An enormous part of McCain’s appeal to moderates is the perception that he’s not a raving wingnut on reproductive rights, that he’s actually a reasonable person. Most of that perception is just the stupid “maverick” thing—people assume that if you break with the party, it’s going to be on an issue like abortion, where the party’s stance is contrary to what the public wants in a really obvious way. But, as Sarah Blustain argues, it’s also because McCain made a few pro-choice noises in 2000, when he was trying to distinguish himself from Bush in the primaries. So which McCain is the pandering one and which one is the real one? The 2000 one, who pretended to be sympathetic to the pro-choice opinion, is the liar.
To many voters, the McCain of 2000 is the true McCain, with his latest statements constituting an understandable, if undignified, pander to the GOP’s right-wing base. They simply cannot believe that the maverick who defied the party’s hard-core social conservatives on embryonic stem cell research and campaign finance reform would toe the conservative line on abortion. But, in truth, it was his 2000 position on abortion that was the outlier–a short-lived attempt to court the center after George W. Bush had locked up the religious right’s support. McCain is not, and never was, a moderate.
The article is a devastating expose, putting to rest any notion that McCain is only “pro-life” for political reasons. I’m not surprised. The guy doesn’t conceal his misogyny well at all, with the calling his wife a “cunt” and offering her up as entertainment in a sex show, and of course his track record of standing against women’s interests in all sorts of areas. He votes with the hard right in Congress on reproductive rights issues that regular “pro-lifers” won’t touch, with the exception of funding stem cell research. That doesn’t surprise me at all—outside of bolstering the phony claim that the anti-choice movement is about fetuses, and not sex, stem cell research doesn’t really have anything to do with limiting women’s rights. Why vote against it when it doesn’t materially affect women’s rights? His positions are consistently anti-woman on this issue.
McCain may or may not truly understand the broader definition of “pro-life,” which these days also includes opposition to traditional and emergency contraception, family-planning, euthanasia, and related federal funding both here and abroad. (Playing the bumbling fool and satisfying no one is certainly an easier escape than trying to satisfy all.) But, as on abortion, both data and anecdote show there is little latitude in his positions. He has voted to end the Title X family-planning program, which pays for everything from birth control to breast cancer screenings and which is a target for the right because the recipients of these dollars also tend to be clinics that offer contraception to unwed and underage women and that offer abortions. He has backed largely discredited abstinence-only education, voting in 1996 to take $75 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant to establish such a program; ten years later, he voted against teen-pregnancyprevention programs. He has supported parental notification laws governing not only abortion but contraception for teens, and, though he didn’t want to talk to the press about it, he’s voted against requiring insurance companies to cover birth control. In international family affairs, McCain has voted not only in favor of the global gag rule, but also to defund the United Nations group that provides family-planning services (not abortions) for poor women, and to spend a third of overseas HIV/AIDS prevention funds on abstinence education.
In other words, he voted to increase the abortion rate by decreasing access to contraception. Saving fetal life is always secondary, for hard right wingers like McCain, to screwing women over.
The article opens with a really interesting story that really gets to the heart of McCain’s attitudes about women’s rights and also, for those of us who cannot believe how well he conceals this in the mainstream media, what a massive asshole McCain is personally.
John McCain was mad. Fuming mad. It was then the early days of his political career, and he had paid an unscheduled visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Mesa, which was within his Arizona congressional district. That’s when Gloria Feldt, then the CEO of the group’s local chapter, got a phone call. “Congressman McCain is here,” a staffer told her, “and he is screaming and it is upsetting the patients.”
Feldt says McCain had always refused her offers to visit a clinic, but had apparently decided to make a spot visit of his own. What had raised his ire was a shelf containing information about Title X federal funding, which some clinics receive to support non-abortion-related reproductive health care for low-income women. McCain was upset that the clinic provided paper for people to write their representatives in support of the legislation, which requires constant advocacy because Congress must reauthorize it every year. “His immediate and incorrect assumption,” says Feldt, “was that we were using federal funds to pay for lobbying.” Feldt got on the phone. “He was screaming, ‘I am going to defund her, I am going to get the federal government to defund you.’… [H]e rants and he raves and finally he hangs up on me.”
The one small glimmer of hope for people who want to believe that McCain is secretly pro-choice is a comment he made in 2000, where he implied that he would support his own daughter should she need an abortion. (She was 15 at the time.) And you know, I don’t doubt that there was truth to that. This story really shows how McCain, and really how the larger anti-choice movement, holds poor women to a much different standard than rich women. Most people think of reproductive rights, but a lot of conservatives, McCain included, think of these things as privileges that should be reserved for the deserving wealthy. McCain runs around trying to slash funding for pretty much all women’s health care, but especially for family planning, but I’m sure that he doesn’t get bent out of shape over women in his family and social class using birth control. Having sex without consequences is a luxury item, and you’d no more fund it than you would start a food stamp program to purchase fine steaks and wine for the poor. The poor have to make do with hamburgers and wine coolers, and having to resort to pull-and-pray.