Saturday, August 30, 2008

Can the abortion middle-grounders be flipped?

Much as people like to think that “Disaffected Hillary voters” are a "McCain concocted myth," anecdotes abound to the contrary. I've spoken with two women recently - one formerly on the fence, one a committed Dem/Hillary voter, both of whom now have tentative plans to vote for McCain (although the latter swore me to secrecy). Because McCain's been "the maverick" foreover and Hillary is more of a centrist than many Democrats, there can be a substantial overlap among undecided non-ideologically driven voters. I think that people are overestimating the degree to these voters will reject Palin for her pro-life views. This in particular seems overblown.

Sarah Palin is not a supporter of women’s civil rights. She’s rabidly anti women’s right to self-determination, which means she’s the conservatives’ darling. But she’s got bigger problems than relegating females to second class citizens. McCain’s against equal pay, so it’s not like he’s picking Palin out of respect. This is desperation time for the Republicans.

Right or wrong, many people's attitudes toward a position are going to be shaped by who is conveying the message. There are lots of people who use otherwise reasonable ideas as cover to promote more nefarious goals. Whether or not an idea is "cover" for something worse is going to be examined, like it or not. Much as those at the edges may not be able to believe it, I think there are lots of American women who are ambivalent or undecided on the abortion question.

Polling data shows that American women are, on whole, deeply uncomfortable about the idea of abortion (ie: they would never personally do it). I would bet that many are, however, worried about whether men use anti-abortion rhetoric as a means to control women. The day-to-day chance that men (husbands, bosses, doctors) are going to try to control their bodies in various ways (get up, go to bed, don't eat that) is a lot higher than the chance they're going to need or want an abortion. Especially when you're pregnant, it seems like the whole world wants to micromanage everything you do. For crying out loud, strangers touch you like they own you. It's also very difficult to be pregnant and find out how little doctors actually know, how little choice you actually have (try telling a doctor to save your 22 week miscarriage and watch how hospital policy trumps respect for the patients' body and choice). The NYTimes reported this week about women being upset at their doctors treating them as constantly "prepregnant." And yet, all those people that are so concerned with what's going inside you disappear instantly when there's actual parenting to do.

I think there is a wide middle ground on the issue of abortion pragmatists who think: abortion is horrible, but so is pregnancy itself. For those women, let them pick the side that prevents still more people from interfering in our day-to-day lives. I think the control issue may be more of an emotional hot-button than the abortion itself. That's not because the decision to abort isn't emotional, but the stakes of that decision are more evenly balanced and more removed from most women's daily lives.

I don't see Palin setting off the "here's someone else to micromanage my life" alarm. This isn't a showily pious evangelist preaching pro-life out of "respect for women" while occasionally battering his wife. Nor is she the stereotypical Kool-Aid drinking wife-and-mother spouting traditional orthodoxy without recognition of the burdens imposed by the position. Palin may be a hardliner on the issue, but I don't see women thinking that the desire to control and subjugate women is the actual driving force behind the decision. She's someone whose lived her life the way she's seen fit, made a decision, and lived by it, taking the bad along with the good.

Because seriously, come on. Does this look like someone whose coming for your uterus?
This isn't someone who is pro-fetus because she's anti-you. This isn't someone who looks like she would take the suffering involved in pregnancy lightly and just expect you to deal with it just because that's what women are supposed to do. I mean really, she announces her candidacy and then goes right backstage to feed and change the baby.

The Blackberries, diapers, and wipes on the table wholly encapsulate the plight of today's working women. (I love that she uses the same store-brand babywipes that I do.) And since quite a few of those women were Hillary voters, they may very well be looking for someone else who understands them and their interests. I don't see the pro-life position as a dealbreaker for them.

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