Thursday, February 23, 2012

Political Experience: Too Much of a Good Thing?

What makes a good president?

Leadership. Confidence. Eloquent communication. Organizational skill. Clear Vision.  Ability to compromise. Commitment to Integrity. Political experience...

Hold the phone there...

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, experience may actually be a liability to a presidential candidate. A recent New York Times article exposes how this is exemplified in Rick Santorum's campaign for the Republican nomination. Michael Shear reports that while Santorum has attempted to run on the basis of his 16-year Congressional career, his congressional track-record is now being used to portray him as an inconsistent “a creature of insider politics” who does not really uphold conservative values.

Shear neatly points out that this sort of mudslinging is very common when congresspersons run for office. While it would seem logical that legislators would want to run on their congressional record, proving their experience and know-how, it also opens them up to an intense amount of criticism. As Shear notes:

For every vote that becomes an effective campaign talking point, there is another that threatens to lead a candidate into explanations requiring awkward, process-laden Senate-speak. And those votes often cast a spotlight on the messy compromises and partisan accommodations that are a regular but despised part of the legislative process in Washington.

One sees, then, that there is a catch-22 to running for presidential office. One needs experience, of course, to run for such an essential position. However, the more experience one has in the spotlight of our nation's Congress, the more likely one is to have exposed oneself to liability. That liability could be a compromise on health care, supporting an issue which earned political enemies, or voting for a bill that contained a substance-less earmark (remember that Bridge to Nowhere?), but, regardless, it could cost just enough votes to lose the election.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What's 'Freedom of Conscience' Got To Do With It?

There is heated controversy surrounding the Obama mandate for employers to provide no-copay birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Unsurprisingly, the mandate has caused an uproar among religious conservatives, who insist that forcing all employers, especially those of religious organizations, to provide contraception is a violation of “freedom of conscience.” Despite a compromise to address the issue, wherein the burden of conscience would shift to insurance companies rather than employers, conservatives remain firm in their opposition.  They've even gone so far as to organize a House forum entitled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” (I couldn't make this up, if I tried).  

Sadly, resistance to contraception access is part of a long historical trend.  While this remains constant, I am continually fascinated by the changes in argumentation for and against reproductive justice in this country.  Mostly, I have studied these rhetorical shifts in terms of abortion (if you would like a copy of my widely-read BA thesis, address inquiries at the bottom), but there is distinct overlap with the discourse around birth control, as well.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can Social Media be a Vehicle for Social Change?

By now, many of you are familiar with the uproar surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  While many terrible things were discovered this week, there were also a few positive take-aways.  Among them, is the proof that, under the right circumstances, social media can be effectively utilized for social change.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, I’ll summarize: On January 31, the Komen Foundation decided to exclude Planned Parenthood from its list of grantee recipients, stating that it does not   award money to any organization under federal investigation (for an excellent refutation of this premise, see here).  However, as quickly acknowledged by the public, the ostensible reason served as a thin veil for the pro-life pandering of the Foundation’s leadership.

The public reaction was swift and clear:  there would be no support for a foundation which claims to support women’s health, yet hypocritically refused to assist an organization that provides routine checkups, cancer screenings, counseling, birth control, and STD testing for uninsured women.  News about the decision quickly flooded Facebook status updates, twitter feeds, and emails.  Thanks to Planned Parenthood and social media savvy, internet petitions against the Komen Foundation soon circulated.  Former advocates pledged to remove their support, or transfer it directly to Planned Parenthood.  Several high-level employees of the Komen Foundation resigned.  

The American public also spoke with its pocketbook.  Last year, Planned Parenthood was the recipient of over $680,000 from the Komen Foundation, which was earmarked for breast cancer screenings and treatment.  This amount of money was quickly surpassed by an outraged populace.  Within days, $3 milion was generated for Planned Parenthood, including a $250,000 matching grant from Mayor Bloomberg and a $100,000 donation from LIVESTRONG.

On February 3, the Komen Foundation bowed to the massive pressure and re-instated funding to Planned Parenthood.  In all, this was a huge victory women’s health proponents (although complicated by the fact that, as a country, we depend on private donors, in the first place, to ensure basic human rights).  However, beyond this, what I find fascinating is the instrumental role that social media played in affecting this outcome-- which leads me to the title of this post:

Can the internet, specifically social media sites, be a vehicle for social change?