A telling email

By Erin Riley in Sydney, Australia

12 April 2012

I’m still on the Obama email list from 2008, and I got this email this morning. It encouraged everyone to copy it, so I think I can post it here with impunity:

1. Romney’s positions are the most radically anti-women of any candidate in a generation: He supports banning all abortions, backed a so-called “personhood” amendment that could make certain forms of birth control illegal, and says he would “get rid of” federal funding for Planned Parenthood that provides preventive services like cancer screenings for millions of women.

2. Romney would repeal Obamacare. Insurance companies would once again be allowed to run up premiums, unjustifiably deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, drop patients when they get sick, discriminate against women by charging them more for coverage than men, and spend more of your premium dollars on CEO profits and bonuses instead of your actual health care.

3. Romney is a risk when it comes to foreign policy and national security. On many of these questions, he has shifted his position for political reasons, even within the same campaign. His only clear commitment is to endless wars: He has no plan to end the war in Afghanistan and would leave our troops there indefinitely. He called the President’s decision to bring our troops home from Iraq by last Christmas “tragic.”

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4. Despite the lessons of recent history, Romney would double down on the disastrous tax policies that handed windfalls to the wealthy, but stacked the deck against the middle class. Under Romney, millionaires and billionaires would get a $250,000 tax cut, while families with kids making less than $40,000 a year would, on average, actually see their taxes go up. To the surprise of no one, Romney also opposes the Buffett Rule. He would allow millionaires to continue to take advantage of loopholes and special deals that often allow them to pay a lower tax rate than the middle class. And he supports tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

5. Romney would end Medicare as we know it — replacing it with a voucher scheme that would drive profits for insurance companies by forcing seniors to purchase private insurance, paying whatever costs a voucher wouldn’t cover out of their own limited budgets.

Romney and his special-interest allies are going to spend the next seven months trying to deny, downplay, or hide these facts from voters. It’s on us to speak the truth.

So print these out, post them on your fridge, and share them on Facebook. Send this list around to friends who are on the fence.

When and if your mother-in-law, or cousin, or best friend claims that Romney is “moderate,” you need to know what to say.

You are the President’s voice out there, and I can’t stress enough how you will be the difference between voters hearing our message or not. The more Americans learn about Mitt Romney, the less they like him, and the less they trust him.

I think this is a pretty telling indication of where the Obama campaign sees the 2012 fight. The fact the gender gap appears so prominently reinforces the idea that a lot of this campaign will be about women’s issues — and thank goodness for that, because usually they’re not even mentioned. I’m still not entirely convinced that the whole contraception debate wasn’t an incredibly clever ploy on the Obama administration’s behalf to bait Republicans. It’s cynical, sure, but also damn smart.

I’m also wondering if maybe the Obama campaign thinks Paul Ryan is going to be the VP — or that he’s a likely choice and they’re getting in a preemptive strike. Points 2, 4 and 5 link pretty closely to the Ryan budget.

Also, I think it’s great that Obama is running on Obamacare. It’s good that it’s stopped being the electoral poison it was in 2010. It’s about time they said “dammit, this is a good thing, and we’re going to stop defending it and start celebrating it.”


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How Democrats are winning women

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

12 March 2012

Because an enthusiastic young volunteer collared me on my way into Barack Obama's campaign rally at the University of Washington back in October of 2010, I'm now the lucky recipient of regular emails from Washington Senator Patty Murray. Usually these provide an excellent opportunity for me to make use of Gmail's "mark as read" button, but I clicked through on one I received yesterday:

Excerpt of an email from Patty Murray

What I find remarkable about this is how closely the language echoes the framing of this issue I see in the left wing and feminist blogospheres. The "women are people" opening echoes, for instance, a widely shared Time piece, snarkily titled "Subject for Debate: Are women people?" Along similar lines, Melissa McEwan has started a petition urging the Senate to adopt a "personhood amendment" for women.

True, Murray's missive is one sent to people who have shown enough interest in her political activities for them to have surrendered an email address. But, nonetheless, that there's so little space between left wing activists and Democratic politicians on this issue is evidence of how confident Democrats are that the contraception fight is playing out in their favour. Andrew Sullivan may well be correct when he says this is a social wedge issue that favours Democrats.

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The changing standard of religious liberty

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

5 March 2012

My award for prescient observation of the moment goes to Peter Laarman, who, at the end of last year, wrote a list of the top ten under-reported religious stories of 2010. At number six:

6. Upside-Down Ideas about Religious Liberty

The dramatic new push for religious liberty exemptions for faith-connected providers of taxpayer-supported health services underscores the radical way in which understandings of religious liberty have changed in recent years. It’s not that the push for exemptions hasn’t made the news; it’s that no one is writing (at least in the MSM) about the radical nature of the shift. In the past, the social service arms of religious bodies understood that if they wanted public money they would need to honor public law regarding the disposition of the money: i.e., provide the full range of mandated services on a universal basis. We used to say to objectors, “If you don’t like the mandate, don’t take the money.”

Apparently such a commonsensical response is now insufficiently deferential to religion. More and more people seem willing to say that if a Catholic health care provider doesn’t “believe” in providing reproductive health care to women, that private belief can trump public law. This is a particularly thorny problem because of the many regional health care system mergers involving Catholic partners: there are now many places in the country where, if a dominant provider that toes the bishops’ line won’t provide the service, area women will be out of luck and deprived of benefits they are entitled to receive by law. Does anyone defer to them? Afraid not.

Since then, this new idea of what constitutes religious liberty has reared its head in a new realm: contraception. The federal government is requiring employers to offer their employees health care plans that cover the cost of contraception, a mandate that some conservatives and religious groups believe violates the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. (Mitt Romney said in reference to the mandate, “I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama.”)

Meanwhile, here's Ross Douthat on the subject:

[The New Yorker's George] Packer believes that forcing Catholic colleges and hospitals to buy health insurance plans that pay for sterilization and morning-after pills does not impinge upon religious liberty in any way, but allowing Catholic colleges and hospitals to decline to cover drugs and procedures that their faith considers gravely immoral is analogous to an official establishment of religion.

This really gets to the crux of the matter, but not in the way Douthat intends. Let's be clear: Hospitals aren't Catholic. Universities aren't Catholic. People are Catholic. And if Catholic people — or any kind of people — want to run a hospital or a university, they must do so according to the laws laid out by the federal government. Expecting religious people to conform to labour or health care regulations doesn't prevent them from practising their religion. No one is forcing Catholics to run hospitals or universities. The government is just saying they shouldn't expect special treatment because they're religious.

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Interview: David Smith on the Arizona debate

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

23 February 2012

David SmithI watched today's Arizona Republican presidential debate with Dr. David Smith, the Centre's Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy. He had some interesting things to say about the proceedings, so after it was all finished, I grabbed him and asked him a few questions about what we'd just seen. Here are his thoughts on the accusations against President Barack Obama of curtailing religious liberty, Mitt Romney's Mormonism, and the state of the race as it heads into the Arizona and Michigan primaries:

Jonathan Bradley: When Mitt Romney said “I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama” you commented “for a Mormon to say that is extraordinary.” Could you explain why?

David Smith: The Mormons have suffered far worse assaults on their freedom of conscience and freedom of religion than the contraception mandate entails. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was murdered by a mob assisted by an Illinois state militia in 1844. Prior to that, they had been driven out of New York, Ohio and Missouri at gunpoint; in the case of Missouri there was a full-blown war between Mormons and their anti-Mormon neighbours in the west of the state, culminating in an extraordinary, quasi-genocidal extermination order from Governor Lilburn Boggs. In Utah (where they fled under Brigham Young to escape further persecution), the Federal Government mounted a series of increasingly draconian legislative attempts to stamp out polygamy among the Mormons, which they had been practising openly since the late 1840s. In 1883 the Edmunds Act denied polygamists (which was widely interpreted to mean any Mormon, since they all believed in it though only a few of them practised it) the right to vote, hold office, or serve on juries. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 allowed the Federal government to seize Mormon Church property. In response to threats to seize temples in Utah, the Mormons officially abandoned the practice of plural marriage in 1890, though they were (in some cases correctly) suspected of continuing to practice it until about 1904. The first Mormon Senator, Reed Smoot, was denied his senate seat for seven years on suspicion that he was a polygamist (he was not).

You also said that the audience was favourably disposed toward Romney. What about this audience made them Mitt-friendly?

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A few things contribute to Romney’s relatively high standing in Arizona. Arizona has a large Mormon population — especially in Mesa, where the debate was held (thirty years ago Mesa was 50 per cent Mormon, though that proportion is much lower now due to an overall population explosion which has seen Mesa become the largest suburb in the United States). Also, Romney has for years been positioning himself as tough on illegal immigration, which is the non-economic issue Arizona Republicans care about most. And in general, Romney’s economic message seems to have been playing well in the states hardest hit by foreclosure crises, such as Florida and Nevada, and which also includes Arizona (house prices in Phoenix dropped by around 30 per cent between 2008 and 2009).

Will Republicans outside Arizona react as well to Romney as those inside the hall did? Do you think anything you saw today shifted the dynamics of the race?

Santorum’s accusation that Romney supported the Wall Street bailout but not the Detroit bailout was quite clever and may pick up a few more votes in Michigan. We didn’t see much shift today other than that Romney does seem to have found Santorum’s weak point on earmark spending. The crowd was not buying Santorum’s defense of “good” earmarks, which Ron Paul was able to make a lot more eloquently. We also saw that all candidates are now digging right into each other’s pasts—Romney even indirectly blamed Santorum for Obamacare, because he had supported Arlen Specter, who voted for it! Santorum was visibly shocked that Romney, who implemented the system on which Obamacare was based, had the effrontery to make such an attack.

Did anything else you thought was notable occur?

Nothing else was very notable. Gingrich showed he can still play the demagogue (again accusing the “elite media” of protecting Obama) but he is getting fewer opportunities to do this. The frontrunners are committing deeply to this idea that Obama is attacking religious freedom. So far, this issue has not actually registered much in the polls (even among Catholics), regardless of what the candidates and conservative media are claiming. We will see whether this becomes the major issue they desperately want it to be.


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