As Republican Governors and legislatures try to inhibit the voting rights of some people along with the Party’s support of Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that classifies corporations as people and money as speech, should Americans be concerned that representative government is on its way out?
In our democratic-republican form of government we elect officials to represent us and the area population we live with. As it was initially set up in the 18th century the varying views of a constituency would hopefully elicit a decision from their elected official that represented a consensus rather than one which always favored a select group, especially the wealthy gentry of that age. Over time however this democratic intent has become flawed through the unethical practices of gerrymandering which target those voters that will ensure their re-election and isolate the ones who can hinder their chances.
Back then too, people normally made their choices based upon criteria that candidates 1) were very familiar with the area they represent, 2)had a pretty good understanding of the political machinery they would be involved with, 3)had shared empathy with their constituencies and were knowledgable of the factors they made decisions on and 4), hopefully avoided conflicts of interests with their decisions and their personal lives.
Clearly today this is an ideal we don’t always live up to, with many voters choosing single issues like gay marriage and abortion as their sole reason for voting for anyone.
image by John Jonik
The representative government we were handed following the ratification of the Constitution back in 1789 has gradually morphed into something that better resembles an oligarchy or plutocracy than it does as any form of democracy. The specter of crony capitalism where corporate wealth is influencing policy in our legislatures is no longer a perception lingering in the shadows. Such associations are often openly boasted about in the guise of advancing free market principles.
Then there are those times when it seems we reflect the practices of a theocracy as demonstrated in efforts by the christian right to impose their beliefs on abortion and contraception, along with a host of other issues about prayer in the school, dress codes and what people can buy on Sundays.
Not that these issues are not worth consideration in the public forum but our government was set up to essentially ensure that religious dogma would not dictate how we are to be governed. This limitation was a natural consequence of the religious discrimination earlier settlers had experienced in Europe and was in part the reason many left their homes in the old world.
However, many issues that people of faith are concerned about are also shared with those of limited and no faith because we all seek to establish some reasonable moral norms. Thus when consensus in multi-cultural and economically diverse constituencies is reached by all groups, we obviously have agreement not directly dictated by the dominant religion’s values alone. But for elected officials in the Republican Party, this is no longer the norm. Party loyalty to a narrow ideology now takes precedence over the general will of the people, a conclusion drawn by the authors who have studied the deterioration of our system of government in their insightful book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism”
A glaring current example is with women’s rights as it relates to abortion and contraception. We seem to have a preponderance of those elected officials from faith-based systems, especially amongst the more fundamentalist churches that are overbearingly white with higher income earners, willing to ignore fulfilling a couple of the obligations for objective representation – sharing an empathy and knowledge of the factors they make decisions on and avoiding conflicts of interests with their decisions and their personal lives.
Women representatives would of course be capable of sharing empathy and knowledge criteria as it relates to pregnancy. Like men however, some are capable of basing their political motives on their strict religious world view. So let’s focus a little bit on these efforts by conservative Republicans aimed at restricting the larger half of the U.S. population’s right to determine how and when they become pregnant.
Abortion is by no means acceptable to anyone, even those who are faced with a need for ending an unwanted pregnancy. And though the idea that too many women use abortion as a means of contraception, at least one study shows that there are no single reasons women choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Of those surveyed, unmarried women were 17% more likely than currently married women to choose abortion to prevent others from knowing they had sex or became pregnant. This hardly constitutes a rationale to prejudge why most women have an abortion.
There are of course more socially acceptable forms of contraception with the pill, prophylactics and intrauterine devices (IUDs). But again we have seen strong protestations from religious fundamentalists who oppose the use of these based, apart from the belief that it encourages pre-marital sex, that any form of contraception not sanctioned by the church is a violation of God’s law.
For society to forbid abortions under all or some conditions, it must be based on a consensus view and where facts and not feelings are in the forefront. The more practical pros and cons on this issue can be found here. Yet the decisions made by conservative Republicans (are there any other kind these days) in several state legislatures have been made by people who not only overstep the requirements for fair representation but who base part of their decisions on fantastical assumptions that exemplify someone who harbors a pro-religious bias – a condition that our constitution sought to avoid.
The current mentality expressed by some within the Republican Party are made too often by white males who are incapable of experiencing the anguish of an unwanted pregnancy and by both male and females who have no shared experience in becoming pregnant through rape. And by rape I mean the brutal assault of a woman by a man who ignores the protests of their victim and forces himself into her. That may be an ugly way to portray rape for the weak of heart but it may be putting it mildly for the woman who has survived such an assault.
Beyond a rational and common sense argument about the legality of abortions are those sentiments expressed by the so-called “pro-life” group who feel even rape is no excuse to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In a manner that expresses no concern for the victims of rape is a mentality that has chosen to view a fertilized egg in a woman’s womb as equal to that of any postnatal life. Though I can comprehend the view that life begins at fertilization, I am hard pressed to make a comparison between a 4-week old fetus and a child carried to full term. But this would be an argument that falls within a realistic context.
What falls outside of that context is the belief some hold that a life created from a traumatic event like rape is somehow a “method of conception” sanctified by God, as expressed recently by the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.
“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan explained. “But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”
“And the president, in this case the future President Mitt Romney, has exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, which is a vast improvement of where we are right now.” SOURCE
Here are other examples of unrealistic views concerning rape held by those within the GOP.
- Back in January, 2010, when Sharron Angle was running against Harry Reid in Nevada she was asked if there was any reason for abortion, including rape and incest. ”No”, was her reply. She replied that as a Christian she believed “that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.”
- In January of this year, then candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, expounded on this notion. In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Santorum said that “I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.”
- Last week, Missouri republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin tried to frame any pregnancy from rape in terms of the rape’s “legitimacy”.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.
Regarding his opinion on whether to allow for an abortion in such instances, Akin added: “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
- Sharon Barnes, a member of the Missouri state Republican central committee, said regarding Mr. Akin’s statement that very few rapes resulted in pregnancy that “at that point [after being raped], if God has chosen to bless this person with a life, you don’t kill it. That’s more what I believe he was trying to state,” Ms. Barnes said. “He just phrased it badly.” SOURCE
- When asked by AP reporter Mark Scolforo how he would explain it to his daughter why she needed to keep a baby if she were, “God forbid”, raped, Tom Smith, the Republican challenging Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-PA) seat stated that he had undergone a similar experience when his daughter had a child out of wedlock. This is the exchange that followed between Scolforo and Smith.
SCOLFORO: Similar how?
SMITH: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.
SCOLFORO: That’s similar to rape?
SMITH: No, no, no, but… put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period. SOURCE
It’s true that Romney doesn’t share Ryan’s views about not allowing abortions that result from rape and incest, but the Republican Party platform that will be on display this week during their convention apparently does. Ultimately it will be the legislature that enacts legislation concerning when abortion is or isn’t allowed and even though a Romney presidency could refuse to sign the bill, he may bend to the will of the Party and sign such legislation anyway, especially if there is enough support in both houses to override any veto he chooses to take.
In light of the fact that most people, especially women, have always felt that abortion should be legal at some levels, would anyone be considered irrational to suggest that true representative government no longer exists within the Republican Party. Coupled with the view that most people also think that same-sex marriage should be legal, Medicare should be left alone, government should regulate green house gases, sensible immigration laws should be enacted, and that Americans favor higher taxes on those with high incomes, why do Republicans still claim to speak “for the people”. Clearly they don’t