27 August 2012

Brain droppings of the weeks.

Now that the great Chicken War has ended, Americans have moved onto the next outrage. Apparently this is rape semantics. I'm not sure Akin's apology clarified much serving as an explanation of his views. As he did not withdraw the most abhorrent anti-scientific portion but merely the word "legitimate" to be replaced with "forcible" . To be honest, I don't much care about this controversy either. The idea that there's a solid cohort of Republicans who don't think that abortion should be acceptable even in conditions of rape or incest is not news, nor is it much of a problem (it's not even a majority of Republicans). The circumlocution that politicians must go through to achieve electable status in a country that for some reason has a modest "we shouldn't do this*" outlook on abortion but suddenly finds it acceptable when there are rape or incest complications (a logically inconsistent position but the one that the public polls on believing consistently) is an odd game of political jujitsu to be sure. But it's actually not that interesting to catch a politician espousing the views of the pro-life/anti-choice extreme right whereupon there's this odd game of trying to define away the possibility of rape such that the exemption for rape becomes less and less strident politically without having to make the unpopular moral framing of saying that a rape victim must carry to term a pregnancy. That they might slip once in a while and drop the pretenses is not news because I think it can be acknowledged this position makes no sense unless we view it from the perspective that only male concerns in pregnancy matter (that is: things like ensuring paternity lines). Which is an interesting framing, if stupid, to look at the case, but was not how Akin framed it (from the perspective that only "legitimate" or forcible rape is actually rape). That framing has some disturbing patriarchal baggage, but not as much as the general public's agreed compromise has. Either the public needs to get on board with the idea that a woman may decide against the public's wishes to terminate a pregnancy, especially at an early stage, or the pro-life portion of the public needs to start making more sense and just say outright that the rape exemption is meaningless morally to them and oppose it. Otherwise, this is not news either. It isn't even a new phase of the abortion debate.

What it is is just a Senate seat now probably staying Democratic when it could have been had. Republicans have been there before (Delaware). I think of it as just a cost of being in bed with the Tea Party if one is a Republican and wants a greater coalition of power. Perhaps this will show that cost more explicitly, or show that the Tea Party isn't just a bunch of deficit hawks who don't understand the economy and don't like Obama, but is basically just re-branded social conservatives.

(* That has no implications for whether or not the public thinks abortion should be illegal in non-rape related cases. Generally that it should be legal, a further curious note on the politics, and generally the public thinks that some forms of limitations are acceptable because the public isn't very knowledgeable about how they work, who they affect, and how, and sees such proposals as in line with their vague sense that abortions are wrong. To me that is where the problem and the debate is with abortion rights in this country. Not debating the anti-scientific wackos like Akin or Willke who appear to imagine how the female reproductive system operates rather than examining it and ignore substantial amounts of actual research on pregnancy, the sexual functions of the female body, and so on).

(Clarification #2. I don't think there's a strong reason to draw a distinction between violent sexual assaults and other legal forms of rape. I think the usual distinction pro-life types look at is statutory rape, but there's also a more noxious version that looks upon women as lying about rape, or their reported rapes for date rape, marital assaults, etc as some other version of widespread deception, something Akin's initial followup also hinted at being his ideas. This is repellent and also false. Even if there is a non-insubstantial quantity of reported rapes that are some variety of this, there are far more rapes that go unreported, including violent assaults of the variety they try to limit exemptions to legally and morally. They're far better off on message just ignoring the rape exemption altogether because they come off as total clowns who don't understand the violation of rape of any kind. Rape is rape. Move on.)

On to other matters. I've been observing the election and the policies and platforms as they unfold. I think the selection of Rep. Ryan may be a shrewd gambit if the economy becomes more sluggish instead of tepid as it is now but otherwise I don't see the upside (and in truth, if the economy goes down, it would be because of Europe's fiscal and monetary crisis, which wouldn't be pretty for us regardless of who became President). There are at least two major problems with this gambit.

1) Ryan isn't a foreign policy guy, and neither is Romney. There are many ways that can slice but the most logical conclusion for an independent to draw is that their foreign policy agenda will be set by the Republican establishment, at least initially (which, in case one is wondering, is not ideal for anyone not already a neoconservative hawk). The fact that they can't point to much that actually differs from the policies of President Obama here is not helpful (for either side in my view). A further issue herein is to essentially concede for most voters that Obama has done, as they see it, a capable job on foreign policy and to argue instead against him on other grounds (eg the economy, possibly some social issues if framed properly). Which may be more tactically fruitful, but rely heavily on factors outside of any American control. Which then can be spun to imply to voters they're precisely the sorts of things that foreign policy successes might be perceived to influence.

2) Ryan seems to have a far better grasp of the relevant fiscal policies they want to set than Romney does. The idea that the number 2 guy is the guy with the plan might be a problem for Romney moving forward. There are lots of problems here. The VP isn't a very good position for the ideas man (see Cheney, Dick) or for the country. It's also not been well-associated with clever and thoughtful people (see Quayle, Dan or Biden, Joe), suggesting that any ideas coming out of there might be best disregarded rather than followed (in fairness, Biden I think has had a far better view of an appropriate foreign policy agenda than Obama has had). Finally, Congress is where any such plan or vision must go to get implemented. The exact place where Ryan could have held a lot more influence over matters budgetary. I'm not even sure why Ryan took the offer as a result.

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