Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama, Health Care, Abortion, and the Right's Credibility Gap

One of the Right's talking points against the White House health care plan is that it will allow government-funded abortions. President Obama dealt forcefully with that issue in his speech, specifically: "And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place."

Predictably, if depressingly, the Right doesn't believe Obama. For instance, Bill Donohue of the pro-life group, Catholic League, said before the speech that there "wasn't a chance" the President would mention abortion. Afterward? Donohue accused Obama of deception.

This obtuse approach to reality has worked for the Right... to a degree. The relentless bashing apparently has eroded support for Obama among Americans overall. But it has also backfired -- Republican unpopularity remains constant.

As a pro-life Democrat I would like to point out a few things.

1. Obama isn't an idiot. His promise to exclude abortion from government funding (as is done in most cases with Medicare, following Hyde Amendment guidelines) is a promise which was made to a huge viewing audience. All he had to do was leave out one or two sentences, and the issue wouldn't have been there. Yes, pro-lifers should keep the pressure on. But they serve their cause badly by accusations of bad faith against a man who apparently has heard them. Why is this? Ah...

2. The pro-life movement has been co-opted by the Right. There are various reasons for that, many understandable. Liberals often (though not always) have been tone-deaf on the right to life for the unborn. But that said, the Right has cynically used pro-lifers (esp. committed Catholics and Evangelicals) to over and over again elect Presidents who did relatively little for the pro-life cause. (Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush both appointed pro-choice justices to the Supreme Court, and it was a Republican -- Harry Blackmun -- who authored Roe v Wade).

3. Right-wing pundits claim that the Health Care bill in its various present forms does allow abortion, despite Obama's express claim that in final form it will not. Again, this is where a bit of civility and dialogue goes so far... yet is not happening. I think pro-lifers should publicly praise the President for what he said, then ask him sincerely to make sure language is included in the final bill establishing his assertion as law. Why not work with the White House instead of -- again -- working on the assumption that everything Barack Obama says is said in bad faith?

Why Pro-lifers Are Acting in Bad Faith

I believe it is our movement, the pro-life movement, which is acting and speaking in bad faith. As a pro-lifer who is also a feminist, I have to bring up uncomfortable realities my Right Wing friends won't like.

Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told The New York Times Magazine [quoted in Salon]:

"There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often."

Yes, Ginsberg is pro-choice. But her point deserves careful consideration. This is one reason why, as a pro-life advocate, I cannot be a conservative.

My wife, Carol, and I live full-time in an intentional community of Christians called Jesus People USA (JPUSA). Part of JPUSA's outreach to the wider inner-city Uptown Chicago community we live in is our Cornerstone Community Outreach system of shelters for homeless women, children, and men. We are now, and have always been, pro-life. We are now, and have always been, supportive of both private and government programs aimed at creating a safety net for the women we serve.

Right Wing politics are caught on the horns of a dilemma. They overtly disavow responsiblity to via government programs aid the poor. They proclaim their belief in small government, non-intrusive government. YET.... they proclaim the government's right and even responsibility to intrude between a woman and her unborn fetus.

Barry Goldwater, who in many ways founded the modern conservative movement, was pro-choice. And he based that position on the fact that a woman's right to choose what happened to her own body was the ONLY consistent position for a conservative to take.

I agree with him... that it is the only position for a consistent conservative to take. I disagree with him that it is a good position.

I believe that the government does have the responsibility to intervene, with the exceptions of rape/incest or in the case of a mother's life being endangered. This is being a consistent liberal and pro-lifer.

But there's another layer. The woman's right is a right. If we are going to require protection for the unborn, we must also go to extraordinary lengths to support, empower, and safeguard not just the pre-born child but also the woman and born child from birth through all her or his childhood.

Wait! That's socialism! I can hear it already. But I don't much care for the name calling. I'm just looking for some sort of consistently pro-life ethic, one which forgets about political labeling and focuses on human beings -- both mother AND child.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg's words should haunt us. We say we want life... but what do we mean? I look at the women in our Cornerstone Community Outreach programs, hear my wife talk about how hard it is for them once they leave CCO to find jobs, housing, or even basic health care for themselves or their children.

I've always thought it strange that liberalism became the champion of abortion. But perhaps stranger still is the marriage of the pro-life movement with the political Right.

President Obama presents us with an opportunity. We can, as pro-lifers, support his health care proposals while gently pressuring him to make sure his promise is explicitly contained in the language of the bill itself.

And on a deeper level, we can also allow ourselves to imagine a new pro-life movement, one not rooted ideologically in an anti-womanist, anti-liberal, and therefore self-contradictory soil. Imagine it. Look for it. Help to create it. Talk with pro-choice advocates as though they are human beings rather than demonic entities. Admit that the pro-choice movement's roots are not entirely flawed, especially when it comes to their feminist interpretation of history.

We need to re-conceptualize politics because politics isn't just rhetoric and tea parties and talking heads (left and right) demeaning one another while making private fortunes. Politics is about human lives.

Jesus said "As you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me." That is a very political statement. And, I suggest, it is also both pro-life and liberal.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Glenn Beck Implies racially-based Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments Never Happened

(An acquaintance informed me that MY facts were also partially incorrect regarding the nature of the Tuskegee Experiments, namely, that I said black men were injected with syphilis... they were not -- instead, men with syphilis were purposefully not treated over a period up to forty years. I have revised this post to reflect that reality, and appreciate the correction.)

Glenn Beck cites Jeremiah Wright talking about one of America's tragic crimes against African Americans... and he cites it as though it is fiction!

Beck's bizarre mix of nonsense phraseology with ulta-emotive imagery and conspiracy-theorist buzz words isn't enough, in itself, to brand him a racist. But the following comes darn close.

This passage comes from the FOX web site transcript of Beck's show (entire transcript):

GLENN: .... Now, this is from an interview he [Van Jones] did as the head of the Ella Baker Center.

VAN JONES: The white polluters and the white environmentals [sic] are essentially steering poison into the people of colored communities.

GLENN: Have you heard this any has the president ever been around anyone who has ever said anything like that before Van Jones?

REVEREND WRIGHT: The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis.

GLENN: The president of the United States has tried to pass himself off as a guy who just sat in Jeremiah Wright's Black Liberation Theology church for 20 years. A friend. He's like an old uncle. He didn't even notice. He baptized Barack Obama's children. He baptized Barack Obama, but he never heard these things before. And even if he did hear them, he didn't really even notice. Okay, so that's the explanation for the crazy uncle. What is the explanation this time? What is the excuse this time for appointing the same type of radical, saying almost damn exact same words as Jeremiah Wright to an influential position in our government? Is it that you didn't vet these people? Because gee, that sounds like a problem, that our president of the United States didn't vet him enough to know. Is it that the FBI didn't do its job? I mean, we found all of this stuff. Sure, I only have a staff of seven producing books, TV, radio shows, I only have a staff of seven. And all of a sudden we can come up with these things. Gee, you'd think the FBI or the president of the United States would surely be able to find these things.

Let's review here.

Government poster advertising the syphilis study. (Wikipedia, source.)

First, the Tuskegee experiments, where black men with syphilis were sought out by doctors who pretended to treat them but then left them untreated for up to forty years, is HISTORIC FACT. The part Jeremiah Wright apparently got wrong was the claim that our government injected these men with syphilis. However, just how different is it to purposely not treat someone -- and without their knowledge! -- while you, as a representative of their government, tell them you are treating their disease? The nuance is not a large one.

Our government did, however, misrepresent itself as there to cure men some of whom it effectively murdered by intentionally withholding penicillin when that drug became known as curative of syphilis. Need it be said that the wives and any children of these infected men were, by intentional negligence, infected by the men who'd been left untreated? Just how wrong is Wright? Yes, the line is very, very thin.

Second, Mr. Beck, you fail to explain the difference above, leaving in the hearer's mind the impression that the entire story is false. No, most of it is not false. Only the active introduction of syphilis into healthy black men is, apparently, untrue. (I use the word "apparently" because in light of what else went on, I remain open to further revelations in this matter.)

Third, your argument actually ends by shoring up Mr. Van Jones' position -- as you cite historic racial crimes with which to compare his claims of such crimes. (I don't suggest it actually works -- but for those aware of history your argument is at best just more Beckian gobbledygook.)

Tuskegee University's web site summarizes the horror of that Beck-denied history:

For forty years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. Informed that they were being treated for “bad blood,” their doctors had no intention of curing them of syphilis at all.

The data for the experiment was to be collected from autopsies of the men, and they were thus deliberately left to degenerate under the ravages of tertiary syphilis—which can include tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and death. “As I see it,” one of the doctors involved explained, “we have no further interest in these patients until they die.”

Now. What part of that was NOT our government? In short, though Jeremiah Wright has certainly not been correct on everything he's said, this instance is one where he is far closer to historic truth than Glenn Beck, who is exposed as a rabble-rousing racist. There is no excuse. FOX News has no excuse.

You wonder why liberals such as myself view the Right with such grave suspicion and active dislike?

Glenn Beck should be removed from FOX News. But as long as his non-factual jingoism remains popular with a large enough minority of Americans, FOX will keep him on TV. They don't care if he rants for five minutes about how the old artwork on Rockefeller Center is really part of a commie / fascist (never sure which) plot, and how it all somehow ties into Obama being President... and they don't care about him misrepresenting the Tuskegee Experiments as fiction rather than fact. So he'll keep it up.

Meanwhile, I will make it a personal mission to boycott FOX -- not only their news channels but also their entertainment channels. Racism is still alive in America. And I'm not gonna take it.

If other readers agree, please link to this on your blog or face book pages!

[This post has been revised a number of times since earlier today.]

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Twenty Years of Being Married to (and Writing about) My Dearling Carol

Twenty Years with Dearling (September 2, 1989 - September 2, 2009)

Carol Elaine and I sporting our cool mullets.
Hey! It was 1989. Mullets were still cool back then...
(the pic was for our wedding announcement).


I love my wife. This is no great virtue on my part, no real sacrifice. Rather, it is as close to involuntary an act and emotion as I experience. And it is Grace.

In what is surely a writer's act (and smells suspiciously of self-indulgence) I offer links to various Carol-based reflections and inspirations, lyrics and poetry and prose. Some of it is so sweet you'll need to brush your teeth afterward, while a little of it describes biblical "knowing" in ways not normally indulged in by Evangelicals. Then there were the two cancers she went through, taking me along for the scary ride.

Consider what follows my way of letting friends look into a family album of sorts, my way of celebrating these two decades with this singular lover, friend, sister in Christ. Or maybe it is a box of candy... so again, have that toothbrush ready.


The book Trees and Roots and Growing Things, published by Cornerstone Press in 1994, is now out of print but on the web in toto. It began as a present for my wife but was embraced by our house publishing board as something worth printing:

In 2000, we were in the midst of breast cancer treatments for Carol. This inspired not a little anxiety, but also growth, in each of us. I tried to capture some of that with these poems:

Not much later, I was dinking around with the rather adolescent (in my opinion) miming of e. e. cummings' habit of using no capitalizations. It led to breaking a few other rules of English as well, all framed as if on a drive with Carol from Chicago to Bushnell (about a 4 1/2 hour trip) [PG, maybe PG-13 in a few spots]:

My attempt at a lover's dialogue with the Song of Solomon - [PG-13 rated]:

Part I:
Part II:

Carol and I have long been involved with Christians for Biblical Equality. Here is the talk we gave at a CBE Conference in Portand (yes, I wrote it all down, as I'm lousy at extemporaneous speaking):

Two short poems:

"She Is" captures love in the midst of dissimilarity:

And "Rock Tumbler" captures our larger context, the community of believers called Jesus People USA:

And an addendum - Two sermons (neither mentions Carol, both are profoundly influenced by her):

This was a sermon I did in one of my "pinch hitter" moments when the A-string pastors were out of town. It doesn't mention Carol, but her influence on my theology of marriage is profound:

And another, this one rooted in the Song of Solomon... again, Carol so profoundly influences my views of marriage, sexuality, and spirituality!: