Preparing For Summer Supreme Court Showdown

Naomi Cahn on red states and blue states. Justice Stevens steps down and the war over the new nominee begins. Also, how do you effectively discourage teenage pregnancy?

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Pledge A Protester

Justice Stevens steps down

Jon Kyle talking filibuster

Glenn Beck already on the warpath against hypothetical nominee

Sliver of hope

Candie’s ad with Bristol Palin

“16 and Pregnant”

The ugly whining begins

On this episode of Reality Cast, Naomi Cahn will be on to talk about her new book about the culture wars, the law, and economics. Also, Justice Stevens steps down and a new silly season begins, and approaches to discouraging teen pregnancy leave much to be desired.

Our own Robin Marty went out to the Good Friday protests in St. Paul, helping to support patients and clinic workers who are being targeted for harassment by people whose version of Christianity is a little less love thy neighbor, a little more hate your female neighbors for their rights.  The director of the local Planned Parenthood Tim Stanley talked to her about the pledge a protestor drive.

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It’s telling that the anti-choicers will show up even though they know that by doing so, they raise more money for the clinic.  It’s almost as if their need to stare at sexually active women and shame them is more important to them than any other factor.


If you thought that perhaps we might get a break after the health care reform battle from seeing abortion used as a tool to raise hysteria and shut down productive conversation in this country, well the news announced April 9th should put an end to that belief. 

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My prediction is that even if Obama were to nominate Robert Bork for the spot, the right wing media would swear that the nominee is the most left-wing, socialist, abortion-loving, baby-killing, gay-hugging person on the planet.  They’re so eager to get into faux outrage mode that they worked themselves into a complete snit before there was even a whiff of a nominee suggestion coming from the Obama camp.  Oh sure, politicians like Jon Kyle are pretending to offer the olive branch, suggesting Obama can avoid this sort of storm by nominating someone they call “mainstream”.

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But there’s no reason to think that “mainstream” is anything but conservative code for “right wing hack”, and anyone who falls to the left of Attila the Hun is going to raise the alarm.  How do I know this?  In part, it’s because the historical record shows that the court has been drifting to the right for decades now, as Dahlia Lithwick explained on the Rachel Maddow show. 

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So, here’s the indisputable fact that the court has moved to the right over the past few decades.  But even though the hard right has been getting their way on this front for so long, don’t expect them to lay off for a second.  As you can imagine, Glenn Beck is already trotting out a laundry list of reasons for his audience to go into a complete panic over the nominee, whenever that person should be announced. 

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Just thought I’d give you a taste of what’s to come.  And it’s funny that Beck raises this image that’s intended to scare his audience hammering at all these different identities and then whines that someone might suggest he’s a bigot.  He’s not a bigot, people. He just assumes that his entire audience is a bunch of bigots who will get completely bent out of shape at the idea of a black person, gay person, disabled person, or a woman getting the seat, and he feels bad for them that someone might think that’s bigoted. 

Beck does have a reason to be scared, though.  If Obama does nominate someone who isn’t a white man, folks like Beck and the rest of the right wing media will not be able to stop themselves from making an issue of whatever trait it is that diverges from white maleness.  And in doing so, they’ll continue the process of alienating huge groups of Americans.  The way the right wing used Sotomayor’s ethnicity as some sort of de facto evidence that she was anti-America sent the message to the nation’s Hispanic population that they don’t think Hispanic-Americans count as real America. 

One thing that hasn’t been a huge factor yet, but probably will be soon, and probably more than it was for Sotomayor, is the nominee’s views on reproductive rights.  The anti-choice movement is making a lot of legal moves lately, both in terms of trying to pass abortion bans that are aimed at overturning Roe vs. Wade, and in terms of trying to pass restrictions on contraception that will meet a court challenge.  With that in mind, they’re posed to really go nuts during the confirmation process. But there is one sliver of hope. 

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That was Orrin Hatch, who is a Republican, of course.  It’s wise to remember that with midterms coming up, a lot of members of Congress aren’t really going to want a big fight that will pull them off the campaign trail and back in to Washington.  That means a lot less motivation for a long, drawn-out battle.


Insert interview


On this show, I’ve mentioned before that I’m highly suspicious of the Candie’s Foundation and their use of Bristol Palin as a spokesperson about the perils of teen motherhood.  I don’t think Palin is a good spokesperson, because she and her family, being anti-choice, have an interest in glorifying her choice to have a baby.  They want to have it both ways, sure.  They want to demonize the sex but glorify the baby.  But the message that comes across at the end of the day is the glorification of teen motherhood, with Bristol on magazine covers and talk shows, talking up how great it is.  Even when she talks about how hard it is, I don’t feel she’s really dissuading.  That something is hard doesn’t do much to dissuade an audience of adolescents looking for their path to adulthood.  Jobs are hard.  College is hard.  Everything in front of them is hard.  Convincing young women to put off baby-making needs a better pitch than, “This is so hard but so worth it.” 

I think the Candie’s Foundation has heard these criticisms and their choice to modify the message doesn’t really do much better. 

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The ad shows Bristol as the glamorous teenage mother she makes herself out to be most of the time, and then at the end, she’s stripped of all that.  The message seems to be, hey I was born to a rich family, so I get to have sex.  But you broke nobodies better zip it up, because no one is going to put you on a magazine cover just because you had a baby. 

On one hand, I give them bonus points for honesty.  It is true that you, teenage nobody, will not get on a magazine cover just for having a baby.  But let’s face it.  This ad isn’t even that honest.  There’s no mention of the fact that Palin’s life is glamorized because it’s useful to anti-choicers, who can make her a poster child for someone who chose to take her medicine after being a naughty girl who has sex. 

But the real problem with this is ad is that it’s simply too confusing and complex.  It’s like asking you to fill out a questionnaire to find out if you’re glamorous enough to have a baby before you….well, and that’s the second part.  What exactly?  Pause before you play is a really ambiguous message.  If you’re really generous, you could assume that she’s suggesting you pause to put on the condom, but since Bristol Palin runs around claiming abstinence is the only way, I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to assume.

Refusing to talk about contraception is the sort of thing that makes ads like this completely pointless.  Kids get just say no messages from every corner.  And they’re still having sex.  Some useful peer to peer messages about how it’s cool to use condoms would go a lot further.

In other news of campaigns against teen pregnancy with questionable ideas, I have to say I don’t exactly get the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and their support of the MTV show “16 and Pregnant”. 

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At least they pass one test, which is that the message about teenage motherhood is uncomplicated.  It’s not like the Bristol Palin situation, where you’re given this glamorous image and then told that it’s bad and you shouldn’t do it.  This show makes teenage motherhood look like hell on earth.

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You can criticize it for negatively stereotyping teen mothers for sure, but it passes the sniff test for understandability.  It’s simple and straightforward. 

Still, you’re running into the same problems.  Everything is focused on the aftereffects of the pregnancy, and those aftereffects are assumed to be childbirth and usually motherhood or adoption.  Abortion is forbidden to talk about.  Contraception isn’t really addressed.  There’s no discussion about how realistically to get to the place where you aren’t one of these women if you don’t want to be.  It’s all scare tactics and no common sense. 

What makes this more frustrating is that the National Campaign has published some stellar research looking in to why young people aren’t as good about using contraception as they should be.   They’ve discovered that young people have magical thinking about contraception and ambivalence about why they should use it.  Instead of scare tactics, how about more positive ads?  Maybe show women holding up their contraception method of choice and saying things like, “This pack of pills kept me from getting pregnant from age 16 to when I went off it at 30.  Which means I got to finish school, get that dream job, and have a baby when I wanted with the love of my life.”  Or, “If it wasn’t for these condoms, I don’t think I’d be traveling the world in my gig as a marine biologist.”  Or whatever.  Demystify the contraception, clarify that it works, and show the benefits of using it. 


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, women are only good for their prongability edition.  One thing we know for certain about Supreme Court nominees, even potential ones, is if they are female, the right wing will start carefully examining them for sex appeal and find them lacking.  Michael Savage started in the second Elena Kagan’s name was floated.

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Let’s face it.  If Heidi Klum was suspected to be a liberal appointee to the court, she’d be called a dog, too.  It’s a way of objecting to a woman for being a woman.