This issue of the Register is dated Feb. 3, Super Bowl Sunday, two days before Super Tuesday. That the nation’s biggest political event of the primary season and biggest sporting event share the same naming convention isn’t entirely coincidental. “Super Bowl” and “Super Tuesday” are typically American in that each event uses a superlative — the definitive superlative — to hype their competitive nature.
Unfortunately, the similarities don’t end there. In each event, fans will develop a liking to one contestant or another based on feelings and emotions that are hard to pin down. They will root for the contestant they feel the most affinity for. Their passions will rise out of proportion to the actual differences between the contestants.
What is a harmless or even healthy exercise in the realm of professional sports is dangerous in politics when life-and-death questions are on the line.
Human beings are hard-wired to hear and create stories — dramatic tellings of linear events leading to a satisfying conclusion. And so we are busy turning the super events of early February into super stories.
The stories even look similar.
In football, it’s the young, astonishing and inspiring talent of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady vs. the underestimated Eli Manning of the Giants, the New York transplant who has been accused of simply riding on the coattails of his older, more successful family members (his quarterbacking father and brother). In politics, it’s the undefeated Barack Obama vs. N.Y. transplant Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill (we’ll look at the Democratic race here, since the GOP race is dealt with elsewhere in this issue).
We give these contests a plotline and then root for the conclusion we want. Some root for the Patriots to win, because they want the Hero Story, the tale of the indestructible youth withstanding everything the world can throw at him. Others answer that a Giants win would be the true Cinderella Story of the season: scrappy hard work defying the odds and gaining the crown.
Political consultants similarly try to give our candidates a plotline we can pull for.
Obama is painted as the brilliant newcomer with the fresh face and the inspiring message of change. Obama backers want him to be the JFK Story — the good looking, smart and eloquent voice of his generation’s hopes and dreams, breaking barriers, in Obama’s case, of race.
Clinton is sold as the hard-working voice of experience. Clinton backers want the Eleanor Roosevelt Story — the smart, caring, world-wise woman whose legacy matches or eclipses her famous husband’s, showing that women are every bit as capable as men, if not more.
It’s fun to watch the stories play themselves out — in sports. But when politicians try to make their own stories fit a plotline, they tend to obscure the important issues at stake.
Let’s take Obama first. He understands that a great deal is at stake in the abortion issue. He tells the story of an encounter he had with a pro-lifer:
“I told him I understood his position but had to disagree with it. I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually; that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved when making that decision; that I feared a ban on abortion would force women to seek unsafe abortions, as they had once done in this country. I suggested that perhaps we could agree on ways to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place.”
To fit into the JFK storyline, Obama can’t be as uncouth as to simply favor protecting the bloody business that fills the coffers of his corporate donors. So he speaks about abortion in a way that will fit his story. He sounds almost magnanimous.
But a few simple facts burst the bubble of good feeling. Why don’t most women make this decision casually? Because women have a natural aversion toward killing their own children.
Why do they do so anyway? In large part, because big-money corporate interests and the men who impregnated them pressure them to. Obama says he wants to give women fewer reasons to have abortions — safe or unsafe. But he has said elsewhere that he is for abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. To outlaw late abortions is to introduce a principle that will eventually outlaw all abortions, he says. Does that sound like the position of someone who wants to make abortion rare?
Hillary Clinton also speaks about abortion in a way calculated to preserve her Human Rights Heroine storyline. Here’s one quote:
“I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family, and not entrusting that decision to anyone wearing the authority of government in any regard.”
Her words also might sound reasonable at first. But to see how callous and uncaring they are, just replace the word abortion with the phrase “child abuse” every time she uses it.
“I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-child abuse. Being pro-choice is not being pro-child abuse. Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right abuse decision for herself and her family, and not entrusting the abuse decision to anyone wearing the authority of government in any regard.”
That doesn’t even change the sentence’s meaning, since abortion is the ultimate form of child abuse.
The Super Bowl is fun to watch, and it’s easy just to ignore the cheating scandals and other shenanigans in the background and enjoy the story that has been imposed on the facts. But when it comes to the future of the country, we don’t, and can’t, have the luxury of playacting. These candidates’ positions are real, and turn their fairy tales into horror stories. The fact is, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are human-rights abusers, not champions, because they both oppose the fundamental human right, the right to life.
After they have ceded this fundamental ground, they can’t be the New JFK and the New Eleanor Roosevelt. Their true stories are the oldest stories in politics: The stories of the powerful gaining ground by trampling the weak.