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:
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