Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Sen. Barack Obama today, based in large part on the extreme rightward shift in the Republican Party, which Powell has long been affiliated with. Powell also specifically said he is concerned about two more conservative appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I have some concerns about the direction the party has taken in recent years. It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that’s a choice the party makes," Powell said.
Powell noted that he was concerned that while Gov. Sarah Palin is a distinguished person, that as we’ve watched her, "she is not ready to be President of the of United States and that is the job of the Vice-President." Powell noted that her selection speaks to McCain’s judgment and is cause for concern.
"The party has moved even further to the right and Gov. Palin has indicated and even further rightward shift. I would be concerned about two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that is what we would be looking at in a McCain-Palin administration," Powell said.
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"Over the last seven weeks the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower," Powell said, contrasting that to Obama who Powell said is bringing people together and "thinking about how all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values."
Powell specifically mentioned the distractions of issues like Bill Ayers that are trumped up, and the tactics of robo-calls, as making the Republicans and the McCain campaign seem narrow and out of touch.
Powell was most powerful, poignant and demonstrated what it really means to be “pro-America” in his discussion of a young Muslim-American soldier who gave his life serving his country, the United States.
It is a great day to be an American, in my humble opinion, when someone with the stature of Gen. Colin Powell sets party aside to take up principle, and does it with such strength and conviction. It is not because Powell is endorsing Barack Obama this is important, it is because Powell is repudiating a poisonous politics from the far-right that has threatened our democracy, manipulated people of faith with misinformation, and used tactics that have divided this nation.
A weekend that began with a leader of the extreme far-right, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, calling for investigations into "un-American activities" by liberals in Congress, ends with Gen. Colin Powell calling for an end to an era of McCarthy-like tactics pursued by the far-right. Powell even mentions Bachmann in his post-Meet the Press interview below.
It should be clear to everyone by now that the most extremist elements of the far-right are primarily concerned with social issues. The far-right’s self-proclaimed Culture War set neighbor against neighbor, denied science and refused to consider medical facts and proven public health strategies, stigmatized and damned fellow Americans because of who they are, how they worship, or the personal decisions they make.
Only a Republican could have said what Powell did so clearly and with such moral strength. Many conservatives have preceded him in voicing their concern for the extremism within their own party. Perhaps the Republican party will find its way back to its roots after being held hostage by the extreme far-right social conservatives whose narrow judgment has done more harm to our politics and democracy than any terrorist possibly could. Whereas the tragedy of 9-11 brought us together as a nation, the far-right’s tactics continue to tear us apart. Once the world stood with us, but as a result of neo-conservative foreign policy and health and social policies based more ideology than medical facts, far-right tactics have squandered the good will America had in the wake of 9-11.
This election is no longer simply about any candidate or political party, it is about what every election should be about, America, and where we as a nation are going. The choice we make, to follow the path of religious extremism promoted by the far-right we are currently on, or to remember who we are as a nation of many faiths, is ours to make. Gen Colin Powell demonstrated today what a real American hero and patriotism is all about, not with his endorsement, but with his concern for the direction of the country expressed passionately, regardless of party, faith, or candidate.
While they don’t bother putting her name on the Forbeslist, by virtue of marriage Melinda Gates is the richest woman in the world. She proudly considers herself an advocate for family planning and women’s health. “I am focused on one thing,” she wrote in a recent blog post, “the opportunity to make a difference in tens of millions of women’s lives by giving them access to the information and resources they need to plan their families.”
But, there’s a catch: She doesn’t want to talk about abortion, and the Gates Foundation won’t fund it.
“Around the world there is a deep, broad, and powerful consensus: we should provide all women the information and tools to time and space their pregnancies in a safe and healthy way that works for them,” Gates writes. She goes on to express dismay that journalists wish to talk to her about what she calls the “abortion debate,” writing that she “struggle[s] with the issue” and chastising others for “conflating [abortion] with the consensus on so many of the things we need to do to keep women healthy.”
The stakes are high, she claims. “The only way” to provide “tens of millions” of women “the contraceptives that they want” is to be “clear, focused, and committed.” In other words, Gates holds a view of maternal health and women’s empowerment so expansive and huge that a pregnant woman in desperate need of abortion won’t fit.
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Perhaps you have heard of Hobby Lobby or encountered photographs of the all-male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church? There is no consensus on providing all women access to contraception. Further still, the foes of abortion routinely argue that birth control is abortion. Most of all, it’s ludicrous to position yourself as an advocate for reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health if you are willing to ignore women endangered by an unsafe abortion or unsustainable pregnancy.
But what I’d like to explore further is an underlying premise within a Gatesian view of reproductive rights and the women’s movement: That a commitment to abortion rights holds progress for women back.
She is not alone. Conversations about abortion are often assumed “toxic” not just to feminism and the equality movement, but political progress in general. If only, the thinking goes, those who believe in abortion rights and access to family planning could keep their mouths shut at strategic times (like during elections, attempts to get a bill passed, or let’s face it, pretty much any time), other progressive goals could be achieved (never mind the fact that the right opposes them, too) and we wouldn’t attract the attention of those who seek to restrict reproductive rights.
The anti-choice movement includes folks who believe they are on a mission from God, including some organizations that are actively working to infiltrate the government. The anti-choice movement benefits from millions upon millions of funding from the Koch brothers, works hand-in-glove with Republican leadership, and is regularly tolerated as part of an invoked greater good by the Democratic Party in the form of candidates and policy at the national, state, and local levels. (In contradiction to its own platform, mind you: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”)
The anti-choice movement will not slink away quietly if abortion rights advocates keep their mouths shut.
My Dialogue With an Advocate From the Other Side
Recently, I was surprised to see agreement from an unexpected quarter to one of my more passionate tweets on this subject:
The abortion debate doesn’t ‘poison’ discourse … it is the people who insist on calling women ‘murderers’ who do.
Writer and freelance journalist Bret Mavrich, who identifies strongly as “pro-life,” agreed with my statement. After some back-and-forth, he agreed to do a telephone interview with me, and I found the exchange to be remarkable.
When we spoke, Mavrich expressed concern about others who agree with his point of view on reproductive rights while, as he put it, “demonizing and dehumanizing the people who disagree with them.” He told Rewire he thinks respectful dialogue should occur between those of opposing viewpoints on the abortion issue, and that toxic language used by some of his fellow anti-choicers is part of the problem.
“My wife does ministry with post-abortive women. … When we talk with real people, real women that have had an abortion and hear their stories, it is impossible to label them in a blanket way, [like] murderer or baby-killer,” he said. “What you emerge with is a sympathy for women in their circumstances, even if you think abortion is a great evil or wrong.”
In explaining this further, he made an inaccurate claim that “a very high percentage of women who do have abortions feel emotional and psychological trauma,” but I don’t doubt that a self-selected group of women who seek “pro-life” counseling after an abortion may tend to display and even hold strongly negative feelings about their decision.
Still, Mavrich’s willingness to speak frankly, openly, and respectfully with an abortion rights activist writing for an explicitly pro-choice publication is refreshing. It is just one example of the kind of person-to-person conversations taking place every day that reveal the abortion debate is not and need not be considered inherently toxic.
In the course of our conversation, Mavrich expressed his opinion that both sides have a tendency to write off the other side’s views and dismiss entirely the people holding them. “If it’s true that we’re killing babies, this is really huge, and if it’s true that we’re shutting down and oppressing women [as reflected in the language used by the left] … if it’s true that women are being oppressed, then it needs to stop,” he said. “We need a space where we can be passionate but not shred each other because [that] is a profound waste of time and pushes us further apart.”
On that point, I wholeheartedly agree. We need more conversation about reproductive rights and justice, not less.
The Indivisibility of the Feminist Cause From Reproductive Rights
Dividing people on the basis of sexuality and reproductive capacity is a central part of how sexism operates. It’s positively jejune to see violence against women, or discrimination against women in the workplace, as wholly independent from views of women by matter of biological destiny as sexual objects to serve men, and caregivers to tend the hearth and home. It was no coincidence or freakish gaffe when Phyllis Schlafly recently claimed that paying women the same as men would make it harder for women to find husbands; she was, very strategically, trying to implant doubt among women that they can be “hot” and call for equality at work at the same time.
Not all women may become pregnant, but it’s true that the specter of pregnancy, caregiving, and presumed heterosexual availability supports discrimination against them. So if we really want constitutional equality, equality in pay and parity in leadership, and an end to violence against women, we do need to acknowledge that the various and far more numerous goals of empowering women will truly work only when women are able to exercise meaningful control over their own lives—including, and especially, their reproductive lives.
But what about those women’s organizations that purposefully avoid taking positions on reproductive rights? One such organization is the New Agenda. Its president, Amy Siskind, told Rewire that the issue simply doesn’t come up in the group’s work, especially in its work with companies and universities to promote networking and professional success for millennial women.
Separate from the organization, Siskind also spoke to Rewire as an individual, explaining that she had gone from supporting Hillary Clinton in 2008 to the John McCain/Sarah Palin ticket. “I honestly believed that the [Republican] mindset was to be not neutral but libertarian on social issues,” she said. “I thought we could put those issues away and start to vote based on other issues. … I’ve been shocked [since] then,” she said, noting that she was caught “totally by surprise” in 2011 by a record-breaking push to enact abortion restrictions.
This is not to say that the New Agenda is bad; if the group wants to bring people of diverse mindsets on choice to support women in other arenas, good for them. But from an explicitly political point of view—which is much bigger than one organization, much less all of them—the only way to hold people accountable to respecting women’s fundamental human rights is to talk about women’s fundamental human rights. A strategy of silence has no track record of proving itself believable.
The abortion debate doesn’t poison political discourse. It is not to blame for stalled progress on other initiatives that would improve women’s lives. In fact, other women’s rights causes would likely benefit a great deal from culture change that affirms the value of abortion—in women’s lives, as a commitment to equality, as a matter of public health.
Melinda Gates and others like her may have a lot of money, but we have a lot of voices. There is no need for reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates to mute ourselves for the greater good. Really, what good would that be?
It was a year marked by attacks on so many fronts that, for progressives, the year to which we bid farewell is recalled as a blur of battles over reproductive health, voting rights, marriage rights, the social safety net, public education, and, of course, health-care reform.
If there is a single theme to be drawn from the battles of 2013, it is far more base than a contest of ideology; it is the vindictive turn that right-wing politics have taken. For the lawmakers of the right, there is no longer a fight for which a mere win or loss on the merits is an acceptable outcome, not after they’ve riled their rabble with a lust for retribution. This was the year of “we’ll show them” politics—the politics of vengeance.
Right-wing politics have always been long on heartlessness and short on compassion. If your ultimate goal, in a society where social and economic inequality abounds, is the accumulation of more power by those few who already possess it, there’s really only one way to stay on top: Convince sizable numbers of not-so-powerful people that their well-being is threatened—not by your greed, of course, but by those who stand to gain in a more equitable society.
“Uppity” women, people of color, non-heterosexuals, people who do not conform to gender norms, and those of any sex or race who are poor have long unwillingly served as the deflective foils for the right-wing dons who stand to gain from the destruction of government they ultimately seek. Over the course of the last 30 years, a traditionalist segment of the white middle class was enlisted as infantry in the electoral army of the right, spurred by fears of the devolution of the patriarchal family structure, and the specter of minority status for non-Hispanic whites.
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Once, the mere rhetorical demonization of the marginalized, taken together with the denial of their rights, was enough to sate the rabble, but no longer—especially since the second inauguration of the nation’s first Black president. Here are five examples of the punitive rationales behind measures sought or positions held by right-wing politicians in order to show their constituents just how willing they are to teach a lesson to those who demand equality—or just a fighting chance at it.
1. Require women seeking abortion to submit to state-ordered, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds. Among the increasing numbers of measures restricting access to abortion, ultrasound requirements, formulated by abortion foes as a purported means of discouraging women from following through with an abortion, are nothing new. Some 22 states have pre-abortion ultrasound requirements on the books, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The anti-choice group Americans United for Life bases its model legislation for such requirements on an unproven assertion that when a pregnant woman views an image of her fetus, she will bond with it and decide against ending her pregnancy.
If a side-effect of requiring a medically unnecessary ultrasound prior to performing an abortion creates an impediment to accessing an abortion due to increased cost and/or an extra visit to a clinic that may be far from home, it’s one that arguably advances anti-choice advocates’ stated goal of reducing the number of abortions. But when it comes to measures that require medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds (which use a probe that is inserted into the patient’s vagina), it becomes clear that the intent of the lawmakers who support such measures is clearly punitive. And if you think the issue of mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds prior to having an abortion went away after Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took a drubbing for his proposal—forcing him to add a transvaginal opt-out to an otherwise dreadful and paternalistic ultrasound measure that ultimately passed into law—think again.
A law passed by the Wisconsin state legislature in July does so more cleverly, requiring clinics that have transvaginal ultrasound technology equipment on the premises (intended for use in medically appropriate circumstances) to use it on any woman seeking an abortion if it provides the best image of the embryo or fetus. Early in pregnancy, a transvaginal ultrasound is the only method by which such an image can be obtained.
According to the Associated Press, when the abortion restriction bill, which also requires that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, Republican Gov. Scott Walker told reporters, “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound. I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.”
2. Poor children would be made to work for food. In a nation that possess such wealth as does the United States, you might think it a given that consensus exists against child labor and for feeding hungry children. Not so. And if you’re running for the U.S. Senate from the State of Georgia, you’d best show potential voters that you’re willing to punish any kid who dares to call your attention to the fact that there are hungry children in a nation said to feed the world.
At least, that appears to be the thought process of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who currently sits on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the federally subsidized school lunch program designed to feed children who might otherwise never eat a full meal. In remarks to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party earlier this month, Kingston suggested that children given food by the state should either earn their keep or otherwise pony up for that mac and cheese. As reported byHuffington Post’s Amanda Terkel:
“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch,” he said.
3. Poor people would be left to go hungry. To hear Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) tell it, low-income people who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be cut off, because they’re living too high on the hog. The average per-person monthly amount received by recipients of the federal food assistance program (which is commonly referred to as food stamps) in Gohmert’s home state: $122. And 42 percent of single mothers, historian Ruth Rosen reminds us, rely on SNAP to feed their families.
His constituents, Gohmert said on the House floor during a debate on the farm bill, had seen people buying king crab legs with their SNAP cards. So, by his logic, you can’t blame them for wanting to cut people off. Another reason poor people on SNAP shouldn’t be receiving benefits, according to Gohmert: They don’t pay income tax. (Of course, that’s because their wages fall below the threshold at which the income tax kicks in. They still pay into Social Security and unemployment insurance, and pay other taxes.)
But the number one reason poor people shouldn’t get nutrition assistance, according to Gohmert? Because they’re fat. They don’t really know what hungry is, so let ‘em find out. As reported by Raw Story, Gohmert said, “We don’t want anyone to go hungry, and from the amount of obesity in this country by people who we’re told do not have enough to eat, it does seem like we could have a debate about this issue without allegations about wanting to slap down or starve children.”
The dispute between Democrats and Republicans over funding for the food program has proven to be a major sticking point in the quest to pass the annual farm bill, which comprises the SNAP and school lunch programs. Republicans who wish to appear as adults complain that the price tag for the program has simply grown too high, as the recession took its toll on family incomes. Those who do not wish to appear as adults simply blame the those eligible for the benefits for needing the help.
Although the House and Senate have each passed versions of an agriculture bill, the gulf between the chambers on food-stamp funding is so wide that a final version has yet to be worked out, prompting Congress to adjourn before the holiday recess without having passed a bill. The House version of the bill would cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next ten years, while the Senate’s bill would cut $4.1 billion over the same period, which the Congressional Budget Office reported would amount to a $90-per-month loss for some 500,000 households. A compromise is said to be in the works for an $8 billion cut.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is facing a tough re-election battle next year, and is eager to please a vengeful Tea Party, which never much cared for him, anyway. Perhaps that’s why he thinks food stamps should come with a work requirement, much like Rep. Kingston’s idea of a school lunch program.
“We need to move in the direction of having a vibrant, productive, expanding economy,” McConnell said in remarks to an influential agriculture group in his home state. “And you don’t do that by making it excessively easy to be non-productive.”
4. The long-term unemployed deserve no mercy. You’ve heard the term “jobless recovery”—and in parts of the country, the end of the recession has been just that. There are nearly three unemployed people for every one job opening in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which doesn’t take into account education level, employment sector, or regional differences in employment. But right-wing politicians say the people who lost their jobs because of the Great Recession or a disaster such as the BP oil spill are really just lazy. So, in the budget compromise bill worked out between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), an extension of emergency unemployment benefits was left out. And then, with current emergency benefits set to expire three days after Christmas, affecting 1.3 million Americans, Congress skipped town for the holidays.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he was all for the initial 26 weeks of the unemployment benefit extension that comprised the initial emergency package, but after that, people should be ready to be on their own (whether or not, presumably, actual jobs are available). Extending benefits further, Paul said, “would be a disservice to these workers.”
“When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” Paul said on the December 8 episode of Fox News Sunday.
Democrats are vowing to bring the emergency unemployment extension up for a vote as soon as they return from the holiday recess, but it could be tough going to get it through the House.
5. The working poor should be denied health care. When the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, right-wingers were ripping mad. But it didn’t take long before they recognized a motherlode of punitive action in one part of the decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts: States could opt out of the expansion of Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans subsidized by the federal government and administered by the states. Roberts’ undermining of the Medicaid expansion could be seen as a stroke of evil genius on behalf of those who wish to see Obamacare fail, since it offers those who rely for their political fortunes on their constituents’ resentment of the Black president a way to punish poor people in their states, among whom people of color are over-represented.
The Medicaid expansion, entirely funded by the federal government for the first three years, and then 90 percent funded by Washington in ensuing years, is intended to cut the health-care costs incurred by state governments and hospitals when the emergency room is the only option for a low-income earner. But some 25 states, under the leadership of Republican governors—including all of the states of the old Confederacy—have turned away the federal money for no gain other than the knowledge that millions of people, many of them people of color, will be left without health care. Sifting through Census data and parsing it with the numbers of states that have declined to expand Medicaid, the New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernese reported that, because of the number of states opting out of the full program, health-care reform under the Affordable Care Act “will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help.”
The people named by the Times as left behind are the very people targeted for punishment by right-wing actions on the unemployed, people who need food assistance, and people seeking to exercise their reproductive freedoms. Go figure.