Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Hillary's Choice
I don't really want to write anything favorable about Hillary Clinton. I'm not a fan, and I haven't been for a long time. Last month I even added four reasons to oppose her theoretical run for the White House in a Daily Kos post I titled (somewhat grandiosely) The Policy Case Against Hillary:

1. McCain-Feingold. She opposed the reforms; soft money and its corrosive effects were fine with her, because it had helped her and other Democrats, notably her husband.

2. The war. Few questions asked, little skepticism voiced.

3. The bankruptcy bill, as noted above. I don't know how much Wall Street money came her way in 2000, but given the politics of my state and the family history here, I suspect it was pretty considerable. Meanwhile, thousands of New Yorkers are directly punished by this. Unconscionable.

4. Welfare reform/TANF reauthorization. Back when we actually had leverage in the Senate, Hillary went out of her way to announce support for higher mandatory participation rates and more work hours for aid recipients--basically the same formula Rudy Giuliani used here in NYC to created an indentured public workforce with virtually no long-term benefit for participants. In return, Hillary just wanted more childcare money. Never mind that "make-work" welfare badly constrains states' abilities to help low-income workers who are already "working hard and playing by the rules"; that it amounts (and will amount, when this is passed in two months) to huge unfunded mandates on states and localities, and that it constrains local officials from referring participants to programs of education and training that might actually help them toward economic self-sufficiency.

But when she's right, she's right. Even if it means she's trying to ingratiate herself with the right. Yesterday was one of those examples, and Democrats might do well to embrace her framing of the issue:
Mrs. Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats who support abortion rights. She did so not by changing her political stands, but by underscoring her views in preventing unplanned pregnancies, promoting adoption, recognizing the influence of religion in abstinence and championing what she has long called "teenage celibacy."

She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education - including abstinence counseling - family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.

"We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. "The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place."
Democratic senators such as Harry Reid of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California have also pressed for a greater focus on reducing unintended pregnancies, and some Democratic consultants have urged that party leaders mint new language to reach voters who identified moral values as a top issue for them in last November's election.

"Our focus in the speech was to make sure that she still communicated that she was pro-choice - she doesn't want to undermine that - but she also thinks we can have some common ground among all sides and make abortion rare," Neera Tanden, legislative director for Mrs. Clinton, said in a telephone interview.

Sen. Clinton's description of abortion as an at times "a sad, even tragic choice" for women is far more in line with the "uncomfortably pro-choice" position of the majority of voters. Having sounded the right emotional note, she and her co-partisans now need to make the substantive case for why their position of "safe, legal and rare" remains the best option.

Fortunately, Democrats have the ammunition to wage this fight. Opponents of abortion need to know that while the rhetoric from Bill Clinton's White House might not have flattered them to the extent that Bush did while "phoning it in" yesterday (the perfect metaphor for his tepid support of the far-right social agenda, even if I now see that New Donkey jumped on it before I did), the bottom line is that abortions were fewer during Clinton's tenure. The numbers don't lie:

Abortion was decreasing. When President Bush took office, the nation's abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4 percent decline during the 1990s. This was a steady decrease averaging 1.7 percent per year. (The data come from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life using the Guttmacher Institute's studies.)

Enter Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened. We found four states that have posted three-year statistics: Kentucky's increased by 3.2 percent from 2000 to 2003. Michigan's increased by 11.3 percent from 2000 to 2003. Pennsylvania's increased by 1.9 percent from 1999 to 2002. Colorado's rates skyrocketed 111 percent. We found 12 additional states that reported statistics for 2001 and 2002. Eight states saw an increase in abortion rates (14.6 percent average increase), and five saw a decrease (4.3 percent average decrease).

Under Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.

The next two years should feature the Democrats calling "bullshit" on Republican hypocrisy and symbolic politics, steadily making the case that when it comes to the connection between rhetoric and results, there is "no 'there' there." The Senate Dems' newly offered agenda, while not exactly a call to the battlements, is a good start. So is Senator Clinton's stand on the abortion question, regardless of why she took it.

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