While there is some reason to think that the PUMA movement is largely a product of media hype and McCain campaign, there are, apparently, still some Democrats considering John McCain. Because I believe—despite all evidence to the contrary—that, surely, people must be smarter than this, I tend to assume that a lot of people interested in McCain are falling for his “maverick” persona rather than looking at his record. A couple of recent(ish) articles should, then, be helpful to feminists thinking of voting for McCain.
In The Nation, Katha Pollitt analyzes McCain’s position on reproductive choice and decides that, “to vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane.” She ends her piece with a quick civics lesson reminding us just how bad a McCain presidency might be for women:
As the Bush years have shown, the President has a tremendous amount of power; Supreme Court nominations don’t begin to describe it. He nominates all the federal judges (302 since Bush took office). He appoints the heads of dozens of regulatory agencies, many of which (HHS, FDA, National Institutes of Health) directly affect women’s lives. He submits legislation and the budget to Congress. He has a veto. Bush, we all know, has filled the government with right-wing Christian hacks and family-values fanatics, with room left over for incompetent cronies. He has done just about nothing good for women. McCain’s record suggests he would not be any different. His opposition to the Ledbetter Act, which would have overturned the Supreme Court’s restrictions on women’s right to sue for paycheck discrimination, tells you everything you need to know about where he stands on economic justice for women.
Kate Sheppard does something similar in an article for In These Times. As she looks at his record on abortion, pay equity, and civil rights, she finds a consistent pattern of votes and quotes that only a GOP loyalist could love.
Spreading the word about McCain’s record is vital, because his campaign is actively courting the moderate women who will be crucial swing-voters. As Sheppard reports, Planned Parenthood conducted a poll of women voters in battleground states and found that 50 percent of women voters don’t know McCain’s position on abortion, and that 49 percent of women who supported McCain were pro-choice. When they were informed of McCain’s position on Roe v. Wade, more than a third of the women who self-identified as pro-choice McCain supporters said that they would reconsider their vote.
In their assessment of this poll,
Planned Parenthood concludes that these findings suggest “that just filling in McCain’s actual voting record and his publicly stated positions on a handful of key issues has the potential to diminish his total vote share among battleground women voters by about 17 to 20 percentage points.”
And, lest we forget: McCain once called his wife a cunt in public.
Still Blue about Obama
Yesterday, I posted a response to Barack Obama’s recent comments about women who seek late-term abortions. While reading the complete interview from which his initial remark was drawn, I discovered this exchange:
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 the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.
The first part of this answer is great. I’m all for reducing the need for abortions and for giving teenagers the facts they need to make smart, healthful decisions about sexual activity. But you will note that, right in between “education” and “good information”, Obama slips in a reference to “abstinence education”.
Obama has been accused of pandering to the right with some frequency of late. I don’t yet have a fully-formed opinion on FISA or government sponsorship of faith-based programs, but I can tell you for sure that I certainly hope that Obama was pandering when he mentioned “abstinence education”, because the thought that he would actually support any such program as President is alarming.
There are no reliable studies suggesting that abstinence-only education works, and there have been several indicating that they do not. Given the evidence we have, government-funded or government-mandated abstinence education programs are like government-funded or government-mandated programs based on phrenology or mesmerism or the healing power of magnets—except that those might be kind of funny, whereas there’s nothing funny about abstinence-only education.
Furthermore, while I’m in favor of teaching kids to respect themselves and their partners, I’m not sure public schools should be responsible for educating kids about “the sacredness of sexual behavior.” That seems like a job for parents and clergy, not public servants.
I loved Bill Clinton when I voted for him in 1992, and I was slightly heartbroken when he jeopardized the most important job in the world for a blow job. I guess I should be glad that I’m getting my disillusionment out of the way early with Obama. But I can tell you for sure that I’m going to be a whole lot more disappointed if the comment quoted above represents his real views on sex ed.
Feeling Blue About Obama
I will be voting for Barack Obama in November. Everybody—well, everybody who cares—knows this already. Nothing Obama says or does between now and then is going to make me vote for John McCain or—saints preserve us—a third-party candidate. However, I must voice my current displeasure with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s suggestion that women sometimes get late-term abortions because they’re “feeling blue”. I feel honor-bound to say something largely because, had a conservative made the same suggestion, I would have been all over that shit.
And shit it most certainly is. I realize that Obama was engaging in some extemporaneous backpedaling, rather than offering a prepared statement, but his words were dismissive and insulting and ignorant, and, unfortunately, his original remark in an interview with Relevant (a magazine that describes itself as a publication for “twentysomething Christians”) isn’t much more reassuring:
...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.
Both comments show a distressing failure to appreciate the real, lived experiences of most women who have late-term abortions. If you’re interested in understanding this reality, I suggest that you pay a visit to Uppercase Woman, where—with bravery, candor, and understandable weariness—Cecily Kellogg continues to play the role of Internet Poster Girl for Partial-Birth Abortion. The abbreviated version of her account of losing twin sons—prepared, long before Obama made his remarks, for the edification of presidential candidates—will probably make you sad and angry. The long version, which begins here, will devastate you.
If you’re thinking that Cecily’s story is somehow exceptional, that her experience of late-term abortion was atypical, then you may want to read a similar—and similarly heartbreaking—account Lynda Waddington contributed to RH Reality Check in response to Obama’s Relevant interview. Lynda’s story is terrible enough, but this excerpt from the comment thread is possibly even worse:
Your story broke my heart. I too have had two pregnancies which had to be terminated. The first one was at 12 weeks and the fetus was dead and the 2nd was at 9 weeks but the fetus was dying a little bit every day. My doctor at the time refused to terminate the pregnancy until the fetus had died. I was forced to go in day after day and watch my baby’s heart rate get slower and slower…. Finally a nurse practitioner seeing the absolute distress this was causing me offered to fib to the doctor and tell him the heart beat had stopped.
I don’t like abortion. I think that, for most women who choose it, it’s an unhappy and unwelcome choice. And I know that there are people—smart, sincere, well-meaning people—whose views on abortion rights differ from my own. But “partial-birth abortion” is a manufactured issue. I don’t know how any thinking, feeling person would want to compound a grieving mother’s sorrow with laws based on bad science and disgusting—if effective—marketing. And I think it’s unconscionable that an ostensibly free society would jeopardize the emotional, mental, and physical health of it’s female citizens with measures that will not save one child’s life.
I have never been a single-issue voter—and, if I were, I suppose I would be even less inclined to vote for McCain than Obama, since the former’s record on the right to choose is consistently awful. I continue to believe that a Democrat in the White House is immeasurably preferable to a Republican. But, surely, Mr. Obama, you have more respect for women, their powers of reason, and their individual autonomy than the quotations above demonstrate. You need to put your oratorical gifts to work making that clear to those of us feeling a little blue about your recent unfortunate comments.