Moralists out of the mainstream

    Our self-appointed moral arbiters are still obsessed with Planned Parenthood. They’re behaving in defiance of the American majority, but they just won’t let it go. House Republicans staged a vote yesterday to defund the group, peppering their rhetoric with dire warnings about “quick and secret abortions,” the effort was defeated (it was an empty gesture anyway, since the Senate wouldn’t do something so destructive) – yet now the moralists are talking about using Planned Parenthood funding as leverage (again!), this time in negotiations over the ’12 budget and raising the debt ceiling. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall any Republican congressional candidate declaring on the stump last year, “If you vote for me, I promise to take down Planned Parenthood – and make it tougher for three million women a year to get preventive health care!”Given the current obsession with Planned Parenthood, that would’ve been the honest campaign message. But it would’ve been a heartless message, a politically risky message, which is why we never heard it. Voters were instead led to believe that the whole campaign was about jobs and spending. Voters rarely heard a discordant word from the social conservatives who have long desired to dictate morality to America’s women. Voters are only now realizing that the moralists’ quietude was a con.In the wake of electoral victory, however, social conservatives are now free to indulge – which is why, late last week, we nearly suffered a government shutdown because House Republicans were adamant that the group be stripped of its federal money. They ultimately blinked at the eleventh hour – Planned Parenthood eluded the knife – but defeat is merely a speed bump. Moralists armed with certitude never stop. The GOP’s Ahabs are once again determined to harpoon their whale.Their beef, of course, is that the group’s include the legal option of abortion. Therefore, Planned Parenthood should no longer receive its annual $340-million federal stipend. As Mike Pence, one of the leading congressional moralists, said last week, “There’s no more important issue than the sanctity of life.” They believe that taxpayers with moral qualms about abortion should not be compelled to help fund any groups that perform abortions. (The fundamental flaw in that argument is obvious. Taxpayers are compelled all the time to help fund programs that they morally oppose. As I seem to recall, at least half of all Americans were compelled to help finance the Iraq war despite their burgeoning belief that it was wrong.)Anyway, Pence’s morality spin has lately targeted Planned Parenthood, because, he says, its clinics “focus mainly on abortion.” John Kyl, the Republican senator, has seconded that statement, by declaring that the share of Planned Parenthood services devoted to abortion is “well over 90 percent.” Gee, really? The PP clinics focus “mainly on abortion?” Their focus is “well over 90 percent?” We all know that lying politicians are a bane of our existence, much like blizzards and birthers, but let us refute with empiricism and merely note that the actual share of Planned Parenthood services devoted to abortion is…three percent.A spokesman for Kyl, when confronted with this percentage chasm, insisted this week (in one of the great lines of contemporary Republican politics) that the senator’s remarks were “not intended to be a factual statement.” Kyl also confessed yesterday that he simply “misspoke,” an overly charitable way to spin the fact that he was off by, oh, 87 percentage points.Anyway, let’s move on to a more important counter-factual assertion. Mike Pence said that targeting Planned Parenthood is crucial because “we’ve got to keep our word to the American people.” Defunding the group, he says, “represents the will of the American people.”Really? By what measure does the move against Planned Parenthood represent “the will of the American people” – given the fact that the people never voted in ’10 for this morality crusade, and that the polls contradict Pence’s claim? The guy is just making stuff up. Or perhaps he didn’t intend it as a factual statement.A CNN poll says that 65 percent of Americans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood, with only 34 percent opposed. A recent Quinnipiac poll reports that 53 percent of Americans oppose “cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood.” Among “moderate” Americans, the opposition was 60 percent. Among those aged 18 to 34, the opposition was 66 percent. Meanwhile, in the bipartisan NBC-Wall Street Journal survey (conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic pollsters), 53 percent of Americans said it was “mostly or totally unacceptable” to defund Planned Parenthood. Among all women, this view was voiced by 56 percent. Among women aged 18 to 49 (those most likely to avail themselves of Planned Parenthood services), it was 60 percent.Speaking of gender, former Republican senator Alan Simpson (outspoken as always) said the other day that abortion is “a deeply personal and intimate decision, and I don’t think men legislators should even vote on the issue.” Given the fact that Republicans have chronic problems with women voters, and that women are the far more dominant gender in presidential elections, his counsel is wise. Similarly, former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon says that the Planned Parenthood obsession alienates independents and women, and makes the party look “narrow, intolerant, and backward.” It also makes the party look stupid. Slashing Planned Parenthood would actually increase the number of abortions nationwide, precisely the opposite of what the moralists want. The annual federal outlay is one-third of the group’s annual budget (the rest comes from non-public sources); if Planned Parenthood is ultimately forced to downsize, thanks to the GOP, it would dispense less birth control to fewer women. Which means there would be more unintended pregnancies than today. Which means there would be more abortions than today – according to some health researchers, perhaps several hundred thousand more.If the Republicans have the courage of their moral convictions, they should boldly campaign on this issue in 2012, rather than hide it as they did in 2010. They should insist on the stump that it’s “the will of the people” to target a group that offers breast exams and pap smears to millions of women. But the moralists would never dare to commit candor and seek such an unattainable mandate. Better to moralize in the safe zone between elections. Unfortunately, for those of us who swim in the American mainstream, their time to waste our time is now. And I intend that as a factual statement.——-Today’s Trump tripe:A Time magazine reporter, seeking to gauge The Donald’s seriousness about serving in Washington, asked him a simple question. How many lawmakers sit in the U.S. House of Representatives?And Trump ducked. “Well,” he said, “I don’t want to answer your questions because this isn’t a history class.”

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