Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biden Takes the High Road

Joe Biden was exactly right to raise the issue of stem-cell research in response to Republican attempts to portray Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old mother of a Down's Syndrome child, Christian pro-life advocate and opponent of sex education in schools and stem-cell research, as someone who will look out for the interests of working mothers and women in general. Policy, policy, policy: who will deliver a larger share of the wealth to working women, through progressive taxation, safeguarding Social Security and extending health coverage to uninsured people (most of whom are women and children)? The Democrats, and the Republicans actually propose moving in the opposite direction on all of these things. Who would keep abortion, terrible thing as it may be, safe and legal and out of back alleys? The Democrats, Republicans the reverse. Both George H. W. Bush and W. were likely believers in the science of stem-cell research, but both vetoed it because they had to throw sops to the Christian Right for political reasons. Now the GOP VP nominee is part of the Christian Right herself. The good news is that if the campaign is decided on the issues, the Democrats win. The bad news is that, with the exceptions of the Iraq war and oil (not even energy) policy, the campaign has yet to be about the issues after all these months. So, as I said, Biden is exactly right to hammer the Republicans on stem-cell research, and he should not be scared off by phony McCain campaign posturing.
This is important because McCain appears for the moment to have achieved his twofer from the Palin nomination: he has solidified his right-wing base and has also caused some movement of independent and undecided women voters to the Republican column. When the election is as close as this one appears to be even a point or two of movement can swing the election. I didn't think that McCain would gain many women voters with the Palin choice, but I turn out to be wrong about that. I thought that since women voters in general tend to be slightly less conservative and slightly more liberal than male voters, Palin's extremism would turn them off. I think that part of my reasoning was right: if we are talking about undecided voters at this point after the conventions and VP picks, we are talking about voters who may have as strong opinions on issues as anybody else, but who are more likely to be unclear on what the actual policy positions of the candidates are. If they are presented with kabuki theater posturing about who is the more noble Roman, as the Republicans favor, they will vote accordingly. If they are educated about the positions of the parties, as Joe Biden started working on with his remarks on stem-cell policy, we may get a very different outcome. Press the attack, keep talking about real policies. Education, environment, health care.

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