St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Claire the pro-lifer?

Waffles for breakfast this morning. That's what Sunday morning television viewers got while watching Sen. Jim Talent and State Auditor Claire McCaskill field Tim Russert’s questions on today’s Meet the Press. Both candidates waffled like they were impersonating John Kerry.

For me, the most startling revelation was McCaskill’s statement that she would support a ban on partial birth abortion as long as it exempted abortions to save the life of the mother. Put in context, that’s a more radical anti-abortion position that President Bush, Sen. Kit Bond or even her opponent, Sen. Jim Talent, all of whom would also exempt abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. It was apparently no slip of the tongue, because Russert specifically repeated the condition for the exemption, protect the life of the mother, and Claire repeated her support for such a ban.

The accepted pro-choice position for partial birth abortion is that the bill must exempt abortions necessary to protect the health of the mother. The difference between “life” and “health” is huge. The “health” exception is a hole in the ban that you can drive a Mac truck through. Subject to subjective interpretation, it makes getting an abortion as easy as getting out of jury duty for medical reasons. An exemption based on saving the mother’s “life” is more objective and much tougher. All but the most radical pro-lifers accept the “life” exception, and all but the most radical pro-choicers accept an illusory ban with the “health” exemption.

Russert’s prepared questions were tough and incisive, and made each candidate happiest when the other was being questioned. But he did miss one important follow-up opportunity. The program’s first question covered the Mark Foley sex scandal and allowed both candidates to claim how they wouldn’t have tolerated it. But later, McCaskill discussed how she thought Bill Clinton was a “great president” but that she wouldn’t want him anywhere near her daughter. So, if Foley was effective in his legislative duties (and I don’t know whether he was or not), would McCaskill have let him continue, just nowhere near her son?

Talent also did lots of waffling. He hemmed and hawed and hemmed and hawed some more when Russert painted him into a corner by asking Talent if he thought Bush was a great president, after having mentioned Bush’s frequent fundraising for Talent and Talent’s 94% pro-Bush voting record. Talent’s attempt to stress “the other 6%” wasn’t very effective. He would have been better off pointing out how statistically misleading the 94% figure is, because the majority of issues are really consensus based. His predecessor, Sen. Jean Carnahan (D), had a 73% Bush support record, so only about one vote in five is any different than with a Democrat in the chair. I don’t have the numbers, but I bet even Missouri’s most progressive representatives, Lacy Clay and Emmanuel Cleaver, support Bush a majority of the time when you count all the same issues.

Talent also muffed an opportunity when Russert questioned him about his 3-month-old statement that things in Iraq were going well. I thought the senator would respond that things in Iraq were going better three months ago than they are now, but he didn’t.

The real point about the Iraq war, that we shouldn’t have gone there to begin with and that withdrawal should take place now, not be phased over two years, never came up with these two contestants.

Of course, both candidates did a lot better than I would have done under similar fire. But their performances did highlight what the corporate media don’t want you to know - that’s there’s not all that much difference between the two, except maybe four years of seniority.

I’m happy there are other choices, notably Progressive candidate Lydia Lewis.