Let’s Go Three-for-Three: Don’t Give the Right Wing a Win on Obama’s Nominees

Nancy Keenan

In her reader diary, Nancy Keenan writes: The media is abuzz with stories of GOP obstructionism of some of Obama's nominees. NARAL Pro-Choice America is taking action to keep the pressure on.

[This post originaly appeared in The Huffington Post.]

The blogosphere is abuzz with stories of GOP obstructionism of some of President Obama’s nominees to crucial posts. Random and ridiculous reasons have been given for various nominees… and they even used the "f" word: Filibuster.

The use of "filibuster" when referring to any of these highly qualified nominees is unacceptable and NARAL Pro-Choice America is taking action. Anti-choice lawmakers and activists are attacking three particular nominees simply because they’ve taken pro-choice positions: Judge David Hamilton, Prof. Dawn Johnsen, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. We will keep the pressure on until we go "three-for-three" and see these distinguished, well-qualified nominees confirmed by the Senate.

Why does this all matter now? Well, it’s early in the Obama administration and we’re seeing the start of what will be an orchestrated right-wing campaign to attack Obama nominees. Disagreeing with these three nominees on choice isn’t enough for anti-choice senators and their allies. They are engaged in an all-out effort to use anti-choice rhetoric, and the threat of filibuster, in attacking Hamilton, Johnsen, and Sebelius as a test case to see just how far they can go. If they succeed, they will be emboldened to shred the credibility of future nominees simply to appease their right-wing base.

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So who are these nominees, and why is it important for America’s pro-choice majority to take action to make sure the senate confirms them?

Let’s get to know them, starting with Judge David Hamilton.

President Obama nominated Judge David Hamilton, a district court judge in Indiana and the president’s first judicial nominee, to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Hamilton has the bipartisan support of his home-state senators, Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, and received a "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association. So far so good, right? Not if you talk to Matthew Staver of the conservative Liberty Counsel:

So he’s indicated, obviously, based on his affiliation with the ACLU and his rulings that he is somebody who believes in abortion and will legislate it from the bench. He’s somebody who doesn’t understand and respect our history and certainly doesn’t respect the original understanding of the constitution.

Obvious to whom, I might ask? Or could it be that anti-choice activists are opposing someone solely based on pro-choice positions?

Moving on to Prof. Dawn Johnsen. President Obama nominated Dawn Johnsen to the position of assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Department of Justice. She is an accomplished lawyer and has spent significant time serving in public office. It’s important to note that Johnsen has already served for several years in the OLC, making her uniquely qualified for this critical position. Johnsen has a long and illustrious record protecting civil liberties and enforcing the law.

Anti-choice bloggers and activists are targeting her nomination largely because she served as legal director at NARAL. As legal director, and also as an advocate at ACLU, Johnsen fought to make reproductive health a priority and a reality. Perhaps that’s why, according to Think Progress:

A Republican Senate staffer told Horton that the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel has particularly raised the hackles of Senate Republicans. "Not a single Republican indicated an intention to vote for Dawn Johnsen, while Senator John Cornyn of Texas was described as ‘gunning for her’…" (HT: Joshua Blog)

Sen. Cornyn went further to claim that Johnsen doesn’t have the "requisite seriousness" for the job (HT Tapped). And, ironically enough, he was serious.

Finally, NARAL Pro-Choice America is fighting for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, nominated to the position of Health and Human Services secretary. Gov. Sebelius has spent the last 20 years in public service, ensuring that Kansans are healthy and safe, first as a state representative and then as insurance commissioner.

As governor, Sebelius has a strong record of protecting women’s access to reproductive-health services and information. Americans United for Life said:

… Gov. Sebelius’ record demonstrates that she is unfit to serve as HHS Secretary and should not be in a position to make such important policy determinations.

A spokesperson for Sen. Cornyn then said:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a Finance Committee member, has already decided to oppose Sebelius’s confirmation, largely because of her record in favor of abortion rights, a spokesman said. "For Sen. Cornyn, his reservations are specifically over the abortion issue," the spokesman said.

That’s why pro-choice activists nationwide are contacting key senators:

Those targets won’t come as much surprise. [Donna] Crane says, "in general the senators we look at for these kinds of issues are the two senators from Maine, [Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins] pulled one way by their party and another by their values." She adds that "Sen. Specter…is somebody we’re looking at very closely."

You can help us go "three-for-three" by urging your senators to confirm all three nominees when they come up for floor votes.

The right wing has made these nominees their test case on how to derail President Obama’s efforts to put qualified persons in key posts. Our goal is to make sure they fail this test.

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

U.S. Senate Candidate’s Abortion Stance Sets Him Apart From Fellow GOP Opponents in Colorado

Jason Salzman

Former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

In Colorado, where Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in 2014 and GOP senatorial candidate Ken Buck in 2010 are known for taking hard-line anti-abortion stances during the Republican primary and then moderating their positions for the consumption of general-election voters, a GOP senatorial candidate this year is turning heads. The candidate, former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham, is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

Graham repeatedly states in speeches, as he does on his website, that the “government’s role in our lives should be kept to a minimum.” In keeping with this, he adds, “I support and I believe in a woman’s right to choose; and that our government does not belong in this decision.”

“I feel deeply about the right to choose, just as I do about the sanctity of life,” Graham told the Pueblo Chieftain in April.

Graham supports Roe v. Wade and praises Planned Parenthood’s ability to respond in “real time” when sexual health crises arise, like the AIDS epidemic, which he witnessed in the 1980s.

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As for details on the meaning of his abortion stance, Graham’s website states that “the government should not participate in any way in the funding of abortion procedures or abortion counseling,” and it also states that continued funding for Planned Parenthood “should be predicated upon their complete discontinuation of abortion activities.” He’s also opposed to “late-term” and “partial-birth” abortions.

Still, Graham’s position, particularly his use of pro-choice language, like “a women’s right to choose,” to describe his stance, sets him apart from his four GOP primary opponents, even making headlines like this one in the Pueblo Chieftain: “GOP Senate hopeful is pro-choice.”

The other four GOP primary candidates are anti-choice in varying degrees. Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner who was voted onto the primary ballot by Republicans at their state convention, supports so-called personhood, according to Colorado Right to Life, meaning he believes life begins at conception, and fertilized human eggs (zygotes) should be given legal rights.

“I am an unapologetic pro-life American,” Glenn said during a recent televised debate. “I don’t agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade.”

Businessmen Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier and former state Rep. Jon Kyser (R-Jefferson County) all say they are “pro-life.”

The question is, will Graham’s abortion stance affect his chances of victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary?

“From a purely political strategy standpoint, I’m inclined to think it will help him,” said John Sraayer, professor of political science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, in an interview with Rewire. “He doesn’t need all the Republican voters in the primary, he just needs to get more than the other candidates.”

Straayer said Graham’s position will hurt him with more Republican primary voters than not, but in a low-turnout primary election, with votes divided among five candidates, Graham could benefit from “standing out” on reproductive rights.

“The people on the pro-life side have four choices,” Straayer told Rewire. “They can only pick one, so the pro-life vote will be fragmented.”

Straayer pointed out that Graham’s campaign benefits from being run by political consultant Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado state party chairman, who managed South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s upset victory of Democrat Tom Daschle in 2005.

Graham, who became a Republican about a year ago, did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment.

No public polling on Graham’s primary race is available, but the latest campaign finance report shows that Graham is in the lead. He has given his campaign $1.5 million and has more cash on hand than any of his opponents, with over $800,000 in the bank, as the Colorado Statesman reported. Graham’s closest GOP opponent, Blaha, has over $270,000 in cash, after loaning his campaign $1 million earlier this year.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has $5.7 million in the bank, seven times as much as Graham.

In 2014, Sen. Gardner defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, in part, by claiming legislation he co-sponsored to outlaw abortion was merely symbolic, when in fact, it was not.