Tags: catholic, fox news, greg burke, Media, opus dei, Pope benedict, religion, right wing, roger hollander, Vatican
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Roger’s note: Former Nazi youth Ratzinger’s Catholic Church, Fox News and the ultra-right Opus Dei, quite a trifecta of authoritarianism, elitism, racism, patriarchal sexism, and homophobia. The Pope picked thee right (in all senses of the word) man for the job.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Greg Burke, 52, will leave Fox to become the senior communications adviser in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the Vatican and Burke told The Associated Press.
“I’m a bit nervous but very excited. Let’s just say it’s a challenge,” Burke said in a phone interview.
He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as being along the lines of the White House senior communications adviser: “You’re shaping the message, you’re moulding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that’s tough.”
Burke, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement. Pope John Paul II’s longtime spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was also a member of Opus Dei and was known for the papal access he enjoyed and his ability to craft the messages John Paul wanted to get out.
After Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, Navarro-Valls was replaced by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit who had long headed Vatican Radio and still does, along with running the Vatican press office and Vatican television service.
Lombardi told the AP that Burke will help integrate communications issues within the Vatican’s top administrative office, the secretariat of state, and will help handle its relations with the Holy See press office and other Vatican communications offices. Burke will report to the Vatican undersecretary of state and the official who oversees Vatican communications in the secretariat.
Lombardi confirmed the news after the AP broke the story, several days before the Holy See had planned to announce it officially.
The Vatican has been bedevilled by communications blunders ever since Benedict’s 2005 election, and is currently dealing with a scandal over Vatican documents that were leaked to Italian journalists. While the scandal is serious — Benedict himself convened a special meeting of cardinals Saturday to try to cope with it — the Vatican’s communications problems long predate it.
Benedict’s now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican’s response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal are just a few of the blunders that have tarnished Benedict’s papacy.
Even the Vatican’s response to the leaks from within the Vatican of sensitive papal documents hasn’t involved a terribly sophisticated public relations strategy. Just last week the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, blamed the media and the devil for fuelling the scandal and accused journalists of “pretending to be Dan Brown.”
Brown wrote “The Da Vinci Code,” the bestselling fictional account that portrayed Opus Dei — of which Bertone’s new communications adviser is a member — as being at the root of an international Catholic conspiracy.
Burke acknowledged the difficult task ahead but said that after turning down the Vatican twice before, he went with his gut and accepted the third time around. “This is an opportunity and challenge that I’m not going to get again,” he said.
He said he didn’t know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played. Opus is greatly in favour in the Vatican these days, particularly as other new religious movements such as the Legion of Christ have lost credibility with their own problems. Currently, for example, the cardinal who is heading the Vatican’s internal investigation into the leaks of documents is the Opus Dei prelate, Cardinal Julian Herranz.
“I’m an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day,” Burke said. “Am I being hired because I’m in Opus Dei?” he asked. “It might come into play.” But he noted he was also in Opus when he was hired by Fox and Time magazine.
Burke has been a Fox correspondent since he joined the U.S. network in 2001. He was the Time magazine correspondent in Rome for a decade before that.
At Fox, he led the network’s coverage of the death of John Paul and election of Benedict in 2005, and has covered the papacy since then, travelling with the pope around the globe. But he has also used Rome as a base for non-Vatican reporting, including several stints in the Middle East during the last intifada, labour law protests in France and the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.
He is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism
Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week
What You Need To Know About ALEC
Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers.
This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.
ALEC operated largely in the dark for years, but gained notoriety because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. It turns out that ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that empowered George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed teenager with the defense that he (the shooter) felt threatened. When the bright light of publicity was shone on ALEC, a number of corporate sponsors dropped out, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and PepsiCo. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that it would not halt its current grant to ALEC, but pledged not to provide new funding. ALEC has some 300 corporate sponsors, including Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T, so there’s still quite a lot of corporate support for its free-market policies. ALEC claimed that it is the victim of a campaign of intimidation.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Groups like Common Cause and colorofchange.org have been putting ALEC’s model legislation online and printing the names of its sponsors. They have also published sharp criticism of ALEC’s ideas. This is hardly intimidation. It’s the democratic process at work. A website called alecexposed.org has published ALEC’s policy agenda. Common Cause posted the agenda for the meeting of ALEC on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has dropped out of ALEC and also withdrawn from the May 11 conference, where it was originally going to be a presenter.
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted. Just last week, the Michigan House of Representatives expanded the number of cyber charters that may operate in the state, even though the academic results for such online schools are dismal.
Who is on the education task force of ALEC? The members of the task force as of July 2011 are here. Several members represent for-profit online companies, including the co-chair from Connections Academy; many members come from for-profit higher education corporations. There is someone from Jeb Bush’s foundation, as well as right-wing think tank people. There are charter school representatives, as well as Scantron. And the task force includes a long list of state legislators, from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Quite a lineup. Common Cause has asked why ALEC is considered a “charity” by the Internal Revenue Service and holds tax-exempt status, when it devotes so much time to lobbying for changes in state laws. Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS about ALEC’s status.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has written many books and articles about American education, including: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch.
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Tags: abby zimet, creationism, education, right wing, roger hollander, sex education, Teen Pregnancy, tennessee, tennessee schools
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Not content with pushing creationism in schools, the Tennessee Senate has seen fit to add “gateway sexual activities” like kissing and hand-holding to sins banned under an abstinence-based sex education curriculum that has to date succeeded in raising seeing their teen birth rate. And teachers can be sued for demonstrating hand-holding. Waytago Tennessee; you and Arizona are tied for first-place lunacy. Up next: bans on pre-gateway activities like eye contact and breathing.
GOP Wants To Be Sure Women/Idiot Children Understand What Rape Is and Get Permission Slips For Pretty Much Everything March 25, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, abortion rights, alan, Arizona, birth control, dick, gop, idaho, pro choice, reproductive health, reproductive rights, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, women, women's health, women's rights
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org
The surreally awful news in the war on lady parts just keeps coming. An Idaho legislator wants women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and “counselling;” if she was raped, her doctor should make sure she was really raped and not just a participant in “normal relations in a marriage.” Alaska’s State Rep. Alan Dick (really) wants women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound and a written permission slip from the guy who, you know. Arizona wants to make it nigh on impossible to get an abortion, but if you make it through all the legislative hurdles you should have to watch an abortion. Then again, the author of the Arizona bill requiring women to prove to their bosses they are using birth control pills for non-slutty reasons, or get fired, is rewriting the bill because apparently, bewilderingly, some people got upset. Funny: Why don’t we feel better?
Tags: abby zimet, anti-choice, health, misogyny, pro choice, reproductive health, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, ryan mcdougle, west virginia, women, women's health
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03.20.12 – 11:13 AM
by Abby Zimet
With Virginia Republican – and avid supporter of the state’s personhood and ultrasound bills – Ryan McDougle so psyched to get all up into the lady parts of his constituents, they generously obliged him by taking to his Facebook page with to offer detailed reports on their menstrual cycles, cramping and vaginal discharge. His office tried to delete them; too late.
“Senator McDougle, I am almost 49 and STILL menstruating with no sign of slowing down! Frankly, I’ve had enough of this inconvenience – the cost of pads and pain reliever and all the mess – well YOU know how it is. You’re an expert on this lady stuff.”
Obama’s Still Muslim March 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Right Wing.
Tags: abby zimet, bigotry, evolution, interracial marriage, public opinion, republicans, right wing, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: before I go off on my high horse ranting and raving against the ignorance of those southern red necks, I have to remind myself that it is BIG corporate money financing those gazillions of nutcase radio shows throughout the south and southwest and their counterpart Republican politicians, all of whom spout wholesale bigotry and lies that amount to brainwashing, on a daily basis. And not to forget that PUBLIC OPINION IN OUR CAPITALIST PSEUDO-DEMOCRACY IS IN FACT MANUFACTURED. What is scary is how far towards fascism they are taking it.
by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org, March 12, 2012
A new survey of southern Republicans from Public Policy Polling finds that about half – 45% in Alabama, 52% in Mississippi – still believe Obama is a Muslim. A majority do not believe in evolution. And about a quarter – 21% in Alabama, 29% in Mississippi – think interracial marriage should be illegal. Oy: Wake me when they’ve seceded.
In Riverdale, A Happy Long Life Free of Prejudice March 1, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, LGBT, Right Wing.
Tags: archie comics, bigotry, comic art, family values, gay liberation, gay marriage, lgbt, one million moms, openly gay, right wing, roger hollander, toys 'r us, zabby zimet
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www.commondreams.org, Feb. 29, 2012
by Abby Zimet
The right-wing American Family Association’s One Million Moms is freaking out because Archie comics now has not just an openly gay character, but that character getting married to his partner. Who’s black, for Jiminy Cricket’s sake. So they want Toys ‘R Us to get rid of those nasty comics right now. But Archie Comics’ CEO says he wishes Kevin Keller and his new husband all the best, thanks.
“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.”
Only Ron Paul Warns Of Emerging Fascist State February 27, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing, War.
Tags: fascism, foreign policy, indifinite detention, militarism, military detentiion, ndaa, patriot act, presidential power, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, ron paul, sherwood ross, tea party, war on drugs
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Roger’s note: Please don’t get me wrong, I am no fan or supporter of Ron Paul with his Social Darwinian Ayn Rand Libertarian philosophy that makes a fetish of the sacred concept of individual liberty (as if it were possible to separate the individual from the community). Nevertheless, Paul’s positions on war and empire coincide with that of the left in general and the Occupy Movement in specific. It is also easy to see why his persona, which reeks of sincerity and honest indignation, appeals to youthful idealism. His association with the extreme right and some alleged policy statements that sound like white supremacism, are disturbing. But his position of militarism and fascism, as outlined in the article below, begs the question of why he is a part of the Republican Party in the first place; and why, if he sees the connection between authoritarian government and mega corporations, his domestic policy coincides with the interests of those same corporations.
Republican Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate of either party to tell the truth that America is “slipping into a fascist system.”
That is unquestionably the critical issue of the hour for the United States of America and one that Paul’s Republican fellow candidates and their Democratic opponent President Obama choose to ignore.
Hand in hand with this existential crisis is that a nation that goes fascist at home invariably becomes a tyrant abroad. Thus, the Congressman from Galveston is right on the mark when he calls for the predatory U.S. to pull its troops out of the Middle East and Africa and close down its foreign bases. The U.S., indisputably, with its 1,000 military bases at home and a thousand more abroad, is now the most awesome military power ever.
“We’ve slipped away from a true Republic,” Paul told a cheering crowd of followers at a Feb. 18th rally in Kansas City, Mo. “Now we’re slipping into a fascist system where it’s a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen.”
According to the Associated Press reporter who covered his speech, “Paul repeatedly denounced President Barack Obama’s recent enactment of a law requiring military custody of anyone suspected to be associated with al-Qaida and involved in planning an attack on the U.S.” (Note: Paul is a consistent defender of individual rights. He also opposed that previous horrific piece of totalitarian legislation mislabeled as the Patriot Act.)
Ralph Munyan, a Republican committeeman who attended the Paul rally, told AP he agreed with Paul’s warnings of a “fascist system” and Paul’s pledges to end the War on Drugs as well as U.S. involvement in wars overseas. By contrast, candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are all hawks spoiling for a fight with Iran and who leave peace-minded Republican voters no one to turn to save Paul.
An article on Paul published in the Feb. 27th issue of “The New Yorker” quotes him as saying, “We thought Obama might help us and get us out of some of these messes. But now we’re in more countries than ever—we can’t even keep track of how many places our troops are!”
In the evaluation of “New Yorker” reporter Kelefa Sanneh, “So far, the Paul campaign is neither a groundswell nor a failure. He is slowly collecting delegates…” which could impact the final selection of the nominee even if they do not have the strength to nominate Paul.
Overall, Paul’s message appears to be “doing better, state by state, than he did in 2008,” Sanneh writes, but “he has conspicuously failed to establish himself as this year’s Tea Party candidate.”
“People don’t think of Paul as a top-tier Republican candidate partly because they think of him as a libertarian: anti-tax and anti-bailout, but also antiwar, anti-empire, and, sometimes, anti-Republican,” Sanneh continues.
To date, Paul’s shining contribution to the 2012 campaign is educational—even if the major networks and cable powerhouse Fox News downplay his candidacy in their primary night election coverage. Some of what he says gets through to the public, particularly youthful voters. On the grave issues of totalitarianism at home and tyranny abroad, Paul is the last truth-teller. As such, Paul is a dove fighting for survival among a flock of hawks, and his chances are not bright.
(Sherwood Ross heads a public relations firm for political candidates who favor peace and prosperity.)
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Stop the Flood of Commie Sexy Lesbian Transgender Abortion-Loving Thin Mints Before It’s Too Late February 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Indiana, LGBT, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, family values, girl scouts, gsa, indiana, indiana politics, lesbians, lgbt, planned parenthood, pro choice, rep. bob morris, right wing, roger hollander, sex education, transgender, women, women's rights
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Roger’s note: I have long suspected the Girl Scouts of being a subversive organization and a threat to national security. These thoughts began for me when, as a young impressionable youth at summer boy scout camp (Camp Mohican, New Jersey), adjacent girl scouts were a constant temptation to our state of mind and bodily purity. It is obvious that young girls should not be allowed to “scout” when they need to be learning how to cook, clean house and — above all — obey. We can thank Indiana representative Morris for exposing this insidious danger. Repeat after me: NO GIRL SCOUT COOKIES! Try substituting genetically modified foods. It is good for the economy.
Okay, deep breath here as we confront yet another insidious threat to our great Republic. Asked to sign an Indiana House resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, alert GOP lawmaker Rep. Bob Morris did some research and found “disturbing” evidence that the group is a “radicalized organization” and “tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” that supports abortion, promotes homosexuality, encourages girls to have sexy sex, believes in giving basic human rights to transgender females and otherwise works for “the destruction of traditional American family values.” Understandably, Morris thus voted – alone – to oppose the resolution. He also plans to yank his daughters out of the grasp of these heathens and take them to American Heritage Girls Little Flowers, where they will “learn about values and principles that will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing,” and hopefully enter a 12-step program to free themselves of the addictive grasp of Thin Mints and other ungodly items. We wish them well.
From the Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne, the text of letter from Indiana state Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, to fellow lawmakers.
February 18, 2012
Members of the Republic Caucus
Dear Fellow Representatives:
This past week I was asked to sign a House Resolution recognizing the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts of America. After talking to some well-informed constituents, I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing. The Girl Scouts of America and their worldwide partner, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), have entered into a close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood. You will not find evidence of this on the GSA/WAGGGS website—in fact, the websites of these two organizations explicitly deny funding Planned Parenthood.
Nonetheless, abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood instructional series and pamphlets are part of the core curriculum at GSA training seminars. Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver last year warned parents that “membership in the Girl Scouts could carry the danger of making their daughters more receptive to the pro-abortion agenda.”
A Girl Scouts of America training program last year used the Planned Parenthood sex education pamphlet “Happy, Healthy, and Hot.” The pamphlet instructs young girls not to think of sex as “just about vaginal or anal intercourse.” “There is no right or wrong way to have sex. Just have fun, explore and be yourself!” it states. Although individual Girl Scout troops are not forced to follow this curriculum, many do. Liberal progressive troop-leaders will indoctrinate the girls in their troop according to the principles of Planned Parenthood, making Bishop Conley’s warning true.
Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles. In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists. World Net Daily, in a May 2009 article, states that Girl Scout Troops are no longer allowed to pray or sing traditional Christmas Carols.
Boys who decide to claim a “transgender” or cross-dressing life-style are permitted to become a member of a Girl Scout troop, performing crafts with the girls and participate in overnight and camping activities – just like any real girl. The fact that the Honorary President of Girl Scouts of America is Michelle Obama, and the Obama’s are radically pro-abortion and vigorously support the agenda of Planned Parenthood, should give each of us reason to pause before our individual or collective endorsement of the organization.
As members of the Indiana House of Representatives, we must be wise before we use the credibility and respect of the “Peoples’ House” to extend legitimacy to a radicalized organization. The Girl Scouts of America stand in a strong tradition that reflects with fidelity the traditional values of our homes and our families. The tradition extends from coast-to-coast and back through the past one hundred years. That said, I challenge each of you to examine these matters more closely before you extend your name and your reputation to endorse a group that has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values.
I have two daughters who have been active in the Girl Scouts of Limberlost Council in Northeastern Indiana. Now that I am aware of the influence of Planned Parenthood within GSA and other surprisingly radical policies of GSA, my two daughters will instead become active in American Heritage Girls Little Flowers organization. In this traditional group they will learn about values and principles that will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing.
I have been told that, as of today, I am the only member not supporting the Girl Scout Resolution.
I challenge each of you to examine these matters and to decide carefully whether or not to sign the resolution.
The deep roots of the war on contraception February 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, History, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, Barry Goldwater, Bill Clinton, birth control, catholic bishops, catholic church, conservatism, contraception, ellen chesler, fdr, George W. Bush, history, lbj, margaret sanger, planned parenthood, pro choice, reagan, religion, reproductive freedom, roger hollander, women's health
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The uproar over Obama’s decision stems from tensions between Democrats and Catholics that date back to FDR and LBJ
(Credit: Library of Congress/The White House)
Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.
It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.
Recent public opinion polling on the subject is worth reconsidering. For years, it has been perfectly clear that a substantial majority of Americans see the value of expanding access to contraception and reliable sex education as essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion and to help women balance the competing demands of work and family. But unlike a zealous minority on the other side, these moderates have not necessarily privileged these social concerns over important questions of economics or national security that mattered more to them at election time.
That’s what seems to be changing. With his now-famous “nope, zero” response last spring, President Obama simply shut down Republicans in Congress who wanted to defund family planning as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. The action elicited a sudden surge in his popularity, especially in the highly contested demographic of women voters between the ages of 30 and 49 who voted for him in 2008 but wound up frustrated by failed promises and disappointing economic policies. Campaign polling has since uncovered a big opening for Obama with this group because they are furious over Republican social extremism. An astonishing 80 percent of them disapproved of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last spring. Polling among Catholics in response to last week’s controversy shows identical patterns, with 57 percent overall supporting the Obama “compromise” to ensure full coverage of contraception, according to reporting by Joe Conason in The National Memo, and cross-tabs demonstrating much higher margins of support from Catholic women, Latinos, and independent Catholic voters — all prime Obama election targets.
If the numbers are so persuasive, why then have Republican conservatives strayed so far from the greater tolerance of the Goldwater age? Why have they allowed the family planning issue to tie their candidates up in knots in 2012? The answer is in just how outsized the influence of a minority viewpoint can be on a political party, so long as it represents the base of that party’s support.
A bit of history going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is instructive. Back then, birth control was still illegal in this country, still defined as obscene under federal statutes that remained as a legacy of the Victorian era, even though many states had reformed local laws and were allowing physicians to prescribe contraception to married women with broadly defined “medical” reasons to plan and space their childbearing.
The movement’s pioneer, Margaret Sanger, went to Washington during the Great Depression, anticipating that Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was her friend and neighbor in New York, would address the problem and incorporate a public subsidy of contraception for poor women into the safety net the New Deal was constructing. What Sanger failed to anticipate, however, was the force of the opposition this idea would continue to generate from the coalition of religious conservatives, including urban Catholics and rural fundamentalist Protestants who held Roosevelt Democrats captive, much as they have today captured the GOP. It was Catholic priests, and not the still slightly scandalous friend of the First Lady, who wound up having tea at the Roosevelt White House.
The U.S. government would not overcome moral and religious objections until the Supreme Court protected contraceptive use under the privacy doctrine created in 1965 under Griswold v. Connecticut. That freed President Lyndon Johnson to incorporate family planning programs into the country’s international development programs and into anti-poverty efforts at home. As a Democrat still especially dependent on Catholic votes, however, Johnson only agreed to act once he had the strong bipartisan support of his arch rival Barry Goldwater’s endorsement and also the intense loyalty and deft maneuvering of Republican moderates like Robert Packwood of Oregon in the Senate. Packwood, in turn, worked alongside Ohio’s Robert Taft, Jr. in the House and a newcomer from Texas by the name of George H. W. Bush. Bush would remain a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom for women until political considerations during the 1980 presidential elections, when he was on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, accounted for one of the most dramatic and cynical public policy reversals in modern American politics.
Reagan had supported California’s liberal policies on contraception and abortion as governor, and Bush as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to the United Nations had helped shape the UN’s population programs. But Republican operatives in 1980 saw a potential fissure in the traditional New Deal coalition among Catholics uncomfortable with the new legitimacy given to abortion after Roe v. Wade and white southern Christians being lured away from the Democrats around the issue of affirmative action and other racial preferences. Opposition to abortion instantly became a GOP litmus test, and both presidential hopefuls officially changed stripes.
Fast forward to 1992 and the election of Bill Clinton as America’s first pro-choice president, coupled with the Supreme Court’s crafting of a compromise decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that put some limits on access to abortion but essentially preserved the core privacy doctrine of Roe v. Wade. The perceived double threat of these political and judicial developments unleashed a new and even more powerful conservative backlash that took aim not only at abortion, but at contraception and sex education as well.
Exploiting inevitable tensions in the wake of profound social and economic changes occurring across the country as the result of altered gender roles and expectations — changes symbolized and made all the more palpable by Hillary Clinton’s activist role as First Lady — conservatives, with the support of powerful right-wing foundations and think tanks, poured millions of dollars into research and propaganda promoting family values and demonizing reproductive freedom, including emotional television ads that ran for years on major media outlets. A relentless stigmatizing of abortion, along with campaigns of intimidation and outright violence against Planned Parenthood and other providers, had a chilling effect on politicians generally shy of social controversy. And Bill Clinton’s vulnerability to charges of sexual misconduct left his administration and his party all the more defensive.
Since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, aptly labeled a “Personal Responsibility Act,” not only has access to abortion been curtailed, but funds for family planning programs at home and abroad have been capped. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to the teaching of sexual abstinence, rather than more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Just as tragically, U.S. programs addressing the crisis of HIV/AIDS — admirably expanded during the presidency of George W. Bush — were nonetheless made to counsel abstinence and oppose the use of condoms and other safe sex strategies, leaving women and young people all the more vulnerable to the ravages of the epidemic.
Empirically grounded studies over and over again undermined the efficacy of these approaches, which also flew in the face of mainstream American viewpoints and basic common sense. With Barack Obama’s election they have largely been revoked, enflaming the conservative base that put them in place and has lived off the salaries supported by government funding for faith-based social policy.
Even more disheartening to conservative true believers is the promise that the Affordable Care Act will vastly expand access to contraception by providing insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. This guarantee, endorsed by all mainstream health advocates, also includes emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, that holds the promise of further reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion and was meant to offer common ground in an abortion debate long defined by a clash of absolutes. The strong dose of ordinary hormones in emergency contraception act primarily by preventing fertilization, just like daily contraceptive pills, but in rare instances may also disable a fertilized egg from implanting by weakening the uterine lining that it needs for sustenance, causing opponents to vilify it as an abortifacient.
Supporting the Obama policy changes, on the other hand, is a new generation of progressive activists in reproductive health and rights organizations, energized by the intensity of the assaults against them, and now well-armed to educate and activate their own supporters by using traditional grassroots strategies and more sophisticated social networking. No institution has been more important in this effort than Planned Parenthood, with its vast networks of affiliates and supporters in every state, millions more supporters online, and a powerful national political and advocacy operation based in Washington D.C. that has been put to use to great effect in recent months.
The strength of the Planned Parenthood brand, coupled with the organization’s demonstrated ability to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters when it is attacked, has helped overcome traditional political reticence on reproductive justice issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is already out with a strong new appeal warning politicians that women are watching. “Enough is enough. Back off on birth control,” is the new advocacy mantra.
Mindful of the numbers — and with the added ballast of what now amounts to a daily drumbeat of progressive television talk and comedy that delights in pillorying Republican prudery — Democrats are intensifying their resolve to take on this fight. Two things we can be sure of: Whoever emerges from the bloodbath of the GOP contest will try and backtrack from the birth control extremism of the primary. And Obama supporters, backed up by the advocacy community, will in turn stand ready to pounce on this inevitable flip-flopping.
Both sides may well summon the spirit and words of Barry Goldwater, who cautioned against allowing faith-based extremism to gain control of the Republican Party. “Politics and governing demand compromise,” he told John Dean, who reports on the conversation in his 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” “But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”
- Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of “Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.” More Ellen Chesler