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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Case of Political Camouflage

Dawn JohnsenAccording to the St. Petersburg Times' Politifact site, Dawn Johnsen -- Barack Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel -- joined the faculty of the University of Indiana in 1998, "following a distinguished career in Washington, D.C." She served at Justice under Bill Clinton, "including as Acting Assistant Attorney General heading the Office of Legal Counsel where she provided constitutional and other legal advice to the Attorney General, the Counsel to the President, and the general counsels of the various executive branch agencies."

Before that, she was the Legal Director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Johnsen serves on the national board of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and as co-chair of the ACS Issue Group on Separation of Powers and Federalism," we're told. "Her research interests include issues of separation of powers (especially presidential power) and civil liberties (especially reproductive rights). She has testified before Congress and appeared on many national television and radio news programs as an expert on these issues."

You see the problem. Dawn Johnsen is one of those crazy people who think that using the law to force women to remain pregnant against their will is a bad thing. This is the right's cue to completely freak out. And, freaking out being his stock and trade, Iowa Rep. Steve King does just that. In a press release, King list some quotes of Johnsen's that he seems to think make a slam dunk case against her confirmation:

-"Statutes that curtail her abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state's asserted interest." – Dawn Johnsen, Supreme Court amicus brief that she authored in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services

-"The woman is constantly aware for nine months that her body is not wholly her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends. Thus, abortion restrictions, 'reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers.'" –Dawn Johnsen, Supreme Court amicus brief that she authored in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services

-"The argument that women who become pregnant have in some sense consented to the pregnancy belies reality... and others who are the inevitable losers in the contraceptive lottery no more 'consent' to pregnancy than pedestrians 'consent' to being struck by drunk drivers."- Dawn Johnsen, Supreme Court amicus brief that she authored in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services

This proves two things; Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, is dumber than a sack of hammers and that there's no pro-choice argument anyone could ever make that the religious fanatics wouldn't find offensive. I didn't even cherrypick those -- those really are King's first three examples. You've got three logical arguments (that King doesn't bother to rebut) for legal abortion. If, as I've pointed out, abortion restrictions keep women pregnant against their will, it's hard to find a flaw in these arguments. Unlike King, most of the anti-Johnsen propaganda takes these comments completely out of context.

"Her bizarre characterizations of pregnancy as 'slavery' and mothers as 'losers in the contraceptive lottery' expose an unacceptable disdain for commonsense abortion restrictions and motherhood in general," says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, in a press release. For the right, honesty is a handicap in the fight against evil.

But the opposition to Johnsen comes from just more than the religious right. It's become an institutional stand of the entire Republican party. It's pretty clear to me that the party -- as an organization, at least -- doesn't really give a damn about abortion. They talk about it around election time, then turn their attention to tax cuts and privatizing everything under the sun once they get elected. As a result, the Republican party has made very little headway in eliminating abortion. And why should they? Those anti-abortion chumps vote Republican every time -- what happens to the one-issue voter when that issue is resolved? Republicans, despite all their rhetoric, have a vested interest in keeping abortion legal. They don't have to be activists about it, they just have to ignore the issue 90% of the time.

Still, Johnsen has had a fairly rocky road to confirmation. Her nomination left the Senate Judiciary Committee without a single Republican vote. She was to be brought to the Senate floor twice, but Republicans held her confirmation hearing back. They really don't want her to join Team Obama. If Johnsen isn't especially outside the mainstream on the issue of choice -- an issue that Republicans ignore regularly anyway -- what's all the obstructionism about?

For the answer, we turn to law professor and writer for Harper's magazine Scott Horton. In a piece for The Daily Beast, he lays it all out.

The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance, which would clip the wings of the imperial presidency. Even more menacingly (from their perspective), she is committed to shining a light on some of the darkest skeletons of the Bush years. Already, publication of OLC memoranda authorizing torture, approving warrantless surveillance, and pronouncing the First and Fourth Amendments a dead letter in connection with domestic military operations has rocked the public. More memos, potentially even more disturbing, I have learned, are about to be made public soon. Yet these are difficult issues on which to attack Johnsen, other than through vague suggestions that she is "weak on national security." Hence the steady stream of accusations linked to her largely irrelevant views about abortion rights.

Will the Republicans attempt to filibuster the Johnsen nomination? The threat is sufficiently serious to have provoked the editors of the New York Times to editorialize in support of Johnsen on Thursday. Calling the operation of OLC in the Bush era "lawless," the editors wrote, "Ms. Johnsen is superbly qualified and has fought for just the sort of change the office needs."

That's right, in addition to the radical notion that women shouldn't be forced to stay pregnant, Dawn Johnsen also believes that torture is a bad thing -- a crime, in fact. And as a result of that position, she believes that the details of these crimes should be made public.

"In the coming two weeks, their push for transparency will result in the publication of more Bush-era OLC memos, including the specific approvals granted for waterboarding, extended isolation, and other torture techniques -- memos that the Bush administration has sought to keep secret," Horton tells us. "Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and Obama adviser John Brennan are said to have 'gone to the mat' to keep the opinions secret, but Obama sided with his designated OLC team and upheld the decision to declassify and publish them."

The Republican party is rallying the nutjob base with distortions about her beliefs and statements. They're doing this to provide cover for the Bush administration and -- by extension -- themselves. There's no shortage of clips of GOP bigwigs defending Bush's "harsh interrogation techniques" on talking head shows. The more people find out about Bush's torture policies, the more likely it is that these defenders will find one of those clips used in a campaign ad in their next election. For a party already suffering from a connection to George W. Bush, the last thing they need is to have new revelations constantly coming out and constantly keeping the Bush administration topical. They need voters to forget that any of it ever happened.

But they can't come out and say that. They can't fight Johnsen's nomination on her opposition to torture and her commitment to government transparency, because that too keeps the Bush administration topical. So they use the nuts. They convince them that she's Hitler reincarnate; a hater of babies and motherhood, a crazy woman committed to the destruction of as many fetuses as is possible. It's not hard. It's been decades since Republicans started doing this and a lot of the chumps still haven't wised up. They'll freak out and call their Senators because that and voting are their only usefulness to the party.

That's all this abortion stuff is when it comes to the Johnsen nomination -- political cover. And the religious right, as they always have been, are more than happy to be used.


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vet said...

Excellent analysis. Thank you.

M said...

Thanks, Wisco.

This was really good.

I've never heard women's rights arguments in such a way that Dawn Johnson explained. Maybe I should get out more? Maybe I should thank that useless moron Steve King...?

Ha ha...ha.

You made me stop and re-examine this....this...this Dawn Johnson and her insane plot to restore sanity and justice at the JDOLC, and by default, America.

I had heard, in passing, one of Obama's nominees was being held up, but I had no idea who it was, or what the reasons were. I didn't invest too much concern because I figure the majority of his nominees will be held up by Republicans looking to be typical political pricks.

With nominees like Dawn Johnson, I'm becoming more and more secure in the emerging agenda and judgement of the 44th.

The Energy Department, Labor, Education, and even the Budget Director, just to name a few key components to an America in need of rescue, are all indicative of a President looking to make smart people the "new black," in my humble opinion.

Great job. Again, I would've missed this, and so much more, had it not been for YOUR reliably impeccable judgement deciding this was worth looking at more closely.