Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Clear and Present Danger: The Insidious Romney-Ryan Presidential Ticket and Its Ominous Plan for America, Part Deux

Sister Citizen
Paul Ryan Goddam!
by Melissa Harris-Perry
August 22, 2012

This article appeared in the September 10, 2012 edition of The Nation.

Despite his seemingly robotic demeanor, Mitt Romney is proving himself a bit of a rogue. His campaign has broken the cardinal rule of presidential races: pander and pivot. First the candidate secures the base during the primaries by pandering to party ideologues; then the candidate swiftly pivots to the center to attract swing voters and independents. Eric Fehrnstrom’s infamous Etch A Sketch comment back in March suggested that Romney was preparing to execute this venerable campaign two-step. But the choice of Paul Ryan as running mate obliterates the possibility of moderation. This campaign is going to run hard and fast to the right. Forget the pivot; they’re just going to pander.

Unlike Romney’s inconsistent but mostly centrist Massachusetts governing record, whose signature accomplishment was the model for the GOP-maligned “Obamacare,” Ryan’s ideological bona fides are unvarnished. And don’t be fooled: this is not about economics alone. Ryan is just as devoted to good old-fashioned moral conservatism, government small enough to fit on a vaginal probe. Ryan may have slipped his playbook into an Ayn Rand cover, but it was co-written by Ralph Reed.

Nowhere is this more apparent, or more important, than in Ryan’s record on reproductive rights. Romney may have flippantly suggested that he would eliminate Planned Parenthood, but Ryan has worked consistently to restrict women’s access to healthcare. It’s not just his fifty-nine votes to block or limit reproductive rights that are of concern; it’s the absolutist nature of his positions. He rejects rape and incest as mitigating circumstances for abortion. He won’t even consider the possibility that women’s moral autonomy or constitutional rights are sufficient reasons for access.

Ryan is one of sixty-four Congressional co-sponsors of HR 212, a “personhood” bill that gives legal rights to fertilized eggs. Last November a similar measure was soundly defeated by 57 percent of voters in that liberal bastion, Mississippi. (Mississippi!) Ryan co-sponsored a bill too extreme for a state that has only one abortion clinic, a state whose policies have effectively made it impossible for most doctors to perform—or for most women to access—an abortion. It may be time to update the title of Nina Simone’s iconic song from “Mississippi Goddam” to “Paul Ryan Goddam.” Ryan’s role in HR 212 isn’t just the symbolic co-sponsorship of a bill with little likelihood of passage. He explicitly articulated his case for personhood in a 2010 Heritage Foundation article, in which he parrots the familiar conservative case that America’s failure to recognize fetuses as persons is the same as our nation’s historical failure to recognize the humanity of enslaved black people. Therefore, Roe v. Wade is the twentieth-century equivalent of the 1857 Dred Scott decision.

With Ryan and women’s health, there is no middle ground; there is only his moral judgment. And despite his avowed libertarianism on economic issues, on women’s health and rights Ryan is willing to use the full force of government to limit the freedom of dissenting citizens to exercise their opposing judgments.

True, Ryan is merely running for vice president—and with the singular exception of Dick Cheney, vice presidents haven’t had much significant policy influence. But with the Ryan pick, Romney has signaled that his moderation on women’s health issues is over. He is casting his lot with the most extreme elements of the anti-choice movement. It should hardly be surprising, then, that within a week of the announcement, GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin told Fox News that he saw little reason to consider abortion in the case of rape or incest, because pregnancy rarely results from sexual assault. According to Akin, “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Romney and other Republicans swiftly denounced the remark, but it’s easy to see why a Ryan candidacy might have led Akin to believe that such a position would be acceptable.

For more than a decade, GOP presidential candidates have pandered to pro-lifers but pivoted to a more moderate position in the general election. Now Romney is doing the opposite. This is, if nothing else, a fascinating political strategy. It forces the question: What’s the electoral arithmetic guiding Camp Romney? They seem to expect women swing voters to discount Ryan’s abysmal record.

Perhaps they will, but after spending a half-hour on the StairMaster recently, I’m not so sure. Cardio machines are the one place I indulge my guilty pleasure of reading women’s magazines. I was startled to see a deeply personal letter in the September issue of Women’s Health from editor in chief Michele Promaulayko titled “Your Body Is a Battleground.” In it she recounts her own experience of receiving sexual health counseling and contraception from Planned Parenthood when she was 15. Promaulayko directs readers to an article by Gretchen Voss that urges: “Read on to learn how your choices are endangered and what you need to do to keep them from becoming extinct.” It’s a no-nonsense, well-researched, action-focused piece whose bottom line is that voting for someone with a record like Ryan’s is tantamount to voting against the health of women. And this is in a magazine whose other articles tell readers “How to Have a Flat Belly in 15 Minutes” and keeps them abreast of the “10 Hot Hair Color Trends.” A lefty political rag it is not.

These women are interested in choice. And if choice appears in a magazine this mainstream, this close to the election, there’s good reason to think huge numbers of women will be prepared to demonstrate that at the polls. More than the breathless angst of progressive commentators, more than e-mail bombardments by feminist organizations, more than the slight panic in Romney’s tone as he reprimanded Akin, this article in Women’s Health has me convinced that by choosing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has ensured he will not be president of the United States.

Melissa Harris-Perry August 22, 2012 | This article appeared in the September 10, 2012 edition of The Nation.

About the Author

Melissa Harris-Perry is professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She is the author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (2011). She is also a contributor to MSNBC.
"The most deadly, dangerous, and powerful enemy of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans in general, Women in general, the poor in general, the working class in general, children in general, Freedom in general and Democracy in general in American society today is the truly heinous Republican Party and their endless number of severely bigoted and demagogic minions, mentors, sponsors, and supporters. Anyone who doesn't know or believes this blatantly obvious fact is not only a hopeless FOOL but ultimately deserves their "fate." As so many have said so accurately so many times in our collective history "truth crushed to earth shall rise again"..."
--Kofi Natambu, July 15, 2009


What the G.O.P. Platform Represents
August 21, 2012
New York Times

Over the years, the major parties’ election-year platforms have been regarded as Kabuki theater scripts for convention week. The presidential candidates blithely ignored them or openly dismissed the most extreme planks with a knowing wink as merely a gesture to pacify the noisiest activists in the party.
Related in Opinion

That cannot be said of the draft of the Republican platform circulating ahead of the convention in Tampa, Fla. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the extreme is now the mainstream. The mean-spirited and intolerant platform represents the face of Republican politics in 2012. And unless he makes changes, it is the current face of the shape-shifting Mitt Romney.

The draft document is more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory. It accuses President Obama and the federal judiciary of “an assault on the foundations of our society,” and calls for constitutional amendments banning both same-sex marriage and abortion.

In defending one of the last vestiges of officially sanctioned discrimination — restrictions on the rights of gay men and lesbians to marry — the platform relies on the idea that marriage between one man and one woman has for thousands of years “been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.”

That familiar argument ignores the fact that the number of children raised by one-parent families has been rising steadily since the 1970s, long before anyone was talking about same-sex marriage. Census figures indicate that one out of every two children will live in a single-parent family before they reach 18. Studies purporting to show that children of lesbians are disadvantaged have been shown to be junk science. Marriages between people of the same gender pose no threat to marriages between men and women.

The draft attacks President Obama for not defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages. It calls that decision a “mockery of the President’s inaugural oath,” when in fact Mr. Obama would have been wrong to ignore lawyers who concluded that the law is unconstitutional.

In passages on abortion, the draft platform puts the party on the most extreme fringes of American opinion. It calls for a “human life amendment” and for legislation “to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” That would erase any right women have to make decisions about their health and their bodies. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and such laws could threaten even birth control.

The draft demands that the government “not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage,” which could bar abortion coverage on federally subsidized health-insurance exchanges, for example.

The platform praises states with “informed consent” laws that require women to undergo medically unnecessary tests before having abortions, and “mandatory waiting periods.” Those are among the most patronizing forms of anti-abortion legislation. They presume that a woman is not capable of making a considered decision about abortion before she goes to a doctor. The draft platform also espouses the most extreme Republican views on taxation, national security, military spending and other issues.

Over all, it is farther out on the party’s fringe than Mr. Romney ventured in the primaries, when he repudiated a career’s worth of centrist views on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But the planks hew closely to the views of his running mate, Paul Ryan, and the powerful right-wing. Mr. Romney has a chance to move back in the direction of the center by amending this extremist platform. It will be interesting to see if he seizes it.

Does 'Ryan' Rhyme With 'Suppression'?
John Nichols
August 21, 2012
The Nation

Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen, a partisan Republican closely aligned with Governor Scott Waker and US Senate candidate Tommy Thompson, has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reinstate a rigid voter ID law before the November election.

Van Hollen is actually asking the high court to bypass the appeals process and make what would, in effect, be an emergency intervention to force voters to show photo identification in order to cast ballots. Lower-court judges have determined that more than 300,000 Wisconsinites do not possess forms of identification that would meet the standards of the law, which campaign watchdog and good government groups have identified as one of the strictest in the nation.

Coming at the same time as pitched battles over voter ID legislation and changes in early voting and election-day registration rules in other battleground states, the move appears to be the latest gambit in a national strategy by Republican officials to erect barriers to electoral participation that critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union have identified as a “voter suppression” strategy.

President Obama and the Democrats had been seen as leading in Wisconsin. But with Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, as his vice presidential running mate, the GOP has refocused its attention on the state. Additionally, the state’s open US Senate seat race pits Republican Thompson against Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin in a contest that could help to define control of the Senate.

Van Hollen’s initiative should be seen in this context.

The attorney general, a strong backer of the Romney-Ryan ticket who appeared just last week as Thompson’s Senate primary victory party, has asked the Supreme Court to overturn rulings by two local courts in Wisconsin that judged the law to be unconstitutional.

When the voter ID law was struck down initially in March, the ruling was so definitive that some thought the issue was off the table for 2012. “A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence—the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote—imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people,” wrote Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess in a decision that was widely hailed for its clarity and precise application of the state constitution. “It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution. This is precisely what 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 does with its photo ID mandates.”

A second Dane County Circuit Judge rejected the law in a July decision stemming from another of the several challenges brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and other groups.

With federal challenges still to be heard, and with the election barely two months away, Van Hollen is asking the state’s high court to make an extraordinary intervention.

But it might just happen. The Supreme Court has a Republican-friendly majority, led by the controversial Justice David Prosser, the former Republican leader in the state legislature’s lower house.

Van Hollen’s late-stage intervention—coming at a point when many observers believed the voter ID issue was settled for the 2012 election cycle—is highly significant, as it could give Republicans an upper hand in a state that until recently had generally been seen as leaning toward President Obama and the Democrats.

When Congressman Paul Ryan was tapped by Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential contender’s running mate, there was much speculation about whether the Ryan pick would put the Wisconsinite’s home state in play. But Ryan, who has never run a statewide race, was never going to “deliver” the state on his own.

Wisconsin is a historic battleground state, which has seen some of the closest finishes in recent presidential elections. While Democrat Barack Obama won the state with ease in 2008, Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 took Wisconsin by 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent respectively.

Obama’s led in most recent polls, and he’s still ahead among registered voters by a 49-45 margin in the latest CNN poll. But CNN rates the race in the state a “toss up” and other polls suggest it could be closer.

While Ryan may not provide the GOP with enough of a boost to take the lead, he could close the gap sufficiently so that voter suppression initiatives making it harder for Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots could have a profound impact. And make no mistake, the Wisconsin voter ID law poses just such a threat.

Judge Niess wrote in his March decision that the Wisconsin law would impose “insurmountable burdens [on] many of our fellow constitutionally qualified electors.”

The judge concluded that the voter ID law threatened to disenfranchise “those struggling souls who, unlike the vast majority of Wisconsin voters, for whatever reason will lack the financial, physical, mental, or emotional resources to comply with [the law], but are otherwise constitutionally entitled to vote. Where does the Wisconsin Constitution say that the government we, the people, created can simply cast aside the inherent suffrage rights of any qualified elector on the wish and promise—even the guarantee—that doing so serves to prevent some unqualified individuals from voting? It doesn’t. In fact, it unequivocally says the opposite. The right to vote belongs to all Wisconsin citizens who are qualified electors, not just the fortunate majority.”

With Romney-Ryan, GOP Becomes Grand Old Private-Equity Party
John Nichols
August 20, 2012

The ticket Republicans will nominate in Tampa next week is uniquely connected to the “vulture capitalist” constituency, and uniquely committed to protecting the interests of today’s robber-baron class.

Paul Ryan grew up in a wealthy family with a Republican bent and all the right political and corporate connections.

He could easily have made his way into the private sector—doing business with family and friends, as have generations of wealthy Ryans.

But Paul was always the starry-eyed, perhaps wild-eyed. idealist. He read Austrian economic texts and far-right authors with a passion, committing to memory the writings of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman and his intellectual heartthrob, Ayn Rand. Reading Rand, the newly minted Republican vice presidential contender once said was “the reason I got involved in public service.”

Ryan has since tried to distance himself from Rand’s militant atheism and even more extreme attitudes regarding the least among us. But his older brother, Tobin, told reporters: “Paul can still quote every verse out of Ayn Rand.”

Rand’s greed-is-good thinking plays well with hedge-fund managers, private equity players and the “vulture capitalist” class that enjoys taking a break from pillaging to plod through novels about, well, guys like them.

But as the youngest Ryan child, Paul got a little mavericky. Much as he talks up the private sector, Paul Ryan forged a career in the public sector. He’s worked as a Congressional aide and congressman—with brief breaks as a conservative “think tank” associate and a speech writer for Jack Kemp’s 1996 presidential campaign—since leaving college.

But older brother Tobin followed the more traditional route for sons of privilege.

As Fortune magazine notes, Tobin Ryan is a full partner with Seidler Equity Partners, a California-based “private equity investment firm that partners with visionary executives to grow their businesses.” Before he went to Seidler, Tobin worked with a politically connected Wisconsin-based private equity firm, King Capital (founded by former Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Steve King, who served as finance chair for Paul Ryan’s Congressional runs). He also put in a stint with Bain & Company, the consulting firm where Mitt Romney says he “enjoyed working with a team of people to arrive at ideas and solutions” for what Texas Governor Rick Perry described as “vulture capitalist” interventions.

Tobin Ryan joined the Bain & Co. team after Romney moved to the private-equity firm that the consulting firm spawned, Bain Capital. But the connection has raised eyebrows, and spawned plenty of headlines, in the financial press.

The Ryan brothers are, in Tobin’s words, “very close.” Indeed, they live “about a three-wood away from each other” in the town where the Ryans have for decades been a pre-eminent (construction and contracting) business family. Tobin, a frequent media spokesman and surrogate for his brother, refers to Paul’s first US House race as “our first campaign.”

“So we’ve now got a former private equity executive running for president alongside the brother of a current private equity executive,” observes Fortune senior editor Dan Primack.

And Paul Ryan, like Mitt Romney, is politically committed to the aiding the masters of the universe who run the private-equity empires that now so dominate the US economy.

The “Roadmap for America’s Future” budget plan that Ryan wrote in 2010—the document that, arguably, launched into orbit as a Republican star—pledges to change tax policies to create “an enhanced investment climate.”

Specifically, Ryan proposed to:

* eliminate taxes on “interest, capital gains, or dividends” and estate taxes

* allow investments to be “fully deducted immediately” by corporations

* “eliminate the corporate income tax entirely” and replace it with “a single-digit consumption tax” that businesses and investors would calculate themselves.

* repeal the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to assure that millionaires and billionaires who take advantage of tax-code loopholes will have to pay something

How good would a Romney-Ryan administration be to the private-equity constituency?

According to a study by the chairman’s staff of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, most working Americans who earn under $200,000 a year would see their taxes go up under the latest version of the Ryan budget. By the same token, Mitt Romney—whose income is “comprised of interest income, capital gains and dividends”—would pay less than 1 percent of his income in taxes.

The Romney-Ryan approach, forged and advocated for by candidates with personal and family ties to private-equity concerns, will yield great benefits for those very wealthy Americans who understand private equity as a personal reality.

But as the Joint Economic Committee report says, “House Budget Committee Chairman Representative Paul Ryan claims that the policies outlined in his budget will reform the broken tax code and put ‘hardworking taxpayers ahead of special interests.’ In reality, the Ryan plan gives the largest tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and will pay for those tax cuts by raising the tax burden on middle-class workers.”

Indeed, the report concludes, “The richest households would receive the greatest benefit from these changes. The top 0.1 percent, for example, would receive an estimated average federal tax cut of close to $1.18 million per taxpaying household in 2015.”

America’s robber barons have had to wait for more than a century—since Teddy Roosevelt went rogue and joined the anti-trust campaigners—for a Republican ticket that would truly represent their interests.

But every indication is that the Romney-Ryan ticket will be of, by and for the private-equity managers who have become the masters of America’s economic universe.

The Romney-Ryan ticket rejects the American faith of not just Democratic presidents such as Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt but of Republican presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt.

“The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” Teddy Roosevelt warned at Osawatomie, Kansas, in 1910. “The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.”

That remains the prime need.

Now, unfortunately, the party of Teddy Roosevelt is preparing to nominate a ticket that is passionately at odds with the principle that the general welfare must prevail over the passions of men “whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.”

Rage Against Paul Ryan
John Nichols on August 17, 2012
The Nation

No musician has been more identified than Tom Morello with the uprising against the crony capitalism of Wall Street speculators and Washington pawns like Paul Ryan.

Morello, the Grammy Award—winning guitarist with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave who has earned an international following with his musically and politically charged performances as the Nightwatchman, followed the wave of protests that swept Egypt and other Mideast countries at the start of 2011.

A Woody Guthrie-inspired advocate of mass protests, rallies, marches and in-the-streets campaigning for economic and social justice, Morello loved the reports from Cairo. And he kept up with each new report from Tahrir Square.

Then, one night, he and his wife were watching the protests, and he saw something odd. Snow.

It doesn’t snow in Cairo.

But it does in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I was watching the demonstrations in Cairo with my then-pregnant wife,” Morello says. “The report went from 100,000 people on the streets of Cairo to 100,000 people on the streets of Madison. And I remember saying, What the hell is going on? Where did this come from?”

When he heard it was a union struggle that had brought masses of Wisconsinites to the streets in winter, Morello wanted to grab his guitar and fly immediately from his home in Los Angeles to Madison.

He wasn’t at all sure his wife would approve. But, Morello recalls, she was two steps ahead of him. “She said: ‘Our sons are going to be union men. You’ve got to go.’ ”

Morello went, with a crew of fellow musicians that included The Street Dogs and legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, to Madison and on to the Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate corruption and political abuses that have concentrated power in the hands of the new-generation robber barons who have occupied the top one percent of American business and political life.

So you can imagine Tom Morello’s response when the New York Times reported that newly minted Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan “lists Rage Against the Machine, which sings about the greed of oil companies and whose Web site praises the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement, among his favorite bands.”

Ryan’s a bit of a metalhead, with a taste for Led Zeppelin, Metallica and—as he told CNN—“a lot of grunge” bands that are not frequently identified with the extreme social conservatism and the free-market economic theories of Austrian economists. He a kid growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, he listened to radio rockers like John “Sly” Sylvester, who has since become a Wisconsin talk-radio legend and one of Ryan’s edgiest critics.

Rage has for years ranked high on Ryan’s playlist. The congressman says he really likes the music—which he plays loud while working through his daily ninety-minute exercise regime—if not necessarily the seminal band’s “fight the power” lyrics.

Morello, for his part, does not really like Ryan.

“Paul Ryan,” Morello explained in a blistering statement he wrote for Rolling Stone, “is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”

Morello’s no Democratic apparatchik. He’s been more than willing to criticize the policies of President Obama.

But he’s raging against Ryan.

“Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn’t understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn’t understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.,” Morello writes. “Ryan claims that he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don’t care for Paul Ryan’s sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage.”

The guitarist who has a long history of radical activism and radical songwriting asks: “I wonder what Ryan’s favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of “Fuck the Police”? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!”

“Don’t mistake me,” Morello continues, “I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.

Tom Morello, who’s got Woody Guthrie’s eye for the teaching moment, has it right:

You see, the super rich must rationalize having more than they could ever spend while millions of children in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night. So, when they look themselves in the mirror, they convince themselves that “Those people are undeserving. They’re…lesser.” Some of these guys on the extreme right are more cynical than Paul Ryan, but he seems to really believe in this stuff. This unbridled rage against those who have the least is a cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

But Rage’s music affects people in different ways. Some tune out what the band stands for and concentrate on the moshing and throwing elbows in the pit. For others, Rage has changed their minds and their lives. Many activists around the world, including organizers of the global occupy movement, were radicalized by Rage Against the Machine and work tirelessly for a more humane and just planet. Perhaps Paul Ryan was moshing when he should have been listening.

Perhaps Paul Ryan should put that in his iPod and play it.

US Representative Todd Akin, R-MO (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Danger of Laughing at Todd Akin
by Ilyse Hogue
August 20, 2012

The Nation

The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.

Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.

While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.

And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.

Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.

Consider our seemingly uncontrollable slide towards climate catastrophe: in 2006 and 2007, the link between human activity and climate change was almost incontestable. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth was a breakout hit; and the former VP was rewarded for his leadership on the global issue with a Nobel Prize in 2007. In 2008, both McCain and Obama openly acknowledged the existence of the threat and the need for action. Scientists breathed a collective sigh of relief that the US might finally exert some leadership on this existential issue.

But when the Obama victory made the idea of a clean-energy economy a potential reality, the climate deniers kicked into high gear. Cash from the Koch brothers poured into bogus organizations to promote climate skepticism and cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Senator Inhofe called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” A 2009 Chamber of Commerce ad buy brutalized House Democrats who voted for the climate legislation. In the lead up to the climate summit of 2009, someone even hacked into a University server and published highly edited e-mails from climate scientists to make them appear to be fabricating their results. While the scientists were exonerated, the damage was done.

The resulting shift in public opinion was almost immediate. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Americans who believed media accounts of climate change were exaggerated jumped from 35 percent to 48 percent. Among self-identified Republicans, it went to 66 percent. By last year’s Republican presidential primary, right-wing contenders made seemingly inane statements that flew in the face of scientific consensus, and even the ones like Romney who had previously acknowledged the threat were forced to recant to maintain their viability.

While the political dynamics around these two issues are different, there are striking similarities in the right-wing strategy of capitalizing on extreme statements to shift the spectrum of what’s possible. And the wary will take heed: in the span of four short years, we went from having two presidential candidates who openly advocated action to stop climate change to having no GOP candidates in 2012 who could or would affirm its existence and a Democratic president who seems to wish the issue would magically disappear. The consequences of inaction are already being felt.

The same process is underway to undermine women’s voices in our own destiny. Mitt Romney has already flip-flopped from a pro-choice Senate candidate and a governor who promised to be “a good voice” among Republicans on reproductive health to his new incarnation as Paul Ryan’s running mate and an anti-choice leader. While Ryan allows lesser candidates like Akin to carry the water on extreme views held by the right-wing patriarchy, his equally radical views become mainstreamed as his anti-woman credentials are embraced by the party leadership. If we don’t stop laughing and start drawing hard lines around scientific reality, how many Akin’s will it take before we see a President Romney ordering rape victims thrown into the water to see if they float?

For a take on how to fight back against rape culture, read Jessica Valenti’s “How to Out a Rapist.”

Paul Ryan

by Darren Hauck for The New York Times
Updated: Aug. 11, 2012

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was introduced as Mitt Romney’s presidential running mate on August 11, bringing to Mr. Romney’s side one of the Republican Party’s young conservative leaders in a move that altered the contours of the campaign and sharpened the choice facing the voters in November.

The selection of Mr. Ryan, the chief architect of the Republican Party’s plan for tax and spending cuts and an advocate of reshaping the Medicare program of health insurance for retirees, was an effort to reset the race with President Obama after a withering assault on Mr. Romney by Democrats.

The decision instantly made the campaign seem bigger and more consequential, with the size and role of the federal government squarely at the center of the debate. It was a choice intended to galvanize the Republican base and represented a clear tactical shift by Mr. Romney.

Mr. Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the author of a series of budget plans that would radically reshape government spending, tax policy and programs like Medicare.

Mr. Ryan has become perhaps the most influential policy maker in the Republican Party, its de facto head of economic policy, intent on a fundamental transformation of the federal government.

His prescriptions in the Republican budget plan he devised have become his party’s marching orders: cut income tax rates and simplify the code, privatize Medicare, shrink the food-stamp and Medicaid programs and turn almost all control over to the states, and reduce domestic federal spending to its smallest share of the economy since World War II.

Major Figure in the Republican Party

Outside of Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan may be the party’s most important figure; some Republicans even think that Mr. Ryan is the one setting the course that Mr. Romney must follow.

Having gained such influence, Mr. Ryan now faces some big questions, about his ideas and his future. So far, he has offered major parts of his budget only in broad brush strokes, without specifying all the spending cuts he would make or which popular tax breaks he would eliminate. He has proposed collapsing today’s six personal income tax rates into two, 10 percent and 25 percent, and lowering the corporate rate to 25 percent from 35 percent, all while maintaining the same flow of revenue by closing loopholes.

He also strongly favors a repeal of President Obama’s health care law, even though his own prescriptions for Medicare — a menu of federally subsidized, private health plans — are similar to the Obama plan’s for insurance expansion. But he has not offered a plan that would provide coverage to nearly as many people.

Mr. Ryan was once just another minion on Capitol Hill, working for a research group, then for a member of Congress, and moonlighting as a waiter at the Hill hangout Tortilla Coast and as a personal trainer at a gym.

A Washington insider, Mr. Ryan is heir to the side of the conservative movement that grew out of think tanks and policy journals in the 1960s and ’70s. Known as a numbers wonk, he is in his seventh term. He and two other House leaders — Eric Cantor, the majority leader, and Kevin McCarthy, the whip — call themselves the “Young Guns,’' and wrote a book of policy prescriptions by that name.

Mr. Ryan has been given broad authority by House Speaker John A. Boehner to use his position on the budget committee to drive the Republican fiscal agenda through the House. At the same time, Democrats have focused on Mr. Ryan and his proposals to charge that Republicans planned to undermine popular programs like Medicare to finance tax cuts for the rich.

Mr. Ryan’s 2012 budget outline was passed by the House in April 2011 but had no chance of getting through the Democratic-held Senate. He said his plan would cut federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade, mainly by making deep cuts in discretionary spending programs and turning Medicare into a “defined benefit,’' in which seniors would get vouchers that would cover a portion of the cost of buying private insurance. Medicaid would shrink as the federal contribution to state programs would be capped. It also proposed reducing the top corporate and individual tax rates to 25 percent in what Republicans said was a move to improve American economic competitiveness.

Proposals for the 2012 Election Season

In March 2012, Mr. Ryan and the House Republicans thrust their vision of a free-market Medicare system into the election season, banking that fears over surging federal deficits would trump longstanding voter allegiances to popular government programs.

Mr. Ryan again proposed reshaping Medicare into a subsidized set of private insurance plans, but this time, in a twist Mr. Ryan had previously announced with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, the plan included an option that would allow current Medicare recipients to buy into the existing fee-for-service program. The Medicare budget would be cut by $205 billion below President Obama’s budget through 2022. Also, the Republican budget mandates the repeal of Mr. Obama’s health care law.

Mr. Ryan said that cutting tax rates would be paid for by closing loopholes in the tax system that mainly benefit the affluent, although his plan did not propose specific changes.

Mitt Romney endorsed Mr. Ryan’s plan, calling it “marvelous.’' President Obama seized on that language to criticize both men for an approach he likened to Social Darwinism, calling the Ryan budget a “radical vision” that would deepen the inequality in American society.

A Controversial ‘Roadmap’

Mr. Ryan’s first budget plan, which he called "Roadmap for America’s Future,” was released in 2010, when the Democrats still controlled the House. It was an elaborate proposal that aimed to erase the federal debt by 2063, simplify the tax code and partly privatize Social Security and Medicare. Not everyone agreed with what the “Roadmap” would yield, and it has taken fierce criticism from Democrats, who say the plan would eviscerate Medicare and Social Security. But Mr. Ryan’s program drew a far more awkward, unwanted dividing line for Republicans over the sensitive politics of entitlement programs.

In the highly charged 2010 mid-election, not a lot of politicians were lining up publicly behind Mr. Ryan. Most Republican candidates refused to endorse his plan. But his stature was cemented by his chairmanship appointment.

Mr. Ryan was a member of Mr. Obama’s debt-reduction panel but declined to support the bipartisan plan proposed by its chairmen, saying it did not go far enough and did not include repeal of Mr. Obama’s health care law.

It may have been President Obama who gave him and his Roadmap its first widespread attention. Mr. Obama alluded to the plan as a “serious proposal,” though the White House promptly made it clear that it had problems with its details.

Even some of Mr. Ryan’s loudest supporters are reluctant to support the Roadmap top to bottom. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, lavished praise on Mr. Ryan’s intellect and discipline, but did not go so far as to endorse the Roadmap.

Mr. Ryan studied economics in college and meant to become an economist. Somewhere between stints working for Jack Kemp, a mentor, and Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, he meandered into public policy. The inner nerd seeps through: he often sleeps on a cot in the office, says he has “every 15-minute interval” scheduled months in advance, and writes up PowerPoint presentations himself.


Representative Todd Akin's comment about "legitimate rape" was no gaffe. It was a glimpse into the GOP War on Women.

Republicans are just days away from ratifying a personhood amendment as part of their party platform, which would ban all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.1

32,000 rape survivors get pregnant in America each year.2 And the Republican party would ban abortions for all of these women.

Today's New York Times editorial is challenging Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to amend this "extremist," "mean-spirited and intolerant platform."3

MoveOn members need to join that call with hundreds of thousands of voices, because even if Romney and Ryan won't listen, America is listening. Representative Todd Akin's comments were a wake-up call about Republican views on women.

This shameful moment is our best opportunity to draw attention to the dangerous woman-hating agenda of the Republican Party and expose it to American voters.

But the GOP Convention is next week, and we want to confront Ryan and Romney with a massive petition at an event TOMORROW for the media to see, so we need to act urgently. Can you sign today and ask everyone you know to sign, too?

Romney and Ryan: "Remove the abortion ban for rape survivors from the Republican Party platform."

Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, are trying to run away from the terrible comments of their Senate candidate, Rep. Todd Akin, about "legitimate rape." But they can't.

Here's a brief history of Romney and Ryan's own words and deeds on this issue:

Ryan and Akin were the original co-sponsors of a bill that would limit the definition of rape to "forcible rape" (Akin's idea of "legitimate rape").4
Ryan co-sponsored a personhood bill with Akin, which would outlaw some forms of birth control and all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.5
Mitt Romney told Mike Huckabee that he would have "absolutely" supported a constitutional amendment establishing the definition of life at conception.6
Of course, now that the media is paying attention to their extreme views, the Romney-Ryan campaign stated that they would not prohibit abortion in cases of rape.7 But talk is cheap.

If Romney and Ryan want to prove that they don't stand with Akin on abortion bans for rape survivors, they need to get it out of the party platform. And our job is to make sure the country is watching what they do.

Sign today—Romney and Ryan: "Remove the abortion ban for rape survivors from the Republican Party platform."

Thanks for all you do,

–Lenore, Elena, Amy, Marika, and the rest of the team

Romney and Ryan:

"Remove the abortion ban for rape survivors from the Republican Party platform."

Sign the Petition!


1. "GOP party platform sticks with anti-abortion stance, does not address rape exception," The Washington Post, August 21, 2012
2. "Injury Center: Violence Prevention," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. "What the G.O.P. Platform Represents," The New York Times, August 21, 2012
4. "How Todd Akin and Paul Ryan Partnered to Redefine Rape," Think Progress, August 19, 2012
5. "Paul Ryan Sponsored Fetal Personhood Bill, Opposes Family Planning Funds," Huffington Post, August 11, 2012
6. "Romney: I Would 'Absolutely' Support State Constitutional Amendment to Define Life As Beginning At Conception," Think Progress, October 3, 2011
7. "Romney Statement on Abortion Contradicts Ryan's Earlier Stance," The New York Times, August 20, 2012
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