Jim Banks Is Wrong About Everything

In the run-up to Indiana’s primary election, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about far-right Congressman Jim Banks, and what I learned was pretty horrifying. Some of it was what we unfortunately have come to call “politics as usual”–financial shenanigans like the misuse of campaign funds. As I previously noted, an ethics watchdog has documented Banks’ use of a so-called “Leadership PAC” as a slush fund, allowing him to siphon funds from special interests into fancy meals, club dues and the like. (Yesterday, the Washington Post noted he has a million dollar home in Virginia, so elective office is evidently lucrative.)

More concerning are Banks’ culture war positions. Along with clowns like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Banks has doubled down on a pro-Trump, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-liberty performative politics.

Banks has made no bones about his desire for a national ban on abortion with no exceptions, not even for rape, incest or life of the mother. He has an A+ rating from Pro-Life America, and a 100% lifetime rating from the National Right to Life Committee. His voting record on abortion/reproductive health can be accessed here.

When it comes to guns, Banks is opposed to even the most modest efforts to control the proliferation of firearms. He opposes a renewal of the ban on assault weapons, and also opposes a federal “Red Flag” law. He supports concealed carry and has voted against background checks for private sales. His voting record on gun issues can be accessed here.

Banks calls climate change a “liberal hoax,” and the Biden Administration’s environmental efforts “a war on energy.” The League of Conservation Voters gives him a 1% lifetime rating. His votes on the environment can be accessed here. 

When it comes to labor issues, Banks gets a zero rating from the AFL-CIO. When he served in the Indiana legislature, he supported “Right to work” legislation (dubbed by labor as “Right to work for less.”) On vote after vote in Congress, he has voted against labor; a list of those votes can be seen here. 

Banks is still fighting against any expansion of healthcare coverage, and rejects medical science. He voted against the most recent expansion of Medicaid and supports legislation that would ban vaccine mandates. He has voted to repeal the ACA, and against legislation that would prevent insurers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions.  A review of all of his healthcare votes is here.

Banks has voted repeatedly against efforts to fund research into the effects of marijuana. (Those anti-research votes track well with his “know nothing” approach to all issues.) Banks’ votes on issues related to pot are here.

Unsurprisingly, Banks is also an extremist on immigration. He supports finishing Trump’s wall, eliminating federal funding for sanctuary cities, and deporting “criminal illegal aliens.” He opposes legislation granting amnesty for any undocumented persons (presumably including children currently protected by DACA) and opposes any expansion of guest-worker programs.

Banks is an out and proud White Christian Nationalist. He created the “anti-Woke” caucus in the House of Representatives and introduced legislation to outlaw any remaining affirmative action in college admissions. He has been dubbed “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington.” He opposes all DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) programs. He has been especially vocal in his opposition to gay rights generally, and to trans children especially– in addition to his “Anti-Woke Caucus,” he has supported efforts to ban trans people from the military, prevent trans women from participating in women’s sports, and prevent medical personnel from treating children for gender dysphoria. He recently sponsored a particularly odious bill that would prevent agencies charged with placing children in foster homes from taking measures to see that gay and trans children not be placed with foster parents who have religious objections to homosexuality, saying that refusal to place those children in such homes was discrimination against religion. (Discriminating against gay children is evidently fine…)

Banks consistently attacks educational institutions of all kinds. He has vowed to investigate the National Association of Independent Schools, focusing on the group’s role in political advocacy and its tax-exempt status. He has threatened to “expose” what he calls widespread political indoctrination in America’s public schools, and has claimed that lawmakers have a “moral duty” to investigate the use of academic accreditation associations as “political tools by leftist ideologues.”

When Banks was in the Indiana legislature, he voted to allow instruction in creationism and supported the educational vouchers that send tax dollars to private, overwhelmingly religious schools.

And of course, he’s described Trump’s trial as “rigged,” posting on social media that “New York is a liberal sh*t hole.”

Having a Neanderthal like Banks as a Congressman is bad enough. Electing him Senator would be worse.


What “Let the States Decide” Ignores

There are a number of legal and practical objections to Republicans’ recent, deeply misleading efforts to convince Americans that leaving abortion restrictions to the states is a “moderate” position. The most obvious is that fundamental constitutional liberties are just that–fundamental. Legislators don’t get to vote on whether to allow freedom of speech or religion within their states (a good thing, if you live in places like Indiana, where the GOP super-majority would undoubtedly limit those civil liberties).

Practical objections are numerous: legislative bodies are conspicuously devoid of medical expertise, and ideological lawmakers have demonstrated that they have no understanding of the real-world complexities of the decisions involved; laws that require women to travel long distances for critical medical care discriminate against low-income patients…Most of you reading this post can supply a number of others.

But it wasn’t until I read a recent opinion essay in the New York Times that I had a small epiphany: leaving the issue to the states–despite the pious rhetoric emphasizing voting– is also profoundly anti-democratic, and not just in states like Indiana where citizens lack access to initiatives and/or referenda. Successful gerrymandering–partisan redistricting–ensures that “the people” lack the means to make such decisions.

As Jamelle Bouie writes:

Nearly everywhere Republicans hold power, they fight to rewire the institutions of government in the hope that they will then generate the desired result: more and greater Republican power.

And so we have the North Carolina Legislature gerrymandered to produce Republican majorities, the Ohio Legislature gerrymandered to produce Republican supermajorities, the Florida Legislature gerrymandered to produce Republican supermajorities, and the Florida Supreme Court overhauled to secure and uphold Republican priorities.

The states’ rights case for determining abortion access — let the people decide — falters on the fact that in many states, the people cannot shape their legislature to their liking. Packed and split into districts designed to preserve Republican control, voters cannot actually dislodge anti-abortion Republican lawmakers. A pro-choice majority may exist, but only as a shadow: present but without substance in government.

Polling on the issue of abortion proves his point. Even in deep Red states, pro-choice voters outnumber forced birth supporters by considerable margins, as we’ve seen in states like Kansas and Kentucky where voters have the means to mount constitutional referendums.

In states that lack those mechanisms, as Bouie notes, Republican legislators or jurists unwilling to concede to majority opinion (or constitutional precedent) can respond with the dead hand of the past.

Both the federal courts and the Arizona Supreme Court have conjured a past that smothers the right to bodily autonomy. Anti-abortion activists are also trying to conjure a past, in the form of the long-dormant Comstock Act, that gives government the power to regulate the sexual lives of its citizens. As Moira Donegan notes in a column for The Guardian, “Comstock has come to stand in, in the right-wing imagination, for a virtuous, hierarchically ordered past that can be restored in a sexually repressive and tyrannically misogynistic future.”

This effort may well fail, but the drive to leash the country to an imagined vision of a reactionary past should be seen as a silent confession of weakness. The same is true, for that matter, of the authoritarian dreams of the former president and his allies and acolytes….

Put a bit differently, a confident political movement does not fight to dominate; it works to persuade. It does not curate a favorable electorate or frantically burrow itself into our counter-majoritarian institutions; it competes for power on an even playing field, assured of its appeal and certain of its ability to win. It does not hide its agenda or shield its plans from public view; it believes in itself and its ideas.

That last paragraph is a succinct description of where we are as a nation right now. In far too many states, very much including my own state of Indiana, the GOP has “curated a favorable electorate.” Republicans have also benefitted mightily from counter-majoritarian institutions that have bestowed extra electoral clout on rural voters and low-density populations.

Regular readers of this blog are well aware of my periodic rants about the pernicious and anti-democratic effects of gerrymandering, but I didn’t understand until I read this essay that the practice is also an essential tool for depriving American citizens of their bodily autonomy and other civil liberties.

Gerrymandering is a critical part of the effort to return America to the past of GOP wet dreams…..


Words And Deeds

Among the hackneyed adages we all exchange from time to time is the one that admonishes us to Ignore what people say; instead, we’re told to look at what they do. These sorts of standard sayings persist in the culture because they point to a central truth, and this one is no different. Actions really do speak louder than words.

Which brings me to Arizona.

As everyone who reads or listens to the news now knows, the Arizona Supreme Court recently struck down a 15-week limit on abortion, and instead revived an 1864 law banning the procedure–a law so old, it preceded Arizona statehood. The law they revived reads:

“A person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years.”

Arizona only became a state in 1912.

Given the toxic politics of abortion bans in the wake of Dobbs, Republicans in the state publicly decried the ruling. Even those who had previously supported total bans issued more “moderate” criticisms of the court’s decision. But then–as another hoary phrase might have it–the rubber hit the road. Democrats in the Arizona legislature proposed to repeal the law–and Republicans refused to allow that repeal to go forward.

As the AP reported:

The Arizona Legislature devolved into shouts of “Shame! Shame!” on Wednesday as Republican lawmakers quickly shut down discussion on a proposed repeal of the state’s newly revived 1864 law that criminalizes abortion throughout pregnancy unless a woman’s life is at risk.

The state Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for enforcement of the pre-statehood law. Arizona abortion providers vowed Wednesday to continue service until they’re forced to stop, possibly within weeks.

State legislators convened as pressure mounted from Democrats and some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, for them to intervene.

House Democrats and at least one Republican tried to open discussion on a repeal of the 1864 abortion ban, which holds no exceptions for rape or incest. GOP leaders, who command the majority, cut it off twice and quickly adjourned for the week. Outraged Democrats erupted in finger-waving chants of “Shame! Shame!”

It is interesting, however, that–despite the candidates’ frequent allusions to their (Christian) religiosity and Right-wing bona fides, none of the ads talk about abortion. And as the media has reported, rather than repeating his frequent previous boasts about being the President who named the Justices who gutted Roe v. Wade, even Trump has tried to “moderate” his position by coming out for a Dobbs-like “states’ rights” position.
What has happened in Arizona should serve as a lesson to voters who might be tempted to believe these GOP efforts to downplay their efforts to end reproductive freedom for America’s women. Once in office, that new not-so-moderate “moderation” will evaporate.
Ignore what they say–and take note of what they do.

Barefoot And Pregnant

I am hopeful that women–and men who care about women– will save democracy in November. If so, it will be “thanks” to the ideologues on the Supreme Court, especially Justice Samuel Alito. His profoundly misogynistic and intellectually dishonest decision in Dobbs prompted a renewed national conversation over the consequences when judges and legislators presume to over-rule medical professionals.

In November, however, voters won’t just determine the fate of abortion restrictions. Unbelievable as it may seem, there are serious efforts underway to restrict access to birth control.

First, abortion.

Special elections in Red states have uniformly confirmed that–where reproductive rights are concerned–even political identities take a back seat. A large number of polls confirm that support for abortion bans has plummeted in the wake of Dobbs. Although I’d seen a number of polls showing substantial gains in support for reproductive rights, I was surprised to read that a recent Axios-Ipsos poll found 81% of Americans agreeing with the statement “abortion issues should be managed between a woman and her doctor, not the government.” That number included 65% of Republicans, 82% of Independents and 97% of Democrats.

The dilemma for Republicans is very real, because a substantial portion of their base remains extreme on the issue. A Republican candidate who tries to soften the party’s draconian stance on abortion in order to appeal to voters turned off by  intransigence on the issue will be vilified–and deserted–by the party’s zealots. And since those zealots are the voters most likely to turn out for primary elections, Republicans in Red states will run hard-Right culture warriors in November. Here in Indiana, Republican Senate candidate Jim Banks wants a national abortion ban with zero exceptions. (If the woman dies, well, them’s the breaks, baby…) Even in Indiana, that’s not a popular position.

In November, voters in a number of swing states will face referenda on abortion. Democrats promising to codify Roe and explicitly repeal the Comstock Act should get a boost.

Then there’s birth control.

American women should hope the federal government stays in Democratic hands, because forced birth Republicans aren’t going to be satisfied with banning abortion. They’re coming for birth control too.

It may surprise many people that there is a a concerted effort going on quite literally under their noses—on the screens of their smartphones, tablets, and laptops—to sow distrust, uncertainty, and fear of ordinary birth control among this country’s young people and particularly, young women.

In most instances the folks responsible for fostering this distrust are the same people vehemently opposed to abortion. Their failure to see any dissonance in advocating such contradictory positions might be perplexing—if you didn’t take their motivation into account. It’s the natural fulfillment of what they would consider an ideal society: one where men are in control, and women know their place.

Salon has recently tracked a sophisticated and well-financed Rightwing “information blitz” on social media, warning of the hazards of birth control.

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, they’ve now trained their focus on hormonal birth control, hysterically amplifying its alleged “hazards” to create a narrative of uncertainty ripe for what they see as the conservative-dominated highest court’s next logical step….

Physicians say they’re seeing an explosion of birth-control misinformation online targeting a vulnerable demographic: people in their teens and early 20s who are more likely to believe what they see on their phones because of algorithms that feed them a stream of videos reinforcing messages often divorced from scientific evidence.

One “influencer” candidly shared his motivations:

With fewer women on the pill, more women will become mothers, and some of them will drop out of the workforce and discover fulfillment and happiness as wives and homemakers. This is the real crisis that the Washington Post and the other Left wing rags are worried about. The last thing that the elites want to see is a movement of women fully embracing their own womanhood, and men fully embracing their manhood.

During the fifty years between Roe and Dobbs, most Americans shrugged off the efforts of “pro-life” activists, assuming that the Supreme Court would not overturn a settled constitutional right. Most reasonable people have a similar reaction to warnings that access to birth control will be next. (Those people haven’t read Justice Alito’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.)

Fanatics who want to take this country back to a time before there were “uppity” women (and gays and Blacks) are a minority. But they are zealous and committed and a lot of them are running for office.

Women aren’t returning to “barefoot and pregnant” status. Voters–male and female– who understand what’s at stake will vote Blue in November. I hope there are enough of them.


The Stakes II

A couple of days ago, I considered the stakes of this year’s election choices, and speculated about whether and to what extent the abortion issue will drive both turnout and results. What I failed to explain ( thanks to the word limit I have self-imposed for these daily rants) is why the debate about reproductive choice is in reality about far more than a woman’s right to control her own reproduction, important as that is.

The deeply dishonest Dobbs decision struck at a fundamental premise of America’s Constitution, as we have come to rely upon it– the belief in limited government.

When politicians talk about “limited government,” they generally focus on the size of government, but the U.S. Constitution defines those limits in terms of authority, not size. What is to be limited is the power of government to prescribe certain decisions that should be left to the individual. In the original Bill of Rights, the federal government was forbidden to censor speech, prescribe religious or political beliefs, and take other actions that were invasions of fundamental rights–rights for which early Americans demanded recognition.

Over the years, those limitations on federal government power were imposed on state and local government units, and evolving cultural and social norms prompted a fuller understanding of what sorts of decisions individuals are entitled to make without government interference. I frequently cite what has been called the Libertarian Principle, because that principle undergirds America’s particular approach to government. The principle is simple: Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends–their own life goals–so long as they do not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as they are willing to accord an equal liberty to their fellow citizens.

The gender of your chosen mate, your adherence to a non-Christian religion (or your utter rejection of the notion of divinity), your choice to reproduce or not, and a number of other life choices are simply none of government’s business. (As Jefferson is often quoted, such decisions “neither break my leg nor pick my pocket.”)

The Libertarian Principle was central to the original Bill of Rights, and its application has  extended as “facts on the ground”–scientific and cultural–have changed. Ever since 1965, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Griswold v. Connecticut– informing the Connecticut legislature that a couple’s decision to use contraceptives was none of government’s business–the belief that there are areas of our lives where government simply doesn’t belong has been absolutely central to Americans’ understanding of liberty.

When I was much younger, the importance of limiting government to areas where collective action was appropriate and/or necessary—keeping the state out of the decisions that individuals and families have the right to make for themselves– was a Republican article of faith. It was basic conservative doctrine. Ironically, the MAGA folks who inaccurately call themselves conservative today insist that government has the right—indeed, the duty– to invade that zone of privacy in order to impose rules reflecting their own particular beliefs and prejudices.

It’s critically important to understand that what is really at stake in what we shorthand as the “abortion issue” is that fundamental Constitutional premise. Forcing women to give birth, denying medical care to defenseless trans children or forbidding school children to read certain books are not “stand-alone” positions. They are part and parcel of an entire worldview that is autocratic and profoundly anti-American.

I used to point out that a government with the power to prohibit abortion is a government with the power to require abortion. (As an ACLU friend used to say, poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.)

The issue at the heart of the Bill of Rights–as I interminably repeated to my students–isn’t what decision is made. The issue is who gets to make it. In the government system devised by our Founders, certain decisions are simply off-limits to government. I may disagree with your religious beliefs or political opinions; I may disapprove of your choice of marriage partner or your selection of reading material–but I cannot use the government to countermand your choices and require behaviors more to my liking.

It is that fundamental premise that is at stake in this year’s elections, which will pit the MAGA theocrats and autocrats against those of us who want to preserve America’s hard-won civil liberties and individual rights.

The abortion issue is about so much more than abortion, and I have to believe that, at least at some level, most Americans realize that.