Roe Gave Birth to Politics of Personal Destruction

Scott Swenson

Thirty-five years after Roe, our political landscape is more divided than ever. The tactics born in one 1974 post-Roe Senate campaign in Kansas still shape the politics of personal destruction now engulfing our politics on race and gender.

The 35th Anniversary of Roe must be about more than just one medical procedure. It must also be about understanding how the political tactics many Americans reject have their roots in the election immediately following Roe and how those tactics continue to divide us today. We cannot expect to heal our democracy until we understand what these tactics are doing to our politics.

Issues of race and gender now front and center in Election 2008 make for a painful history, complicated present, and promising future if America can realize its unifying dream. That race and gender issues are being exploited for political gain by people on the left who fight for the rights of women, people of color and differing sexual and gender identities, is beyond disappointing. It is hurtful, divisive and risks an historical moment that people of all races, genders and orientations have bled and died to create.

Our politics will never transcend the historically intersecting oppressions of race, gender and orientation by capitulating to a divisive politics born in the wake of Roe. That post-Roe politic was perfected by forces opposed to a Supreme Court ruling that dared allow women and doctors to make private medical decisions free from government intrusion.

We cannot expect to heal a nation divided with political tactics used to manipulate voters and manufacture a movement since Roe.

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The First Post-Roe Election

It was 1974, a brisk November Sunday before an historic election, the nation ready to lift itself from scandal, war and a faltering economy. As people in my heavily Catholic precinct in Topeka, Kansas, left for church, they saw hanging on their doors pictures of aborted fetuses and two words: Vote Dole! When I asked my father about it over breakfast (I was 11) he said, "It's just political dirty tricks taken to a new low."

Sen. Bob Dole was in his first term, hand-picked by President Richard Nixon to lead the Republican National Committee, thus closely linked to the debacle the administration became as a result of Watergate, inflation, and failed policies in Vietnam. Sen. Dole was in a tight, nationally watched race with two-term Congressman Dr. Bill Roy, an ob-gyn who changed parties because of the war.

Dole won with 50.9 percent of the vote, a margin of a few thousand votes out of 800,000 cast, carrying largely Catholic precincts that Roy, Catholic himself, had easily won in his Congressional races.

Flash forward to 1996, when, quite ironically, Sen. Dole was viewed suspiciously by social conservatives as he sought the GOP nomination to run against President Bill Clinton. Despite a near perfect anti-choice voting record, Dole had not made outlawing abortion a priority, and the movement his 1974 election helped spawn, turned on him.

These insights are from Elizabeth Kolbert's excellent 1996 New York Times profile of Dole, Abortion: Dole's Sword in '74 Confronts Him in '96. In it, she writes,

"It was not a major point of conviction for him," noted another longtime adviser, who like several others interviewed spoke only on the condition of anonymity. "It's just that it turned out to be a significant point of vulnerability for his opponent."

Dole discovered that point of vulnerability almost as an afterthought. But he soon turned a State Fair debate about agriculture into a discussion of how many abortions Dr. Roy performed. It was a desperate move, according to Kolbert's reporting. But anti-choice forces seized upon it and, with or without Dole's consent, continued to raise the issue, and delivered last-minute abortion literature.

Dole was never pure enough for the anti-choice forces, but his prominence in the GOP ensured that the success of his eleventh-hour abortion tactic spread like a prairie fire across the nation.

What started as a small, fairly decentralized anti-choice opposition based on genuine religious belief found power in the tactics of a desperate politician who didn't share their passion. They set about electing people who did, and perfecting the politics of personal destruction, promising to take out anyone who stood in their way. Republican politicians desperate for a Congressional majority played along, as did Dole, thinking they could control the nice religious people that made up the movement.

Democratic politicians first rallied, then cowered, compromising their own principles on issues of privacy and personal liberty, trying to appease the so-called Moral Majority, rather than articulating their own values. Democrats lost their majority in 1994 and Dole lost his best shot at the Presidency in 1996.

Instead of being controlled, the post-Roe politics of the far-right took control of the GOP. It was expanded to stigmatize people of different sexual and gender identities as well as the more than one-third of American mothers who have also had abortions. Social conservatives, employing strategies of their modern guru Karl Rove, made politics so distasteful that fewer people participated, thus making the voices of those who did speak seem even louder in the public square.

The result?

In 2008, as the first female and first African-American candidates have a genuine shot at becoming president, we are witnessing an explosion of misogyny and racism that reminds us how far we have to go — because we've allowed the post-Roe politics of personal destruction to become the way our democracy functions. Instead of celebrating the triumph of generations who fought to give women and minorities more opportunity, the progressive coalition risks turning its greatest achievement into nothing more than politics as usual.

Rather than debating ideas and principles, some liberals have adopted the divide-and-conquer mentality of the anti-choice opposition, engaging in never ending war-rooms and failing to differentiate politicians they mostly agree with from those whose ideas are truly regressive.

Thirty-five years after Roe our nation is more divided than ever — not because of the private medical procedure it legalized, but because of the politics that developed in the decision's wake. Anti-choice forces have not over-turned Roe. Of their leading candidates, Mayor Rudy Giuliani would not change Roe, Gov. Mitt Romney has been on both sides of the issue and Sen. John McCain has said, "In the short-term, or even the long term, I would not support the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to undergo illegal and dangerous operations." Only Gov. Mike Huckabee is a sure a bet for the anti-Roe crowd.

In his pre-quel to what he sees as a disastrous election for conservatism in 2008, David Frum, in Conservatism That Can Win Again, also suggests that the anti-Roe crowd relax, and take a back seat to more important issues.

In other words, even the GOP is still divided on Roe after 35 years. But at some point Roe must be recognized as settled law, while the political tactics surrounding the issue must be correctly recognized as unsettling to our democracy.

Anti-choice forces have not contributed to the political dialog or public health strategies that could prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Instead, they chose to use their divisive tactics to stigmatize, creating a culture where violence against women, doctors and clinics is applauded.

Democrats are by no means all pro-choice, but the leading candidates for President are, signaling more comity on policy, even where they employ divisive post-Roe political tactics.

If the issue of abortion is really what matters, then the discussion should be about education, contraception, prevention and medical privacy.

But it seems no candidate on either side cares to talk about the substance of reproductive health publicly, preferring to use abortion as the hot-button it is to rally their respective base voters, having adopted the post-Roe politics of personal destruction.

At a moment when more voters than ever are paying attention to this historic election, those who have fought to create a diverse nation, respectful of all genders, races and orientations, should recognize and reject the politics of division that those opposed to Roe have used to poison our civil discourse.

If that style of politics really worked, we would not be marking the 35th Anniversary of Roe as settled law, but fighting for rights in the states. If that politics worked, we would not be worried about keeping abortion legal and safe, but creating underground networks for banned contraception, and would not see gains and acceptance of gay people, or even women and minorities rising in politics to new heights, because the old order would have won. Fear of the post-Roe political tactics and the compromise of principles that grew from it, are responsible for the state of our politics today. America has never operated from a place of fear, and our politics should reject these fear-based tactics once and for all.

The only thing the post-Roe politics has proved to be is divisive. They have distracted our nation from important business, prevented social progress and politicized the judiciary.

The post-Roe politics never delivered on the promise of outlawing abortion, but used the issue to manipulate true believers for the past 35 years. President Bush has delivered two U. S. Supreme Court Justices, but after 35 years, that hardly seems like evidence that the post-Roe politics has been successful at anything but creating more polarization.

The movement keeps busy in the states, trying to define fertilized human eggs as people with rights, making access to reproductive health care harder for women, limiting sexuality education to failed abstinence-only programs, and stigmatizing gay youth. That is not evidence of a successful political movement, but of fringe ideas on the extremes of society distracting the nation's business.

Sure, politicians can win by destroying their opponents with innuendo and last minute attacks that appeal to their base, but is that really what we've been working toward as a nation — better political tactics? Or is that why more Americans have been tuning out of politics for the past generation, and why in this election — so far — more are tuning in, because they sense real change is possible.

Abortion may have been a "significant point of vulnerability" for Bob Dole to exploit in 1974, but look at what his desperate campaign tactic turned into, and what it has done to our democracy ever since.

When it comes to issues of race and gender, sexuality and reproductive health, politicians from all parts of the political spectrum would be wise to think about whether or not their desperate campaign tactics, and the personal issues they choose to exploit today, will have a similar impact 35 years from now.

True leadership can be seen in those who choose a higher path, based on principle and judgment that appeals to the best in all of us, rejecting baser instincts and impulses.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.