Wednesday, June 21, 2006

COLUMN -- Getting a word in wedgewise -- "contraception"

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:52 AM |  

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

At this rate, soon teenage boys will be reading campaign literature by flashlight under the covers, and political forums like Friday's TwinWest Chamber Legislative Breakfast will carry a parental warning.

The chamber's legislative breakfast was billed as a review of the legislative session, but it is an election year. Panelist Blois Olson, the Democratic co-publisher of the newsletter "Politics in Minnesota" (with Republican lobbyist Sarah Janecek) used the occasion to expose the new Democratic wedge issue.

Decrying Republicans for dividing Americans over same-sex marriage, Democrats have taken to messing around in heterosexual bedrooms. They've spied an opportunity to exploit the belief of some Christians that "after-sex" contraception blurs the moral distinction between birth control and abortion. Democrats would drop a political bundling board between Christian social conservatives and their base of not-so-desperate first-ring housewives.

Seems to Olson that Republican 6th District congressional candidate Michele Bachmann is out to "change the way Americans have sex."

Not even trying to get it right. OK, those aren't Olson's words. But they were used in the May 7 New York Times to describe Christians who believe contraception contributes to an anti-child attitude that makes abortion easier to rationalize. In the May 10 "Politics in Minnesota," Olson references the New York Times to connect Bachmann with evangelicals who (in his words) would "outlaw and eradicate all forms of contraception."

"The operative question in races like Michele Bachmann's is how pervasive that belief is among Minnesota's evangelical population?" he wrote. "We don't know. But we're guessing exurban women (and men, too) might revolt in droves."

So, is it unfair to create the impression that, because he quoted from the Times, Blois Olson would say Michele Bachmann is out to change Americans' sex lives?

You bet it would be unfair. In the same way it was when Olson culled from the Times to create an impression of candidate Bachmann that has no connection to reality. Olson's sin was not that he misrepresented Bachman's position; he didn't even try to get it right.

Trying to get it right. Hearing that she'd supposedly "signed on" to an anti-birth-control caucus that she had never heard of and couldn't join unless she's elected, Bachmann was more than a bit perplexed.

"I don't know what it is, " she said. "But Republicans never seem to challenge the false things Democrats say about us. That just gives them permission to keep doing it."

But she's not about to let the Democrats get even as far as first base on the contraceptive issue. Bachmann is taking prophylactic action. She called Olson directly to ask him what he said — before publicly responding.

"He said he was just stating his opinion of my position and that people would know that," Bachmann said. "He said that I was a 'radical, right-wing, extremist Christian,' and that 'radical, right-wing, extremist Christians would hold that position.'"

Genesis of an apology. Nah. He didn't really tell her that, did he? I called Olson Friday afternoon to find out. Yes, he did, but his first concern was how I learned that he said anything at all, and was I going to write about it.

"What I said was people like Michele 'could join' a group in Congress that wanted to ban birth control," he said. "That's my impression." He added, "I don't know why this would be news, and why you'd write about it."

Hey, I just wrote a whole column about the metaphysical nature of bullsh*t and what we should do about it (June 14), and here this object lesson falls right in my lap.
On Monday Olson called me to say he had sent an apology to Bachmann.
What did he apologize for?

"If I gave people the wrong impression," he said. "If I misrepresented her position. I should apologize."

What impression had he intended people should take away?

"I wanted people to understand that Michele Bachmann is out of the mainstream," he said. "That's what I believe. It's her responsibility to make her positions clear."

Yes, that's bullsh*t. Of course, a politician should be clear on the issues, but clarity is not what Olson was after. If it were, he'd have just asked Bachmann for her position on contraception. He didn't. Instead, he created the impression she opposed birth control under the guise of raising a question in public never posed in person. Guilt by association was close enough.

Kudos to Bachmann for calling Olson out. I don't always agree with her, but the lady has brass.

And, for the record, if the caucus Olson conjectured about existed, Bachmann says she would not join it.

Update: Also for the record, which was in a draft of the column but was cut for length, Blois Olson's co-publisher of "Politics in Minnesota" Sarah Janecek agrees with Bachmann's decision to publically respond to Olson's remarks.