Several people argued on my last post about Obama capitulating to House Republicans on funding for women's reproductive health in the stimulus package that it's in the spirit of bipartisanship, not capitulating, to take rational criticism from the minority party into consideration. Reproductive health has little to do with economic stimulus, so we should just try to pass it later.
Which is a pretty narrow definition of "stimulus." John Maynard Keynes went so far as to say that, during recession, the government should pay people to dig holes and then fill them up again. The point was clear: fiscal policy during times when money and resources become scarce should focus on getting money out into the economy by any means necessary.
That was part of the reason funding for contraception was originally included in the House bill. Since most states are crippled by balanced-budget amendments, unfunded federal mandates, like family planning programs in Medicare, get cut. But eliminating both jobs and services that help fight poverty during a recession is a terrible, terrible idea. This helps shed some light as to why the funding got cut:
A number of Congressmen attending a House Caucus meeting on the economic package earlier this week reportedly could not stop snickering when the words "stimulus" and "family planning" were used in the same sentence, and continued to tee-hee their way through a presentation by female colleagues until asked to stop.
"They acted like they were in junior high," reported a participant in the meeting. "It made me realize that not only did they not understand this issue, but that they are uncomfortable even talking about it."
Rather than chastising their male colleagues further, the women members and staffers involved in the meeting took this as a serious learning experience.
It should be a lesson for all of us.
"These issues are second nature to the majority of women in Congress," said one Congressional staffer speaking off the record, "so when we talk to women members or their staffers about the connection between family planning and women's economic security, they don't need an explanation. They just get it."
"Many of the men, however, do not," the staffer continued, "It is clear we need to educate them. If they don't understand the issues, they won't be able to defend them effectively."
The problem is deeper than Republicans throwing a hissy fit about one of the smaller parts of the stimulus package. The problem is that the Democratic establishment does not know how to articulate the need for such programs.
And that's a real problem, on the health care, economic, and women's equality fronts. It doesn't just mean that Democrats don't have their talking points ready. It means that the public is only going to hear the simple, conservative side of these debates, liberals are going to buy into conservatives' idiotic talking points, and Democrats are going to completely cede control of the debate to Republicans. And that's exactly what happened during the family-planning debate last week, both on the teevee and in Congress.
The blockquote above shows that House Democrats don't have much of an understanding of women's reproductive health issues. And it isn't that complicated: women who get pregnant before they want to are less likely to get a formal education or develop a career before raising a family. It's an infrastructure issue, in the same sense that health care issues and education issues are about infrastructure, it's an economic mobility issue, and it's an equality issue.
But the Democrats capitulated anyway to the Republican hissy fit. Unlike liberals, who Democrats don't even seem to care to understand much, Republicans make Democrats afraid. Because if this was an olive branch for bipartisanship, the Democrats definitely got punked:
Republican criticisms of the stimulus plan were not rational and they weren't made in good faith. They came, instead, from the basic fact that they have absolutely nothing to gain from voting yes on the bill. If it fails, other Republicans will primary them in 2010. If it works, Democrats and Obama get credit. If it works really well, it discredits the entire premises of Republican economic ideology, that free markets regulate themselves and that government only hurts the economy when it acts. And no number of concessions (and there were lots of concessions) to the GOP was going to change that basic fact.
The most Republicans can do is stick hard and fast to their stated economic ideology and shoot the bill in the kneecaps so that the depression continues long enough for Americans to forget that they caused it in the first place and reelect them in 2010 or 2012. Everything else, like conservatives making idiotic sex jokes about contraception and arguing that Democrats want to kill babies instead of giving tax cuts, is just icing on the cake to them.
Republicans have no reason at all to vote for an ENDA or to repeal DOMA, either. It'll piss off their base and they've long since given up on moderate votes.
Besides, when was the last time that a gay-friendly, but moderate, straight person's vote for a Representative came down to ENDA? While the GOP base goes crazy with their hatred of us, our allies don't go crazy with their support of us. Hell, we don't even go crazy with support of ourselves. So the most we can rely on in the foreseeable future is taking advantage of this historic opportunity where Democrats control everything to get some legislation passed.
But if Democrats don't even understand why legislation like ENDA or funding to fight HIV/AIDS domestically is necessary, then we're going to miss out. And, yes, hearing that straight, male Democrats were giggling during the women's health care meeting makes me nervous - if they're already acting like junior high school students who can't handle a discussion of sex, what's going to happen when the discussion turns to LGBT issues?
They need to be a lot further along on these issues already to be able to withstand the very predictable Republican shitstorm that's coming when they try to pass LGBT-friendly legislation.
Republican ideas are easy to understand and don't need much education to get across. They can usually be encapsulated in one of the following things-to-shout-angrily-at-the-TV statements:
- I hate taxes!
- Mexicans are ruining this country!
- Butt fucking? Ewwww!
- Goddamn sluts!
- We should bomb their asses!
- Feminazis and libruls want to kill babies!
- If I were in charge around here, I'd tell all these goddamn hippies to shut the fuck up and move to Seattle!
- Close Gitmo? We should double it!
Liberal ideas are inherently more complicated, which means that our representatives are going to have to do more work to sell them. They're going to have to be familiar with why they're important issues, how they'll improve the country, and why we shouldn't just fall into one of the all-too-easy patterns of thinking that Republicans are all-too-ready to sell.
So, yeah, that's why the family planning issue from last week matters. It's not just about the money, although that's an important part of it. It's the way it happened, the fact that we've already been in that situation dozens times before, and that it shows us how hapless many of the Democrats we elected are.
And if you still think I'm full of shit here, then check out this post over at RH Reality Check on how the three-ring circus on the family planning funding played out last week. It's embarrassing that a political party that has large majorities in both houses of Congress and that won the White House with a mandate can't get basic planks of its platform passed.