Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not Crazy, Only Uninformed

Markos Moulitsas summarizes the findings of Public Policy Polling, Harris, ABC News, and Vanity Fair-60 Minutes, observing "the modern conservative movement's craziness." (The purpose of the post, however, was to demonstrate that whatever the legal dispute between Daily Kos and R2K, polls across the board are showing similar misconceptions about Barack Obama.) The surveys indicate that, depending upon the question, a majority, or a large minority, of Republicans believes Barack Obama is a Socialist, or a Muslim, wasn't born in the U.S.A., should be impeached, is replicating Hitler, or may be the Antichrist (no, no- really).

The best query was "Do you think Barack Obama was BORN IN the United States, or do you think he was born in another country?" The result:

Hawaii 39%
Kansas 1
Someplace else in the U.S. 3
Not sure which state 20
Kenya 6
Indonesia 2
Someplace else outside the U.S. 5
Not sure which country 11

Obviously, having 24% of the country (that includes Obama voters- for Republicans, the number no doubt was far higher) believing that the President may not have been born in the U.S.A. suggests significant animus. But only 39% of respondents know that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii; that is, fewer than two-thirds of those who realize he was born in this country know in what state he was born.

It would be easier to understand if our President were born in Indiana and many people thought he may have been born in, say, Ohio; or he were born in Kansas and they mistakenly thought his birthplace was Nebraska. Or perhaps confusing Washington (State) and Oregon, or New Jersey and Delaware, two geographically small, similarly-shaped states adjacent to each other. But this is Hawaii.

However, if the ignorance is astounding, it is understandable and not without cause. Listening to right-wing talk radio can do that to people. Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh played this exchange between Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan:

COBURN: If I wanted to sponsor a bill, and it said, "Americans, you have to eat three vegetables and three fruits every day," and I got it through Congress, and it's now the law of the land, does that violate the commerce clause?

KAGAN: It sounds like a dumb law.

COBURN: I got one that's real similar to it I think is equally dumb.

KAGAN: But I think that the question of whether it's a dumb law is different from whether -- the question of whether it's constitutional. And I think that courts would be wrong to strike down laws that they think are senseless just because they're senseless.

COBURN: Do we have the power to tell people what they have to eat every day?

KAGAN: Senator Coburn --

COBURN: What is the extent of the commerce clause? We have this wide embrace of the commerce clause which these guys who wrote this never, ever fathomed that we would be so stupid to take our liberties away by expanding the commerce clause this way.

Rush then commented

She would not deny that the federal government has the power through the commerce clause to tell us what we can and can't eat.... If our reproductive rights, or at least a woman's, are totally off the record and private, then how can our digestive rights not have equal rights to our reproductive rights? Why is it written that our digestive rights must be subordinated to our reproductive rights? I can't believe we're even talking -- yes, I can believe we're talking about it because this is where we are in 2010, run by a bunch of Nanny State Marxists.

Obviously, insofar as a "nanny state" pertains to abortion, it would restrict abortion. It's tough to excoriate the "nanny state" simultaneously with implying abortion should be strictly regulated by the state, but Rush can do it.

But the larger point is: whatever does the interstate commerce clause have to do with abortion? The heart of Justice Blackmun's majority opinion in Roe v. Wade may be summarized as:

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy....

Where certain "fundamental rights" are involved, the Court has held that regulation limiting these rights may be justified only by a "compelling state interest...."

The decision expanding the right to an abortion- constraining the right of the nanny state to restrict the procedure- was based upon a perceived constitutional right to privacy. It had nothing to do with the commerce clause and, if it ever were invoked in the abortion controversy, it probably would be by opponents of legalization.

Rush can contest the legal underpinning of Roe v. Wade, though that would involve an uncharacteristic attention to detail. Certainly, scholars- and laypersons- far more informed and honest and moderate than Limbaugh have done so. But raising the issue of abortion in the context of an exchange about the Commerce Clause is not only disingenuous and manipulative, but is likely a conscious attempt to dumb down an audience. It is the stuff of which an uninformed electorate is made. For those who listen daily to a Limbaugh, Hannity, or Beck, attempting to become informed is a nearly impossible task.

With misinformation the currency of much of conservative talk radio, it should surprise no one that some Republicans believe President Obama is a Socialist Muslim from abroad trying to emulate Adolph Hitler.

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