The emotional power of the Planned Parenthood videos lies in the images they evoke, but their political power stems from broad, intense conservative opposition to abortion generally -- not to fetal tissue research per se. If these conservatives were foremost concerned with the ethics of fetal tissue donation, they could propose banning it outright, or at least tissue obtained from legal abortions. Instead, they are proposing to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. This non sequitur gives away the plot, and all of the cross-ideological sympathy they might have had at the outset.Well, they always want to make abortions more difficult to obtain -- but why the obsession with Planned Parenthood? I'd say a lot of it is right-wingers trying to follow the tenet of one of their favorite political philosophers, Saul Alinsky, particularly Rule for Radicals #13:
If the videos genuinely exposed a criminal organ harvesting operation, eliminating its federal funding would be an on-point response. In reality, the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is completely unresponsive to the full content of the videos.... The most plausible rationale for this is that conservatives, who have a permanent axe to grind with Planned Parenthood, are using deception to threaten its viability, and make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions as a consequence.
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.As an explanation of that rule, Alinsky does go on to say, "Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions." Planned Parenthood is an institution. But if you turn to the book Rules for Radicals, you'll see he says this in reference to government and corporate bureaucracies, which can be hard to figure out, and which are complex enough to facilitate buck-passing:
In these times of urbanization, complex metropolitan governments, the complexities of major interlocked corporations, and the interlocking of political life between counties and metropolitan authorities, the problem that threatens to loom more and more is that of identifying the enemy....That's not a problem with Planned Parenthood, any more than it was with ACORN. These groups aren't like government, in which one agency will blame another, or a corporation, in which top officers can shift blame downward to mid-level staffers. All of Planned Parenthood will defend itself if attacked. So it acts more like a person -- and thus it's an ideal target for right-wing Alinskying.
If an organization permits responsibility to be diffused and distributed in a number of areas, attack becomes impossible.
Alinsky goes on to write:
Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all of the "others" come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...The "others" in this case are Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton and vulnerable Democratic members of Congress up for reelection in 2016, not to mention Democratic governors and state legislators. So, obviously, this is an attack on abortion, and an attack on federal funding of Planned Parenthood by folks who think government should do nothing but conduct wars and police brown people -- but it's also an Alinskyite personalization of abortion, with the next election in mind, and Clinton and other Democrats as additional targets.
One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.
I think Beutler is right to say that right-wing activists are overplaying their hand -- in the fall, Republican zealots really might shut down the government over this. The public doesn't agree with them about Planned Parenthood. See this table from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll -- note the top line:
On the other hand, Republicans weren't punished for their 2013 government shutdown in 2014, because American voters have amnesia about this sort of thing. Voters forgot largely because the mainstream media encouraged them to forget -- the narrative by the fall of 2014 was that Republicans had tamed their crazies.
That, of course, will probably be the narrative in fall 2016 as well: Jeb Bush seems so responsible! What 2015 government shutdown? What Donald Trump campaign? I don't remember those things!
One more point: The only presidential election since 1988 in which Republicans have won the popular vote was in 2004, when they pursued a strategy of turning out the base, particularly religious conservatives, rather than working to win over swing voters. That's clearly a big part of what this attack on Planned Parenthood is all about.