Monday, April 4, 2016

The Right Revolution

Across America there’s a revolution going on. Too bad it is not the revolution Bernie Sanders is calling for.

Rather, it is a revolution of the Right, rolling back hard won civil liberties. In state after state, funded by the Koch brothers and their allies, conservative Republicans are undoing progressive legislation, denying citizens unencumbered voting, affordable health care, education opportunities and the right to choose their own reproductive options without intrusions and obstacles.

State house after state house, governor’s mansion after governor’s mansion have turned red, the successful implementation of a strategy to take hold of America at the grass roots level.

Hillary Clinton’s or Sanders’ election as president might well ensure a left of center bent on the Supreme Court. But even a flip of the Senate into Democratic hands would not unshackle residents in many states from regressive laws enacted by state legislatures and signed by doctrinaire conservative governors.

In the last two weeks alone examples abound. In Kansas, perhaps the poster-child state for failed conservative dogma, Gov. Sam Brownback is pushing to recall judges who do not hew to the conservative line of permissible death penalty verdicts, anti-abortion laws and tax cuts that reduce spending on education. In North Carolina, the legislature and governor have usurped the right of local municipalities to adopt laws that bar gender discrimination. This brazen act runs counter to long-held conservative thinking that government is best when it is administered at the lowest level possible so that it reflects the beliefs of the most local populace.

Only a threatened veto by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal stands in the way of a law passed by conservatives that would permit faith-based groups to deny “social, educational or charitable services” and employment to individuals who “violate” their religious beliefs. 

The battleground of conservatism versus progressivism is in the trenches of state and local elections for governor, state legislators, state judges, local boards of education, and even to town/county clerks who have the authority to issue marriage licenses (FYI, a measure to permit public employees to deny same-sex marriage licenses is expected to be signed into law in Mississippi).

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed a law that cut state funding to clinics that perform abortions. Planned Parenthood, already denied funding for abortions, may now have to cut back or curtail programs for birth control, cancer screenings and other services for thousands of low-income women in Florida.

States continue to come up with new obstacles women must overcome if they seek an abortion. In Utah, a new law requires a woman undergoing an abortion at 20 weeks or later of pregnancy to be anesthetized to prevent a fetus from feeling pain during an abortion, a condition most medical professionals believe is not safe for the mother and is irrelevant to the fetus because it does not have any neurological sensation at that stage of development.

We have Donald Trump’s revealing faux pas about a woman’s culpability when having an abortion to illuminate the real threat from anti-abortion activists. They seek to criminalize not only the providers but also the recipients of abortions. Their most potent plan is passage of personhood laws that proclaim life begins at conception and anything that harms a fetus would be grounds for prosecution. Personhood status protections would go beyond fetal homicide laws. 

If, for example, a pregnant woman is not wearing a seat belt while riding in a car, she could be charged with endangering the life of the unborn. Similarly, smoking or drinking while pregnant could be prosecutorial offenses. 

Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states have repeatedly passed restrictions on voter rights. They require voters to show state-issued identification cards, they’ve cut back on early voting times and polling places, and are making voter registration more difficult.

The vortex of social and political change clearly can be found in state capitols. Yet Democrats focus their eyes almost exclusively on the big picture—the presidency and the U.S. Senate. Democrats fail to turn out in sufficient numbers for mid-term congressional elections and for too many state and municipal elections. 

They moan when schoolbooks picked by conservatives deny climate change or equate creationism with evolution. They cry foul when states refuse to extend medical coverage under Obamacare to Medicaid recipients. They rail against restrictions imposed on abortion providers and the stripping of funding for Planned Parenthood.

Ironically, it is Big Business that is mounting the most effective challenge to conservative hegemony. Numerous corporations and executives have warned North Carolina, Georgia and other states about the economic fallout repressive laws could generate. 

The threat of losing the chance to host national sporting events, with the millions of dollars in revenue they generate, appears to be more potent than a BankAmerica expressing its displeasure with North Carolina officials. BankAmerica, after all, most probably would not move its headquarters out of the Tar Heel state. But not getting the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament next year could sway politicians to reverse course.

One need only look at Arizona’s example. Republican governor Jan Brewer last year chose not to sign a bill passed by the GOP legislature that would have allowed business owners citing religious beliefs to refuse service to gay people. She made her decision after the NFL threatened to move the 2016 Super Bowl out of Arizona. 

Relying on Big Business, however, is not a long term solution. Democrats must ignite passion that turns into votes for their progressive platforms at local and state levels. Otherwise, the Right will prevail in creating a sub-country of state and local intolerance and inequality regardless of which party controls Congress or who sits in the Oval Office.