At Zero Hour, Competitive Congressional Races See Fights Over Reproductive Health

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At Zero Hour, Competitive Congressional Races See Fights Over Reproductive Health

Amanda Marcotte

Three of the most highly competitive House and Senate races feature spirited debate on reproductive health and other so-called "social" issues.

Dubbed the "silly season"
by political bloggers, campaign season is noteworthy each time around
for the race to the bottom by people willing to exploit any angle they
have to get a single vote.  In the last few days of this historic
election, I keep finding myself humming "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
by Joy Division, specifically the lines, "All my failings
exposed/Get a taste in my mouth/As desperation takes hold." 
Many of us are clutched up in anxiety waiting for Election Day, and
short of a massage, the best relaxation is sitting back and laughing
at the shenanigans.   

The House race between
Illinois 6th District incumbent Peter Roskam and challenger Jill Morgenthaler has become the one to
watch, if you look to politics to entertain you.  Roskam holds
the seat previously held by the abortion obsessive Henry Hyde, who wrote
the infamous Hyde amendment that requires women who receive federal
health care to carry pregnancies to term against their will if they
can’t scrape together the money to pay for abortions.  Roskam, if anything, is even more interested
in using his political power to control women’s private health care
decisions, and this aspect of his political philosophy has become a major factor in
Morgenthaler’s argument against him

Morgenthaler has highlighted Roskam’s attempts to pass a law that
would require women to carry all embryos created for in-vitro fertilization
to term, though the bill did not seem to stipulate that women would
be required to carry 12 to 15 fetuses at once, which perhaps was its
only nod to reality.   

Until this week, Roskam has not had
the money to run ads against Morgenthaler,

and he’s in a state of stress that tends to make political watchers
grab the popcorn, because we know it’s just a matter of time before
something indiscreet comes out of his mouth.  Roskam did not disappoint, as the Pioneer Press

    Citing the late Congressman
    Henry Hyde, who represented the 6th District for 16 terms until 2006,
    Roskam said people cannot be categorized by the way in which they were
    conceived and asked in the Pioneer Press interview why women can have
    abortions if rapists cannot be executed. 

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It’s a baffling statement,
because the only people who truly want to classify people by their conception
are those who espouse "traditional values" and want to classify
people into groups known as "legitimate" and "illegitimate"
precisely on the circumstances of their conception and their parents’
relationship to one another.  As far as I know, no one suggests
giving people conceived by rape fewer rights.  The question I want
to ask Roskam is, if we don’t execute rapists, why do we think it’s
okay to punish their innocent victims with forced childbirth? 

But it’s not a real political
circus until someone sues someone else for libel, and challenger Kay
Hagan of North Carolina obliged, suing Senate incumbent Elizabeth Dole
for defamation and libel.

At issue are a series of ads that imply not just that Hagan consorts
with atheists, but she herself is "godless."  The ad confuses
the words of a local atheist activist, seeming to put them directly
in Hagan’s mouth, even though Hagan is a Presbyterian who teaches
Sunday school.  The lawsuit hurt my feelings a bit, because I’m
an atheist and don’t see that we’re so bad that it’s defaming
to consort with us, but in a nation that’s overrun with culture warriors
who want to imply that one can’t have religious faith and be pro-choice
or pro-gay, I can see the political importance of the lawsuit.  

Dole, who sits in the seat
once occupied by Jesse Helms, has tried to defeat Hagan by pulling out
all culture warrior stops, blanketing North Carolina with mailers decrying Hagan’s
unwillingness to write bigotry into the state constitution,
and comically showing two male dolls
wearing tuxedos, one kneeling in front of the other. I’m taking the
kneeling image as a good sign.  It used to be that just showing
people same sex dolls standing next to each other would send a community
into a tizzy.  Now that’s apparently not enough, and they have
to use images that unsubtly hint at pornographic ones in order to get
people in the right paranoid mindset.  Will the homo-panic fliers
during the next campaign season show naked dolls in bed together? 
I suspect they’ll have to go there. 

The fears of atheism and dude
doin’ it hasn’t managed to help Dole’s campaign, though. 
In fact, Hagan
pulled out even further ahead of Dole in the polls,
capturing a 6 point lead going into
the weekend before election day, and this in a state with early voting. 
Dole no doubt thought the atheist ad would be an October surprise, but
unless she has a November surprise, her chances aren’t looking so

Across the country, the culture
warrior campaign tactics seem to be losing their luster, after 40 years
of being the go-to way for candidates to turn an election away from
policy and towards begrudging your neighbor and resisting the future. 
Even in the Minnesota race, where anti-choice ads are helping keep Al
Franken close to incumbent Norm Coleman in the polls, the ads  seem lackluster
and uninspired, running through "child-killing" accusations
that have lost much of their power from toothless repetition.
Are Americans finally tired of being
terrorized with hyperbolic images of out-of-control godless liberalism? 
Or is it just a temporary blip, a result of an economic crisis that
makes policing your neighbor’s bedroom seem less important than it
used to?  No one can really say, and it will be years before we
know for sure what’s going on.

Topics and Tags:

House 2008, Senate 2008