to a halt the wheels of lawmaking.

 

Exclusive: Obama’s Epic #FAIL on Plan B

Please read this article, and just as the steam is coming out of your ears, go sign the petition and leave your comment for the president. It’s up to us to hold him, and all politicians, accountable.

Beyond-CrankyOut of patience with Obama Administration betrayals on health issues, a coalition has launched a petition demanding an agenda that is fair to women.

It wasn’t the first time that President Barack Obama played to a right-wing constituency at the expense of women’s interests, but the reversal last week of an expected decision on emergency birth control provoked perhaps the most critical reaction so far toward the administration by women’s health advocates and feminists across the nation.

When Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, recommended that Plan B, a contraceptive pill that when taken immediately after unprotected sexual intercourse prevents most pregnancies, be made available as an over-the-counter medication to all at risk for pregnancy, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took the unprecedented action of publicly overruling the FDA commissioner.

Sebelius’ reversal of Hamburg’s decision means that girls under the age of 17 will have to get a prescription for the drug, which for most girls means a visit to the family doctor—which means telling their parents. Those 17 and over will need to ask for the drug at the pharmacy counter. In a small town, that means telling an authority figure—one who may challenge your decision—that you might be pregnant.

Then Obama added insult to injury with a condescending statement about Sebelius’ maneuver. “As the father of two daughters,” the president said, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

The Paternal Prerogative

The callousness of Obama’s statement hit hard. His characterization suggested that Hamburg, a medical doctor who had reviewed the science, had made a nonsensical determination (silly her!), even as he asserted a paternal prerogative over the bodily integrity of every girl.

It’s the classic conundrum of nearly every female person on the planet: before she is of the age of consent and majority, a girl is subject to conditions that will shape her life ever after in ways that are simply not experienced by boys and men. Though couched in the language of protection, Obama essentially claimed that it’s up to a girl’s father to determine whether or not she will bear a child.

No other explanation pans out. The drug used in Plan B is progesterone, which has been shown safe for use by girls of child-bearing capability as young as 11. Other drugs sold over the counter hold the potential of worse side-effects than Plan B, noted Dr. Susan Wood, a former FDA assistant commissioner in an interview with the New York Times.

Speaking of the pain reliever best known under the brand name Tylenol, Wood told the Times, “Acetaminophen can be fatal, but it’s available to everyone. So why are contraceptives singled out every single time when they’re actually far safer than what’s already out there?”

Woods resigned from the FDA in 2005 because of the Bush Administration’s politicization of Plan B availability.

In fact, right-wing tactics increasingly reveal it’s not just abortion that anti-choice forces oppose: contraceptives, too, are in their sights. To make the case against Plan B, many right-wing opponents falsely claim the drug to be an abortion pill although, if taken immediately after unprotected sex, it expels the egg before it is fertilized.

Politics and Pregnancy

Just like Obama’s previous betrayals on women’s health issues, this one had politics written all over it. No one believed him when he claimed to have had nothing to do with the decision. Some wondered aloud if the Plan B reversal wasn’t the price paid to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who oppose all forms of birth control) for the provision of no-co-pay contraception in the president’s health-care plan. That plan, ironically, is where the president’s penchant for flicking away women’s health concerns first made its appearance during the negotiations surrounding the infamous Stupak amendment, which, while defeated, ultimately led to the virtual removal of abortion coverage from the American health-insurance system (starting in 2013). At the center of that battle were men in mitres (as the bishops’ ceremonial headgear is called).

And I’m sure that such voters as those in Ohio are on the president’s mind, as well, as he heads into the 2012 election. In Ohio, Catholics who oppose women’s rights can sometimes be convinced to vote Democratic for economic reasons, and Ohio is a make-or-break state on the electoral map.

The response from feminists came fast—and furious. Wrote Jodi L. Jacobson at RH Reality Check:

[A]pparently helping teens actually prevent unintended pregnancies isn’t an authentic a goal of this administration. Perhaps it was among the topics on which President Obama came to “understand the concerns of Catholics [read the 281 bishops],” as Archbishop Timothy Dolan assured the New York Times after his private meeting with the president.

At The Nation, Katha Pollitt took offense at the president’s statement:

Who died and made Barack Obama daddy in charge of teenage girls? Would he really rather that Sasha and Malia get pregnant rather than buy Plan B One-Step at CVS? And excuse me, Mr. President, thanks to your HHS, acquiring Plan B is prescription-only not just for 11-year-olds but for the 30 percent of teenage girls between 15 and 17 who are sexually active…

Redress of Greivances

Others decided to do more than vent, applying a more organized form of political pressure through a petition. US Women Connect, a national umbrella group of state coalitions that work on women’s social justice issues, launched a petition (which you can sign here) under the heading, “President Obama: We are BEYOND CRANKY!” The petition reads, in part:

It’s time to Occupy Ourselves. To say this isn’t okay. For young women, especially, to say, “You’re playing with our future and we’re not going to take it. Do not take our support for granted.”

Among the petition’s signers is Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power (and a WMC board member). Feldt, an activist who works with US Women Connect, and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, added this to the petition’s comments section:

I respect the president and the office he holds. But I have been increasingly concerned about the many ways this supposedly pro-choice White House has been going back on campaign promises to protect women’s reproductive rights, health, and justice…. We deserve better than we’re getting but politicians can only do the right thing if we make it impossible for them to do otherwise…

Others advocate more radical action than a petition.

Linda Hirshman, author of the forthcoming book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (HarperCollins), suggests the women’s movement take a page out of the movement for LGBT rights.

“We already know how the LGBT community deals with the president when he sells their interests out because of his own political calculation,” Hirshman wrote me in an e-mail exchange. “They pound him relentlessly and effectively, using the trifecta of political techniques: reveal what your adversary is really doing; invoke the assumptions of our secular, democratic republic; and assert the morality of your cause.”

As an example of the movement’s success, she notes how gay activists got the administration to decline to defend the Defense of Marriage Act—which denies same-sex couples the spousal benefits afforded those in heterosexual marriages—before the federal courts, even though it is customary for the Justice Department to defend laws passed by Congress. Taking a cue from the slogan of the early gay-rights movement (“Gay is good”), Hirshman suggests adopting a similarly effective slogan: “Teenage Pregnancies Are Not Good.”

The question remains whether Obama’s betrayal on this critical area of women’s health will affect his chances at the ballot box. Enthusiasm for the president among young people—a critical constituency for him in 2008—is already dampening. Women, too, could be turned off by the calculations of the president at the expense of their daughters and themselves. And in what is expected to be a closely contested race, the president can’t afford to have a single voter decide to sit this one out.

Many have said that women provided the president with his 2008 margin of victory. Most weren’t looking for a reward; they were just counting on him to keep his promises and defend their rights. Some are still waiting. Others may have already given up.

Here’s the link to Adele M. Stan’s original post found at The Women’s Media Center