In Pennsylvania, It’s Santorum versus Santorum-Lite

While the right to abortion hangs in the balance, the Democratic Party leadership has decided on a strategy of “finding common ground.” This strategy could also be called outright capitulation to the theocratic onslaught on the rights and lives of women. As we decide how to respond to this choice by the Democrats, let us think long and hard about what kind of future we want for this country, and for the world. As we wonder over compromises on issues of war, torture, police state measures, theocracy and every other outrage the Bush regime is cementing into place, let us not resign ourselves to quietly accepting what we would have found intolerable a few years ago. Let us learn, stand strong, and confront this fight head on. If we give up ground, they will only continue to take more.

Santorum and Theocracy

A recent New York Times article[1] sheds some light on the Democrats’ “common ground” strategy on abortion, which is concentrated in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Rick Santorum, the Republican incumbent, is quite possibly one of the most reactionary elected officials in the country. He has sought to ban abortion and wrote the bill that sought to include teaching intelligent design in the “No Child Left Behind” Act.[2] He supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and has been called doctrinaire and sanctimonious.[3]

Santorum often makes comments in the vein of a speech he gave to the Heritage Foundation in D.C. called “The Necessity of Truth,” In this speech, he calls out to the country, asking how so many Americans can have such great faith in God and still feel so constrained from expressing their views in the public sphere, in terms of legislation and policy.[4] (By the way, the answer, Senator Santorum, is the establishment clause). In a quote from a recent article, the list against Santorum is long and heavy-they note that he has “likened Democrats to Nazis, claims Terri Schiavo was ‘executed,’ said the mainstream media lies about him, equated homosexuality with bestiality, and claimed the Catholic priest pedophile scandal in Boston was really no surprise since Boston is ‘a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism’.”[5]

Overall, he has attempted to lead the Senate in imposing a theocracy on US society. While Santorum’s agenda may find support from the White House and far-right Christian fundamentalist movements, it is in stark contrast to what most people consider an acceptable way of governing society.
Santorum-lite Not Our Savior

Because of his radically fundamentalist views, and fascistic attempts to take control of the bodies and minds of people living in the US, taking on Santorum should be a piece of cake. The 2006 race is a seemingly perfect opportunity to drag his reactionary program into the light of day. He stands for everything most people are against. However, the Democratic Party leadership has opted for a different strategy: run Santorum-lite. Enter Bob Casey, Jr.

Casey is adamantly against abortion. He strongly supported Alito and Roberts’ nominations to the Supreme Court, and has been an avid cheerleader of Bush’s war on Iraq. He also agrees with Santorum on stem-cell research, which he is against. [6] While Casey isn’t quite as reactionary as the GOP’s ultra-conservative poster-boy (unlike Santorum, he ­ at least at this point ­ is not openly opposed to contraception), the notion that this is what choice means in November is not only disgusting, but clearly leads to a quiet acceptance of abortion being banned outright.

Casey has made such statements as, “I am and I have always been pro-life,” as well as “I support the current federal policy on embryonic stem cell research and would oppose the Castle bill to expand federal support of embryonic stem cell research.” While running for State Treasurer of Pennsylvania in 2004, he stated that if Roe V. Wade were overturned, he would only desire to provide exceptions for the life of the mother, and not for cases of rape or incest. [7] So we have in our hands a candidate against, among other things, science and choice.
In Order to Defeat Them, You Must Become Them

While the notion of a Democratic candidate running with similar positions to Santorum makes one cringe, the fact that top Democrats are vigorously defending and promoting his candidacy is immoral and outrageous. Casey was handpicked by Chuck Schumer (Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), who has made it his goal to give up principle in the name of political expediency. Even Barbara Boxer, one of the more outspoken pro-choice Democratic Senators, called the decision to run Casey “a pragmatic choice”, and added, “by the way, to dislodge Santorum is a pro-choice victory”. We wonder if we heard her correctly. Electing an anti-choice candidate is now defined as a pro-choice victory? In addition to being irrational, this idea sets into motion a deadly proposal, one that postulates that that in order to defeat the theocrats, we must become them.

The title of a recent campaign fundraiser captures this “logic” well: “Pragmatic Progressive Women for Casey.” This approach (one in which we give up what we’re supposed to be fighting for in order to win an election) is a failure in principle as well as in results. When what is at stake is whether or not women have control over their own bodies, such methods are unacceptable. Simply put, are we for or against a return to back alley abortions? The pro-choice movement fought long and hard to win the right to abortions, birth control and family planning. These are things that we take for granted in today’s world. In addition, the women’s rights movement fought innumerable battles to advance the position of women in society. While much remains to be done to achieve a society of equality between women and men, we can all agree that the Bush regime’s moves to ban abortion (and birth control) and enforce “traditional values” (i.e. patriarchy) need to be stopped.

Are we willing to lose our grasp on what the right to abortion means for women in exchange for a merely tentative majority of Democrats in Congress, a majority which isn’t actually fighting to hold on to those advances? What will that majority really mean when we have pro-war, anti-choice Senators like Casey “representing” us? What if these concessions do not translate into a majority? We will have traded the right to choose, without the option of taking it back.

The most despicable aspect of this turn of events is the way that Casey’s candidacy seems to be something of a model for the Democratic Party. Each of the nine women Democratic Senators went so far as to sign a letter of support for Casey. Howard Dean has said, “I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats.”[8]

Groups like Democrats for Life (whose president Carol Crossed says that “The right to choose is most certainly this party’s right to lose”) state goals such as helping to elect anti-abortion Democrats and supporting anti-abortion legislation.[9] These anti-choice Democrats are very present in politics-and this is not a one-shot problem. Other anti-abortion Democrats running for Congress include Bill Gluba for Representative of Iowa, Bart Stupak for Representative of Michigan and James Oberstar for Minnesota, as well as Ben Nelson for Senator of Nebraska, among others. And none other than Tim Kaine, the newly elected anti-choice governor of Virginia, was selected to give the Democrat’s rebuttal (if you can call it that) to Bush’s state of the union address.

Somehow, all the betrayal of the people’s will is justified by the need to take back Congress in 2006. But the question remains: what good will this majority do if the new members have “lite” versions of the positions of those they are replacing?

The Bigger Picture

To get a deeper grasp of the stakes involved here, it is important to look at the backdrop from which the Casey campaign is emerging. Powerful forces inside and outside of government are attempting to impose a theocracy in the US, with a hateful and intolerant brand of Christian fundamentalism masquerading as morality. From fundamentalist churches, organizations, and media garnering millions of die-hard supporters, to those who finance them, to theocrats elected and appointed to government positions and agencies (including Congress, the military, the judiciary, the FDA, and more), all the way up to the White House, there are big plans in the making. They not only intend to outlaw abortion. Most of them also desperately want to erase the idea of family planning, ban birth control, at least jail abortion providers (some want to execute them) and to force women into their “traditional” roles exclusively as homemakers and child-bearers.

These fundamentalists have already unleashed violence and repressive legislation on the LGBTQ community, and on abortion providers and their clients. They preach bigotry, hate, and a general rejection of people living lifestyles outside of their narrow and intolerant “morality”. In the midst of an AIDS crisis with millions suffering in Africa and around the world, their “abstinence only” policies have denied people the contraceptives that would be saving countless lives. These interests and powerful forces are out to remake society based on their fundamentalist ideology, and they have already gone quite far in doing so.[10] Abortion, in particular, has been latched onto as a way to break the floodgate open for their agenda, to gain support. By distorting science and inventing a concern for life, the “pro-lifers” and the Bush administration, with help from the non-opposition of the Democrats, have dragged official politics far to the right. Undoubtedly, the real motivation for the “pro-life” (or anti-choice) movement is to impose the most vicious patriarchy over women, as is evident in their denial of promotion of contraceptives and sex education. [11]

There is a great divide in our society over abortion. The side opposed to women’s right to choose organizes mass (and mindless) rallies, creates blockades at women’s clinics, uses violence against doctors, and gets support from the highest levels of government. The pro-choice side has right, scientific fact, and the majority of the population on its side, but still does not find an unequivocal voice fighting for its position in the halls of power. 74% of Americans agree that the decision to have an abortion should be between “a woman, her doctor, her family, her conscience and her God.”[12] 76% oppose an amendment to the Constitution that would make all abortions illegal. In addition, only 19% of Americans think that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances.[13]

This majority has been systematically demobilized by Democratic Party leaders who preach common ground with fascists and religious fanatics. These “leaders” refuse to argue scientific facts against religious lunacy and cede the moral high ground to those who want to force women back into the home, rather than struggling for a society which is based on equality between men and women. Giving up the rights (and lives) of women is justified by the mantra of what’s “electable”.

Hillary Clinton calls abortion a “sad, even tragic choice”, and urges “common ground” with anti-choice advocates. There are two problems with this logic. First off, abortion is not morally wrong in any way. It is essential for women to have control of their bodies; a fetus is not a human being, but a clump of cells.[14] In a society where access to abortion is already extremely limited, we do not need to work to decrease the number of abortions, but to make abortion more accessible to the many women who cannot obtain them because of class status. Second, there is no common ground to be found with those seeking to ban abortion ­ they are determined in their objectives, and their agenda needs to be tackled as the reactionary patriarchy that it is. Those who have been sucked into this theocratic movement due to its “pro-life” posture must be won over to the right side of the divide.

Furthermore, the strategy of seeking “common ground” only pushes society further in the fascist direction. Running an openly anti-choice candidate is the logical extension of this strategy, and if this politics of concession is cemented in place for the 2006 elections, the terms of debate in Congress will soon become whether to only outlaw abortion or whether to also jail doctors and ban birth control. Simply put: That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn – or be forced – to accept.

What’s Needed

The recent ban on abortion in South Dakota has served as a wake-up call to many. As the World Can’t Wait ­ Drive Out the Bush Regime Call describes, “Your government is moving to deny women here, and all over the world, the right to birth control and abortion . . . The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.”

As millions begin to wake up to this reality, the question becomes whether this outrage will be turned into an opposition that can be mobilized to stop this, or whether it just becomes a tail on the Democratic donkey. While over a million women and men came out to the “March for Women’s Lives” in 2004, this sentiment has not been organized into a force with the understanding and determination necessary to stand up to the current onslaught. Instead, people have been told to put their hopes and dreams into the same Democrats running around promoting Bob Casey, and increasingly the “a-word” (abortion) becomes absent from protest demands and even from pro-choice organizations’ vocabularies. Unlike the forces opposed to abortion, at this point the right to abortion will disappear if it isn’t pressed in every progressive niche of society each day.

As women, young and old, all over the country, have begun to notice, our futures are in the hands of a regime that will not hesitate in reinforcing the archaic notions of childbearing as incubation, the nuclear family as the only option and women as slaves to their husbands. The time to act is now, because to allow society to be taken down this road is intolerable. We know they are strong. We see what is looming on the horizon, and we are furious as well as scared. But to channel these powerful emotions into political action that is not bound by the Democrats’ strategy of common ground and capitulation with fascists and religious fanatics, into organized resistance, is the only action we can take to stop this.

If the outrage that is brewing is mobilized into an unequivocal resistance that is willing to argue for a scientific understanding of abortion and a morality that refuses to allow women to be forced back into the home, it can stop the moves to ban abortion and usher in the avenues for further advances in the status of women in society. No single race for office, and nor a Democratic majority that refuses to oppose the Bush regime, is worth trading the rights to our futures.

Furthermore, the attacks on the right to abortion cannot be isolated from the whole onslaught the far right is a part of. The Bush regime is on a mission ­ both to wage a war on the world for global domination, employing torture, massacres, and a doctrine of pre-emptive attacks in the process; and to remake US society in a fascist direction, with increasing police state measures, radical changes in governing norms (including the rule of law), the imposition of theocracy, the suppression of science, and the blatant neglect and racism that left thousands to die in New Orleans. If this whole package is not repudiated and the regime implementing it is not driven from power, it will be impossible to stop any single outrage. All those deeply concerned about preserving the right to abortion need to also bring their efforts to bear on stopping the whole onslaught the attacks on abortion are part of. The future is unwritten. WHICH ONE WE GET IS UP TO US.

Leah Fishbein and RJ Schinner are both organizers with the World Can,t
Wait Drive Out the Bush Regime!, and can be contacted at
feedback@worldcantwait.org.

Notes

[1] “Pennsylvania Senate Campaign Tests Democrats’ Abortion Tack,” Robin Toner, NY Times, 4/23/06

[2] “Santorum Amendment” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santorum_Amendment

[3] “The Believer,” Michael Sokolove, NY Times Magazine, 5/22/05

[4] Santorum, Rick “The Necessity of Truth” Heritage Lecture #643, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Religion/HL643.cfm

[5] Casey vs. Santorum, Salon.com, 7/15/05

[6] M., John “Casey vs. Santorum, Salon.com

[7] “Bob Casey, Jr. On the Issues” http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/26/223636/897

[8] Feldmann, Linda. “For Democrats, abortion revisited” Christian Science Monitor: January 21, 2005

[9] Tolfree, Christine. “Pro-life Democrats rally during Boston convention” Catholic News Service: August 2, 2005

[10] For a fuller description of the moves toward theocracy in the United States, see Ester Kaplan’s With God On Their Side, Rabbi James Rudin’s The Baptizing of America, Bob Avakian’s The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution, and Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, among other works on the subject.

[11] For a fuller discussion and exposure of the “pro-life” movement, see Cristina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America.

[12] Luntz Research Companies, August 2003

[13] Gallup/Newsweek Historical Poll available at gallup.com

[14] See, for example, What is An Abortion and Why Women Must Have the Right to Choose, Revolutionary Worker #897, March 9, 1997

 

 

 

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