Why Politics Turns Ugly

One of the consequences of the blogosphere and cable news is that it is very easy to only engage those who share similar concerns, or those with a similar point of view. So, lately, I have been paying attention to conservative Catholic sites that opposed health care reform because they thought it did not do enough to restrict abortion funding.

This morning, the Washington Post brings us up to date about the sentiments driving the pro-choice movement. "It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women," Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women told the Post. "It’s health care that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women." Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, had the same talking points: "We’re very disappointed…Now women will be worse off under health-care reform." Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, directed her anger more clearly in the president’s direction, saying, ‘What we had hoped for when the president was elected was that this would be an opportunity to break down the many obstacles to abortion. That instead, one year into the Obama presidency, we have moved the line further away is just stunning." O’Neill delivered the coup de grace: "I’ve heard women complain very loudly ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president.’"

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If the approach, but not the content, sounds familiar, it is because this kind of dire warning based on worst case scenarios characterized the arguments coming from groups like the National Right-to-Life Committee and the Family Research Council. NRLC issued a statement that said "Obama is joined at the hip to the Abortion Lobby" but evidently nobody told the abortion rights groups quoted in the Post article about that fact. I mention both NRLC and the Family Research Council because they were joined on a conference call in the days before the vote by the USCCB, a decision that cost the USCCB a great deal of credibility in the eyes of lawmakers. But, NRLC has as much in common with NOW as it does with the Family Research Council. Groups like NOW and NRLC, because they focus narrowly on one issue, tend to lose perspective. In fact, contra NOW, the law will be good for women. And, in fact, contra NRLC, no the bill will not result in federal funding of abortions.

But, more than a loss of perspective is at work here. The comments by pro-choice leaders in this morning’s papers are, in part, an attempt to get the Obama administration’s attention. But, even more, this is about fundraising. The reason both NOW and NRLC adopt the worst case scenario analysis of prospective legislation is that the easiest way to raise money from your base is to sound an alarm. A letter saying that the new law really does not change much regarding abortion is not going to bring in much money. But, calling the President "the most pro-abortion president in history" raises money and an email alert with links to the Post article will do the same for NOW. It is corrupt: The truth is sacrificed so that DC-based lobbyists and activists can pay for their swanky offices and expense paid trips.

I went to the NRLC website this morning to see if they had denounced the violence and intimidation that has been directed at certain congressmen in the past few days. I hope that the bishops will also say something publicly. We do not advance the pro-life cause by threatening to kill Congressman Bart Stupak’s children. Nor, by cutting a gas line to the home of Congressman Tom Perriello's brother which was wrongfully placed on a website as the congressman’s home address. (Not that cutting the gas line at the congressman's correct address would be acceptable!) Bad enough that many Tea Party activists shouted racial slurs and homophobic epithets at members of Congress last weekend. Vandalism is a crime and it is not protected by the First Amendment the way speech is. The FBI will not have to sniff around long to find those members of the Tea Party movement who were active in the militia movements of the 1990s. Walking around the protest rally the other day, you could literally feel the dark, almost Dickensian mood of the crowd. Political and religious leaders need to tamp that mood down, not fan its flames.

Michael Sean Winters

 

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James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
There do seem to be quite a few authoritarians in the movement. It seems Sunday was their new Krystalnaught. I think cooler heads are realizing that they are embarrassing themselves.

As far as your observations on what NARAL and NRLC, et al, I agree. They have more interest in fundraising than seeking a solution to the controversy over abortion. That is why they focus on Roe - it is an unsolvable problem. It's why the March of Dimes switched from polio to birth defects - birth defects can't be cured (alhtough sadly, they the children can be aborted, so you hear less from the March - that and a dime doesn't buy much anymore).

The brokest man in DC is the one who actually has a solution to any problem - solutions don't let you keep eating.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
So Mother Theresa might have been a Republican, a tea party member, a racist or some other pergoritive label becasuse she so vigorously condemned abortion in no uncertain terms before the whole world? I don't think so.

Realistically what can one expect here? Abortion is super- controversial. This article fundementally misrepresent the extremely powerful political dynamics of abortion.

Lost prospective is the trivialazation of the institution of abortion. In no way can anyone with even pedestrain knowledge of American politics expect anything less than fierce oppossion from all sides on the subject of abortion. Abortion is and always will be, highly combustible, political fire-storm material and destructively toxic in its aftermath. Name-calling does not quench this fire, name-call intensifies the controversy.

Yet flat-footedly the Democratic party, the news media, and numersous other organizations are suddenly shocked and surpised by this latest intense flare-up.

These organization have systematically for decades purged themselves of anti-abortion sentiment making them pure pro-abortion country clubs. But like the slavery issue in 19th century, the abortion issue just will not go away. These organization are very insular on the issue of abortion and fail to grasp its hugh significance.

Unaware and unprepared the Democratic party and other organizations willy-nilly provokes intenese outrage that they are not able to foresee, explain or undersand.

Unfortuantely the abortion controversy shows no sign of ever being resolved. But like the anti-slavery moverment the anti-abortion movement is growing and is not going away. The Democartic party and other organizations badly underestimate the depth of anti-abortion sentiment in our country.
7 years 8 months ago
It will dawn on the sane part of radical right in a week or so that the health reform  will not  really cause any harm to the the un-born and the elderly won't be terminated. For the relatively sane, in order to have the stomach for real evil action you have to really believe in  real grievences. As the imaginary grievences start to fade, the hate motivation for evil action starts to fade rapidly. This fading  process could be helped if even a few bishops, who are standing silent now, would even mildly dissent from the weekend postings such as put out by A/B Chaput who posted in the early Monday morning that 'the bill is bad law' 'it's a failure of decent lawmaking' 'is un-ethical and defective on all issues' [wow 32 million insured is a defective issue].. As a student of history he was 'firstest with the mostest' and so must be given credit if credit is due, for the Catholic ecclesial position 'that evil has prevailed'
If the 300 bishops let A.B Chaput's position stand as the Catholic episcopal position so be it.... but please don't blame the media for your very low standing.
A/B Chaput emailed me that I'm angry .. no.. I'm annoyed though and I so identify with Stupak, I too am a tall Catholic family man with gray hair... .. .
 
 
James Lington
7 years 8 months ago
Chaput calling someone else angry...that's rich
7 years 8 months ago
I'm genuinely tired of this whole debate & am pretty sure commenting on this blog won't help.  As a Republican, I condemn the racist slurs & extreme rhetoric aimed at the bill's proponents, just as I disagree with the idea that people opposed to the bill (including the US Bishops) are akin to racist segregationists turning their firehoses on black children.  Furthermore, as some of the other comments here make clear (what with allusions to Kristallnacht and ''authoritarianism'' and ''GOP hacks'', etc.), extremist rhetoric is not found on only 1 side of the debate.  I also think history shows that heated political rhetoric is common in American politics and even mild by the standards of other countries & earlier periods in our history.
 
May Holy Week bring us all greater PEACE.
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Again, I wasn't talking about all pro-lifers. I was talking about the rock throwers and those who leave threats on answering machines. Such people, who are authoritarian - its descriptive, not perjorative - have issues and need to be told on.

Most people do oppose the bill - however about a quarter of the opposition want either single payer or a public option. The remainder, by themselves, are not a majority.
Melody Evans
7 years 8 months ago
Oh... and let me clarify one more thing.  In the same poll 48% also said it was a good "first step."  So as to your point above, some of the disapproval is because certain people don't think the bill goes far enough.
7 years 8 months ago
I would also point out that no one has responded to the point that EVERY intense political debate brings out ugly elements on both sides.  The same was certainly true of the anti-war rallies during the Bush Administration.  I participated in them, and you certainly saw very ugly elements coming out.  Remember the pink slip ladies showing up everywhere, disrupting Congressional hearings, one even yelled at Bush during a state of the union.  Its interesting though, that I don't remember anyone then (including the media) wringing their hands and talking about how the ugly elements of the democratic party undermined its credibility or posed a threat to the republic.
7 years 8 months ago
Well, Mr. Gleason & Killoran, by the tenor of your comments & self-confessed gloating, you have shown you are not all that interested in rational civil dialogue, and are more content to stereotype your opponents are babies throwing a temper tantrum.  Guess its better than being analogized to Bull Connor.  But your comments do remind me of the old maxim "Pride goeth before a fall."
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Oh, BTW, thanks for all those who previously clarified what I said for having my back.
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Don't insult Mother Teresa by associating her with the vile authoritarian threats being made against Democratic lawmakers. Further, nothing in the bill - or really any action - justifies such behavior. No one is making anyone misbehave in such a way. Such conduct is not because of the abortion issue, but a deeper strain of authoritarianism by those who perpetrate or threaten violence using abortion as an excuse for acting out - or in fighting abortion in such a way as to line their own pockets while doing nothing for the unborn (even going to the extent of opposing a bill that will actually decrease abortions because families can afford insurance for pediatric care or not opposing a welfare reform that likely leads women to abortion due to limits on participation).
Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
Tom's take on this issue is priceless: it runs the gamut from excusing it on the grounds that abortion/reproductive politics are inherently combustible to blaming the Dems. ("you provoked us").  I've been working with my ten year-old son to take responsibility when he offers the same mishmash of excuses.
 
BTW, Rep. Steve King was just interviewed on CNN.  He was asked to explain his "Mussolini off the balcony" show the other day.  As the network played a tape of his "off the hook" behavior King claimed he really didn't do what the clip showed him doing and then he denounced angry opponents who have made threats against legislators.
 
There's a big difference between this and being passionate about your politics. Michael is correct: the illogic of the reactions mask some other politics of moneyed interest and resentment.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
Polls show strong majority opposition to the new health care law. Very openly and properly people of all backgrounds are , as one would expect, protesting the enactment of this law. State attorney generals have filed a lawsuit challenging the law's sconstitutionality. Numererous public groups are actively seeking to repeal this law. People are mobilitzing across the country against the members of congress and the Senate who voted for this unacceptable law. To lump this widespread and growing political movement with incidental extreme actions by a rare few individuals is false and propagandistic. The tens of millions of people oppssing this law can not be characterized by the extreme actions of a few individuals as the the Winters' article attemps to do. One should be prepared to hear the opposition voice of the American public leading up to the November elections. The voice of the American public will be heard.
7 years 8 months ago
Mr. Maher, when I read your description, minus the context, described to a tee the "anti-war" movement that filled the streets and capital during 2003 & after.  There were even protestors who overran the small town in Texas where the Bushes live.  Back then, of course, it was democracy in action.  Now its a bunch of authoritarian types re-enacting Krstallnacht, or re-enacting George Wallace & Bull Connor, or some such nonsense.  I think all this talk of "extremism" is a smart political move to try to get independents to be wary of agreeing with people so unruly.
 
Ms. Evans, your cited poll (if it was good that Congress passed it) strikes me as different from the question of whether people like the contents of the bill.  The last CNN poll I saw asking about the bill's content garnered 39% approval to 59% disapproval (this the Sunday of the vote).
 
Mr. Bindner, as usual your analysis is so far out in left field that it hardly merits argument.  A majority of the opponents oppose because its not liberal enough?  Please provide a link for that poll.  I will say, however, that I saw Reihan Salam at National Review actually suggested that the Dems may use the bill to do what you say - eventually remove the middle man and just enact a single payer system.  He also tempered that possibility by arguing that by then, the cost of the bill would be so out of whack, it would actually yield a conservative form of single payer - high ricks pools ONLY for catastrophic care for the very poor.
Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
Melody's correct: A clear majority always wanted health reform but were skeptical of the legislation.Now the most recent polls (Sunday was a long time ago!) show a more people of Americans coming around to the new law than opposing it.
 
Michael wrote this: "Most people do oppose the bill - however about a quarter of the opposition want either single payer or a public option." I'm not certain why Jeff(back from his two hour Holy Week sabbatical) wrote that Michael claimed that "a majority of the opponents oppose because its not liberal enough."
 
I do think that we've wandered from the Catholic-focus on the issues that make this space different from, say, the WASHINGTON POST blog sites.
7 years 8 months ago
A) I want health care reform - reform that works.  I still stand by my point that the question of WHETHER people want reform, or WHETHER they want a bill to be passed (to get it over with) is different from whether they agree with the contents of the bill.  And you can't make me believe that all of a sudden, in 48 hours, a majority of Americans has suddenly comprehended the 2,000+ page bill (when the Senate Democrats had to send it back to get rid of anachronistic language) and approve of the lucidity of its provisions.  I don't doubt that public opinion may soften, but to hear some of you tell it, a majority suddenly have always been for the contents of the bill.  
 
B) Mr. Bindner's attempted point was to make the "conservative" (for lack of a better word) opponents of the bill into a small minority by dividing the opposition into various camps.  Opposition, to me, means people who voted against the bill.  name me 2/3 of anyone that didn't vote for the bill because it was TOO liberal.
 
C) Who said I was taking a Sabbatical.  I said I hoped Holy Week would bring us ALL some perspective.  That doesn't mean I will take a vow silence with respect to the issue. 
7 years 8 months ago
No silence from me either. I'm just sitting around gloating and waiting for the States Attorney Generals falling off their horses in the Charge of the Light Brigade. And about the rightwing temper tandrum , having five sons .. seen that.. been there ,...it goes away real quick.
Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
Jeff, when you wrote at 2:30 today:



"

I'm genuinely tired of this whole debate & am pretty sure commenting on this blog won't help," and then wished us a meaningful Holy Week, I thought that meant you were taking some time away from contributing to the AMERICA website.  My apologies.
 
Just to be clear, what Michael wrote was that, while a majority opposed the bill, about 25% of those that opposed it did so because they wanted a public option or a single-payer plan.  That brought the percentage of Americans who opposed the bill on other grounds below the majority threshold. Did I read his comment incorrectly?
 
I do agree with you about one thing: public opinion is fickle.  I'm sure they haven't read the whole law-but when do they? Nevertheless, if the GOP wants to hing its electoral fortunes on attacking the law then, "good luck." November is a long way away. Meanwhile, let's pass the labor reform bill and get serious about immigration reform.



Jim McCrea
7 years 8 months ago
Jeff:
Your calls for rational civil dialogue should be directed to (1) the Republicans in congress, and (2) those loyal, upstanding amurrrikens called teapartiers!
Pearce Shea
7 years 8 months ago
Well thanks, Jeff, Jim, Vince and Ed, I'm not sure who won the "most uncivil" post contest, (Jim gets extra points for just posting plain old snark - way to contribute!) (and while responding to a piece about the need for civility, no less) but this was all pretty entertaining.
 
MSW - what did you think of Sr. Mary Ann Walsh's bit as reported by Fr. Martin? Seemed to respond directly to what you've been saying, no? I have to say that as nasty as the current political climate is, has it gotten better or worse, than say, in the time of our founding fathers? Sure, there've been no duels (that I know of), but Jefferson did hire whats-his-name to slander Adams... And the burning/lynched effigies during the ABC affair... Tough call.
 
 
7 years 8 months ago
I would like to think it begins by honoring the "other" by taking their views & seeking to understand what they have to say, rather than dismissing them as baby killers, babies, segregationists, etc.  I also think it requires choosing to see the best in the other and not allowing extremes to color everything.  I believe we have something to learn from every opinion, & that which most often provokes our anger says more about us than the other saying.  That said, this is a BIG piece of legislation that is going to touch every American on a personal level.  Its going to touch off very personal reactions in people, as every major politcal debate does.  Every great American debate has energized the best and worst in pepole, and the media tend to pick up the most discordant views or the shrillest voices and puts them on TV. 
 
As for the suggestion of prayer, I attempted something in that vein earlier and was lambasted for breaking a supposed sabbatical.  But my feeling remains that the whatever the "victory" of the bill was, the debate has left us in many ways better and many ways worse.  I think the country is fatigued by this debate, & I think we need some time to be still.  i would be most disappointed in Pres. Obama if he chose to act on a highly partisan topic in this time of enflamed emotion.
7 years 8 months ago
A moment ago The House finally  passed reconciliation.[more gloating] Jeff calls for 'stillness'. he wants a Democratic time out. He Wants Obama be quiet about this partisan topic.   He is offended by my gloating. At my age gloating gets me a dose  of the better endorphins i can enjoy. saves on med bills too.  
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Jeff, I actually favor a single payer catastrophic compromise, which is on my blog. The reason I am not now a Council Member in DC on the Green ticket is that I favored such cost controls back in 2000. They thought I was too conservative so they ran someone else, who ran a lousy campaign. I wrote about it this morning on my web page.

I did not, for the record, accuse all conservatives pro-lifers of authoritarianism, only the subset that make threats and throw rocks through windows (hence the reference to Krystalnaught - which I still believe is apt).

If I were still an active GOP member (I was previously an intern to Senator Jepsen and one of his right to life staffers back in the day - which gives away my age), I would me more concerned about purging the authoritarians who are making the movement look bad than worrying about what the Democrats were saying about us. You should be concerned about this too.

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