Culture of Lies: 2008 Politics

Scott Swenson

Social conservatives cannot complain that their issues have not been heard in the 2008 campaign, in exactly the fashion they wanted.

Editors Note: This is the first part of the four part Culture of Lies series; read the entire series here

Social conservatives cannot complain that their issues have not been heard in the 2008 campaign, in exactly the fashion they wanted.

John McCain selected the far-right’s hand-picked candidate as his running mate, Sarah Palin, instead of either of his preferred choices, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. McCain used one of the far-right’s most egregious and most thoroughly debunked attacks, that Barack Obama supports infanticide, in the final presidential debate. The Republican Party platform is recognized as the most extreme platform in history on cultural issues. Palin has talked up "Culture of Life" issues in her very few interviews, and John McCain has as well, going on record saying he believes life begins at conception. The Republican National Committee, several pro-life lobbying groups, at least two independent expenditure campaigns and the McCain campaign have used television, radio, mail, internet and robo-calls to deliver what appears to be a coordinated message on the "Born Alive" infanticide charge.

The McCain-Palin campaign attacked comprehensive sexuality education, supported bans on gay marriage, and several fundamentalist Christian churches openly defied tax and election law by endorsing the ticket from their pulpits to further energize their base. Everyone is talking about the importance of the Supreme Court and attacks from the far-right have intensified as the campaign progressed.  In every possible way, the Republican Party and the McCain-Palin campaign embraced the far-right’s "Culture of Life."

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Social conservatives could not possibly ask for more.

If McCain and Palin win, the appeal to the far-right base will be heralded as the reason, and he will owe them far more than just the Supreme Court justices he has promised.  If they lose, the recriminations, which have already started, will be fierce and the Culture War will likely turn into an un-Civil War within the Grand Old Party. Already the Palinistas on the far-right are suggesting she was "mishandled" by the campaign. Others will say with the economic crisis, there was just no way for McCain to win, even with a more experienced vice-president that appealed to independents.  

You can bet that none of the Culture Warriors on the far-right will take even one moment to consider that they have moved too far outside the mainstream of American culture. Either they are heroes for having delivered victory to McCain-Palin, or
if they lose, they’ll argue that McCain wasn’t strong enough on social
issues from the beginning. Will any brave and clear-sighted Republicans realize that rather than
throwing McCain a lifeline in this election, far-right extremism has
further isolated McCain, and the party, from mainstream Americans?

It is hard to imagine how much meaner and nastier a campaign can get than distorting someone’s record and accusing them of infanticide, but I have faith that the far-right could. That is what they will argue if they face defeat.

Yet there are actual facts that tell a different story from the one social-cons will believe, and argues against crediting them with victory should that come.

Since 2004, when equal numbers (37 percent) of Americans identified with each of the two major political parties, Democrats have held steady while the Republicans have dropped to 29 percent. New registrations, especially in swing states, have dramatically favored the Democrats. Across the board, polling has indicated that the Culture War issues of abortion and gay rights matter to a very small percentage of the electorate, usually less than five percent, often less than three.  Similarly, polling consistently indicates Americans reject far-right social conservative policies like abstinence-only-until-marriage, banning abortion and stem cell research, and discriminating against homosexuals.

VIDEO: Comprehensive Sex Ed vs. Abstinence-OnlyVIDEO: Comprehensive Sex Ed vs. Abstinence-Only
Barack Obama and Joe Biden have unflinchingly discussed their pro-education, pro-prevention and pro-choice values, from a position of public policy as well as personal morality. Obama put together a platform that has been praised by pro-choice and pro-life Democrats, and openly talks about working to reduce unintended pregnancies while respecting different opinions on abortion. The ticket supports stem cell research and does not believe in discrimination.

The far-right cannot complain that the Obama campaign has somehow "hidden" its agenda.

Could it be that Americans are rejecting the far-right Culture War? Could it be that they see through the tactical misinformation and manipulation of the "Culture of Life" and recognize it instead as a Culture of Lies? Even with a McCain victory the trend lines are obvious, the Culture War issues no longer resonate, especially with younger voters. 

Let’s be clear. I don’t know anyone who would take away the right for a person to believe what they choose, to follow their faith, however they interpret it.  The Culture of Lies is not about what the far-right believes or their right to believe it. The lies are about how they distort facts trying to impose what they believe on everyone else, taking away other Americans’ rights in the process.

If you want to believe dinosaurs and man walked the Earth together 6,000 years ago, when the Earth allegedly began, go right ahead — but let’s not teach that in public schools. If you hold, as a matter of faith, that pregnancy begins at an unknowable moment of conception, most people I know will fight for your right to believe that, but will oppose any effort to impose that ideology over basic medical facts in public policy. If you believe that teens really will remain abstinent and thus need no knowledge of prevention methods, that may work for you, but to continue wasting $1.5 billion dollars on programs that don’t achieve that goal, and actually put teens at risk, seems odd to many taxpayers. You believe that gay people "choose" to live a "lifestyle" that subjects them to discrimination, fine. You believe that women should not be allowed to make their own personal life decisions — that’s your choice — no one is forcing you to use contraception, plan your family, have an abortion, or work outside the home. And at death, should you suffer from a terminal illness and want every possible technology and treatment to keep you alive, no one — other than your insurance company — would deny you your belief that only God can end life, no matter how much science you use to keep yourself alive. The question on the table is whether your personal, individual beliefs should apply to everyone else, regardless of their personal, individual and deeply held beliefs.

For a generation, the far-right has promoted the biggest lie of all — that they are the ones fighting for individual rights, the ones whose values are threatened.

But the far-right has made a raison d’etre of opposing countless rights
critical to individuals’ freedom and self-determination, including stimatizing women who have abortions and making them more difficult to obtain; even banning procedures necessary to protect a women’s health — rather that work with common sense proposals like Prevention First promoted by progressives.

The far-right has attempted to equate contraception with abortion, which the Bush Administration will likely move toward by issuing a new ruling this week allowing trained medical professionals to deny you access to contraception. They demonized gay people and their families promoting ex-gay ministries instead of embracing God’s gay children and damned them by suggesting AIDS was God’s curse. The far-right continues to support policies that do more to promote the spread of AIDS than stop it, like increasing the abstinencce-only earmark in US global AIDS policy.

The far-right stood in the way of equal pay for women, denied family planning funding, imposed global gag rules denying free speech to doctors and medically accurate information to women, established Crisis Pregnancy Centers that promote propaganda over health, launched a war on science that delayed the approval of emergency contraception, spread misinformation about the efficacy of condoms, and so much more.

They have been unable to win these battles by arguing the truth as represented in medical facts, provable public health strategies, and science, so they lied. By manipulating genuine belief among people of faith with misinformation, they became a reliable power base within the Republican Party and as a result have had disproportionate influence on the political process, and the McCain-Palin campaign.

After eight years of being able to control the levers of power within the Bush Administration, the far-right was able to persuade John McCain to play his one shot at the White House their way. Having been beaten by their machine in 2000, he chose to follow instead of lead.

Americans have a full understanding of the Culture War the far-right has waged against their fellow Americans for a generation. We have seen their policies when they controlled Congress, we have watched the Bush Administration implement them, their judicial appointments put ideology over law, and the McCain-Palin team campaign on them.

Next week we will see if America embraces the values presented as a "Culture of Life" or sees them instead as a Culture of Lies.

Continue to Part 2, Culture of Lies: Values.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.