Circus Maximus MMXVI: Never gonna get it

28 05 2015

I’m so glad Rick Santorum is now officially in the race (which he’ll lose) for president.*

Why glad?

Because, while he has no chance of winning, he, like Mike Huckabee (who won’t win), can make some fun trouble for the candidates who do have a shot.

Carly Fiorina (who won’t win) might bless us with more ads featuring diabolical livestock, but is otherwise uninteresting, as is George (just plain “who?”) Pataki. And Ben Carson, who is a truly terrible candidate, will likely simply be politely ignored by the rest of the field before he retires to the Fox sinecure for which he’s auditioning.

Ted Cruz (who won’t win)? He might be fun to watch just to see how much he pisses off everyone else, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that Huckabee or Santorum will be able to needle him into a highly entertaining aneurysm.

On the Democratic side, I’m glad Bernie Sanders (who won’t win) is running. He, along with Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb (neither of whom will win), won’t give Hillary Clinton much of a workout, but hey, a few laps around the track are better than none at all.

In any case, I make no predictions as to who will ultimately prevail in either the Republican contest or the general election. Clinton’s a strong candidate, but that’s no guarantee of nothin’: whoever the GOPpers pick will likely also be a strong candidate.

Which means that, a year from now, my sang froid will be gone and I’ll be reminding myself to Take deep breaths.

*Yes, it’s officially the race (which he’ll lose) to be the Republican nominee, but we all know the point of winning the primary (which he won’t) is to run for president.





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: The sky is falling!

26 02 2012

Kids going to colleges! Episcopalians not being Southern Baptists! States separating from churches!

It’s hard out there for Santorum.

And women, oy, women, fooled by feminists and secularists into wanting jobs and guns and contraceptions and everything! Amirite, Republican ladies?

Now, to be fair, he wouldn’t actually mandate that women remain barefoot and pregnant, but there’s no reason for the government to make it easy to women to purchase footware, is there?

No good can come from that.





Testing, one, two

20 02 2012

Rick Santorum got one (kinda) right.

The bottom line is that a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.

That is exactly why a lot of prenatal tests are done—to identify any possible problems—and, yes, if the problems are sufficiently grave, an abortion may follow.

I’d argue about the word “encourage”—doctors are unlikely to be so explicitly directive in their discussion of test results—but I wouldn’t doubt that a fair amount of pressure is brought to bear on the woman (and her partner) to decide quickly, not least because abortions become more complicated the later in the pregnancy they’re performed.

And in fact, prenatal testing, particularly amniocentesis — I’m not talking about general prenatal care—we’re talking about specifically prenatal testing, and specifically amniocentesis, which is a procedure that actually creates a risk of having a miscarriage when you have it, and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies in the womb. And which in many cases — in fact, most cases physicians recommend — particularly if there’s a problem — recommend abortion.

Again, this is less clear. “Non-directive counseling” is the watchword in genetics counseling, and while OB/GYN’s have not necessarily undergone such training, the mantra of let-the-patient-decide has pretty well seeped into the ethos of American medicine.

“Doctor’s orders” ain’t what they used to be: since the 1970s, patient autonomy has been elevated to one of the main principles of biomedical ethics, a principle reinforced by the legal system. Doctors may and do recommend a particular course of action, but having been imbued with the notion of respecting the ability of the patient to make her own decisions and mindful of the possibility of tort action if their recommended solution goes south, they are far more likely to dump information into the patient’s lap and say “your decision”.

Okay, that’s a bit severe, but it is the case that patients expect more information and that courts will hold a doctor liable if she withholds such information from them; failure to perform standard medical tests and inform the patient of the results can itself result in lawsuits.

This is the real dynamic behind the pressure—and oh, yes, there is pressure*—for pregnant women to undergo prenatal testing.  Blood tests and ultrasounds are routine in all pregnancies in the US, and amniocentesis is strongly recommended for high-risk pregnancies, a procedure which Santorum, correctly, notes puts the fetus at risk for miscarriage. To decline such tests is to open oneself to repeated (incredulous and/or hostile) questioning of that decision.

But here is where Santorum begins to go off track:

One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

First, those who perform the test, those on whom the tests are performed, those who pay for the test,  and those who regulate insurance are not all the same person. The doctor orders the test because it is standard medical practice and because she agrees that this standard medical practice is, in fact good, insofar as it gives both her and her patient more information. The patient generally (although not always) wants this information, so she, too assents to the screenings.

Those who pay for the test do so as a result of pressure from doctors to pay for good medical care and because, yes, testing can lead to lower costs to the insurer down the road. These lower costs may result from treatments prior to birth to forestall greater problems after birth and, yes, from women deciding to terminate pregnancies which are at high risk of resulting in the birth of a child with a disability. Over 90 percent of fetuses which test positive for Trisomy 21, the chromosomal abnormality responsible for Down Syndrome, are terminated.

There was, in fact, a case in which an insurer told a couple that if they did not terminate an affected pregnancy, any medical expenses associated with the birth and the child would not be covered. The couple sued, and won. Given that many couples will chose voluntarily to end such pregnancies, however, such coercion is generally unnecessary.

Finally, there are the insurance regulators, who have to balance concerns of patients, doctors,  and insurance companies; given that there is little conflict between these different groups (although there may be with some individual patients and doctors) about the desirability of the tests themselves, encouraging or even mandating partial or full coverage of such tests is non-controversial.

This basic dynamic was set into play long before Barack Obama became president, and it is highly unlikely that the (equally highly unlikely) presidency of Rick Santorum would alter this in any way.

Oh, he might try to force insurers to drop coverage of prenatal care, but both Congress and the courts would be hostile (for a variety of reasons) to any such executive orders. The testing regime, for better and for worse, has become entrenched in American medicine.

Let us now consider the most offensive aspect of Santorum’s screed against screening: he doesn’t consider the role of the women (or couples) themselves. Once again, they are pure victims of a dark techno-liberal conspiracy, unable to make any decisions for themselves and unworthy of consideration as actors in their own lives. They must be protected from Obama, liberals, doctors, and, of course, themselves.

That is Santorum’s own not-so-hidden message to the rest of us: he doesn’t consider us able to make the most basic decisions about our own lives.

I hate the term “sheeple”, but it certainly seems as if that’s how Santorum, the would-be shepherd, views the American people.

~~~~~

*Questions regarding prenatal screening have long preoccupied those who work in bioethics; a good introduction to some of this work is Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights by Erik Parens and Adrienne Asch.





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: misc bits

15 01 2012

So unfair. So irresistible.

Greg Marmalard

Mitt Romney

I  should be better than this: comparing a presidential nominee to a fictional character from Animal House.

I really should. But like I said: irresistible.

~~~

On a more serious note, some conservatives in the Republican party are wondering if Mitt is really one of them, or whether he’d govern as a moderate if elected president.

To which I respond: not really, and probably not.

Not really: He’s an establishment guy, through and through, who smiles when he’s irritated and whose voice falls to a faux-whisper when denouncing the perfidy of the president. In the past, presenting as an even-keeled establishment type would have been more than enough to, well, establish oneself as a presentable conservative Republican, but today, among the excitables,  if you’re not constantly outraged, you’re suspect.

So he is, justly, suspect.

As to how he’d govern if elected, there’s a good chance, as others have pointed out, that he’ll try to do what he says he’ll do.

Yes, he governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican—just as he said he’d do. Now he espouses conservative social policies, has surrounded himself with conservative advisers, and says he’ll govern as a conservative Republican.

Take him at his word. Really.

So to all of the excitables hyperventilating about the true shape of Romney’s malleable heart, settle down: he may not really be one of you, but he’ll govern as if he were—and isn’t that enough?

~~~

The former senator of Pennsylvania is shocked, shocked! that someone is lying in campaign politics:

The new ad by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future hits [Rick] Santorum on supporting earmarks, backing the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” raising the debt ceiling five times and voting to “let convicted felons vote.” The ad will be broadcast in South Carolina and Florida. . . .

“That is an absolute lie,” Santorum said of the ad’s claim. “I voted for a provision that that said if a felon serves his term, serves his parole and probation, and then after that period time he can be restored his voting rights, which is exactly the law that’s here in South Carolina. But we had a federal law at the federal level. … Gov. Romney should be saying to his PAC say take that ad down, it’s false. It gives the impression that I want people to be voting from jail.” [emph added]

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

(Credits: still photo from Animal House footage; WBUR.org)





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: Santorum’s choices

8 01 2012

In 1996, Rick Santorum’s wife Karen had a difficult pregnancy.

The health of the fetus severely compromised, she decided to undergo surgery to correct the problems; this surgery led to a life-threatening infection, which in turn led to a course of antibiotics which had the (known) effect of starting labor. Doctors then gave her a drug to bring the labor along, resulting in the early delivery of a 20-week old fetus the Santorums named Gabriel.

Prior to the surgery, Karen Santorum was adamant that she wanted doctors to do everything possible to try to save the pregnancy; even after she agreed to take the antibiotics, she and her husband hoped that the fetus could be saved, to the point that Santorum initially refused the Pitocin which sped up labor. However, Santorum admitted that had labor not resulted, she would—reluctantly—have agreed to an abortion to save her life.

The fetus, named Gabriel, lived for two hours. After his death, the Santorums took him home to their then-three (they now have seven) children so that they could  “absorb and understand that they had a brother.”

Karen Santorum later wrote on book on the experience, Letters to Gabriel, and the experience apparently reinforced her husband’s views against abortion.

Three points:

1. It is good that Karen Santorum had the choice to decide how to deal with a difficult pregnancy, including the choice to risk her own life.

The person who has to live with the consequences of any decision ought to be the one to make that decision.

2. It is a dicey matter to criticize how people mourn. Eugene Robinson and Alan Colmes have come in for a great deal of criticism for mocking the Santorums for bringing the dead fetus home. While both Robinson and Colmes seem more weirded out by rather than contemptuous of the Santorums, they both imply that Santorum’s action reflects poorly on his ability to lead.

I have nothing good to say about Santorum, not one damned thing, but I also strongly believe in judging public officials by their public actions. Even shitty politicians get to have a personal life, whatever the shape of that personal life may be.

And as an aside, I don’t know how weird it is to bring a loved one’s corpse home. In most cases, of course, this isn’t an option, but into the 20th century in the US many of us dealt with our own dead. Perhaps there were those in the community who were called upon to help wash and prepare the body, but death in the home was not uncommon.

And in some sense both the right-to-die and the hospice movements (which are usually in political opposition) have reacted against the depersonalization of death in their efforts to allow people a decent death at home. I am among those who would prefer to bring death home, to see death as the end of life, not separate from it. Whatever my view of the status of the fetus, I don’t know that the urge of the Santorums to bring what they considered their son’s body home is really all that strange.

It seems quite human.

3. Anything goes, winning is the only thing, whatever you can get away with—I don’t take back a word of it. While I might think it politically dicey to bring up Santorum’s actions in this matter, I don’t think it’s out of bounds, mainly because I don’t think anything is out of bounds. My own personal beliefs on the respect for privacy have nothing to do with observations on political tactics, and in political campaigns, anything that can be used, will be used.

This is even more the case when you refer to your personal life in order to score political points. If, like Santorum, you use you and your wife’s ordeal to buttress your political attacks on abortion, then you transform that ordeal into political fodder, fodder which may now legitimately raked over and flung back at you.

There’s a big foggy territory between the personal and public for politicians. Yes, their minor children (and grandchildren) are used in photo ops and they may make occasional jokey references to something that their kids said or heard, but such uses are stylistic tropes, and are generally ignored, as are generic references to family in order to humanize oneself. When the politician goes deep into, say, a family tragedy, whether we see the person as been courageous and honest or cynical and conniving, and how the story can be used politically, likely depends on our views of the politician in the first place.

This is where the the “can be used/will be used” meets the “whatever works”: Will going after your opponent’s personal life help or hurt your campaign? If bringing up his personal life helps you, you do it; if it is likely to spark a backlash and hurt you, you don’t. That’s it.

It is noteworthy that those who criticized the Santorums’ decision are pundits, not anyone connected to any campaigns. The other candidates or their strategists might also think this is (further) evidence for his unfitness, but they will keep their lips zipped because there is nothing to be gained and too much to lose. That calculus is what regulates their behavior—period.

The point is to win.





Dice are rolling, the knives are out

4 01 2012

This man will not be president:

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

He will not be president because he will not win the Republican nomination, and he will not win the Republican nomination because he has no money, no organization, and an agenda which causes jaws to slacken, genitals to shrink, and the uncontrollable urge to giggle.

And no, I’m not talking about his Google problem.

ThinkProgress has a nice rundown of the top ten terrible tenets of the former senator from Pennsylvania, but I’d like to point out just one: the man is opposed to contraception. For everyone.

One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

I remember my eight grade science teacher (a thoroughly decent man) try to teach sex ed by asking us to submit—anonymously—any questions we may have about sex in writing, which he would then try to answer.

Poor man. He never had a chance. I didn’t know a person’s face could turn that shade of red.

Yes, a class of mostly virgins somehow managed to come up with questions about “things in the sexual realm” which were “counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Santorum may also be a thoroughly decent man—although, given the nasty things he says about people who aren’t just like him, I doubt it—but unlike the stifled sniggers which greeted the science teacher, the ex-senator will be met with full-blown guffaws the moment he decides to engage the country in his version of sex education.

The sweater vest won’t help.

So I’m going to enjoy both Santorum’s moment in the media-sun and the evisceration soon to follow, a disembowelment made all the more sweeter because it will be performed by his fellow Republicans.

Ah, the carnage of campaign politics: couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.





Weird and not wonderful

9 10 2011

Rick Santorum, on the varieties of discriminatory experience:

“It’s not the same thing,” Santorum said. “You are black by the color of your skin. You are not homosexual, necessarily, by the color of your skin.”

(I know, he’s usually not worth covering, but this was too good to pass up.)