It wasn't just the Republican candidates who, with one exception, went out of their ways to outdo one another in their condemnation of an organization that is the sole provider of basic gynecological, obstetric and preventative care services to millions of American men and women.
That's 5 million people worldwide, and 2.7 million in the United States.
And, need I add, not only do most of these patients not come for abortions, but no federal funds are used to pay for abortions in any Planned Parenthood clinic — which has not stopped Republicans from threatening to close down the government unless the House cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood.
Shutting down the whole government like this, something the Republicans have done before (and paid the political price for) makes even less sense here than it did when Republicans were playing games with Obamacare, closing the government down even though there was no chance that doing so would undo the Affordable Care Act. In this case, there isn't even a plan to bring up similar legislation in the Senate, where there seem to be a few more grown-ups (although unfortunately, none of them are running for president). So the plan is, "Let's close down the Government, which will hurt all kinds of people having nothing to do with abortion, so we can protest an organization that helps millions of American women." Genius.
Did I mention that 1 in 5 American women has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic sometime in her life? Now, if you eliminate about 20 percent of women voters before you start — and 84 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are over the age of 20 — it means you need to get 6 out of 8 of the women who haven't visited a Planned Parenthood clinic to win a majority. No, but wait: many women don't go alone. They have mothers and sisters and husbands and boyfriends — male voters who might also react negatively to attacks on the one organization that provides desperately needed health care to many of our loved ones. Write them off, too.
These candidates are the crowd that would tell a pregnant rape victim or a pregnant incest victim or a woman carrying a baby who cannot survive to carry that pregnancy to term and have that baby anyway. This is the crowd that wants the government to tell a pregnant woman that her unborn child's life counts for more than her own. Imagine the government deciding that. And they call themselves conservative.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I joined two boards: Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles and the California Abortion Rights Action League. The latter (CARAL) was full of hard-core political activists, campaign veterans and community organizers. I was among the well-dressed, establishment types. Planned Parenthood was another story. I was one of the least well dressed, and the least conventional, people at those meetings — that is, I was a Democrat. Planned Parenthood had some of the richest, most powerful, most socially connected Republicans in town on its board, and that is how it was around the country. Planned Parenthood was composed of men and women who cared about women and children. Why would anyone put such a group on its list of enemies?
Oh, we Democrats have our problems, with a socialist, who won't be elected president, inching embarrassingly close in the polls to the heiress apparent, Hillary Clinton; and Uncle Joe Biden and his cadre of very talented aides getting tantalizingly close to a contest that is unlikely to end well for him. But when it comes to actual issues, to policy rather than labels or style, Democrats are a case study in unity and compassion compared to the folks on the stage at the Reagan Library. They were all doing their best to imitate the Gipper, but none came close.
And if the Republicans on stage were hard to imagine in Reagan's shoes, some of their supporters would make the late president aghast. Need I mention, only briefly, Ann Coulter? For some reasons, Republicans (and news networks) continue to treat her as if her words were worth our consideration. This is what she tweeted Wednesday night: "How many (expletive) Jews do these people think there are in the United States?"
How many people can you offend in a single evening? A lot, maybe even enough to lose an election.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
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