‘Social issues’ won’t win in November

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By Rick Howell

Much is being written about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s marching orders to his Republican troops. “Don’t overreach,” he said, after his party had claimed supreme power in the state senate.
    Last week, he got a strong lesson in how powerfully they ignored him. And they got a lesson in just how much he wants to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.
    Word that Republican senators planned to pass an ultrasound bill – requiring a woman to have one before an abortion – had brought out about 1,000 women to the capital Monday for a “silent protest.” What was particularly galling was the realization that the procedure would be, let’s just say, very invasive.
    What had happened should be what you expect when a bunch of conservative men try to write laws on something they know nothing about: pregnancy. Apparently, no one who voted for the bill realized what kind of procedure they were mandating, this, of course, from the party that hates government mandates, right?
    Once McDonnell really understood what the bill was about to require, and saw the tremendous firestorm reaction, even from the national press, he backed down as fast as he could.
    He said he wouldn’t support such an invasive procedure. The bill went back to the senate and was voted down, or at least “held over” until next year. McDonnell must know that if his party – more specifically, a ticket he’d like to be on – has any chance to win it has to stick to economics and stay out of people’s bedrooms and doctor’s offices.
    Governor “Bob’s for Jobs” has at least figured that out. But those in his party supporting Rick Santorum are flirting with disaster.
    Santorum, if he were to ever get in the White House with a majority GOP in the Congress, would do all he could to make Americans feel like we’re living in Iran. Religion – a right-wing evangelical Catholicism, in his case – would surely be his guide.
He’s made it clear for a long time that he’s as obsessed with fetuses and fertilized eggs as any of our fine fundamentalists here in Virginia. This penchant was one reason he lost so badly, by 18 points, in his last race in Pennsylvania. Women and independents, in particular, were ready to get rid of him.
    A party that elevates these concerns above the issue of jobs and a better economy can’t win a national election in 2012. It won’t happen. One survey shows 55 percent of women are either Democrats or independents. The younger generations strongly support women’s rights, including the right of a legal and medically safe abortion.
    Our governor realizes all this, and that’s why he ran as fast as he could from what his party was about to do. Other Republicans just can’t see what it is. They’re making their party smaller and narrower, and the religious obsessions with people’s private lives and choices even makes it look cultish.
    We have wasted enough time “debating” abortion. If you’re against abortion, fine, don’t have one. If you’re a man who is against abortion, fine. Don’t be the cause of one and don’t pay for one.
    Other than that…well, what other people choose is none of your business. Abortion is medically safe and legal, and most Americans think it should stay that way. And if you’re in politics, you ought to be about public service, not on a religious crusade.
President Obama is certainly not guilty of any “war on religious liberty,” or anything like it. And as for Santorum, well, go ahead. Nominate him.
    Make my liberal Democratic day. And it will also make Barack Obama a two-term president.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.