In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Woe is McCain: Country Second (on Sex Ed, etc.)

With the maddening TV ad below, McCain is clearly choosing country second, to the dismay of his clever communications folks who came up with the "country first" logo to the left (slightly modified by yours truly). But in complete honesty, I can't laugh when I watch McCain's ad below, because it comes at the sacrifice of a critical, sober discussion on how we educate kids about relationships, sex, etc. After I first saw the ad, I literally could not come up with words to describe my surprise at the utter gall it must have taken for McCain to "approve the message"--though he probably just opts out of watching the ads before they're released to avoid having his stomach turn, as mine did. I hesitate to even put the ad up here, but people need to see what's out there and do the work of considering the factual--or a-factual--nature of it all:

"Learning about sex before learning to read"?

"Wrong for your family"?

What a distortionist message. ABC, among others, looked at the issue to get some clarification (their article is from back in mid-2007 in connection with a discussion Obama had on sex education issues, though you can see a more recent debunking of it here also):

"When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'

In addition to local schools informing kindergarteners that babies do not come from the stork, the state legislation Obama supported in Illinois, which contained an "opt out" provision for parents, also envisioned teaching kindergarteners about "inappropriate touching," according to Obama's presidential campaign."(emphasis added)

Now, with the above in mind, take a look at a video of Obama talking about sex education issues and tell me if you think McCain was anywhere near fair in his ad. What are you left thinking about Obama and the way in which he would approach the understandably delicate issue of teaching kids about sex? How about the idea of him using the bully pulpit, as he says in the video, to bring the best of both sides of whatever argument before the public? I think McCain was not only unfair, but lacking in the most basic aspects of integrity; par for the course with politics? If Obama sinks to this level I'm not sure what I'll do, but I don't feel he has or will, judging by the character and values that I believe he has shown throughout the campaign and his past.

But no, the man behind that ad above is not the man I want for president; I wouldn't even want to talk to him if I had the chance after watching that, though I'm sure he's got plenty of win-at-any-cost folks encouraging him within his campaign--but he is culpable, and it shows what costs he's willing to pay for personal gain. As Paul Krugman so lucidly puts it in this New York Times article on the subject (titled "Blizzard of Lies"):

"How a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern...Thus, the deceptive and dishonest 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign provided an all-too-revealing preview of things to come."

McCain may have stood on some higher grounds at points in the past, but we are being asked to judge him from where he stands now, and I can't swallow this. Sex education is too taboo and made into too much of a political game already, and has suffered because of it.

If you haven't heard about some of the ways sex education has suffered, just take a look at President Bush's policy on combating AIDS in Africa (known as "PEPFAR"). The program is authorized to provide around $15 billion over five years--a good thing, no doubt, except that 33% has to go to teaching abstinence-only to most of the African populations being "educated" on AIDS prevention; condomn use is only taught to sex-workers and those living with AIDS. A similar approach is taken in the US, with the Bush Administration providing sex ed. funds almost exclusively to abstinence-only education; however, after "11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion," 2006 saw the first increase in teen pregnancy rates in 15 years.

Well, what should we do about sex education? Should we teach abstinence only? I'm with Obama on this, as he said in the same speech mentioned above:

"I honor and respect young people who choose to delay sexual activity...I’ve got two daughters, and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual. That's something that we definitely want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity, that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty, and in some cases, death."

I agree with him that sex isn't something that should be approached casually--that's just not the way a relationship-torn culture is going to end up with better relationships in my view; it's also not the way we will keep more teenagers from becoming pregnant. I don't think that teaching condom use is the only way to deal with the problem, but it's one way that should be taught alongside others. When it isn't, we are telling teenagers that they do not have a choice that is actually available to them; in doing so, we're dodging reality, in my view. Reality says many teenagers will have sex and, if they do not use condoms or birth control, they will become pregnant. So, we're consigning them to pregnancy by telling them the only way they can avoid it is by abstinence. Some might say pregnancy is the lesson or some form of "punishment" that these kids need, but I have huge problems with that--namely the life a baby might be brought into and the obvious inequality of the "punishment" that is meted out to the female and not the male (in general). I think the weakness of relationships that casual sex often brings about is a hard, but fair enough lesson in and of itself.

That said, I also think we're doing kids a disservice if we don't, above all else, teach them about the complex nature of relationships and sex, as is advocated in the following quote (from this article): "You need to teach about relationships. If you look at what kids have to digest on a daily basis, you have adults teaching kids about the pleasures of sex but not about the responsibilities that go with it." (I'm assuming the person quoted there is saying that adults are "teaching" kids through pop culture about the pleasures of sex and not the complexities.) It is a complicated issue when you are attempting to find middle ground, but certainly the ground is out there if people are willing to work to find it--though I can't say that McCain appears to be headed anywhere in that direction with ads like the one above.

PS--I can't mention McCain's misleading advertisements without noting his lie of an ad about Obama and the supposed "lipstick" slight against Sarah Palin. There's a decent video that puts it in context here, but the reality is that nobody would have thought Obama was making any reference to Palin if McCain had not put this ad out (particularly becuase Obama was not talking about her at all when he used the common saying, "putting lipstick on a pig"--which McCain himself uses in the video above). David Letterman had Obama on the other night, where he discussed it (the video also gives a nice picture of Obama's sense of humor). And in just looking around for a minute I saw yet another of McCain's ads on supposed "disrespect" of Palin; check out the rebuttal of it here. Just the type of president we need right?

Update: Take a look at some of the newspaper comments about McCain's attacks in this new Obama video:


Johanna said...

How incredibly undignified can you get... This ad by McCain really puts the lid on it. Misinformation, obscurantism, defamation, are just some of the words which come to mind. Voting for McCain will continue to consign scores of vulnerable and uninformed teenagers and their unwanted offspring in this country (the US has TWICE the rate of teen pregnancy of any other industrialized country - and Lesotho, Pakistan, Moldova, Burundi, Rwanda, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Egypt seem to do better, to name but a few) to lives of poverty and misery. And all because in McCain-cum-suis's worldview sex is sin, and sin -at least if you're poor- needs to be punished (unto the next generation at the very least in the case of sex). (I can't help thinking that they would love to re-criminalize homosexuality, for instance. As any other biblical sin - except the Ninth Commandment, presumably, since they have no trouble bearing false witness against Obama.) (And yes, children do need to receive sex education from an early age at an appropriate level for their age - even if they should never learn to read! What kind of demagoguery is that already, suggesting that toddlers would be exposed to porn movies or something like that? This kind of message could only come from minds obsessed with sex and sin and weird notions about what sexual innocence is - or true obscenity, which brings us to PEPFAR... Teaching abstinence-only when you could teach sexual hygiene and the use of condoms is not just wholly and utterly pointless if you're trying to achieve increased health and prosperity (although I'm sure that it is not what Bush c.s. intend to achieve in Africa at all, really), it is callous and cruel. 33% of 15 billion? That is FIVE BILLION DOLLARS completely and utterly wasted, not to say used for immoral purposes. Wow! What a record of being "generous" to less privileged countries: spending five billion (presumably largely on salaries of fellow-American "consultants" and "aidworkers" of the Republican persuasion who agree with your obscurantist program, to make sure most of that money flows right back into the US economy - you don't REALLY want Africans to get the benefit of all those tax dollars!) to go to Africa to try and prolong that continent's AIDS epidemic by spreading the abstinence-only message! You'd almost admire it, it's so devious.

Brendan said...

Hey Johanna,

Great to hear from you, and thanks for the comment!

I wholeheartedly agree with the outrage at McCain's ad. Apparently Karl Rove even said McCain had gone too far (he said Obama had too, though i haven't seen his campaign approach anything remotely close to this level of dispicable misinformation).

And wow, i didn't realize we had TWICE the rate of teen preg. compared to other industr.countries (and others you mentioned); that is nothing if it's not outrageous...geez...(just as a sidenote, this why i love blogs, as they so straightforwardly allow people to build on one another's points, add facts, or of course disagree; but that dialogue in general is so key, as i feel there are too few "meetings of minds"/basic discussions about important issues like this).

I'd say i agree with you about the idea that many pushing abstinence-only ed. would treat sex as something that needs to be punished, all the while missing the fact that, as you point out, pregnancy is meted out disproportionately on the poor (whether poor financially or poor in knowledge, since abstinence-only ed censors info about birth control and condom use).

I also agree that it's demagoguery to suggest that Obama's legislation would have some mal intent towards kindergartners--when you look at the facts, it just despicable; as the ABC article i quoted points out, the main point was to give kids some basic idea that babies don't come from storks, and to make them aware of "inappropriate touching" by older people.

I ALSO agree that it's completely immoral and unethical to not just use so much money (again, $5 billion, 1/3 of the total $15 billion US money for AIDS in Africa) for abstinence ed. in AIDS-prevalent countries, but it's immoral and unethical to only teach condom use to sex workers and those already infected! It really is astounding, and like you say, you'd admire it except it's SOOO, SO misguided and devastating in its effects and use of financial resources.

The only last note i'd add is that i have to admit i'm not sure that i don't think those backing abstinence-only programs at home and overseas actuallywant more people to have AIDS or more teenagers to become pregnant; i think it's a case of ideology overshadowing intellectual honesty about the effects of their programs (their "gut" making them think they don't have to look at and researchand think carefully about the facts); i really do think there is a sad view in this country of the act of studying and researching one's decisions, while "gut" reactions, as well as religious teachings/writings, are elevated above all else. And believe me, i have felt some of the pains of that type of "gut" living and disparaging perspective on researched decision-making, as it characterized the way i lived for a long i can understand it, and empathize with the reasons behind it, but nevertheless have to forcefully come out against it because of the often dire consequences it can bring about. The heartening thing is that the moral/ethical underpinning or reason behind making "gut" heart-based decisions, or decisions based on religious teachings, does not have to be lost when shifting to a more reason-based approach to decision making, in my view.

For example, and i'll end my reply with this, with the idea of using US dollars to try to deal with the AIDS crisis, one side chooses abstinence-only and one side doesn't, as we've been talking about. Both sides, as i said, seem to generally have good intentions, but if one does the work of looking at the facts, the exclusion of teaching about condom use to all but sexual workers and AIDS-infected folks, consigns all others to higher AIDS infection rates, spreading the whole devastating disease all the more. So, my point at the start of this paragraph: by taking that research-based approach to how to use those AIDS-prevention funds, one does not have to give up that internal draw towards morals/ethics and towards the act of helping others; rather, one has to be willing to say that things are able to be gray, and not simply black and white.

Johanna said...

You're right, Brendan. I may have gotten a little carried away attributing more or less bad faith to ALL of the anti-condom faction. But I must say I still have my doubts about the good intentions of many of the people "thinking" with their gut, or on the basis of their religious beliefs, rather than their brain.

Johanna said...

Incidentally, I shouldn't have just said "twice the rate of teen pregnancy of any other industrialized country". I should have said that the US has something like TWELVE TIMES the rate of teen pregnancy of countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy (sic!), and still about twice that of the industrialized country that is the runner-up after the US (New Zealand). Sorry, but it's even worse than I led you to believe.

Brendan O'Connor said...

Hey again Johanna, thanks for the thoughts back--i def here you on the issue of the intentions of the folks behind some of the gut thinking/religiously-based's hard to know how specific i can feel like i can get in considering it, but i think your comment's a good tempering factor, as i may not have properly highlighted the fact that there are certainly some with mixed intentions.

And yeah...def looks like it was a lot (LOT!!) worse than i realized with the numbers, geez...