Taking the Third Option

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The recent controversy over the Obama’s administration’s requiring that all faith-based institutions such as hospitals must provide contraceptives has led to two completely opposing views. On one hand, the Catholic Church protests having to provide a service out of their own pocket that directly goes against their religious beliefs. On the other, many women’s rights advocates argue that a woman’s reproductive health must be protected no matter what. In short, this is a conversation about personal liberties (a person’s freedom to practice their faith in accordance to that faith) and civil liberties (women’s reproductive rights).

This conversation has been cast as a sort of moral conflict, in terms of the point at which someone fights for their rights instead of fighting for the safeguarding of others’ rights (and vice versa). What position should the Democratic Party take in this two-sided debate? The third option. The good of society, and thus civil rights, is seen by Democrats as the more vital of the two and with very good reason. However, to achieve social progress at the expense of personal freedom is far too high a cost to pay. There must be some way to both move forward on much-needed policy and protect the “other” party’s rights as well. A Catholic’s right to avoid contraceptives is something that such be respected here, not glossed over or ignored. This is something Obama realized after witnessing the outrage of Catholic leaders. He went back and modified the proposal, still requiring that contraceptives be offered at these religious institutions but now at the expense of the insurance companies who cover the worker’s insurance instead of the institution itself.

Many will no doubt say that Obama simply saw Catholics, a hugely important electoral base (since the vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic), as having a negative reaction to his policy and changed it in order to “save face” with his likely supporters come November. That may be true. It is interesting that Obama would take such a risk in an election year, though. He might not have seen this as being that big of an issue. Or maybe he did. Perhaps the President decided that, in the end, putting insurance companies on the spot may have been a smart move politically at a time when many Americans are outraged at corporate power and greed. And the insurance giants have proven to be among the most powerful and wealth lobbying forces of all (as shown during the health care debates). By gaining a victory for women’s rights, and in an odd way at the end social conservatives, while pushing against the insurance companies, Obama has positioned himself well. To be able to dust off an issue like this in an election year is nothing but momentum for a president up for reelection.

Finally, the ultimate shift in the financial burden to insurance companies could end up being a good thing for the insurance industry. By forcing the companies here to focus on preventive care the government is actually saving them money. Fewer unwanted pregnancies for women means fewer unwanted hospital costs for the insurance companies. If Obama were to continue to fight for the health of women and spur further coverage of preventative measure such as cancer screenings his administration could end up effecting how these companies do business. It’s a stretch, sure, but one never knows how things will play out. Obama certainly didn’t think one little requirement would cause an uproar, just as Republicans probably didn’t anticipate Obama taking the criticism with grace and deftly turning the conversation in his favor.

 

Barrett Goodwin Class of ’13

The Importance of Practical Politics

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President Obama’s recent rejection of the proposed Keystone Pipeline is notable for two reasons. The first reason is obvious: it was a big win for environmentalists. The second reason, however, is more subtle. In his statement on the issue the President said that his decision is “not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/18/statement-president-keystone-xl-pipeline) His office then told TransCanada it could reapply for a permit after it redesigned the route of the pipeline so as to avoid the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills. Why is this notable? It’s notable because President Obama did not reject it outright, because he left the plan on the table for further study and consideration.

Do you think Obama strongly supports building a pipeline to carry oil across thousands of miles of the heart of this country? I don’t believe he does. In fact, I believe he is committed to the environment just as much as the groups who loudly made their opposition to the pipeline clear. So why leave this issue open for later, why not just shoot it down completely when there’s a chance? Because Obama knows the Republicans are right. He knows that many jobs will be created not only in the construction of this pipeline but also in the long-term operation of transporting and refining the oil. He knows that it has long been time to move away from dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East. He knows that the process to get the oil out of Canada’s tar sands is dirty but also that it would happen regardless of the pipeline, so why not let some of the oil go to America? In short, Obama left this plan open for consideration because he knows it is good policy.

Many Democrats are very much opposed to any such pipeline being constructed. To them, giving in to short-term economic gain is the same here as selling out. After all, what is a political party if it doesn’t hold on to its principles? Nothing, some would say. But why can’t a party have principles they fight for and hold dear AND be practical? That’s what any government post requires: individuals willing to put the good of their country, the big picture, at the forefront. As President, Obama’s job is to move America ahead, not the environmentalists, not the unions, not big business, but everyone. Principles are unlimited in the mind and can even reign supreme on paper but when it comes down to it there can be no such thing as an absolute. The Republican Party as of late has tried to maintain its principles of small government and responsible finance, good principles to fight for of course. But where has this stance left them? The House is strongly in their hands yet they’ve accomplished nothing. The election of 2012 has the President vulnerable yet the possible GOP candidates shy away from the opportunity to rise to the occasion. No one can accuse the Republican Party of abandoning its principles. But what has this cost them? Only the chance to work for their country and help it realize its full potential.

The Democratic Party doesn’t have to look all that far back to see an example of this overzealous grasp on principles. During Reconstruction it was the Republicans, Radical ones at that, who sought to move America forward. The Democratic Party had an opportunity to repair the war-ravaged South that had long been its base and to rebuild the country that had been their home since birth. But at the time the Democratic Party’s principles were not exactly in agreement with the ending of slavery and intrusion of the Federal government into their states. So they fought Reconstruction at every turn, winning the ideological war in the process. They got their Jim Crow laws and the end of Federal occupation. They also got widespread poverty and underdevelopment, not to mention a deeply divided society that held back millions of African Americans from ever being allowed to contribute to the county they loved as a truly free people. The Democratic Party as of now stands no chance of ever emulating its dark past. However, today’s Democrats have shown an interest in once again putting ideology first, with some liberals even talking of staying home on November 6 instead on heading to the polls. We as Democrats must always remember that, at the end of the day, it is how we act and not just how we think or feel that leads to progress.

By Barrett Goodwin, class of 2013