Friday, July 8, 2011

Rhetorical Uses of the Budget Deficit

This might seem like small potatoes compared with everything else that's going on in Kansas now (which Shakesville has been chronicling), but it's a local story rather than statewide, and thus not going to get the same amount of coverage on the Internet as the Planned Parenthood defunding and the attempt to impose new regulations on abortion clinics, and I also think it's illustrative of a few things, so I'm going to write about it anyway.

The county commission of Johnson County, Kansas (where I live) has just accepted a $500,000 federal grant paying for abstinence-only sex education classes, but has refused the part of the grant subsidizing a more comprehensive sex-ed program (a series of videos) that emphasizes abstinence, contraception, condom use and basic sexual health, and is targeted at "at-risk" teenagers.

The comprehensive program was opposed by the anti-abortion activist group Kansans for Life, which says on its website that it suspects Planned Parenthood of being in some way involved in creating the videos:

One of the two programs --- the curriculum based on for 11-13 year olds, "Making a Difference," seems to be abstinence-based only ... . The one for "at risk" kids aged 13 to 19 revolves around a video named "What Could You Do?" (have a look HERE), which critics believe is inappropriate on its face because it includes a video that includes a couple in bed, has a heavy emphasis on condoms, and a segment with kids putting condoms on cucumbers.

... The point is that 'condom on cucumber' sex ed programs have long been the staple of Planned Parenthood. And, while the program for younger kids appears OK, and does show some effectiveness, is it possible for citizens to be assured that the Jo. Co. Department of Health, using our federal and perhaps state tax dollars, could or would be able to insure that those teaching the program don't use the opportunity to push Planned Parenthood or something similar?
... [W]e will be left with two alternatives. Either use all the grant money for the PREP program aimed at younger kids, with some kind of assurance that it will remain pure of Planned Parenthood or abortion influences or references, or ask that our commissioners once again reject this grant altogether.

(I always find it weird, the extent to which Planned Parenthood is seen as a boogeyman, a sort of Pied Piper of abortion, herding unwary girls and women by the score into its clinics. It's like a less overtly misogynistic version of that other widespread myth about abortion, the cartoonishly selfish woman who terminates pregnancies on a whim; only in this version it's the cartoonishly evil and predatory doctor who performs abortions on everyone who comes into his office, whether they want one or not. There also seems to be this idea that everything Planned Parenthood does, or oversees, is going to involve abortion. Which is not true --- most of what Planned Parenthood does has nothing to do with abortion; it's gynecological exams, testing and treatment for STDs, distributing contraception, help managing painful periods, or even giving prenatal care to pregnant women who want to have the baby!)

Kansans for Life's Executive Director, Mary Kay Culp, also brought up the national debt:

Culp and a few others cited the government's huge debt among the reasons for turning down the grant.

"We're borrowing money from China to put condoms on cucumbers," she said.

This is the part I mentioned at the beginning of the post, that I thought was "illustrative" of something. I've been noticing lately (and I haven't been the only one to notice) that concern about the nation's (or sometimes the state's) fiscal health seems to operate as a sort of rhetorical camouflage: when you couch your calls for all sorts of government programs and services to be eliminated in language of scarcity, or of a dire need for any and all cost-cutting measures, you make it harder to argue against them because the usual defense, "But [x] does a lot of good, and people need it!" doesn't refute "There is no money for [x]." If you want to refute that, you have to go a step further, and find a y that could be cut in x's place, yielding equal or greater savings. But usually the x's in this discussion are things that the people pulling the Deficit Gambit want to get rid of just because they don't agree with them philosophically, not because they constitute a serious drain on the budget.

(In this case, I think the Deficit Gambit is functioning a little differently since it is being used in addition to, rather than instead of, philosophical arguments. So I think its purpose is less to disguise the philosophical argument than it is to buttress it, especially to persuade people who might not accept any of the premises on which the philosophical argument is based).

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