Political campaigns often are illustrative of larger matters. For me, the campaign for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania's sixth Congressional district has taken that turn. On the one hand, it provides a reminder that all Democrats are not equal when it comes to women's rights. Moreover, it is a living illustration that words matter - and often matter a lot - in politics and policy.
As Politico reported the insultingly sexist andanti-woman writings of columnist-turned-candidate Doug Pike first caught my attention in the race. The cavalier words Mr. Pike's campaign used to defend his degrading op-eds only encouraged me to speak out more forcefully against his candidacy.
At various points in his writings, Mr. Pike has written
• that abortion should "turn the stomachs" of those who support Roe v. Wade;
• endorsed the re-election of Pennsylvania State Representative Stephen Friend, someone Mr. Pike described as a "zealous opponent of abortion" because "Friend's leadership and independence on other issues are more important than his crusade against the right to an abortion;"
• that "In the more liberal Democratic Party, there probably aren't a dozen beautiful women nationwide. . . . Republican women, whose hearts and minds work so much worse, look so much better. . . . This linkage between lookers and right-wingers also works outside of political parties. Big business is brimming with beautiful women. But except for Jane Fonda and a few other stars, did you ever see a dream walking for human rights? Nope, the ones crammed with compassion have veneers ranging from plain to pretty darn scary . . . Why are women who look like models virtually incapable of developing the compassionate liberalism of, say, stubby Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland?"
• "Let's face it. Whether by birth or bleach or both, her hair is blond. Yuck. It's a superficial flaw, one that wouldn't make her any less companionable to talk to by long-distance telephone. But if a woman handicapped by blond hair came to my home, I too would want her to wait way past sunset and sneak out the back entrance."
• that feminists who want to ban pornography are "reactionary," explaining that "Their attack on the Constitution is more offensive than any skin flick;" and
• objected to the fact that Representative Pat Schroeder "Parental and Medical Leave Act . . . really goes haywire is in concocting equal leave time for mothers and fathers," concluding that "government should let leave for fathers expand gradually as smart managers deal with liberated workers."
How, you might wonder, did the campaign explain these writings that emerged from the brain of its candidate? "Doug made a poor attempt at humor" his campaign manager said.
I certainly agree that these comments are a "joke," although most certainly not in the manner Mr. Pike seems to think. Women have been on a long and arduous journey toward real equality. There is nothing funny about using a journalistic pulpit to belittle progress women have made towards full and equal participation in the life of this nation. The fact that he now wants to dismiss his acidic writings suggests he lacks character as much as he lacks good judgment and defensible values.
The "shock-jock" performers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh rile up hatred and perpetuate misogyny every day. Surely Democrats can do better than nominate shock-jock wannabes as their Congressional candidates.
Mr. Pike's campaign almost certainly will tut-tut these complaints and these comparisons, suggesting that I am taking this all too seriously. The reality is that we should worry about words. The recent debate over healthcare demonstrates why words matter. In many ways, the intraparty debate focused on the issue of a woman's right to make important life decisions and her need for access to the health care necessary to carry out those decisions safely and with dignity. Those who objected to signing away those rights in exchange for a political talking point were told, in so many words, that the offending legislative and executive actions were just words, that the party's commitment to a woman's right to choose was undiminished. We should be glad, I suppose, that they did not say that the anti-abortion rights position was merely the leadership at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue making "a poor attempt at humor."
At the very least, Mr. Pike's "attempt at humor" demonstrates a disturbing tone deafness on his part. Maybe his denigrating words helped to sell newspapers. Given the financial state of the newspaper business, it seems fair to say it did not work particularly well. But the fact that Mr. Pike was willing to insult women in his attempts at sensationalism is surely worthy of apology rather than his manager's flaccid explanation.
Words do matter as Mr. Pike's endorsement of Stephen Freind illustrates. Pike was certainly correct that Friend was "a zealous opponent of abortion." Those who follow such things may remember Rep. Friend as the person who defended his opposition to abortions in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape by citing a "medical" theory that a woman could not become pregnant during a rape because of a "certain secretion" she produced while living through the horrific crime. I simply cannot stand by quietly when Mr. Pike appeals for the support of pro-choice women after endorsing Representative Friend because of something "more important than his crusade against the right to an abortion."
The healthcare debate demonstrated that anything less than the full-throated support of a woman's right to choose is just an empty promise. Nominally "pro-choice" legislators voted against reform and for new, profound restrictions on women's access to an important element of reproductive health care. Let's not make that mistake again. We can't afford another Stupak-sized setback.
Instead, we need to elect people whose lives reflect genuine concern for the lives of others. We need to elect members of Congress who have not just written about their policy positions, but who have demonstrated their principles and views through the conduct of their lives. For me, that person and that candidate in the 6th district is Dr. Manan Trivedi.
I learned from his mother that at the age of sixteen, when teenagers have a lot of other interests, Manan volunteered in his local community as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Later, as a freshman in college, he would be recognized for his work with HIV/AIDS patients. For his medical residency, he opted for a Los Angeles County hospital, treating uninsured and mostly working-poor patients who only had one place to turn for care. Manan would take his service to others one step further by joining the US Navy and becoming a battalion surgeon for an infantry of Marines who were first to enter into Iraq in 2003.
And his dedication to public service informs his policy views and positions. Whether in his work for the Navy Surgeon General's Office or as a health care policy advisor to then Senator Obama's presidential campaign, Manan has used his real-life experiences to promote serious policy solutions to improve the conditions of people's lives.
I am impressed by Manan's recognition of the need to invest in women's lives, in their health, education, job training and security as well as family supports such as family and medical leave and affordable, high quality child care and early childhood education. He understands what many nations have learned: that investing in improving the status and well-being of women is an investment in the security of our families, our communities and our nation.
Certainly, actions do speak louder than words. Remember, Mr. Pike should know this. After all, his profession is writing. He knows that one's writing reflects one's values, views and priorities. Mr. Pike's make it clear that women cannot depend on him to understand and respect their needs and concerns, let alone count on him to defend and protect our rights and liberties. Our rights and liberties are more than a joke, unintended or otherwise. The voters of PA 06th district deserve a Democrat whose views about women they can trust, someone who will not sell them out for sensationalism or selling a few more papers.
Only Manan Trivedi meets that test.
Kate Michelman, President Emeritus, NARAL Pro-Choice America and auther of "WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose"