I guess it must be because I was born in another country that American politics makes no sense to me at all. What I mean is that there seems to be no reason or logic behind some of the political debates that I have witnessed in this country during the last six presidential terms since I first arrived here as a student at U.C. Berkeley.
Take the label “pro-life,” for example. If one were to interpret the term literally, one would assume that people who are pro-life respect human life. A scrutiny of the newspapers indicates otherwise, however. For, the very people who want to save the life of an unborn child are also the ones who vehemently favor killing people. I am talking of course, of the right wing’s incessant obsession with the death penalty. This obsession was clearly evident in the recent Senate confirmation hearings for John Ashcroft’s nomination to the office of the Attorney General; when days of questioning focused on whether or not his political opponents had killed enough people on death row, and whether, as a result, he had refused them certain political appointments.
What I can’t figure out is why the right wing favors murdering grown human beings, while insisting on saving unborn children. The irony really hits home when you realize that the conservatives might save the life of an unborn child, who is perhaps black, and who, perhaps because of a teenage mother, absent father, and an early exposure to inner-city life plagued with crime and drugs, one day will become the very death-row convict whose blood the right wing will then thirst after.
So, if one were to continue to use logic—and I wonder if logic can be used at all in the study of right wing politics—one reaches the inevitable conclusion that the conservatives are pro-life not because of their overwhelming concern for human lives, but because of their compulsion to control them, particularly if they happen to be black and poor.
If one were to take an Orwellian view of the world, one would believe that the right wing wants poor black teenagers to give birth to children who are condemned to a life of poverty and disadvantage, so that the right wing can blame them for all of the society’s evils, and to keep them in the underclass where they belong. In fact, many of the Republican “anti-crime” measures result in keeping much of that underclass in prison.
If such were not the case, instead of focusing on cures such as the death-penalty, the right wing would concentrate on removing the root causes of inner city poverty, teenage pregnancy, and crime, by providing healthcare, education, and opportunity to those in need.
And if the conservatives truly wished to prevent abortion, they would promote family planning. But, curiously, many conservatives like John Ashcroft are just as opposed to contraceptives as they are to abortion.
America is in fact the only Western nation, perhaps the only member of NATO, which does not provide state-subsidized family planning and childcare to its citizens. And it is not coincidental that it is also the only Western nation with a large minority population and a racially polarized society.
If George W. Bush were truly interested in creating a “compassionately conservative” society, New Zealand, where I lived for a number of years, would provide a good role model. For, it is a country which provides free family planning clinics at every street corner, a system of public education that produces high school graduates with better Math and English skills than many college graduates here, and a system of progressive taxation that results in less disparity between the rich and the poor. New Zealand’s compassion as well as conservatism is evident in the way it values community, family, and children. It is not surprising that New Zealand and many European nations, which have similar social structures, boast of minimal abortion and teenage pregnancy rates compared to those in the United.
If one were to listen to the right wing rhetoric carefully, however, one would get the impression that women get some kind of masochistic thrill out of killing their unborn babies and subjecting their bodies to the brutal assault that abortion often constitutes.
But the truth is that abortion is often the result of the burdens this society puts on women for sexual responsibility.
The European experience clearly suggests that a lack of socialized family planning is the cause of high abortion rates in the U.S.
It is also clear that abortion is the result of society’s failure to inform youth about sexuality and reproduction. Evidence indicates that education is the answer to the teen pregnancy problem; that young men and women will not indulge in promiscuous behavior if their lives are enriched with rewards for academic and professional achievement.
But perhaps the right wing is afraid of losing its moral superiority over the underclass. Perhaps it is afraid that if the underclass is no longer in prison or on death row, it will have nothing to thump the Bible over. Perhaps it is not human life that the right wing is obsessed about but its ability to decide who lives and who dies.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.