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The conservatives are looking for a way to rally their base for a candidate many of them do not like. To this end, they are floating out the trial balloon of many different possible wedge issues. The GOP is hitting all the old standbys with flag pins and patriotism as well as a brief flirtation with using the second amendment. None of these has really taken off in the way they had hoped. Now they are recycling some previous issues that went nowhere. On March 29, Barack Obama uttered the phrase "punished with a baby" in reference to a hypothetical about either of his daughters having a teenaged pregnancy.

The quote comes from a Q and A session in Johnstown, Pa where Obama was discussing the utter stupidity of abstinence only education.  In the course of this discussion he said,

"I’ve got two daughters; 9 years old and 6 years old," Obama said. "I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16. You know, so it doesn’t make sense to not give them information." source

The "punished with a baby" seemed like something that would spark some type of outrage. The people on the right did, in fact, freak out. Michael Gerson at the Washington Post and several people at the Washington Times thought they would have the chance to slam Obama over this issue. It never went very far. Obama clarified with the following,

"What Sen. Obama said and what he believes is clear — children are ‘miracles,’ but we have a problem when so many children are having children. As Sen. Obama said on Saturday — and on many other occasions — parents have a responsibility to teach their children about values and morals to help make sure they are not treating sex casually. And while he understands the passions on both sides of this difficult issue, Sen. Obama believes we can all agree that we should be taking steps to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and abortions in this country."

After the clarification, the comment seemed to fade away. However, like Rev. Wright, this quote seems to be something that will not go away. Enter The Prince of Darkness Bob Novak. Writing an attack on Kathleen Sebelius Novak tried to float the line back into the debate

Obama, while asserting that "nobody is pro-abortion," has said that if his two daughters "make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby." Would Sebelius, an avowed Catholic, change her running mate’s view that a baby is a punishment?

What Novak is trying to do is not actually go after Sebelius in here. He is trying to get the notion that Catholics do not want to vote Obama into a more prominent role in the discourse. It relates to the idea of severing off "Reagan Democrats". Catholics seem to be considered an important part of this group. The GOP wants to do two things, force Obama to spend time on this issue to retain these voters and energize the single issue voters previously planning on staying home do to anti-McCain feelings in states where their numbers might matter.

This strategy is flawed on several different levels. The first is, as Steve Benen of Carpet Bagger Report points out, The Reagan Dems are gone. Dkos talks often of expanding the map and securing the lasting Democratic majority and the plan for that seems a bit muddled to me. There are two schools of thought, one is the DLC way of acting Republican and the other is the Dean, Kos, Obama way of being liberal and diverse, drawing in the emerging minority groups like Latinos.

I say that it is muddled because the Kos plan and the wider Dem plan seems to be to recapture the Reagan Dems who are middle class but socially conservative. We want to convince them that they should vote on Economic issues rather than Social issues. This is just not going to happen. Digby points out the simple reason why

People who drifted to Reagan in 1980 were driven by nationalism and animus toward social change. While they may have been sympathetic to equal rights in the abstract, things started to get dicey when their own lives were impacted by busing and housing integration and women’s rights. They made themselves heard by voting with the guy who ran as the one who would "make the country proud again," which they interpreted to mean he would make the country like it used to be.

After the smoke had cleared a few of them drifted back when a less charismatic Republican took office and a few more when the Democrats offered up Bill Clinton in 1992. But those who’ve stayed until now have stayed because they found they felt extremely comfortable in modern Republican tribal culture and they aren’t likely to leave short of a cataclysmic 1932-style realignment. source

They are no longer Reagan Democrats they are simply Republicans. This analysis can be backed by numbers using Larry Bartels graphs of white party identification by income:

Party ID

Obama has worked hard to retain what is left of the group that seems willing to cross over and vote for Republicans. It was the focus of his efforts in PA. However, this seems not to be such a great plan as his biggest issue has been in Appalachia. As often illustrated in pretty maps, Appalachia votes heavily against Obama. The reason for this has been a point of debate but race seems to be an important factor as does age. Abortion is really not going to play a role in whether the good people of Appalachia vote for Obama.

Obama is going to concentrate on expanding his base by attracting African Americans, unions and liberals, then capturing the hugely important growing Latino bloc while getting out the liberal youth vote. He will also do some heavy out reach to women to offset the damage potentially done there because of Hillary related issues. In fact, bringing abortion into the discussion and reminding these pissed off women that McCain is not pro-choice and plans on appointing right-wingers to the Supreme Court might help Obama. He will need to balance out the loss of the white men who do tend towards the Republicans.

The second reason bringing "punished by a baby" into the discussion is not going to work is that the right wing position is illogical. By their own words, babies are a gift from God. It is a miracle and not a punishment in any way. Yet, they support abstinence only programs. If a baby is a gift from God and a miracle, should not they actually encourage sex to receive this gift? Why the abstinence? While they say you should be married before having a child the right maintains that all babies, in wedlock or no, are gifts. My own belief is that babies are a consequence that will have hugely negative impacts on the life of a teenager. Then again, maybe their position makes sense after all, as their entire approach to the issue has the no apparent effect.

This is the third reason that the conservatives should leave this alone. This is the type of issue where Obama can turn this to his advantage by widening the discussion and destroying the rights ridiculous stance on abstinence only education. The failure of the Abstinence Only programs to achieve their desired effect became clear with the release of a Mathematica Policy Research study on the issue released in April 2007. The study concluded that:

The impact results from the four selected programs show no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence. About half of all study youth had remained abstinent at the time of the final follow-up survey, and program and control group youth had similar rates of sexual abstinence. Moreover, the average age at first sexual intercourse and the number of sexual partners were almost identical for program and control youth.

The biggest difference between the two was

Program group youth, however, were less likely than control group youth to perceive condoms as effective at preventing STDs. Compared with control group youth, program group youth were less likely to report that condoms are usually effective at preventing HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea, and herpes and HPV. Furthermore, program group youth were more likely than control group youth to report that condoms are never effective at preventing these STDs. As above, My Choice, My Future! is a main source of these overall impacts.

From reading the study, I think the best conclusion is that the sexual health education in this country is not particularly effective. My own view on this is that because it is taught in school it generally receives the same treatment most school topics receive, minimal interest. Doing homework on the effects of syphilis is not a particularly exciting task whatever its importance. However, in the era of widespread AIDS and other STI’s, it is essential that teens be taught that condoms are an important part of preventing these diseases transmission.

The use of the "punish with a baby" quote is also going to be ineffective because the Gop position is not one that enjoys widespread support. Conservatives believe that girl can not have comprehensive education on sexual health, can not have access to contraception, can not have access to the morning-after pill, and must have the baby whether she wants to or not. These views are out of touch with the country as a whole.

In 2005, "a cross-sectional survey of more than 1000 adults found that 82% support programs teaching both abstinence and other methods for preventing pregnancy and STDs and that 68% support teaching proper condom use"

Not surprisingly Bush has spent over a billion dollars on programs that do not work and enjoy little support. Even among self-described conservatives, 70 percent supported comprehensive sex ed., while 40 percent opposed the abstinence-only strategy.

When McCain supports AO education like he did in South Carolina February 18th of last year he is making a mistake tying himself to yet another failed idea.

The Arizona lawmaker is scheduled to speak Sunday night to about 1,500 middle and high school students about abstaining from premarital sex. Abstinence and abortion loom large as issues in this first-in-the-South primary state in the heart of the Bible Belt.

"Senator McCain has a long legislative record of supporting abstinence-based initiatives in his record in the U.S. Senate," said Trey Walker, McCain's South Carolina campaign director. "He thinks that abstinence is healthier and should be promoted in our society for young people.
The event is to follow McCain's appearance at a hot dog and ice cream social.source"

Often the right would like to cite that,

"teen pregnancy rates have fallen from 117 births per 1,000 females in 1990 to 76 per 1,000 in 2002, a 35% drop, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. Source "

However, most of that drop occurred before 1998, when two separate federal abstinence-only programs were started. This has led to states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming and Iowa opting out of the programs and refusing federal dollars.

The right will trot out the "punished with a baby" line this election and just like so many of their divisive crap issues, it will fail. They will be on the wrong side of yet another issue with the American people. In addition, can they really expect people to support them because of this stuff when they cannot feed their children because gas is $5.50 a gallon and the cost of food is skyrocketing while they are being foreclosed on?  Not to mention that little issue called Iraq. So Bob Novak can try his same old game but at this point things are just to screwed up for that stuff too win. I leave you with TDS

All Sources
Mathematica Report

Carpet Bagger Report






Originally posted to Liberal Youth on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:13 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The rethugs will trot-out everything they can (6+ / 0-)

    this statement is the least of their attack lines.
    We just have to out maneuver them, for once.

    "Beware the terrible simplifiers" Jacob Burckhardt, Historian

    by notquitedelilah on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:21:29 AM PDT

  •  Good diary. (7+ / 0-)

    I think it's clear that Conservatives want people to be "punished with a baby" for making bad decisions.  

    Should conservatives use this attack against Obama, he should explain his comment in the context of abstinence-only sex-ed:  that, without informing children of all options available for being healthy, conservative policies are based on "social punishment".

    •  we need it in their own words (3+ / 0-)

      The way to make this work is to get it in their own words.  

      Find quotes from righties, that include at least audio and possibly video, where they are talking about teenage pregnancy.  

      Look for a tone of voice and nonverbal gestures that convey a punishing attitude.  

      Then point out that THEY are using babies as a threat or a punishment.  

      Obama can make the point that the righties have been doing this all along, and he's just exposing it in obvious terms.  

  •  This comment wasn't about abortion by the way (6+ / 0-)

    He was actually talking about sex-ed.

    Vintage Obama! Listen to an interview he did in 1995 when promoting his book!!

    by jenontheshore on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:25:37 AM PDT

  •  The Conservatives actually see baby as punishment (9+ / 0-)

    The right wants babies to be THE punishment for girls who have sex, that is why they do not want sex education, do not want birth control and do not want abortion.  They want the girl to be nursing her scarlet letter.  They want the child to be a "bastard".  And they want their cheap slave labor, which they can get out of both the disgraceful unwed mother immediately and her hopeless child later on.  Both are doomed to the hell of the Prosperty War God that these wacko's worship, because of sex, which is a worse sin than murder for any female.  

    Conservatives fear other people having sex even more than they love money.  And sex must be PUNISHED.  (Unless it is they who are having said sex with underaged girls or boys, or adult prostitutes for the rare few more sexually balanced conservatives, then lucky them!)

    Republicans - importing Saudi Oil and Saudi "women's rights" as a 2-fer.

    by get the red out on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:26:47 AM PDT

    •  Your comment is 100% accurate (8+ / 0-)

      The anti-abortion movement started out as a a result of a desire to see women punished for breaking the ban on premarital sex.  The Christain Right's uproar recently over inoculating young girls  against the HPV virus was also a result of a fear by the wingnuts that young girls might fuck everything in sight if they didn't think they would get HPV.

      Their fondest desire is for women who have sex out of wedlock to contract horrible diseases and give birth to horribly deformed children that they will have to raise without benefit of foodstamps or other government assistance.  They hope to be able to wag their fingers in the faces of children and say "look what will happen to you if you don't do exactly as we say".

      The "family values" crap is all about sex.  All the time. I've seen Pat Robertson lament on national TV that women no longer feel the sting of social ostracism when they have babies out of wedlock.  

      Yes, the wingnut Christian Right thinks babies are punishment for unwed women who engage in sex.  No matter how much they take umbrage at the phrase "punished with a baby", it is exactly how they feel. Denying it and making an issue of it shows them for the reprehensible and dishonest whackjobs that they are.

      Bush repealed Godwin's Law with a Signing Statement.

      by Mad Kossack on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:45:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  not just punishment (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        snakelass, Mad Kossack

        but also control of people's sex lives in general; women's in particular. All that talk about concern for "protecting women from abortion" is just that - talk. The anti abortion industry loves fetuses because women have this tendency not to do as they are told.

        I'm at the junction of short, nerdy, and oddly attractive.

        by Pan Zareta on Tue May 27, 2008 at 06:29:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You got it (0+ / 0-)

        that phrase, "punished with a baby" is the 800-lb gorilla in the room of all the anti-abortion, anti-sex ed, "family values"-crap howling going on.  The fact that someone said it, out loud, is going to stick in the minds of everyone.  People have been hearing the dog-whistle undertone of it for years and years, and having that phrase will (I hope) force people to really think about the logical conclusion to this crusade.  That the endgame of all the banner-waving about naughty teenagers and uppity women and the like, this is exactly where their policies will lead them--to people being punished with babies as a result of the crime of having sex.

        Because there's a deafening silence from a huge chunk of that crowd when it comes to putting policies in place for caring for women, caring for children, creating a society where abortion is truly unnecessary for all but the rarest of reasons (and I say that meaning where a woman has access to birth control, health care, means to support herself and anyone else who comes along, a social network where she's not stigmatized for being pregnant or a mother, and a decent system of adoption and/or foster care for those who cannot parent a child for whatever reason.  There will always be a need for abortion--failed birth control, severe conditions incompatible with life of baby or mother, etc., that should always be just as available to women as any other medical procedure).

        He Lied. He Spied. He Must Be Tried!

        by athenap on Wed May 28, 2008 at 12:59:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I had my son at 17 (9+ / 0-)

    I know what he meant. While I have absolutely no regrets about having him, I also know how hard that choice is, and how different my life has been because of it. I also know firsthand that many teens are simply not equipped emotionally to deal with all the challenges having a child that young presents.  He is a 25 year old happy, productive adult now, and I'm proud of him, for he's accomplished much in his short life. He is my greatest accomplishment.

    "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." Sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    by atlliberal on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:27:04 AM PDT

  •  Babies are a Reward! (7+ / 0-)

    All young teens should be rounded up, thrown into a secluded Jesus Camp and taught to be baby makers.

    Good, conservative states like Texas know this already.

    Lil' Bush: "We can't have a black man in the Whitehouse begging for change!"

    by USArmyParatrooper on Tue May 27, 2008 at 07:29:33 AM PDT

  •  I think most people (4+ / 0-)

    in this day and age would prefer that their 16 year olds don't get pregnant. Regardless of their political preference or religion.
    This attack won't get very far. Especially since Obama has 2 kids, it's not like he's anti-children.

  •  So little memory (5+ / 0-)

    I had two friends back in the 1960s who were punished with a baby. Both had to drop out of school and go into hiding until the babies were born and both gave the babies up for adoption. It's safe to say their lives were never the same after that. One if them in particular went into a deep depression and many of us were worried she was going to kill herself.

    We have such a poor collective memory in this country.   Anyone born after about 1955 has lived in a society where abortion is a possibility. But, it has not always been the case. In those days before 1973, punishment was exactly what happened to any young woman unfortunate enough to find herself with an unwanted pregnancy.

  •  For every person who "decides" to end the life... (0+ / 0-)

    developing within them. There is someone like me- I would have given anything for my baby to live, but there was nothing I could do. If your old enough to want sex-then you should be old enough to learn to deal.

    Forget, "back in whatever day it was like this,or that". Youth is not the same now-sex is the norm. They KNOW that if they aren't using protection, there is a chance they can get pregnant. They know what pregnancy means....they KNOW there is no stork who flys into the babies nursery and magically leaves the baby there overnight.Besides, society is much much much different now then it has ever been-

    I get that its life altering.I get that- and although its not easy, I don't believe that its a punishment. Ive never met a mother who had her child young and said "Man, I really wish you weren't born". Like the mother a few comments up most will tell you it wasn't easy but they got through it and now their child is the best thing in their life. They just took a different road then what they had thought they would. It all seemed to go to drain-till they saw that little wrinkly face.

    I am a proud Democrat have been all my life and I am Pro-life. Pro-choice? I believe you have the choice way before a life starts inside you.I hate the argument about when life starts- because NO ONE is going to tell me that the bloody 3 month along tiny body who floated inside my toilet bowl was not a baby,my baby. Gone to heaven and there the remains of what he once was and what could have been.

    I challenge everyone to look at graphic pictures of what a abortion process looks like and what is left of a baby afterwards- if you can stare at them without a single flinch. Then carry on. But unless, you have been raped,your family member sexually abused you,or your life is in danger....there is no excuse or reason powerful enough to justify this. And even then, it should  only be done withing days of the incident.

    *** This is the first time that I have commented on anything,because FYI, this is my husbands DKos
    account.Hope he doesn't mind=)

    •  I don't flinch (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      snakelass, jhop7, WendyK, Scubaval

      Because as part of my education, I've had to deal with grosser things.  Dissecting a cat in high school that had been run over ranks as the grossest thing I've dealt with. (Dried blood is bad enough; when it's been preserved with an organic alcohol, it turns brown and clumpy.  Even my anatomy teacher ended up vomiting after she saw the innards of our kitty.)  Diseased lungs from lung cancer are pretty damn disgusting too, as are livers destroyed from cirrhosis. If we want to play a game of gross-me-out, children born with anacephalia rank up there pretty high too.

      However, those of of who are pro-choice respect that there are women who DO want their children, and we wish you the best of luck.  I am sorry that you lost your child, especially because it was so wanted.  We must work together to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to create a society where women are able to bring children into a better world, not one full of suffering and misery.

    •  That's the beauty of choice-oriented policy (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      You don't have to have an abortion if you don't want one.  You are also free to continue to be "pro-life" in the presence of choice-oriented policy.

      He Lied. He Spied. He Must Be Tried!

      by athenap on Wed May 28, 2008 at 01:26:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My mom, a Republican shared her feelings (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snakelass, jhop7, catwho

    about the protesters at abortion clinics.  Having raised 5 children, she understands what it takes to do so.  She said she wanted to go to the protestors and say, "Okay, no abortions.  Now, which one of you is going to adopt the babies?  Everyone here gets one."

    And, as mentioned upthread, before Roev.Wade, the girls had to hide their pregnancies, go to a home to have it, put it up for adoption.  The stigma and the emotional upheaval of this process is probably as troublesome as the memory of aborting.

    And let's remind these folks of the black market abortions, coat hangers, and back alley abortions.

    I agree with the premise that abortions should be rare, but they must be legal.

    Obama will have to revisit each and every thing he has said during the GE.  He knows this and he will take it in stride.  And we will have his back.

    Republicans: Your history has earned you a new mantra: "War and waste." ~~ Marta Jorgensen (CA-24 in '08)

    I am an Edwards Democrat!

    by Scubaval on Tue May 27, 2008 at 09:16:32 AM PDT

  •  One tiny quibble (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Liberal Youth

    I'm not sure about other parts of Appalachia, but PA has quite a few socially conservative Democrats.  I wouldn't write off PA for Obama this fall just yet.  Yes, the primary went to Hillary but I don't think everyone who voted for Hillary will go to McCain.  

    Otherwise, great diary and thanks for your insight.  

  •  There are many pro-lifers who (5+ / 0-)

    say that the only exceptions for abortion are the mother's life, incest, or rape. Seems logical, right?

    If you believe all embryos and fetuses are 'life' then there can be no exception for rape. It's still a life, no matter the emotional damage to the mother.

    If rape is the exception, the logic is often "she didn't choose to have sex." Therefore, it's not her fault and can get an abortion. Wait, what? Then that means a teenager who did have sex and got pregnant should be forced to have the child...because she made a bad choice? Isn't that PUNISHMENT for having sex?????

    Condoms break, pills fail; having sex is not consent to pregnancy.

    If you're pro-life, you really have to go all the way with it, except maybe life of the mother. I want to see them try and harass all the pregnant rape victims with pictures of dead fetuses and then try and sleep at night.

    "We are the ones we've been waiting for...We are the change that we seek." - Barack Obama

    by cornflake girl on Tue May 27, 2008 at 09:07:05 PM PDT

  •  The Truth Will Out (5+ / 0-)

    While the right may freak out about it, the truth is that "punished with a baby" is, in fact, exactly right. If you don't want a baby, then having one is about the equivalent of being sentenced to 18 years at hard labor.

    That's a little out of proportion to the offense.

  •  I am thoroughly convinced Barack (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    knows exactly what he is doing.  Unlike other politicians of his extremely high visibility, he has actually spent real time in the real world and does not need advisers to know how we feel.
      How many fundamentalist or Catholic parents really think their kids won't have sex before marriage?  How many would really want their kids not to use condoms?  How many have actually, in the sanctity of their own homes, sat them down and talked about it or even given them condoms?
      This is a wedge issue... but one that, if hammered on, will likely drive a wedge between the arch-conservatives and their audience.

    Hillary, a good leader knows when it's time to follow.

    by jhop7 on Wed May 28, 2008 at 04:02:20 AM PDT

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