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Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

In The Political Brain•, Westen mentions that the Republicans are remarkably good at making their values appear to be the values of the majority of Americans when it comes to controversial issues, even though the polls consistently show that the Democratic positions are actually more similar. This is due to two things, Westen says. First, Democrats shy away from “controversial” issues, like abortion, guns, etc. because they are too worried about offending anybody, and by refusing to lay out a coherent, principled Democratic narrative on guns or reproductive rights or the environment or whatever, they allow Republicans to define the Democratic position in the public’s mind for them. Then, in the absence of any counter-narrative from the Dems, voters take Republicans at their word. They fail to realize the extremity of the Republican position on these issues (the official position on the Republican Party is that abortion should be outlawed in ALL circumstances, even those that are life-or-death for the mother, and that there should be absolutely no restrictions on gun purchases) while maintaining an exaggerated belief in the extremity of the Democratic position.

A good examples of this dichotomy, I think, is with birth control. Ninety-eight percent of women of reproductive age have used one or more methods of birth control, generally the pill or condoms. Things used by nearly all American women at some point in their lives cannot, by definition, be radical.

Although the RNC platform lists no specifics about birth control, Bush’s funding of abstinence only programs not just for teens but for low-income women and global health centers belies an administration that is obviously not to keen on condoms or birth control pills. Yet Bush has refused to ever specify his exact position on these. Why? Because it is at odds with all but 2 percent of American women.

And yet the Democrats rarely bring this up (when I say Democrats, I mean party leadership and politicians, as opposed to, say, left-wing bloggers, who bring this up all the time). Afraid of appearing soft on sex, Democrats fail to point out the extremity of the Republican position on contraception while simultaneously failing to put forth their own coherent narrative on the issue, which means Republicans can continue to get away with convincing voters that they represent the “middle class,” the “mainstream,” the “family values” position when it comes to family planning.

An excellent article in the Baltimore Sun today examines the way Mitt Romney and other Repub candidates have been speaking out of both sides of their mouths on birth control:

At National Right to Life’s conference this year, Mitt Romney set out to convince anti-abortion leaders he was their candidate. At the podium, he rattled off his qualifications. To a layman’s ears, it sounded pretty standard for abortion politics. He wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. He supports teaching only abstinence to teens.

But for those trained to hear the subtleties, Mr. Romney was acknowledging something more. He implied an opposition to the birth control pill and a willingness to join in their efforts to scale back access to contraception. There are code phrases to listen for – and for those keeping score, Mr. Romney nailed each one.

One code phrase is: “I fought to define life as beginning at conception rather than at the time of implantation.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines pregnancy as starting at implantation, the first moment a pregnancy can be known. Anti-abortion advocates want pregnancy to start at the unknown moment sperm and egg meet: fertilization. They’d also like you to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that the birth control pill prevents that fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

Mr. Romney’s code, deciphered, meant, “I, like you, hope to reclassify the most commonly used forms of contraceptives as abortions.” In fact, he told the crowd, he already had some practice redefining contraception: “I vetoed a so-called emergency contraception bill that gave young girls abortive drugs without prescription or parental consent.”

No matter that emergency contraception has the same mode of action as the birth control pill and every other hormonal method of birth control. To the anti-abortion movement, contraception is the ultimate corruptor. And so this year, the unspoken rule for candidates seeking the support of anti-abortion groups is that they must offer proof they’re anti-contraception too.

Being anti-contraception obviously will not fly with the majority of American voters. But Republican candidates have found a way to make their messages heard and not heard, an anti-contraceptive whistle that only fundies tuned to precisely the right frequency can hear. Yet Democrats being as they are, we are more likely to see Democratic candidates respond to the surface messages here when what they should be doing, every time they are given the opportunity, is pointing out the extremity of the Republican position on contraception.

This is what progressive and feminist bloggers have been saying for years. Most women who take the pill don’t know exactly how it works (many don’t even know that the “periods” had while on the pill aren’t even real), and men have no idea. If you keep letting conservatives associate contraception with abortion in the public’s mind, it is bound to stick on some level. As Westen would say, even if it doesn’t make sense rationally, unless there’s a prevailing counter-narrative to prime the public’s minds, then the neural network associations for both contraception and abortion will become inextricably tied, until activating one network will always activate the other. People are still going to rationally realize that their monthly birth control packs don’t contain 28 little abortions each month, but they may be more likely to be weary of things like the morning after pill, teenagers getting the pill without parental consent, etc.

For now, the candidates vying for the Right to Life endorsement are doing their best to avoid directly answering mainstream voters’ simple questions on the subject, such as, “Do you support couples having access to safe and effective birth control options, including emergency contraception?” Considering that even 80 percent of self-described “pro-life” voters and a majority of Republican voters strongly support contraception, it’s no wonder why.

So what should Democrats do? I don’t know. I’d say make Republicans answer the question.

• I am pretty sure everything I write this week will somehow tie back to this book.

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My professor told us this story (which I am now going to promptly butcher) about his time on the campaign trail. In 2004, he was going door-to-door campaigning deep in the backwoods of rural Mississippi (or Arkansas, or Louisiana, I forget which, but you get the gist). They were in a particularly poor neighborhood one day, where most of the residents lived in trailers. He approached an especially run-down trailer, with overgrown grass and trash on the front lawn, and knocked on the door. A woman answered, wearing a moo-moo (miu-miu?). “I’ve never honestly seen anyone in a moo-moo before this,” he said. The woman was holding a toddler on her hip; there was a teen girl behind her, holding a baby on her hip; and a few assorted children crouched behind her. Everyone looked ragged, malnourished. He started talking to the lady, and came to the question, “What is the single most important issue to you in the upcoming election?” Obviously, there were a lot of issues that probably concerned this lady’s life — the economy, obviously. Maybe better access to healthcare. Maybe the war in Iraq, since those fighting and dying disporoportiately come from poor families like hers. Maybe better public schools.

She furled up her brow and sneered a bit, my professor said, and answered him with absolute conviction: gay marriage.

My professor was flabbergasted. Gay marriage? “I can guarantee you that there were no gay people even out, let alone getting married, within 200 miles of her,” he said. But there she was, standing here in this trailer home with all these babies on her hips, ready to cast her vote for whatever candidate could assure her that, on his watch, no gays anywhere were going to be threatening her by walking down the aisle.

I’m telling you this co-opted story because it segues nicely into the book I’m currently reading: The Political Brain, by Drew Westen. In fact, Drew tells a very similar story in the book, albeit with less colorful details (hell, as far as I know the hillbilly / gay marriage story is an urban legend, a useful parable for Democratic campaign strategists).

The basic premise of Westen’s book is that all the centuries of political and philosophical theory that attribute human decision-making to things like reason and dispassionate logic is wrong — or not wrong, per se, but just not telling the whole story. Backed by a few decades worth of research and a century or so of evolutionary biology/psychology (Westen is a clinical psychologist), Westen makes the case that emotions play a much stronger role in decision-making, especially political decision-making, then most people would care to realize.

He also looks at the way that, over the past 50 years, Republicans have learned to capitalize on these appeals to emotion, and Democrats (with the exception of Clinton) have largely failed. Now, the whole “Republicans appeal to hearts / Democrats appeal to minds” business is so oft-argued and written about these days as to be practically a cliche, but Westen (himself a Democrat) manages to avoid coming across as hackneyed by virtue of his massive amounts of research and his excellent and often entertaining prose. The man can turn a phrase. Examples:

With the exception of the Clinton years, what has differentiated the Republican candidates and strategists in the last 30 years from their Democratic counterparts is whether they drew their inspiration from the marketing team or the debate team.

When reason and emotion become disconnected, the result is often disaster. Sometimes this disaster may take the form of a neurology patient who … can’t use emotion to stay out of harm’s way. Sometimes it takes the form of a psychopath, a person who experiences little or no remorse, empathy, or concern for others, who may know he is breaking laws or causing others pain, but doesn’t care.

At other times, this disaster may take the form of a Democratic political campaign.

On Gore challenging Bush about Medicare plans during the 2000 debates: “It didn’t help, of course, that the media did their postmodernism routine, turning Gore’s claims about Bush’s Medicare plan and tax cuts, which both turned out to be true, into a he said/she said contest of competing claims to a truth that somehow couldn’t be adjudicated.

The weight of evidence had a small effect. Even when we handcuffed people to the data with titanium cognitive cuffs, they managed, Houdini-like, to free themselves from any constraints of reality thought he power of emotion.

The strongest part of the book, though — or at least my favorite part — is all the examples Westen provides. We all know the conventional wisdom about Democrat vs. Republican political appeals, but it’s easy to imagine the heart/mind business is a bit over-hyped, isn’t that shocking, until confronted with example after example from the past 20 years. Westen provides snippets from political debates and the text of Democrat and Republican campaign ads, and the results are pretty striking. The most egregious example so far, though, probably comes when Westen contrasts commercials put out by the Clinton campaign and the Kerry campaign. He examines the first ad each man put out after being granted the Democratic nomination. While Clinton’s is folksy and accessible … Kerry’s — well, it’s just hard to describe how bad it is without giving the whole transcript. He actually says at one point something along the lines of “I feel public service is important, because having come from privilege, having gone to Yale …” Aghhh! You read that and think, oh my god, did he really say that? In his first introduction to the public at large? In a political arena that had most recently elected a president who’s sex appeal, if you will, rested almost solely in his anti-intellectualism and his ability to paint himself as a good old boy? And Kerry’s first commercial actually uses the words privilege and Yale? What were Kerry’s campaign people possibly thinking? Was Kerry’s entire campaign staff actually secretly made up of Republican operatives?

The transcripts from the Gore/Bush debates are pretty damning as well. I’m slightly too young to remember these debates (okay, okay, I was 17/18 at the time, but … well, wait, why am I trying to defend my young self for not watching the debates? I don’t watch the debates now…). Time and time again, Bush responds with, like, nothing. I mean, what he says is almost nonsensical. Or it’s downright nonsensical. But it’s emotionally resonant nonsense. Powerful nonsense. And then Gore counters with a statistic.

The book isn’t all just he said/he said, either. Westen has done a lot of research himself over the years, and he’s got some pretty fascinating examples of how the partisan brain works. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through so far, though. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I progress …

(Addendum: classmate Adrienne has pointed out to me that our professor was actually in South Dakota.)

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The L.A. Times has an article today titled “Democrats shift approach on abortion.”  Here is how it opens. 

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.

The rest of the article seems to be about different policy inititatives to help women who want to carry their pregnancy to term without affecting their ability to get an abortion if they want one. 

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the goals of anti-abortion movement.  Many Democrats and some Republicans are trying to address the issues that lead to more abortions without touching the right to have an abortion.  The anti-abortion movement has been doing the exact opposite. 

Here’s a part of the article which represents a more accurate summary of what the Democrats are up to and should have been the lead. 

“We are willing to talk about anything that helps women make good choices,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Pro-Choice Caucus. Preventing unplanned pregnancies, she said, “is not the whole story.”

The problem with this article is the framing.  It makes it sound like the anti-abortion movement is “winning over” Democrats and, even worse, Democrats are motivated solely by political gain.  Not actually addressing the needs of those who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. 

But conservatives also accuse Democrats of using abortion rhetoric to sell the right on traditional liberal priorities, such as healthcare funding. Democrats have rejected other ideas that conservatives consider highly effective in reducing abortions, such as requiring women to view ultrasound images of the womb.

Right.  Because the issue is addressing the needs of these women.  Not shaming them.  The overriding goal of the anti-abortion movement is to make abortions illegal.  There may be some pro-lifers more willing to except the Clinton framing of making abortions “legal, safe, and rare” but the movement’s goal is getting rid of the choice altogether. 

So anything that does not affect or restrict a woman’s right to an abortion fits snugly within the pro-choice movement and is not a “shift.”  The pro-choice movement has never been just about terminating pregnancies.  It’s about making that choice a choice. 

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According to Mother Jones open-source politics issue, the median political blog reader is a 43-year-old man with a household income of $80,000 and 75 percent of political blog readers are male.

Seventy-five percent of the total political blogosphere audience is male? Because a good portion of the blogs I frequent are feminist blogs written by women and full of women readers and commenters, I guess I was just sort of surprised by these statistics (do you think they are counting feminist blogs as “political blogs?” or what about “mom blogs” that are partially about parenting but also about social issues and politics?).

I was also sort of surprised by the median age … most blog readers and writers I know are in their 20s. Interesting but not exactly suprising? 98 percent of Daily Kos readers and 87 percent of YouTube users are white.

Blogads has its own stats, which are roughly similar on the gender and age thing. Their stats are also broken down by political blog readers of various partisan persuasions. Of the Democrats who read political blogs, 66 percent were male; of Republicans, 81 percent were male; of Libertarians, 88 percent.

So ….

1. Why aren’t women reading political blogs?

2. OR, are women reading political blogs, but just not the sort that are being lumped into this “political blog” category? (I noticed that in the categories Blogads uses to lump blogs together into “hives” for ad sales, Feministing and Pandagon are both listed under “women’s issues” or something like that, although Pandagon is also listed under “liberal blogs”).

3. Why are libertarian blogs in particular so predominantly male?

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Shock and awe. Feminists aren’t all supportive of Hillary just because she’s a woman.

Um, duh.

Because maybe feminism really isn’t all about man-hating sister-solidarity. Maybe it really is about equal treatment of both genders, meaning you judge a person (or a politiian) based on who they are, rather than on their genitals. Imagine that!

I’m not meaning to criticize the author of this article, because she’s really just reporting on what is already a common conversational thread, and I think she does a good job pointing out various themes of it. But she does opine that Hillary doesn’t have a “woman problem,” she has a “feminist problem,” which I also think is a little simplistic. Just like you can’t say ALL women feel this way or the other about anything (although damned if people don’t try), you can’t really say ALL feminists feel one way or another about a political candidate. There are far-left feminists and moderate-left feminists and libertarian-feminists and even Republican feminists. I’m guessing the reasons why any of these groups would or would not vote for Hillary are pretty varied.

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So yes, I’ll admit it. I am not an Obama flag waving 20 something. Nor am I a bra burning Hillary addict. They are both way to liberal for my small pocketbook and both like to infringe on my ever decreasing personal rights.
But yes, Mom, what about the others? Two major news makers and not much for the others. I’ll be honest here, I have hadn’t the proper time to indulge in presidential election. The bit I’ve done, I kinda like Bill Richardson. He has the experience and seems a little less far leaning. Plus, he’ll be the first Hispanic president! (sarcasm should be noted).

I’m just hoping for the day pre-elections campaigns will be announced before the results.

Aw shucks.

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I feel like Barack Obama is getting enough coverage on his own, to the extent that I was trying to not to blog about him, but I can’t resist the crazy lapels of the late 1970s.
Obama is all over the place, so it’s no surprise that people who knew him back in the day are starting to come out of the woodwork with anecdotes about their pal Barry (no kidding, Barry). In fact, no one seems to have a bad thing to say about the guy. So much so that Slate is doing an ongoing Obama Messiah Watch, which apparently will end in his presidency or his ascension to the right hand of God, whichever comes first.
The article piquing my interest today is this LA Times clip where alums of Occidental College in Los Angeles recall fondly the two fleeting years they got to spend with the man who would become Barack Hussein Obama, Senator and possible presidential candidate. (If the site asks you to register, do what I did and click through from the aforementioned Slate article; you’ll be able to view at least the first page).
This is mainly a fluff (no pun about his afro intended) piece about his time in Haines dorm and his performance on the JV basketball team, but there is some mention of his oratory skills and philisophical idealism. The latter goes hand in hand with the mentions of ‘dope’, and I found myself wondering if the reporter was using the middle-aged classmate’s verbiage to remind us all that those drug tales are 25+ years old. The stories all make Obama seem like a polite and jovial young man, if not obvious presidential material. Although at one point, a former classmate drops the phrase ‘Clinton-esque’, referring to Barry’s succinct writing style and demeanor. Someone’s looking for a cushy cabinet position.
The rest below is page two of the article, because I took one for the team and registered:

(more…)

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