Separating the symptoms from the syndrome

Had enough already of the economy, jobs, and Medicare as political issues?  Are you ready for some good, old-fashioned, divisive social issues, guaranteed to split Americans along religious lines?  That’s what evangelical Christians do, and with the election getting closer there should be no surprise that a new round is erupting.

The Republican National Convention is next week; this week the platform committee approved a plank regarding abortion that pretty much falls in line with the party’s position on that issue over the last few platforms: no abortion, no way, no how…and no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” said the draft platform language approved Tuesday, which was first reported by CNN. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

I’ll give them this: that’s the only intellectually consistent anti-abortion position possible—if an unborn child has a fundamental right to life, there can be no exception that would permit that right to be “infringed.”  But that’s a hard line to take, and those exceptions have been included in many laws outlawing abortions because, to most people, it doesn’t seem fair for the government to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term when she didn’t choose to become pregnant, or when the pregnancy itself threatens her life and health.  Unless you don’t believe that women deserve the same treatment under law as men, in which case, well, that’s tough luck for the little lady.

Is it just coincidence that this comes up as a Missouri congressman stuns us with the concept of “legitimate rape”?  Probably; more’s the pity.

Let me give Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the benefit of the doubt.  When he answered a question about permitting abortion in the case of rape (KTVI-TV’s complete report is here), and said that he understood pregnancy as a result of rape was rare because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” I think he was trying to say that he believes that most of the pregnant women who claim they were raped are lying about having been raped, not trying to suggest that there is such a thing as “legitimate rape” as opposed to “illegitimate rape.”

In other words, he was demonstrating his ignorance.  That’s what’s driving a large part of the reaction, but what’s driving the rest—the portion from within the Republican Party—is that Akin looked stupid on a national stage, thereby threatening the GOP’s takeover of the U.S. Senate in this election, and opened up a crack in the extremist positions of the Republican Party for all the rest of us to take a peek.

We should not be fooled that Akin’s statement, merely because it is so offensive and quickly retracted or clarified, is a mere slip. It actually represents the worldview of Akin and many like-minded Republican colleagues. His comments are part and parcel of a view of civil rights, women’s rights, and science that should be antithetical to a modern society. It reflects a worldview that has held up progress on too many serious issues, a form of know-nothingism for the modern era, a rejection of the very notion of learning.

There’s little doubt that the “conservative” forces that have taken control of the GOP have a wide-ranging agenda driven by their adherence to the belief that America is a Christian nation that needs to be evangelized, to be “taken back” from the forces advocating the constitutional principles of a secular, inclusive, civil society.  What was once the party of Lincoln, of Roosevelt, even of Reagan, has moved so far to the extreme that it’s left a lot of its old membership behind.  (Let’s make posting examples of that a new parlor game, shall we—who wants to go next?)

Republicans…conservatives…evangelical extremists…organizing themselves to support and promote their beliefs, is absolutely their right, without question; speaking out against that myopic vision of our country is a right, too.  A right LZ Granderson exercised today…

Some social conservatives talk of protecting religious freedom, but what they are really seeking is a theocracy that places limits on freedom based on a version of Judeo-Christianity that fits their liking.That language is also being considered for the GOP’s national platform.

And John Avlon, also

So the real scandal is not just the sincere stupidity of Akin’s statement — it is the policy that undergirds it, enshrined in the Republican National Platform. The problem is bigger than politics, and that’s why it is worth discussing in this election, even when Akin is off the front pages.

…just to name two; I’ll be looking for the slightest excuse to post more.

Today Akin apologized for his comment and confessed he does understand that, yes, rape can cause pregnancy.  He also defied his party (from a safe perch behind Mike Huckabee’s microphone) and said he will not resign from the Senate race against Missouri’s Democratic incumbent senator; the applause and the apoplexy resume.  But Akin is not the issue…he’s only a symptom, and one to which an attentive citizenry needs to pay attention.

I really don’t want to have to hear all this right now

I mean, this is June…June 2011, right?  Almost 17 months before the 2012 election?  I find that I grow fatigued already with the attention being paid to the early stages of the Republican Party’s presidential contest (I would be fatigued with the attention to the Democratic Party’s contest right now, too, if there was one).  There’s too much time before the election, and too much opportunity for things to happen—to change—for me to believe I’ve got to lock in to a candidate right now.  Yet the drone of activity continues.

It now seems clear that Rick Perry’s made up his mind to run for president.  Fine.  (I’ve been fighting off an imagined letter explaining his strategy, but I don’t know if I can fight it forever.)  One reason the Perry prospectus is positive is that the Newt Gingrich political brain trust that quit on him earlier this month was a bunch of Perry people, so they’re now available, if asked, to work on the makeover of yet another Texas governor into a national leader.  (Wasn’t the last one we sent you enough for a while?)  Gingrich says that was just a difference of opinion about how to run a campaign…wonder what his reasoning is today to explain his major fundraisers also calling it quits?

There’s been some consideration lately that perhaps Michele Bachmann is not so out of the mainstream after all; this is disturbing, too, and appears to be true to the extent that the mainstream is no longer where it once was.

But there was some not-disheartening news today in the stories on Jon Huntsman’s announcement of his candidacy for president.  He was able to make the point that he believes himself to be the best person for the job without resorting to irrational and hysterical (and untrue) accusations about President Obama.  No ominous warnings about socialism, or death panels, or usurpers and traitors, or even accusations that he doesn’t love his own dog.

“He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love,” Mr. Huntsman said of Mr. Obama. “But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”

I don’t really want to be undergoing a presidential election right now, in the same way that I really don’t want to be undergoing a colonoscopy right now.  If I must, though, I could get used to one that sounded like that; on the other hand, I’m far too used to the sound of Americans’ religious bigotry showing its resilience, as it did again today.