Sunday, May 4, 2014

Republicans Talk Abortion in PA's US 9th District

Friday evening I published a summary of my notes from that evening's Republican debate between the candidates for the Republican nomination to run for the US 9th District seat.  Today, after a little time to take in everything I saw and heard, I wanted to focus on the things that I heard about abortion from 3 middle-aged to older white men.

Abortion is never great for Republicans when it comes up.  As I noted, an audience member asked a moderator afterwards why the questions -- essentially -- were so rough for Republicans.  Personally, I would have loved to see those candidates answer a question about unions, but that particular audience member probably wouldn't have liked that question either.  I'm sure it would have been way more comfortable for Republicans candidates and audience members alike if the questions had been about Benghazi and the (so-called) IRS scandal or whatever Republican smokescreen of the week they'd care to name, but those weren't the questions.  The candidates were asked six substantive questions which, with the possible exception of the foreign policy question, touched on topics that affect American's daily lives.  Like it or not, the intense restriction of a woman's right to control her own body is one of those topics and the answers that we received are the reason that we need to dig deeper on this issue.

By way of reminder, the wording of the question was something to this effect: Regarding abortion, in what, if any, of the following cases would you allow abortion: rape, incest, life or health of the mother?

As an experienced politician, Bill Shuster probably gave the least offensive answer of the bunch.  Presumably he's learned the lesson from the outrage caused by Republican politician after Republican politician saying heinous and horrifying things about women, rape, and abortion.  Rep Shuster proclaimed his pro-life status which has been lauded by organizations like National Right to Life.  He then said that he would make exceptions for all three of the cases listed.  Cutting away the fluff, that was really all he said.  I would never accuse Bill Shuster of being an intellectual heavy weight, but he's also not an idiot. He clearly has learned something from the public debacles of Republicans politicians past and present (and probably future).

On the other hand, Travis Schooley and Art Halvorson were very much a replay of Republiblunders past.  Schooley's answer was, frankly, creepy.  It only really dealt with the rape exception and basically argued that a rape exception wasn't really necessary.  He first declared that when someone became a victim of a "vicious rape" (you know, as opposed to gentle rapes), they would go immediately to the ER.  After running directly to the ER after this "vicious rape", the victim is examined and then a rape kit will be done.  Now, he says, if she's already pregnant...well she can't get pregnant from her rapist.  Seriously.  If I hadn't been there I would have a hard time believing that happened, but it did.  If, however, she's not pregnant already -- as indeed many women are not -- she could be given a shot or a pill or whatever to prevent pregnancy.  So I suppose, at the very least, Mr. Schooley isn't against contraceptives for rape victims.  At this point, he seems to realize that his scenario isn't really addressing the question and he adds that - he guesses - the only reason abortion would be necessary in the case of rape is if a women is held captive and can't get to a hospital.

As if this wasn't enough, Mr. Schooley ended his answer with a parting thought for the audience.  When we're thinking about abortion we have to imagine, he said, if there were about 45 million more people in this country.  What would our economy look like with 45 million more people working?  And there it was, women who have abortions are responsible for the condition of our economy.  If only American women were dutifully bearing children that Republicans want no part of caring for outside the womb, our economy would be booming.  Blissfully, Mr. Schooley's time was up and we moved on to Art Halvorson.

The word Mr. Halvorson wanted to stress was "compassion".  You see, he told us, in the instance of pregnancy from rape we have to remember that there are three parties involved: the rapist, the woman, and the fetus...excuses me, unborn baby.  Sure, rapists have to be punished to the full extent of the law.  Of course, Mr. Halvorson didn't address the fact that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  He moved directly on to the woman, upon whom we should shower compassion, the kind of compassion that demands that she bear a child she may not want or be prepared to raise.  Mr. Halvorson then went on to say that he and his wife had personally helped young women through unplanned pregnancies.  Yes, I said unplanned pregnancies.  Does that remind you of anyone?



Unplanned pregnancies in or out of wedlock are not in any way the same as pregnancy from rape.  An unplanned pregnancy between two consenting individuals is in no way the same as the violation of a rape.  We have been over these arguments -- if we're going to be so generous as to call them that -- time and time and time again.

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that Bill Shuster is the reasonable alternative in this bunch.  He's not.  Despite claiming to make exceptions for incest, rape, and the life or health of the mother, Bill Shuster has voted time and again to restrict women's access to necessary health care.  Bill has voted for providing funding to health care providers who don't mention abortion, for banning federal health coverage that includes abortion, and voted to bar funding for abortions on federal "Obamacare" plans (which is to say healthcare plans on the federal exchange).  He also voted against the reauthorization of the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2007 and against the Infant Mortality Pilot Program (which would allow the Secretary of Health to award grants to the counties with the highest infant mortality rates in order to promote healthy pregancies) in 2010.  This is not a man who cares about protecting lives; this is a man who cares about forcing his personal religious beliefs on you and your family members.

All of these men's answers were utterly unacceptable.  When it comes to it, the question laid a totally unacceptable framework in that its very premise allowed that men like Bill Shuster should be allowed to control how women care for their bodies.  If you don't understand the devastation of a world where abortion is illegal, then I encourage you to read a book called The Worst of Times: Illegal Abortion: Survivors, Practitioners, Coroners, Cops and Children of Women Who Died Talk About Its Horrors.  Instead of demonizing women who have had an abortion or patronizing to women about the strictly confined instances when society will accept (albeit reluctantly) their decision, it's time that we asked the Bill Shusters, Travis Schooleys, and Art Halvorsons of the world if they believe that women are human beings who deserve to be able to control their own bodies.  If their answer is yes, then women have a right to choose when and how they become mothers.  The honest answer for these men, though, is no.  No, they don't believe that women are equal to men with equal rights to control their bodies, and that is the bottom line.




Friday, May 2, 2014

Republicans Say The Darndest Things


Let me kick off by saying that I've been away for awhile.  It's been a busy semester, but I'm back because I just sat through the US 9th District Republican Primary debate sponsored by the Bedford Gazette and the Penn State Altoona Political Science Department.  It was...I'd say there are no words, but there are.  There are just...so many words.

To begin with, let me paint a scene for you.  The debate took place at the auditorium of the Devorris Downtown Center in Altoona.  This debate featured incumbent Congressman Bill Shuster and Tea Party Republicans Travis Schooley and Art Halvorson.


The debate began, as all do with the candidates taking two minutes each to introduce themselves.  We began with Travis Schooley who rambled incoherently about how our country used to be so much better and he wanted to make a better country for his children.  We then moved on to Rep. Shuster who said "I've got my family here...they're my biggest critics."  No, Bill.  They are definitely not your biggest critics.  Then Bill goes on to brag about voting to defund or repeal "Obamacare" 50 times.  Moving on, Art Halvorson was in the military, he knows some conservative platitudes and then my notes say "blah blah Bengazi blah blah Fast and Furious"...so that's how things kicked off and I think you'll agree it can only possibly get better from there.  

Let's take all the questions in turn.  Please know that I am paraphrasing the questions and that they were all very clear and well worded.  

Question 1 - The Affordable Care Act has helped tons of people to have heath insurance, but you all don't like it.  How would you replace it and what would you do about people with preexisting conditions?
Schooley - He rambles incoherently some more, moves off topic and then says that people should be able to buy their insurance on a market place.  Hm...where have I heard that before?  Insurance marketplace...nope.  Not ringing any bells at all. 

Shuster - He desperately wants to repeal the ACA and then claims that he has proposed an alternative to the ACA.  Do you remember when that happened?  I don't. 

Halvorson - He disputes the numbers that the moderator used which came from the Congressional Budget Office.  Halvorson said that the numbers just didn't sound right and basically said that he didn't believe them.  He then said that, although the CBO has said that the ACA will shrink the budget deficit, that "Obamacare" was the biggest tax ever levied.  If you can't understand why the two halves of the previous sentence went together then you can now understand my frame of mind listening to this crap.  Oh but wait!  Then Halvorson said that people should be able to buy their own insurance and choose whether they want a cheap insurance or a "Cadillac" type plan.  Again...how could we possibly manage that? 

At this point the moderator called bullshit, saying that neither Schooley nor Halvorson had actually answered his question.  Schooley rambled again and Halvorson addressed the preexisting condition issue saying that insurance companies shouldn't have to cover people with preexisting conditions.  The government should handle those people in a separate pool.  Go ahead and soak that in for a minute.

Question 2 - The minimum wage, living on it is impossible.  Would you raise it?  
Schooley - Wait, I have to answer a question first again?  That's not fair, I don't wanna.  

Halvorson - He says that the minimum wage wasn't intended to be a living wage.  He called it "reimbursement" and said that we need to "get the economy going".

Shuster - Basically, no.  Again "get the economy going".

Schooley - He doesn't agree with raising the minimum wage because then prices of things would go up and we'd all have to pay.  Let's "get the economy going".  

Question 3 - Foreign policy.  Should we be the world police or what?
Shuster - His buzz lines were "smart involvement" and then he quoted Reagan's "peace through strength" line.  He also then said that China spends three times as much on their military as we do (noticeable pause) by GDP.  Just, so we're clear, that was Bill Shuster using a really manipulative line to make people believe something patently false.  

Schooley - I'm going to be really honest with you.  This guy made Bill Shuster look like a genius.  He was in the military and he thinks that we shouldn't be involved with the U.N.  

Halvorson - Yes.  Let's blow it all up.

Question 4 - Coal v. Natural Gas.  Which do you support?
Schooley - Is apparently basically a geologist.  He thinks that people need property protection because people can't possibly afford to accurately test their groundwater.  Also the government should stop its war on coal. 

Shuster - He wants to use all the resources.  Although, let's keep using lots of coal.  I mean, some people say it's not good for the environment but China and India are doing it so we might as well too.

Halvorson - If only Art Halvorson could go to Washington he would "shake things up" and tell Obama to get those gas prices under control (did this guy go to the Donald Trump school of running for political office?)  He said that he hoped when Bill Shuster said he'd support all energy sources that he didn't mean wind power because as we all know wind power is totally dumb.  Also, the Obama administration should give more permits for drilling on federal lands. ...wait...didn't we settle this six years ago with Sarah Palin?  Oil companies aren't drilling on the federal land they're allowed to and until they do there is no point in giving them new permits.  Does "conservative" mean they conserve their talking points for as long as possible?  If Bengazi is any indication I'm guessing yes.

Question 5 - Student Loans: they're growing out of control, what do we do about it?
Halvorson - This man seriously thinks that it's too easy to get a student loan and that kids are living high on the hog on federal student loans.  He thinks federal student loans are like the mortgage industry and they're ruining our economy because people are just getting student loans willy nilly even when they maybe shouldn't be in college.  And sure, if you work and go to school that's okay, but some kids just take out more student loans instead of working.  

Shuster - We need to fix the economy.  Tuition is to high.  His son is about to graduate college and already had a good job lined up?  No, seriously.  A Congressman's son has managed to find a job right out of college?  You don't say.  Maybe you don't want to go on about how you managed to scrape together the money to manage the skyrocketing cost of tuition...no you're gonna do that?  Oh, okay. 

Schooley - I just started to feel bad for him.  He was so out of his depth it was really pretty sad.  

Final Question - Abortion! Would you make exceptions for any of the following: rape, incest, life of the mother.
Shuster - He's 100% pro-life, except when he's not.  He would make all of those exceptions.  How very generous of him. 

Schooley - He says if you're "viscously raped" then sure you should take precautions against getting pregnant or you know I guess then after that if you didn't go to the hospital right away like if you were "held in captivity" then maybe an abortion would be okay.  I no longer felt bad for him.

Halvorson - Let me sum up Halvorsons point of view by telling you that he equated pregnancy from rape to unplanned pregnancy.  

And now the wrap-up:

  • Shuster talks about how great I-99 is.  
  • Halvorson blathers on about crony capitalism.
  • Schooley's closing went something like this: middle class, America, country in jeopardy, freedom, George Orwell, surveillance, my ancestors fought in the American Revolution
I'm not really sure how to follow that except: wow.  At least one spectator I heard felt that the questions weren't very Republican and that Bill Shuster got to rebut personal attacks too much.  I guess maybe if Art Halvorson hadn't attacked him personally so often he wouldn't have had to have so much rebuttal.  As a student of political science, this was a magical night.  As a Democrat, it was a nightmare.  Nevertheless, I felt it was important to pass on.