Apparently President-elect Barack Obama is inspiring everybody these
days, even right wing extremists. Take, for example, Gary Bauer of the
right wing group American Values, who recently explained,
"I found myself thinking, ‘My goodness, I can’t believe he’s (Obama)
going to make it this easy for us to rally our troops to get off the
mat and get back to work." Wendy Wright, president of
anti-contraception group Concerned Women for America, seems to relish
her loser status as much as Bauer. She waxes almost romantic,
"I knew, moments after the election results came in, that I was now
part of the resistance movement." Bill Donohue of the Catholic League
dispensed with resistance and quickly went on the offensive. "If Obama
signs the freedom of Choice Act or FOCA you will have a culture war the likes of which you have never seen before," he said. FOCA
would make abortion a right under federal law so that even if Roe v
Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court abortion will continue to be
Some in the anti-choice establishment have cautiously stuck a toe
onto the common ground that Obama has suggested is findable – ground
from which opponents can search for ways to make abortion less
necessary. The Old Guard, by contrast, is inspired in another way. It
insists on treating a potential turning point as another inning in an
unending grudge match.
Over the next weeks and months I’ll be monitoring the other side,
trying to discern where inspiration is taking them. From the
looks of it, they expect to dust off the same old playbook. Here are a
couple of plays to take note of:
Play #1, find something incendiary (even if fake) to rally
followers. As Michael Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice
University in Houston told Reuters
in the wake of Obama’s landslide victory, "In order for the social
conservatives to succeed, they will need to have something to mobilize
against. It could be an issue or the congressional leadership." Without
the fictitious "partial birth abortion" issue that anti-choice groups
used artfully for over a decade, extremists will have to find a new
issue to quickly mischaracterize. Enter the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).
"The challenge starting first thing … is raising "awareness" about
just how extreme his (Obama’s) agenda is, starting with (FOCA),"
said Charmaine Yoest, president of the anti-abortion group Americans
United for Life Action (quote marks mine). Likewise, Concerned Women
for America put out a press release detailing their first action after
"Two days after Barack Obama’s inauguration, pro-lifers will be
doubling their impact during the March for Life, the annual pro-life
rally in Washington, D.C., held on January 22, the anniversary of Roe
v. Wade. As tens of thousands gather to oppose the deadly Supreme Court
decision that decriminalized abortion, Concerned Women for America
(CWA) will be handing out snacks with information on how to oppose the
Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill supported by Obama. The next day, pro-lifers in Washington and around the country will be joining CWA’s FOCA Lobby Day by contacting their congressmen – in person or by phone – urging them to oppose this bill…"
Choosing FOCA as a target serves
extremists choice in several ways. One key advantage is that, though
Obama favors it, even pro-choice advocates do not expect it to pass
soon. This offers a protracted period to scare and misinform the
public. And so the antis are putting together their talking points. In
doing so they’re studying the strategies of Karl Rove, mastermind of
that recent unpleasantness a.k.a. the Bush presidency. Rove’s genius
was to identify emotionally charged wedge issues – abortion,
homosexuality, guns – which so roused targeted populations that they
voted against their own larger interests. Jack and Charmaine Yoest of
Americans United for Life would like to do the same. Yesterday they
posted a blog entitled, "How Would Karl Rove Fight FOCA?"
A large segment of "pro-life" sympathetizers voted for Obama this
election; still the Yoests posit that with the right Rovean wedge – or
wedge within a wedge – they can incite even pro-choice voters.
Which leads to Play #2: Cast FOCA as a
parent’s rights issue. It’s a favorite gambit. Recast the debate in
not only false but inflammatory terms. They tried the same play with the HPV vaccine
when they tried to keep the cervical cancer prevention method from
becoming a state mandated vaccination. Expect a similar "parent’s
rights" line of argument to resurface with FOCA.
The Yoests write: "Conservative Pro-Lifers will be able to unify
and bring together even Pro-Choicers who are concerned about knowing if
their daughters are going to have an abortion…All parents want to know
if their children are playing with edged weapons and more so if they go
under the knife. Rove would suggest targeting this constituency who
would have a passionate position on knowing if their children are going
to have surgery by strangers. And who would be paying for the
abortion. No parent would allow a stranger to give candy to their
children; parents would not allow a stranger to operate on their child.
Rove would identify this group, persuade them and then prompt them to
action. The fear that mom and dad will lose control over their
healthcare decisions of their child is worrisome enough without Uncle
Sam stepping in."
Their claims against the HPV vaccine were hyped. Every state
but Mississippi had a generous opt-out provision for its vaccination
programs. Similarly, they will fan fears over FOCA even if not true. After all, Maryland and Maine both have active parental involvement laws and also passed the Freedom of Choice Act.
The truth has rarely gotten in the way of reproductive rights
opponents. Even in the age of evidence, which is what Obama says he will
rely on in making decisions, an energized, inspired right wing will try
to win with old-fashioned Rovean fear. Some things never change.