When Liberals Become the Religious Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 03:23:04 PM EST
After posting a Short Takes item about liberal Catholic writer E.J. Dionne's call to capitulation on reproductive rights, I went on to develop it into a more detailed discussion over at Daily Kos.  But that discussion also belongs here.

Various Beltway Insiders and Professional Pundits are saying that president elect Obama should not undo the various anti-abortion executive orders issued by the Bush administration. They say doing this would avoid pissing off prolifers and show that he is governing from the middle and that it will make it easier for Congress to move his anti-poverty agenda.

It is a seductive argument, but I believe it is also wrong and if Obama falls for it -- will be correctly viewed as an error of historic proportions -- not only politically, but in terms of the human costs of continuing horrific policies of the Bush administration.

Consider a column this week by E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post in which he joined other Washington Insiders in arguing that the best way for Obama to find common ground on abortion is to capitulate to the demands of Religious Right anti-abortion activists. He says Obama should reward his prolife supporters by not rescinding Bush era antiabortion executive orders and not pursue prochoice policies. In other words, the president should betray his pro-choice supporters and continue policies that are not based on science but on religious right ideology. He says, Obama should govern as the "cultural moderate he promised to be. He should not lose his chance to make cultural warfare a quaint relic of the past."

Dionne has made a recent career of declaring that the Religous Right is on the wane and the culture wars are receding. Apparently he does not keep up on the news -- like the battle of Prop 8 in California, before and since the election.  Longtime Religious Right leader Chuck Colson had called the California initiative "the Armageddon of the culture war."  Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage said:  "This is ground zero in a culture war that the California Supreme Court just declared on Christianity and every single faith."  Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told The New York Times, "It's more important than the presidential election." Huh. And their side won on that initiative -- the first roll-back of a court-ordered civil rights advance in American history.

But perhaps most tellingly, Dionne seems to have missed major news reports on the recent meeting of the Roman Catholic bishops in Baltimore where fresh anti-abortion attacks were made not only on Obama, but the very common grounders who persuaded anti-abortion Catholics to vote for Obama and who Dionne says Obama needs to appease.  As the Associated Press report (and others I read) make clear, many Catholic bishops are in no mood for common ground, and that any gestures such as that proposed by Dionne (and a host of other pundits from Michael Gerson to Bill O'Reilly lately) will not quiet or quell their raging opposition.

BALTIMORE - The nation's Roman Catholic bishops vowed Tuesday to forcefully confront the Obama administration over its support for abortion rights, saying the church and religious freedom could be under attack in the new presidential administration.

In an impassioned discussion on Catholics in public life, several bishops said they would accept no compromise on abortion policy. Many condemned Catholics who had argued it was morally acceptable to back President-elect Obama because he pledged to reduce abortion rates.

And several prelates promised to call out Catholic policy makers on their failures to follow church teaching. Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., singled out Vice President-elect Biden, a Catholic, Scranton native who supports abortion rights.

Let's also note that all of these pundits are quiet about the Bush administration's Orwellian plans to redefine contraception as abortion for a wide range of public policy purposes, as described in a Recommended Diary by Planned Parenthood, at Daily Kos.

The punditocracy is also silent about the devastating human cost of the the Global Gag Rule:

The Global Gag Rule was reinstated by President George W. Bush on his first day in office in January 2001. Officially termed the Mexico City Policy, these restrictions mandate that no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs [non governmental organizations] that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the woman's life, rape or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country.

Called the "gag" rule because it stifles free speech and public debate on abortion-related issues, the policy forces a cruel choice on foreign NGOs: accept U.S. assistance to provide essential health services - but with restrictions that may jeopardize the health of many patients - or reject the policy and lose vital U.S. funds, contraceptive supplies and technical assistance.

Our continuing research shows the gag rule is eroding family planning and reproductive health services in developing countries. There is no evidence that it has reduced the incidence of abortion globally. On the contrary, it impedes the very services that help women avoid unwanted pregnancy from the start.

Here are a few examples from a joint study by international family planning groups:

The demand for contraceptives has never been higher in developing countries, yet the funding available for supplies is not keeping pace with demand. Compounding this crisis is the fact that NGOs that refuse to sign the Global Gag Rule lose access to U.S.-donated contraceptives. It is ironic that the Global Gag Rule denies many NGOs access to in-kind donations of the very contraceptives that can prevent recourse to abortions. For example:

In Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, where the rate of maternal death is exceedingly high, women are often desperate for contraception. A rural clinic in Ethiopia that is now ineligible to receive USAID supplies due to the Global Gag Rule reported being nearly out of Depo-Provera, a long-acting contraceptive method used by 70 percent of its clients.

In Lesotho, one in four women is infected with HIV/AIDS -- one of the highest rates in southern Africa. Over a three-year period, from 1998-2000, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA) received 426,000 condoms, along with smaller quantities of IUDs and Depo Provera -- all donated by USAID. Because of their refusal to agree to the gag rule restrictions, they no longer receive USAID contraceptives including condoms. LPPA was the sole recipient of USAID supplies; 2000 was the last year that USAID shipped family planning supplies to Lesotho.

The impact of the Global Gag Rule on access to contraceptives including condoms is far-reaching. Desperately needed USAID-supplied contraceptives are no longer being shipped to 16 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These family planning organizations were the only recipients of USAID contraceptives in their countries. The leading providers of family planning in 13 other developing nations are also no longer receiving USAID contraceptives.

The pundits who want Obama to betray his own principles by not rescinding the global gag rule, (among other Bush administration atrocities) in the name of finding "common ground" should ask themselves how many victims of unconscionable policies they are willing to bury under that common ground.

appears in Dispatches from the Religious Left:  The Future of Faith and Politics in America.

Debra Haffner and Tim Palmer write:

Many progressive leaders today sense a shift toward moderation among some religious conservatives, as both sides of this seemingly promising trend seek common ground, and a set of shared interests on which a political coalition might be built. But there is a troubling underside: Some well-meaning progressives are privately cautioning advocates for sexual justice to recede quietly into the background.

Their thinking seems to be that abortion and marriage for same-sex couples have polarized the electorate, overshadowing other moral issues. As a result, they argue for a shift in the debate, away from what they dismiss as "pelvic politics" and toward broader concerns, such as poverty and hunger, the war in Iraq and global warming. Their concern is that differences over sexuality will hinder them from forming coalitions with moderate evangelicals and Catholics, thus forestalling the election of progressive candidates. They instead prefer to seek common ground with the right on shared issues.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 03:27:46 PM EST

They instead prefer to seek common ground with the right on shared issues.

Thus the conversation is driven further right-ward.

I wonder if Mr. Dionne is just not taking the issues pointed out into account, rather than that he is willing to let these outrageous religious agendas drive our foreign aid policies. Another sign that the Beltway is a foreign entity from the country surrounding it.

by trog69 on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 05:30:40 PM EST

As with many male liberals, when Dionne thinks about the adult "people", he generally means "men and their household" rather than "men and women". The majority of poor adults are women, many of reproductive years, and Dionne seemingly hasn't taken into account their desires to have or not have children.

This is a common blind spot (among others) for white liberal men, or at least those not directly serving the poor.

by NancyP on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 09:53:04 PM EST

This is how the right wing asserts itself in a 'left wing' context. It is promoted as reasonable and done in smaller increments to lessen the pain. Rather like how the medical industry has been taken over by Christian corporations removing the ability even to treat those women forced to stay pregnant. So many states have no birth control clinics any more. A death of a thousands cuts is still death. Just not quite so fast or shocking.

by Nightgaunt on Mon Nov 17, 2008 at 05:20:26 PM EST

I was infuriated by Dionne's comments and haven't seen enough response to it.  Reminds me of the argument four years ago, when Kerry lost, that the Democratic party should compromise on abortion because it was driving people away.  Well, that was not only untrue but wrong.  Women are always the first to be "sacrificed" to some alternative cause -- here of "common ground."  Reproductive freedom affects women's lives on a daily basis. It is not a matter of political expedience and Dionne has no business advocating that women's lives be compromised for someone else's appeasement.

by cyncooper on Wed Nov 19, 2008 at 01:15:26 PM EST
thinking and policy making out there. A lot of it is misguided in the manner of Dionne, and other of it is disingenuous - invoking the common ground of anti-poverty efforts in order to errode or eliminate reproductive rights and access.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 19, 2008 at 04:16:21 PM EST
Hmmm ... is it not possible to have anti-poverty efforts and women's reproductive rights?  I call that higher ground.

by cyncooper on Wed Nov 19, 2008 at 05:16:37 PM EST
as a matter of fact, that is a theme of Carlton Veazey and Marjorie Signer's essay as well as Debra Haffner and Tim Palmer's essay in Dispatches from the Religious Left.

Also, Chip Berlet and I will be taking on some of the specious reasoning involved in this kind of thing in the next issue of The Public Eye.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 19, 2008 at 07:13:32 PM EST

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