Column No. 23 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - JULY 29, 2004

Note to the reader (again): We are now at the apex of the Democratic National Convention, and in a series of columns written before I left on summer vacation, I continue to devote myself to what are primarily campaign matters.  To remind you, this set of columns has been prepared in advance.  It is possible that some of what I will have to say here will be overtaken by events (and in the first item below I comment on one comment of mine from the first column in this series that has been).  But hopefully, whether or not that happens, you will find these thoughts to be of use as our attention turns to the principal challenge facing the pro-democracy forces, not in Iraq, but here at home: how to defeat George Bush and assure the election of John Kerry.

On the Choice for Vice-President

In the first one of this “written before I went away” series, I wrote a bit on my number one choice for the position of Vice-President on the ticket, a really wild, far-out one, Al Gore.  Well, it is obviously not he.  I must say that until the moment on the morning of July 6 that I heard that Sen. Kerry’s choice was Sen. John Edwards; he was about my last choice among those being “mentioned.”  But as soon as I heard that indeed it was he, and thinking about the other finalists, Rep. Gephardt, Gov. Vilsack, and Sen. Graham, I have to say that I saw the logic and the advisability in the selection.

Yes, Sen. Edwards was the first candidate for the nomination who was put forth by the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council (who followed him in their “entry” [to borrow a term from the world of standard bred racing] with Sen. Lieberman and Gen. Clark).  (Since he has moved to the left since the time when he was a DLC founder, I didn’t count Rep. Gephardt as one of theirs.)  But just as Sen. Kerry, not one of their choices has (unfortunately) picked up some of their policies and people, so has Sen. Edwards moved somewhat away from them, especially in his attacks on “globalization” (otherwise know as the uncontrolled, unregulated, actually encouraged by right-wing policy, export of capital).

So what does Sen. Edwards bring to the ticket?  Most importantly to my mind, the ability to focus on two large groups of potential voters who ordinarily don’t vote, because they see, often quite correctly, not too many differences between the two parties: the workers and the young.  Yes, he is now wealthy and does not have a wealth of government experience, but he comes from a poor background and in the primary campaign did focus on issues of major concern to working-class people.  Beyond his stand on the issues, his youth (and I do have to say it, good looks) will be a big advantage for our side in appealing to those young people who we will need to get to the polls in large numbers.  He is a fine orator, much better than Kerry (although the latter does not set a very high standard in that regard!)  And finally, his experience as a plaintiff’s attorney against corporations and insurance companies A) will give him resonance among many potential voters who have been hard done by, by one or both, and B) has the potential for bringing in lots of money from his trial lawyers compatriots, still very much in the sights of the Georgites.

On Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11

Although I (and Michael Moore as well, I’m sure) hope that it is not the case, by the time you read this the movie may be running only in “selected” theatres and may be attracting little if any additional attention from its critics, both right and left. Nevertheless, I would like to make a couple of comments on it and the reaction to it that carry important lessons for the Campaign.

First, what the Right was able to achieve what exactly what their goal always is when the record of the Bush Administration is on the table: get the focus off it, at all costs.  They did this, most unfortunately, with the help of a host of nit-picking liberal/left nay-sayers who in their rush to be “balanced” and show just how erudite they were as movie critics forgot their politics and the desperate need this country has to defeat the Georgites in November.  And so, the attention was spun (literally and figuratively) away from what the movie has to tell us about the Bush family, the Georgites, and their combined records, both in and out of the White House, and onto Michael Moore and the movie as a movie.

Moore, who stated that he had documentary proof for every factual claim made in the movie (and likely has a book with that proof in the works, or should have), had his credibility become a central issue, when the real issue, which the movie illustrates so well, is and should be Bush’s credibility.  Moore had his ability as a film-maker questioned, by critics who said that “Roger and Me” or “Bowling for Columbine” were better, or worse, as films, when the real issue was the ongoing propaganda film of the war on Iraq that the Georgites were able to create with the freely offered help of a very compliant (may we say round-heeled) media.

Yes, it was a job well-done by the Republicans and their allies on the Right, like “Move America Forward” (they mean backward, of course, but honesty is not a long suit on the Right) and “Citizens United” (they mean “Rich Citizens,” of course), with a good deal of help from a wide range of liberals.  They followed the Lee Atwater script, “Always Attack; Never Defend.”  It needs to be both used and countered by our side.  It is actually not hard to do; let’s hope that the Campaign learns quickly on this one.

Second, I did not see any comments (although there may well have been one or more) on the allusion contained in the title of the movie.  For readers who might know of it, there was a marvelous book by the great science fiction writer of two generations ago, Ray Bradbury, entitled Fahrenheit 451.  Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns.  The story, the details of which I will not go into here, is about a time in the future when our country is governed by a regime that has banned reading.  Fireproofing of all natural and man-made material has been perfected, but there are ubiquitous fire companies.  Their task is to locate all hidden printed matter and then burn it.  The owners of such matter are then imprisoned.  It is an upside-down world, something like one in which “freedom and democracy” means that political opposition to the Regime equals treason, torture is OK if approved by the “right” people, and the major media willingly become the propaganda arm of the Regime in power.  It is hard for me to believe that Michael Moore did not have the book in mind when he chose the title for his movie.

On the Choice Issue

Finally for this week, I should like to say that for some years now I have felt that two essential elements have been missing from the armamentarium of those of us who fight to protect freedom of choice (with certain limited limits) in the outcome of pregnancy.  First, and most important, I am convinced that over the long term, against a very determined enemy, to effectively defend choice politically, and win with it politically, we must broaden the issue from one of concern only to women of child-bearing age to being the concern of all of us.  And so it is.  What the Republican Religious Right and their allies in the Catholic Church (who, it happens are at odds with them on many other issues of social justice like the death penalty and policy towards the poor) wants to do is, through the use of the criminal law; force each and every person in the US, regardless of sex or age, to adopt a single belief on the religious question of when life begins.

They want to force upon all of us a particular religious dogma on this matter.  However, once having done that, what would there be to prevent them from using the criminal law to govern personal belief on any related matter, such as, for example, is there a God; if so, which or who is it; is homosexuality a matter of biology or choice; and so on and so forth? In my view, it is time to take the choice issue beyond its feminist roots (very important at the beginning of the struggle, to be sure) so that every voter can come to understand that it is a much larger issue that affects every one of us, as indeed it does.

Second, also going beyond the position of certain feminists on this one, I think that it is essential for its protection that the pro-choice forces make primary the policy that what we want is for abortion to be treated as a public health issue, with the objective of making it not only legal, but also safe and rare.  Planned Parenthood does offer this argument from time-to-time, but in a rather muted way.  Although I may have missed something, I don’t recall ever hearing it from NARAL. The point is that the number of abortions that have occurred per year since the adoption of Roe v. Wade has remained just about the same as it was before that time.

Since they have no program to deal with abortion as the health concern that it is, the anti-choicers are not in fact against abortion; they are just against legal abortion.  They are not against abortion; they just want to use the criminal law to punish doctors who provide them and women who have them.  Of course, the problem for the anti-choicers is that they are also dead set against using those methods which in those European countries which use them have proven to be so effective not only in reducing the abortion rate, but also in advancing the age at which teen-agers start experimenting with sex: early, comprehensive sex education in the schools and the widespread, low-cost availability of contraceptives on demand.

To adopt this approach to the issue would be a major change in strategy for the pro-choice forces.  Who better to undertake it than a Roman Catholic pro-choicer, who could then run on the slogan: “Abortion: Keep it safe; keep it legal; and make it rare.”