View Thread

Atheists Today » Power and Control » U.S. Politics
 Print Thread
Birth control and politics
So I was watching some of last Fridays Rachel Maddow show and found out that Rush Limbuagh had spent time on his show for three days attacking a law school student at Georgetown. So what had raised Limbaugh's ire. The woman, Sandra Fluke, had testified in an informal Senate hearing, the republican committee head had refused to allow her to testify in the formal hearing. Her testimony was that because Georgetown was reluctant to allow the university insurance to cover birth control pills a friend ended up losing an ovary. Apparently the friend needed the hormones in birth control pills for some medical reason unrelated to birth control. The committee was associated with the recently defeated attempt to allow employers to not cover birth control through insurance if the employer chose. Limbaugh's comments were hateful, calling the woman a slut, whore and prostitute.

The so called Blunt amendment was narrowly defeated in the senate. 51 to 48. This and similar measures in republican controlled legislatures nation wide is part of a concerted effort to lessen women's reproductive rights. Defining life as beginning at conception, allowing insurance companies to not fund contraception measures, forcing women who wish to have an abortion to have a sonogram and see the fetus, all are being proposed at the state and sometimes national level.

It is curious to me that republican legislators are so invested in the cause of limiting americans access to family planing up to and including abortion. I tried to get some data on public attitudes but was not successful. I do know from past research that the majority of americans approve of abortion with some limitations. I find it hard to believe any but a very small minority do not approve of normal methods of pregnancy prevention. So why do republicans pursue legislation that a minority of americans would approve of, in the case of limiting contraception a tiny minority.

I know that the republican party and their financial backers have been pushing the party, and by extension the nation, farther to the right for years. The attack on reproductive rights is part of this but it seems such a loser that one wonders at the intent.

But thinking about it I was reminded of a conclusion that I came to years ago. Some groups are single issue voters. It is how often a minority controls legislative outcomes. Some issues are deal breakers for some voters. But there are other voters who would disagree with a politician on that same issue but still vote for them. I see abortion and contraception as one of those issues. The minority against abortion or contraception will not vote for someone who does not indicate they are also against abortion or contraception. But the majority who is not against abortion or contraception will overlook those stands if in general they agree with a politician. It is why fiscal conservative homosexuals support the republican party even though the majority of republicans find homosexuality an abomination.

It appears to me that it is primarily social issues that bring out the single issue voters. When you consider that often elections are won or lost by less than 5% of the vote single issue voters only have to make up less than 10% of the voting public to have a dramatic effect on voting and legislation.
I agree with that. To a large extent, candidates can safely go after the single-issue voters so long as the interests of others are catered to. Not only are these other more flexible, but they may rightly believe that the more fringe the issue at hard, the less likely it can successfully acted on anyway. In other words, candidates can rely on a certain amount of cynical behavior to work in their favor, even if they aren't necessarily being cynical about it themselves.

Of course, that's rational, if somewhat abhorrent to the integrity inclined. The question is, why has appealing to this minority of extremists become so important that they're willing to forgo appealing to the larger majority of prospective independent voters? Why is the standard for "purity" increasingly based not on what the majority of the party values, but on a caricature of that based on the extreme right? In short, if going after that 5% makes sense when it can't hurt, why does it continue after it starts to?

First, you'll note I'm conflating a number of things together. It's not accidental. I'm not just talking about single-issue "abortion" voters or "contraceptive" voters (who are really the "get your damn hands off my religion" voters). I'm also counting other things that today might be best understood as single-issue topics that once upon a time might not have been.

For instance, whatever catalyzed formation of the Tea Party can be seen as having radicalized many previously solidly reliable Republican vote into a demographic willing to allow a Democratic win by voting for a third party or staying home in protest if their demands aren't met. The more often this and similar fragmentation happens, the more energy and time must be devoted to keeping them from staying -- and the less can be spent on genuine independents whose minds aren't made up and who might actually vote Democrat if they feel like that's the best deal going for them.

Because I enjoy toying with unrelated theories and mechanisms to see if they can be applied in new situations, I'd like to propose two mechanisms originating from evolutionary/behavioral sexual selection theory.

The first is "runaway selection," in which males with a given trait mate with females with a predilection for that trait (which is beneficial), resulting ultimately in increasingly large numbers of individuals that are increasingly more fit with increasingly exaggerated forms of that trait and whose females are increasingly more attracted to that trait. This happens to the limit where that trait becomes a liability, like antlers so large they prevent a deer from effectively moving.

The other is "chase away selection," in which certain males possess a certain trait that certain females are attracted to, which leads to an increased population of those individuals who possess that trait and an increase of females that are attracted to it. The difference (between this and runaway selection) is, the trait isn't actually beneficial. This means the offspring of females that select males that don't have the trait will have better fitness, so males with increasingly more exaggerated forms of that trait are required to continue to attract those females. (Yes, this happens.)

The analogy between sex-linked selection between male and female individuals in a population and candidates and voters isn't perfect, but I think there's a fundamental similarity that could allow analogous mechanisms to arise under the right circumstances. You might consider a pair of opposed political parties to be healthy if they're respective populations are in equilibrium with regard to balancing their extremes optimally, where they can win about half of the time. As conditions shift, they find a new equilibrium (and vice versa).

A lot of the particular character of each party might be explained at simply being in opposition to the other party's stance combined with history and human nature. But a lot of it might be seen as runaway selection, where candidates with certain traits who win elections because there are sufficient voters who are attracted to those traits give rise to a larger population of voters who are attracted to those traits and more candidates who possess them (cynically or not). See also, Ronald Reagan.

But with Reagan and Bush came appeals to more single-issue voters, particularly ultra-religious voters. Unlike the runaway selection process, which reaches progresses until that traits starts to become a liability (i.e., when too many independents get scared away), once started these voters lose interest if they aren't specifically pandered to and will fail to mobilized, resulting in a net loss of votes because their previous contribution offset losses from independents driven off by the other process (all else being equal). To retain that vote, the trait that attracted them must not only be expressed, but expressed more strongly. (In the biological situation, this is because the "females" in this analogy become less sensitive to the trait because it's not beneficial to their offspring. In this situation, it's because once courted, they become more demanding and are this less responsive and require even more pandering to get the same effect.) Once this cycle gets started and the population of such voters increases, winning without them becomes increasingly more difficult.

I dunno. Just kicking around some ideas. Thoughts?
Interesting view Cynic. I agree but I would add some history and put it in more political terms thus:

After Barry Goldwater's disastrous run in 1964 the Republican party is reduced to a minority party. Goldwater is an angry guy who hated the New Deal and wanted to dismantle it but couldn't win an election by openly declaring his opposition to Social Security, Medicare etc. Instead the Republican party, led by Goldwater, begins an effort to rid itself of liberals and moderates. He starts up a government think tank purely devoted to finding a way to get voters thinking his way.

They flounder for over a decade, their successes mainly coming from capitalizing on voter disaffection and Nixon's 'Southern Strategy'. Their rise in 1980 comes from voters disillusioned by the stagnant economy under Carter and his ineffectiveness in dealing with the Iranian hostage situation.

Unfortunately though they are still the party of the disaffected. Who exactly then are the groups that define their base? Nixon had already developed a coalition of voters in the South who were opponents of desegregation, thus the strong racism that permeates the Republican party today. The other big component was Jerry Fallwell's moral majority, a group of evangelists who wanted to steer the US to a more Christian policy outlook, thus the anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive stuff. In fact one of the Moral Majority's big planks was the repeal of the equal rights amendment.

The interesting thing about these two significant Republican constituencies is that they were almost exclusively strongly white male demographics. When this coalition is made though the US is is still primarily a Caucasian country, excluding minorities didn't really hurt them.

Now the strategy is to split the minorities. Religious women will still vote Republican, Cubans tend to be attracted to anti-Castro vitriol, many blacks are put off by the Democratic Party's role in slavery and 60's Dixiecrat who supported segregation. Overall they depress voting with negative ads and voter suppression laws.

The Republicans are stuck. They can't embrace populism because their base is composed of people who are anti-populist. They can't appeal directly to minorities because they have done such a job of promoting racist politics.

Back to Cynic's tie in to evolution you have the Republican Party adapting to their minority status by playing to the part of the electorate that is not represented by populism. That adaptation leads to a constituency with particular traits but because they are already a minority the Republican Party has to adopt other strategies to gain power. Eventually the constituency, already a minority of the population becomes a smaller minority as more non-white, non religious people enter the society.

Personally I think that these attempts to get birth control and anti-abortion laws enacted are panicked attempts to play to the base. Republicans were counting on a poor economy to set up an easy win. The economic turnaround has them scrambling.
Edited by seeker on 03/05/2012 11:38
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Cynic and seeker, I do wish to comment on both of your posts but I feel the need to digest them some. I mean evolutionary dynamics used to describe politics, or a history of the republican party from Goldwater to date. I will admit I have some quibbles with that history but I am not sure how to communicate them. Anyway I will comment, just not immediately.
No problem.

The history I provided is simplistic and was geared more to offering a view of that evolutionary outlook that Cynic posited. I glossed over civil rights, Vietnam, and a lot of other things plus I didn't include Objectivism or how it created an ideological synergy with Libertarianism. Moreover I'm sure that my fanatically liberal bias is evident throughout.

My point, which i see wasn't clearly made, was that the 'runaway selection' is similar to the adoption of a disaffected base while 'chase away selection' could be compared to the adoption of particular policies that specifically cater to those bases while potentially alienating the broader population.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Jump to Forum: