March
22nd 2010
History was made, and You Are There!

Posted under: American history, Gender, the body, women's history

It's HISTORY, b!tchez!

Does anyone else remember seeing those old Walter Cronkite TV shows that showed him reporting on historical events as though he were covering it live on TV called “You Are There?”  (I really dug those.  Go figure!)  Well, in the spirit of Uncle Walter–in the great “Health” “Care” “Reform” passage of 2009-2010, remember:  You Are There!  With all of this history falling down around us, we need some Real Historians to help us assemble the potsherds and read the hieroglyphs:

  • Sean Wilentz says Nancy Pelosi’s marshalling of House votes (and Barack Obama’s support for “his own bill”) makes her the most effective Speaker of the House since Henry Clay.  In fact, she’s the only person who’s brought stuff in for a landing since this Congress began last year.  Hey, if someone could find a rhyme for a campaign song that went, “Rise up, rise up, the country’s risin’/Henry Clay and Frelinghuysen!” we can probably find a great campaign song lyrics that rhyme Pelosi with. . . something, right?
  • Michael Kazin says that health care reform’s political triumph, like all liberal triumphs in recent U.S. history, will be brief, but its changes will likely be lasting.  Ted Widmer says that Obama’s victory yesterday was a victory of hope over fear, and compares the passage of health care reform to the 1993 OBRA that passed by one vote.  (He doesn’t remind us that it spelled doom for the Democratic Congress the following year.  Widmer is a former Clinton speechwriter.) 
  • Apparently, the only historians with opinions worth publishing are menAnd women don’t blog, so it’s probably our own damn fault, since we’re so busy hiding under rocks, when we’re not taking them down to the river to beat our laundry with them.  Go figure.  It’s not like the most controversial wrangling over this bill involved uteri or fetuses or icky smelly leaky disgusting lady parts or anything like that.  Tina Brown:  we expect better of you.  Why publish only historians who would also qualify to be in the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops?  (Is it that we don’t wear the ill-fitting tweed jackets and bad ties?)
  • In an interview by Kristina Bozic in the London Review of Books (h/t MsExPat at Corrente), Tony Judt says that Europe is bound to be disappointed by Obama:  “What Obama is missing is the ability to channel his rhetoric into political strengths. The danger we Americans see is that he will be weakened by the gap between his rhetoric and his actions. This is true for his policies in the Middle East, and to an extent also for his response to the economic crisis. Europeans don’t see this yet. Therefore the disappointment here is much greater, but I fear it will grow in Europe too.”  (I was very sorry to read last week in a review of his latest book, Ill Fares the Land, that Judt is dying of ALS, the horror also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”)
  • Barack Obama to American women:  drop dead.  (As some of you might recall, I was awfully suspicious of the desperate incantation of “But the Supreme Court and ROE ROE ROE!!11!!!!!111!!” as the Obama campaign’s first–and as it turns out, last–gambit to lure former Clinton voters to his side.  Fool me once. . . can’t get fooled again!”)

How does History look from where you’re standing today, friends?  (All opinions are welcome–even those from people with lady parts!)

48 Comments »

48 Responses to “History was made, and You Are There!

  1. Profane on 22 Mar 2010 at 7:36 am #

    I hate to play Debby Downer, but. . .

    This is a well intentioned piece of legislation, but is an awful bill in terms of its details, and amounts to the “Health Insurance Industry Guaranteed Profitability Act of 2010″. Furthermore, it cannot bode well that it this the first major piece of US social legislation that has passed without bipartisan support – and required some sickening backroom deals even to win passage via a handful of votes. If the Senate uses reconciliation to win passage of the amended version, then expect the Republicans to reconcile it into oblivion the next time they are in power.

  2. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 7:58 am #

    Profane: I’m with you except for the handwringing about bipartisanship. The modern Republican party is a rump faction devoid of ideological diversity. (But, mad props to their party discipline!) Since the bill effectively commandeers a large portion of our wallets and commands us to send it to for-profit “health insurance” parasites, and as you note, is a huge boondoggle for hospitals and drug companies, I fail to understand what the Republicans don’t like about it, except that it’s now an all-Dem initiative.

    The measures against dumping sick people and shutting out people with “pre-existing conditions” are good ones. I’m just not sure that it was worth all of that horse-trading away of my bodily sovereignty.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf on 22 Mar 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Is it that we don’t wear the ill-fitting tweed jackets and bad ties?

    Wait! Wut? You don’t? Dammit!

  4. Paul on 22 Mar 2010 at 8:29 am #

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Supporting health care for the entire population seems like the right thing to do, but I just wonder what taking on a hugely expensive new program means for the future of a government that is already trillions of dollars in debt.

  5. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 8:32 am #

    CPP: I’m not saying there aren’t some pretty badly dressed women historians. I’m just saying they’re not wearing tweed jackets and ties, for the most part.

    I am saying that I am not a badly dressed historian. (On the days I bother to get dressed, that is.)

  6. Emma on 22 Mar 2010 at 8:49 am #

    I read the EO and all I can hear is Obama saying “Take that b*tchez!!”

  7. Daniel S. Goldberg on 22 Mar 2010 at 9:57 am #

    /BEGIN RANT

    Historically speaking, the entire pathetic debate is shockingly ignorant of the excellent evidence from the history of public health & demography — think the McKeown Thesis, for one — showing quite plainly that access to sick care is a very small determinant of population health, and has little meliorative effect on health inequities (although it can, in some circumstances, prevent them widening at the current rates).

    (Admittedly, some of the best evidence for the primacy of social and economic conditions on pop health is contemporary, but in this case the historiography complements and even presages in important ways the best current evidence on the subject).

    Do not mistake my point: I am most assuredly in favor of extending access to sick care for those who need it. No matter how we structure social and economic life, people will get sick, and we should take care of them. But it is frustrating to me that so many, including so many experts whom I would expect to know better, seem to confuse the normative claim with a counterfactual proposition about what health insurance reform is likely to do in terms of reducing inequities, human suffering, and the toll of illness.

    Even while history itself supports the idea that we need to distinguish very carefully between health and health care, all evidence suggests we fail to do so. I sat through a (student) presentation at a history of sci/med conference recently which discussed the “forgotten” legacy of Virchow. I challenged this, as Virchow has certainly not been forgotten by those who are interested in the social determinants of health, but eventually agreed that Virchow has indeed generally been forgotten by those most directly involved in the provision of care (i.e., within the culture of American biomedicine).

    Virchow is an inspiration to me precisely because he was both the father of pathology and the father of cellular medicine. He was one of the principal contributors to the effort to correlate illness complaints with visible pathologies, and yet he also believed wholeheartedly that the best way to care for the workers who suffered terribly in the mines of Silesia was to improve the conditions in which they lived and worked. He also believed that they should have access to sick care, but did not for a moment maintain that doing so was the best way to reduce their suffering and improve their lives.

    Would that we paid more attention to people like him, and to this history. I am not optimistic.

    /END RANT

  8. koshem bos on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:01 am #

    The joyful screams about the historical significance of the vote for health care reform forget that Medicare was a much larger step that was never expended below age 65. No reason for victory laps, the best is may be.

    Obama is the wrong president at the wrong time. Whether some people believe that peace in the Middle East can be dictated by Washington, wrong, the European will find Obama to be flawed and shallow. Bipartisanship is an inside the beltway concept that has no parallel, for excellent reasons, anywhere else.

  9. Daniel S. Goldberg on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Erratum:

    “Virchow is an inspiration to me precisely because he was both the father of pathology and the father of cellular medicine.”

    Should read:

    Virchow is an inspiration to me precisely because he was both the father of pathology and the father of social medicine.

  10. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Daniel–thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m hoping–against the evidence, probably–that sick care may be the tail that wags the dog of public health, so to speak. *IF* sick care comes to be seen as a civil right as a result of this reform, then we all have a bigger stake in wanting to improve the conditions of all people’s living and working conditions, if only because sick care is damned expensive and clean air, water, and food and safe workplaces are a lot cheaper.

    But, that’s a big IF. We’ll see what the post-facto public sale of this plan looks like, and how people understand it.

  11. Emma on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:27 am #

    sick care is damned expensive and clean air, water, and food and safe workplaces are a lot cheaper.

    Not if 1) you have undocumented immigrants slaughtering all your animals and picking all your produce and 2) those undocumented immigrants have no right to health care — as they don’t under current HCR.

  12. Tom on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:30 am #

    I remember the Trojan Horse “You were there” with especial clarity, Historiann. Some might note that even to this day, I have a penchant for watching “ancient world” crap on the tv.

    I do also remember the Sherman/Mr Peabody episode where they pull the keystone out of the Great Wall of China, which as a result becomes horizontal, rather than vertical.

    No metaphorical content intended, but readers can read into both whatever they wish.

  13. Profane on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:35 am #

    My point on the lack of bipartisanship is that the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare, and Medicaid all passed with moderate to overwhelming bipartisan support. In other words, BOTH parties “own” it, which is one of the reasons why the basics within those pieces of legislation have been untouchable. I do no expect that to be the case here.

  14. Indyanna on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:53 am #

    A lot of good ‘sherds and ‘glyphs here to help scrub and classify. I couldn’t help with that because I was s’posed to show a DVD on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to an absent colleague’s class this morning. And I couldn’t even do THAT because the technical equipment here in Brokedown Hall is as broke-down as the hall itself, as an ancient commonwealth crubles into hedge fund comfort food!

    What I remember best about Unka Walter was, the Vietnam stuff, sure, but especially the many space “shots” and moon “shots” of that era, when he still had that brushback-brilliantine hair. Nobody dared call that kind of stuff “socialism,” or a government “takeover” of anything. If they had, I’m sure he would have stood up and bloodied their nose and that would be that. Those lying liars on C-SPAN yesterday just about made me want to screech… Especially BOW-ner/BAY-ner whoever he was from O-HYA. I forgot to say (R), O-HYA

  15. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Profane: good point. Now I see.

    Emma–you’re right about the undocumented workers. I shudder to think what might happen with immigration “reform.”

    Indyanna: John Boehner was my congressman back in “Winesburg.” Good times, good times. (I went from him to Marilyn Musgrave–so trust me, friends: it CAN ALWAYS get worse!)

  16. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:58 am #

    Tom–ahhhh, Mr. Peabody. After Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth) on Emergency!, he was my second crush I think. (And my first non-human crush. Maybe my ONLY non-human crush?)

  17. Comrade PhysioProf on 22 Mar 2010 at 11:16 am #

    If you don’t have leather elbow patches, you must close down this blog.

  18. Monday Link Love: Health Care Reform « The Feminist Texican on 22 Mar 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    [...] History was made, and You Are There! Does anyone else remember seeing those old Walter Cronkite TV shows that showed him reporting on [...]

  19. history & health care on 22 Mar 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    I agree with Profane that forcing people to buy health care from for-profits or else face penalties is a gross capitulation, and I agree with Historiann that the sacrifice of women’s reproductive rights in the bill is shameful, and I agree with Emma that the bill betrays the 20? million people who will still be uninsured after its provisions take effect.

    But I am trying to breathe deep and take a historical perspective.

    Do readers think it it possible that this bill, despite its epic flaws, will achieve a new consensus in American society that health coverage should be universal? Will it lay the groundwork for fixes throughout the years (rescinding the President’s executive order on the Hyde Amendment, expanding coverage further, continuing restrictions on insurers)?

    Fifteen years from now, will this look like a good bill? Or is the for-profit model too deep a flaw to be mended?

  20. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    Great question, history & health care: only time will tell. On the one hand, landmarks in progressive legislation like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid only became the programs they are now over time–initially, they excluded large swaths of Americans (esp. SS) who are now included in the benefits.

    On the other hand–what worries me (and many others–see for example Big Tent Democrat’s commentaries today at TalkLeft) is the fact that ObamaCare sticks with the for-profit insurance companies AND has no meaningful mechanisms to control costs. Thus, the bill could become the ruiniously expensive boondoggle that the Republicans say that it is, and we’ll be back here 15 years later wondering yet again if THIS time Lucy will let us kick the football. . .

    Of course, a single-payer system that insures everyone is in fact the fairest and cheapest way to go. But that was off the table from the start. Single-payer advocates were explicitly disinvited to the negotiations, and then when they crashed Max Baucus’s little hearings last summer, they were dragged out on their a$$es. It’s little details like that–besides the disestablishment of female personhood and women’s 4th Amendment rights–that really grind my gears. There was clearly a better way that didn’t involve buying off all of the already-rich stakeholders in “the best health care system in the world.”

    From what I’ve heard, hospital and drug company stocks were way up instantly this morning. That’s a pretty good indication of who the winners in this “reform” are. We’ll see (in 2014! Maybe? Sometime?) in the short run if there are any other winners.

  21. Emma on 22 Mar 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Do readers think it it possible that this bill, despite its epic flaws, will achieve a new consensus in American society that health coverage should be universal? Will it lay the groundwork for fixes throughout the years (rescinding the President’s executive order on the Hyde Amendment, expanding coverage further, continuing restrictions on insurers)?

    It cements as “consensus” the position that abortion is bad, morally wrong, and only justifiable in the most extreme of circumstances. It cements as “consensus” the position that women can’t and shouldn’t be trusted to make their own life and death choices.

    With his EO, Obama has created a new abortion politics which firmly cements into “moderate” discourse and policy the right-wing view of what abortion is and who women are and are not.

  22. LadyProf on 22 Mar 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Ditto Emma, and let us note the official orders: Be happy, ladies! Anyone who doesn’t leap with joy is guilty of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  23. Rad Readr on 22 Mar 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Slightly (but only a bit) off topic…I read an article this morning that the Nebraska legislature voted down (or withdrew) a bill to support prenatal care for the unborn of undocumented workers. So it becomes clear that in right-wing loony land, anti-immigrant passion tops protection of the fetus.

  24. mandor on 22 Mar 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    I have trouble seeing how this isn’t going to play out like Medicare D did with respect vast cost increases/profits for the middlecorporations with the newly expanded customer base. As you put it, there is nothing to stop the insurance companies from jacking up the prices until 2014 when I guess we’ll have to send them some sternly worded legislation.

  25. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    Mandor: great comparison. Medicare D x 1,000,000,000.

    Rad–eeeewww. And yet so unsurprising! That’s the logical extension of all of that Hyde Amendment (and typical “pro-life” nonsense in general) about “except in the case of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.” Those “exceptions” to the “pro-life” line reveal that it’s all about slut-shaming and punishing “bad” people or “bad” kinds of sex, not about fetal life. If the fetus was truly important, then there would never be any exceptions permitted. But clearly, the fetus is only a useful rhetorical device because it’s more sympathetic than the slutty slutty slut sluts procuring all of those decadent elective abortions.

  26. history & health care on 22 Mar 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    sigh… trying to see the silver lining, but you all aren’t helping.

    Still, isn’t it better that the anti-abortion language, which I revile as much as you, takes the form of an “executive order” vs. amendment to the bill? Won’t it be easier for a future President to rescind that order, than it would be for Congress to amend the legislation to undo Stupak?

    the for-profit model of the bill seems more impossible to undo to me, and hence ultimately the more fatal flaw.

  27. HistoryMaven on 22 Mar 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    Timothy Noah at Slate.com has an interesting take on what he calls a “meaningless executive order” concerning the renewal of the Hyde amendment in the Senate legislation: see http://www.slate.com/id/2248490/.

    Go to http://www.archive.org (that boasts a “Wayback Machine”) and listen to the episodes of “You Are There”–the radio archives there are marvelous. My favorite, frankly, is the one on Lincoln’s assassination. When a news reporter asks Lincoln, as he enters Ford’s Theater, if he has a couple of minutes for some questions, Lincoln replies “Fire away!” How did the writer get away with that?

  28. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 4:48 am #

    HistoryMaven: nice to hear from you. Noah’s article isn’t too impressive, IMHO. Consider how it would sound if Obama issued an executive order not repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, but promising to uphold and affirm it. Consider how it would sound if Obama issued an executive order proclaiming that his Justice department wasn’t going to enforce the Civil Rights or Voting Rights acts. But Noah, like a lot of other libs, doesn’t really see women’s rights as fundamental to human rights.

    Apparently, the women who are the MAJORITY of Dem voters are supposed to smile blankly and say, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!” when their President, who was elected on a specifically pro-choice platform, stands up and reads this Hyde amendment crapola from a teleprompter?

    What I find interesting is the fact that our Dem congress has for the past 4 years continued to reaffirm Hyde, when (as Noah explains) “the Hyde Amendment is not a permanent ban on government (actually, just Health and Human Services) funding of abortions. It’s a ban that gets attached to appropriations bills and therefore must be renewed year after year.” Oh well–as I have said before: counting on Democrats to actually protect women’s 4th Amendment rights is pretty stupid.

    Like it says on the Quebec license plate: Je me souviens.

  29. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 5:32 am #

    The abortion deal is pretty distasteful, but characterizing it as a dirty trick played upon women by Obama is a little unfair. Don’t you think Pelosi has *something* with this?

  30. Notorious Ph.D. on 23 Mar 2010 at 6:40 am #

    @ Historiann: Johnny Gage… ::sigh::

  31. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 7:25 am #

    You loved him too? Emergency! was the highlight of my TV week in grades 1-2. A friend our age bought the DVD set of the show a few years ago, strictly because of her massive kid crush on Johnny Gage.

    (I also have to confess to having a major thing for The Professor on Gilligan’s Island.)

  32. Emma on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:02 am #

    The abortion deal is pretty distasteful, but characterizing it as a dirty trick played upon women by Obama is a little unfair. Don’t you think Pelosi has *something* with this?

    Obama runs the party, not Pelosi. Obama whipped for the Senate Bill, not Pelosi. Obama made the deal with Stupak, not Pelosi. The buck stops with Obama. Period.

  33. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Emma: yes, exactly. Obama is and has always been a “common ground” conciliator on abortion. He fails to understand–perhaps because he doesn’t really give a $h!t–that there is no common ground on abortion rights when one side thinks that forced pregnancy is A-OK and the other side thinks that women have 4th Amendment rights too.

    Pro-choice is the only common ground there is. Like the old bumper-sticker used to say: Against abortion? Don’t have one! There’s no common ground to be found with people who think the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to me.

  34. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:18 am #

    Obama runs the party, not Pelosi. Obama whipped for the Senate Bill, not Pelosi. Obama made the deal with Stupak, not Pelosi.

    And how, exactly, do you know this?

  35. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Dude–you were warned here last year. You’re not making any reasonable arguments–you’re just arguing for the sake of arguing.

    Up your game, or beat it.

  36. Paul on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:44 am #

    I agree that the abortion argument is probably irreconcilable, but I think that the difference is even more fundamental. For one side, the debate is all about womens’ rights, while for the other it is all about unborn childrens’ rights. Neither side will concede any legitimacy to the concerns of the other. Both sides tend to assume that the other side is purely malevolent, and is motivated by a desire to harm others, rather than by a difference in opinion or perspective. There can’t be a middle ground agreement in a debate where neither side recognizes the other as having anything other than evil motives.

  37. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Paul–I don’t quite agree. I absolutely respect moral arguments against abortion–I just don’t think they should decide public policy. We let people with different religious and moral views live their lives as they choose–they’re free to do that, but they can’t impose their moral vision on others who don’t follow their path or their god. (At least, not since the repeal of prohibition.) It strikes me as deeply un-American to impose one’s religious beliefs on others through force of law, rather than persuasion or argument.

    I also think that the “rape/incest/life of the mother” exceptions that most so-called pro-lifers accept give the lie to the notion that they’re concerned about fetal life. What did any fetus do to “deserve” abortion? Fetuses aren’t guilty of the rapes or incest that may have caused their conceptions. To prove themselves truly “pro-life,” pro-lifers should ditch that language. Otherwise, it just looks like they’re trying to punish or slut-shame sexually active women.

    But, of course, most pro-lifers will never ditch the rape/incest/life of the mother exceptions, because they know how deeply offensive that would be to most Americans. Most Americans are against forced pregnancy under any circumstances, but ditching the rape and incest exceptions would just highlight the injustice of forced pregnancy.

  38. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 9:43 am #

    Up your game, or beat it.

    My understanding is that on Friday, Pelosi tried to broker a deal with Stupak on abortion language, but backed off when she heard that pro-choice representatives would defect. In other words, she was ready to compromise on abortion rights in order to get the bill through. The idea that she helped broker the final deal, which substituted an executive order for legislative language, is hardly a stretch.

  39. links for 2010-03-23 « Embololalia on 23 Mar 2010 at 11:05 am #

    [...] History was made, and You Are There! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Does anyone else remember seeing those old Walter Cronkite TV shows that showed him reporting on historical events as though he were covering it live on TV called “You Are There?” (I really dug those. Go figure!) Well, in the spirit of Uncle Walter–in the great “Health” “Care” “Reform” passage of 2009-2010, remember: You Are There! With all of this history falling down around us, we need some Real Historians to help us assemble the potsherds and read the hieroglyphs: (tags: healthcare obama.administration USA congress) [...]

  40. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    For those who are interested, here is how the AP described the drama on the Hill on Sunday:

    As the week wore on, Pelosi peeled off Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, one of the Democrats holding out because they did not consider the bill to have an adequate firewall against taxpayer dollars being used to subsidize abortion coverage.

    Kaptur said in a telephone interview that on the House floor and elsewhere, she suggested some ways to amend the bill. And each time Pelosi made clear that that would be impossible.

    “She just shook her head to me, and I knew that the option was off the table,” Kaptur said. “Through body language, facial expressions, she lets you know that.”

    Kaptur worked through her concerns with the White House and endorsed the bill on the day of the vote.

    And by convening the rest of that faction in one room of the speaker’s suite and female abortion-rights Democrats in a nearby parlor, Pelosi was able to broker the content of a presidential executive order that reinstated existing law banning federal money from being used for elective abortions.

  41. Emma on 23 Mar 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Funny, I thought it was Obama who sits in the Oval Office, issues and signs Executive Orders, and signs legislation. I guess I was wrong.

    Where does the buck stop, again?

  42. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Emma,

    Indeed it is president that signs legislation, but it is the Congress who drafts and passes it, as least as far as I remember from Schoolhouse Rock. (“I’m just a bill…”) As for executive orders, well, there’s nothing in the Constitution about them, so it’s anyone’s best guess.

    So don’t kid yourself, Pelosi has plenty of power.

  43. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    That’s exactly what Sean Wilentz says, in the article I linked to above. Who are you arguing with here, anyway?

    I guess if health care reform is screwed up or fails, we should blame Nancy Pelosi? (Because this was her platform when she ran for President in 2008? Huh?) I think you need to read up on the history of the modern presidency, and Speakership. Things have changed since 1789.

  44. and pelosi? on 23 Mar 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I think that there is plenty of blame to go around, here.

  45. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    Agreed. But according to the article you quote, Pelosi stuck to her guns and with the pro-choice caucus. It was Obama who capitulated to Stupak. (Or rather, because of his mishandling of this issue through 2009, put himself in a position in which he was beholden to Stupak’s vote.)

    How many Executive Orders did George W. Bush issue that were direct insults to his base and to the majority of his voters? The failure of leadership on HCR lies in the WH.

  46. Paul S. on 23 Mar 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    I also think that the “rape/incest/life of the mother” exceptions that most so-called pro-lifers accept give the lie to the notion that they’re concerned about fetal life. What did any fetus do to “deserve” abortion? Fetuses aren’t guilty of the rapes or incest that may have caused their conceptions. To prove themselves truly “pro-life,” pro-lifers should ditch that language. Otherwise, it just looks like they’re trying to punish or slut-shame sexually active women.

    But, of course, most pro-lifers will never ditch the rape/incest/life of the mother exceptions, because they know how deeply offensive that would be to most Americans. Most Americans are against forced pregnancy under any circumstances, but ditching the rape and incest exceptions would just highlight the injustice of forced pregnancy.

    I think that the exceptions for rape and incest (which not everyone believes in) come from people believing that the moral issues involved become more complex in some circumstances. I think this just highlights the problem of both sides ascribing the worst possible motives to each other – what seems like the acknowledgment of moral complexity to a person on one side of the issue looks like hypocrisy and evidence of bad faith to a person on the other side.

    I can only speak for myself, but when I used to be strongly pro-life my main reason was that I saw abortion as the ultimate product of a “throw-away” society – human life itself has become something to toss aside if it is inconvenient. I now think that my old views were somewhat skewed and of course assumed the worst possible motives from the other side, but I am still torn on the issue. One thing that I am pretty confident of, though, is that most people who are pro-life do genuinely see it as a moral issue of an unborn child’s right to life. From that perspective, to frame it as a woman’s rights issue looks like a smokescreen, a deception to take attention away from the real core of the issue. I suspect that many, possibly most, pro-lifers have great difficulty believing that pro-choice people really care so much about womens’ rights, just as many pro-choicers have great difficulty believing that the pro-life people are really sincere about concern for unborn childrens’ lives. That is why I think that there may genuinely be no middle ground on this issue.

  47. Historiann on 23 Mar 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Paul–thanks for your thoughtful reply. I absolutely understand that some pro-lifers see women’s rights as a smokescreen as you say, or as a diversion from what they see as the real issue. But, there’s no inconsistency in the pro-choice point of view that comes anywhere close to the rape/incest/life of the mother exception in the pro-life worldview. If all fetuses are worthy of life, then they’re all worthy of life. If forced pregnancy at the behest of the state is wrong for women who were raped, then forced pregnancy at the behest of the state is wrong for all women. (And BTW, I’m not arguing with you here.)

    In the end, though, I don’t think it’s because of different views of fetal life that this issue is irreconcilable. It’s the fact that one side wants to make the decision for everyone, while the other side accepts that living in a democracy means that other people get to make decisions of which we may not morally approve. (And I realize that this argument too will also seem like a diversion to many pro-lifers, for the reasons you describe above!)

  48. and pelosi? on 24 Mar 2010 at 5:54 am #

    Historiann,

    I think that you have a point about the larger issue: Obama put himself (and Pelosi) in a situation where he/they needed Stupak’s vote. But I think that it is simplistic to turn this into a morality play with Obama as the villain. The article that I quote does indeed suggest that Pelosi stuck to her guns with regard to legislative language. The events of the weekend, however, suggest that this was not so much a matter of principle as politics: Pelosi was prepared to make a deal with Stupak (on Friday) until she realized that it wouldn’t fly. And she clearly played a role in brokering the executive order.

    As for the failure of leadership, I think that you can always lay it at the foot of the president because, well, he *is* the president. But remember that the Congress, under Pelosi and Reid, spent the better part of a year spinning it’s wheels in committee. It was arguably when Obama stepped in forcefully last month that the momentum changed.

    The entire process was a mess, and both Obama and Pelosi (and Reid) deserve some of the blame for what happened and some of the credit for finally getting it through, in an albeit imperfect form. If you want to give Obama more of the blame and less of the credit, I won’t disagree, but I think that statements like “it was Obama who capitulated” oversimplify a complex reality.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply