Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strong Feelings and Twisted Logic


After the House passed the appalling Stupak-Pitts amendment, President Obama was quick to explain that it's OK for people of good will to disagree about stuff.

Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funded abortions, the president said, "There are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."
What intolerable fucking claptrap this is. There were strong feelings on both sides about slavery and segregation. There are strong feelings on both sides about global warming. There are strong feelings on both sides about the validity of Obama's goddamn birth certificate and his status as an Islamo-Marxist radical. At best, expressing strong feelings demonstrates only that one has strong feelings; often, it doesn't even demonstrate that. The fact that many politicians find it pleasing or profitable to hail themselves as God-appointed womb sheriffs doesn't make them worthy of respect; it makes them worthy of as many kicks in the balls as it takes to rid them of their creepy delusions.

Granted, this outlook can't easily be reconciled with "the art of the possible." But neither can kicking women in the teeth, yet again, in the name of a status quo that marginalizes and brutalizes them.

The idea that a woman must play second fiddle to a fetus, on the grounds that some enterprising sperm cell planted a man's flag inside her -- as though it were a submarine claiming drilling rights in the Arctic Circle -- is scientifically illiterate, theologically dubious, ethically unworkable, and morally incoherent. And I'm sick unto death of the idea that the ever-so-precious tax dollars of these oh-so-sensitive control addicts mustn't be spent on abortion. Especially since my equally strong feelings don't entitle me to opt out of funding two grotesque wars, or detention centers and border fences for immigrants, or the state oppression of women and gays; or paying the salary of a reactionary fuckhead like Bart Stupak; or providing high-quality healthcare to politicians who refuse it to others.

Anyway, getting back to this business of "strong feelings," you will have heard that Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at Ft. Hood recently. Our President disapproves of this, as well he should. Harken unto him, my brethren and cistern:
One by one, President Barack Obama spoke the names and told the stories Tuesday of the 13 people slain in the Fort Hood shooting rampage, honoring their memories as he denounced the "twisted logic" that led to their deaths.

"No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor," Obama told the crowd on a steamy Texas afternoon.
It's obvious that forcing women to procure illicit abortions will kill more than 13 people. It's obvious that refusing to give all Americans the healthcare they need, when they need it, will kill more people than a thousand Hasans could've. And above all, it's obvious that we're occupying two countries whose men, women, and children we routinely blast into bloody fragments, often for no greater crime than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But a faith justifies all of this, it seems, and a just and loving God looks upon it with favor.

Those who feel differently are free to say so, of course, as long as they respect the status quo as defined and maintained by those who don't, and are careful not to confuse a "strong opinion" with "twisted logic," no matter how many people it kills.

(Photo via The Situationist.)

15 comments:

jaytingle said...

I followed Jane's advice and gave a cash gift to Planned Parenthood in Stupak's honor. He will be receiving a note from them. Kicking in the balls is a good idea, too.

Catherine D. said...

I'll support my local Planned Parenthood clinic and local free clinic up the wazoo, but national Planned Parenthood and NARAL can kiss my royal Irish ass for their collective inaction.

Susan said...

Wow. Beautifully argued. Bravo.

MarkC said...

"intolerable fucking claptrap"?

By using the rationale he is using, Obama is setting the stage for watering down Stupak to something closer to the existing Hyde amendment in conference ommittee. He's setting a standard that this is health care legislation and so should not change the law on abortion.

That seems to me completely reasonable. I hate the Hyde amendment. But if it is so objectionable that it must be overturned this very second, why didn't you advocate an amendment on every single bill since that has found its way through the house? Because that would be a terrible way to make law. There are health care reform bills. There are bills about specific medical procedures. They're separate, and it is the C Street religious zealots who are trying to blur that distinctions.

What Obama said was pandering to the religious right, no doubt. Every issue has more than one side, and as you point out, the difference is that in some cases both sides have some merit, but in other cases one side is completely craven and immoral.

Yet how can you ignore the obvious, that he is taking a position that will allow him to modify Stupak in committee? No president could publicly say that the anti-abortion forces are craven and immoral. So why is it that when Obama is pragmatic about the very issues that Clinton was, it becomes "intolerable fucking claptrap"?

Phila said...

No president could publicly say that the anti-abortion forces are craven and immoral.

I think that's a bit of a strawman, in that there are other ways of publicly opposing anti-choice zealots than calling them names. Obama has a considerable gift for rhetoric, so it's kind of unrealistic to pretend that the only weapon at his command is namecalling.

I do understand the political calculations involved. But I also understand that voters -- especially younger, more idealistic ones -- tend to react badly when they feel that they're being slapped in the face.

That's even more true when you're talking about reproductive rights; a lot of women don't respond very well to assurances that everything will turn out OK if they'll just be a little more patient. And when I look at the things that've happened over the last couple of decades, I can't really blame them. That's as much of a bedrock political reality as anything you're describing, and ignoring it can have serious consequences.

We may or may not end up with a better bill -- I tend to think we will -- but I think I'm well within my rights to say that Obama's remarks were tone-deaf...intolerably so, from my perspective, though I can understand why people would disagree.

Speaking of which, I've noticed that when people explain that Obama's being pragmatic, they tend to act as though he had no other option for achieving the same ends. It's as though there's one method of being pragmatic, and he followed it to the letter, and anyone who has a concern about it is arguing that he should've had some sort of theatrical meltdown, or vowed to crush his enemies underfoot...as opposed to, say, taking slightly greater pains to reassure people who have every reason to be angry and mistrustful and worried. Or failing that, pandering to the religious right just a tiny bit less. I suppose it's my belief that he's actually capable of doing this that makes me so angry.

That said, this post really isn't about the pros and cons of the healthcare bill, so much as the awful emptiness of American political rhetoric. Hence the title, and the comparison of the language he used re: Stupak and Hasan. I thought the contrast was pretty sickening, obviously. But perhaps that's not an attack on Obama so much as on the nature of his job and the persistence of this country's stupid, smug delusions.

Acai said...

Interesting post!

Iwonder said...

Phila, thank you for that powerful post. Amen is all I can say.

RC said...

Excellent writing.
. . . wish I'd written it.
I'm just so sorry it had to be written.
Thanks.

peacay said...

Although it pains me a little to say so, I happen to think that over-parsing of Obama's words at this (yet another) INTERIM stage in the legislative process is misguided.

This bill development is needle threading and there are a hundred ways that the whole thing could be killed dead in the water before it gets to Obama's desk.

Absolutely it should never have gotten to this point with such an odious amendment but if Obama was to come out guns a blazin' to quell the (valid, of course) concerns of those who support abortion rights, then it might be that come January everyone would be sitting around going "We sure told them!!" without having any health bill whatsoever.

Ben Nelson has already said he won't vote for a package that doesn't include an equivalent of the Stupak amendment. If Obama presented stronger language AT THIS STAGE then there would be no wiggle room, no ability to trade and finesse this gargantuan piece of legislation onwards. Rigidity would just force peoples' hands, precluding the ability to engage in more negotiations.

I'm not suggesting it's a masterstroke of diplomacy - it's a rock and a hard place - but I do understand that (again, at THIS STAGE) the public language is intentionally lowkey while the horsetrading goes on in the background.
[Also, the teaparty townhall nazified loonies would love more fuel for their bonfire antics, which is of course no specific reason to be cautious, nor would their lunacy necessarily cause any derailment of the process, but it would be more negative fodder to dominate the media and right now getting modest popularity gains for the overall health bill remains a paramount concern]

I agree with the depth of your rancour but I think it really ought to be directed at Stupak and his cronies now and that the presidential powder ought to be kept dry - for the time being anyway - at least until the final version of the legislation coming out of conference is seen.

Respectfully,

Phila said...

Again, Peacay, this post isn't primarily about Obama or the bill; it's about the frustration of living in a country where the most vicious acts of inhumanity are treated as expressions of principle. Horsetrading is well and good (unless you're the horse), but I'm skeptical about the amount of progress that's actually possible so long as we keep telling ourselves these insane goddamn lies. And I'm tired of garden-variety lunatics like Hasan being held up as examples of Evil while we take such great pains to flatter and coddle people who are far more dangerous than he is. It needs to be said every once in a while, for my own sake if no one else's.

As for political calculation...for me, it comes down to what I said in the post.

Granted, this outlook can't easily be reconciled with "the art of the possible." But neither can kicking women in the teeth, yet again, in the name of a status quo that marginalizes and brutalizes them.

In other words, even if I were to rethink my position and agree with you 100%, I'm just one person, and there are still lots of people who aren't going to see things that way, period. And these people vote and volunteer and donate -- or don't -- which means they're very important to the outcome of the 2010 and 2012 elections. So-called realpolitik that ignores this fact is totally unrealistic, IMO.

What troubles me about some of the "pragmatic" arguments I've read is their near-total abandonment of solidarity as a viable political strategy, let alone a necessary one, which to me ignores virtually every lesson we should've learned about the expansion of civil rights over the past several centuries. (That's not directed at you personally, though...it's just a general complaint.)

On a less "idealistic" note, one thing I've noticed -- again, not in your comment so much, but in similar ones I've read elsewhere -- is that for all the talk of pragmatism and strategery, it doesn't seem to occur to people that massive outrage is an appropriate response in purely pragmatic and strategic terms. It seems obvious to me that it's better for the Dems to have their feet held to the fire en masse. And in that regard, your argument that the rancour ought to be limited to Stupak and his cronies seems to me to be misguided; for my money, the Dem party needs to feel that Stupak is a direct threat to its viability in 2010 and beyond. Not only because it's true, but also because any "horsetrading" that transpires without that understanding is going to be flawed at best.

Also, purely in the interests of international diplomacy, I should mention that using any variant of the phrase "keep your powder dry" in conversation with an American leftist is likely to send him or her into a suicidal tailspin.

[insert smiling emoticon here, to indicate that this is a joke despite its grain of deadly truth]

peacay said...

Mm. Well, you're screaming at the wind and wanting a rainbow farting unicorn to magically appear out of thin air. You don't have the luxury of living in a society where reproductive rights are, in fact, rights. Rant all you like but you live in a society where public discourse and politics are totally drenched in religious zealotry which, in turn, seems to be a an approximately fair reflection of the 50:50 division in opinions on abortion in the populace.

So the Stupak amendment was a fairly obvious consequence of gaining a majority: the increased numbers come from the more conservative districts who have elected more moderate dems who, on balance, tend more towards the anti-abortion stance. It's not rocket science and I know you know this stuff much better than me.

It comes down to, for me, the adage about fighting the wars you can win. And, despite your insistence that you're not specifically talking about the health bill, that's the origin of this particular debate and its passage will improve the lives of a LOT of women.

You're just not going to shift the consensus with rallying calls to greater partisanship - massive outrage - and storming the offices of the party leaders. The absolute best you can hope for, in a general sense, is that there is a slight shift leftwards, during Obama's tenure, in accepting a role for govt. in health, finance & climate change. And in continuing the status quo on abortion - I have no idea how the consensus opinion can be shifted on that but as much as you may desire it and as much as logic tells a lot of us that abortion ought not be a political football whatsoever, it is the way it is and the energy wasted in not changing the standoff would be better spent energising people to support the passage of the health bill. I don't know how one fights religion/moral faith which is of course the largest player in the debate.

Anyway, I'll agree to punch a priest and a conservative if you will.

Phila said...

You don't have the luxury of living in a society where reproductive rights are, in fact, rights.

Nor do I have the luxury of living in a country whose pro-choice voters and activists will react to S-P, and Obama's rhetoric about it, as you'd like them to. Some will, but others won't. Katha Pollitt explains the mood pretty well, I think. You can agree or disagree with her, but these are fairly widespread feelings, and calling them naive or irrational or self-destructive or whatever won't change that fact. If the bill remains as it is, it's going to have serious consequences next November. We can argue about whether it should, but I don't think we can really argue whether it will.

So the Stupak amendment was a fairly obvious consequence of gaining a majority: the increased numbers come from the more conservative districts who have elected more moderate dems who, on balance, tend more towards the anti-abortion stance.

Perhaps...I'd have to do the math. My recollection is that the House ended up with a substantial net gain of (ostensibly) pro-choice Dems in 2008. And that a number of the ones who voted for S-P had strong pro-choice voting records previously. So it may not be quite that simple.

As for being "obvious"...well, it seemed as though we had a compromise, for a while. Things changed rather suddenly.

Moderation's in the eye of the beholder, of course, but to me a "moderate Dem" position would be Capps. S-P is a good deal more extreme.

It comes down to, for me, the adage about fighting the wars you can win.

I dunno. By that logic, we probably shouldn't have embarked on some of the campaigns we've won. But it's a moot point, because people are going to fight the battles that matter to them regardless.

You're just not going to shift the consensus with rallying calls to greater partisanship - massive outrage - and storming the offices of the party leaders.

Hard to say. These actions can affect lawmaking, and laws can have a normative effect. I will say that rallying calls and storming offices were arguably instrumental in ensuring that a public option, as weak and sickly as it may be, made it into the final bill.

They've also led to minor, but perhaps not totally insignificant, outcomes like this. And they may yet help to get S-P stripped.

More to the point, I don't really know what the alternative is. Silent, trusting acquiescence certainly doesn't seem to work very well....

And in continuing the status quo on abortion - I have no idea how the consensus opinion can be shifted on that

Well, for starters, by not backing down from a crucial fight on the assumption that it's unwinnable. A lot of regressive bills have been defeated in recent years, even in conservative areas, and a lot of pro-choice politicians have been elected at the state level. That's not an accident; it's the result of engagement and commitment and -- in my (possibly incorrect) opinion -- it's also evidence of a shifting outlook.

There's also the issue of language, which is why I'm bitching about Obama's choice of words. How you present issues does have some bearing on how people react to them. The Right continues to understand this much better than the Left does, unfortunately.

In the meantime, I can always hope the fact that the RNC's health plan covers abortion will help to refocus the debate somewhat. But I'm not holding my breath.

Phila said...


Anyway, I'll agree to punch a priest and a conservative if you will.


Not accusing you of this, but the default stance among some US opinion columnists seems to be that it's better to punch women, 'cause they probably won't hit back....

peacay said...

That's did cover abortion. F-wits.

Look, I think we are fairly aligned but viewing/arguing through slightly different prisms. I'm fairly obsessed/immersed in the politics of getting health done which skews my opinions towards pragmatism. I had thought about walking back some of what I'd said actually and I concede that I gave the impression that doing nothing is the tactic of choice at present - in relation to Stupak and what it stands for - and I admit that's fairly wrong-headed.

What I wouldn't concede is Obama's language choice AT THIS POINT. But I'm happy to agree to disagree. I understand you point of view. Again, to me, it's post-conference, when the real bill appears, that is judgement time. I would bet good money on the Hyde status quo prevailing ultimately. I must sleep; hope I've made some sense and sorry if I got a bit ranty meself.

Phila said...

I'm fairly obsessed/immersed in the politics of getting health done which skews my opinions towards pragmatism.

I am too. It's extremely important to me, for individual reasons as well as social ones, and I totally understand where you're coming from.

But at the same time, we've been "pragmatic" with women's lives and autonomy for a long while now, and it's neither my place, nor my nature, to tell them to "take one for the team." And even if I felt otherwise, it wouldn't change their perceptions, or the fact that they're basically correct. Saying "this is a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill" is an incredible slap in the face, in my view. (And in the view of a lot of other people whose support Obama needs, which is where the whole "pragmatism" argument breaks down.)

I understand the game that (I hope) Obama's playing, and the benefits if it works. But I also understand that the rhetoric and basic assumptions are sick, stupid, misogynist, anti-egalitarian, anti-progressive, etc. Maybe I'm nuts, but I don't necessarily think there's a contradiction or even a conflict there. It's simply how things are. If someone gives you a fifty-dollar bill that's hidden in a 20-foot pile of horseshit, you don't simply say, "Hooray...I got a fifty-dollar bill!"

Again, to me, it's post-conference, when the real bill appears, that is judgement time.

Sure. Which is why now is the time to make one's feelings known, in the hope that it'll actually influence the outcome, or the path we take to get there.

I would bet good money on the Hyde status quo prevailing ultimately.

Yeah, I tend to think it will too. Which is a pretty sad commentary on the current status of left-wing hopes, but such is life, I guess.

Anyway, no worries about "ranting"...I started it, after all! I'm well aware of your political goodwill and always interested in what you have to say.