Honest to goodness? I just don’t get the Republican party.
Let’s ignore, momentarily, the fact that I’m an atheist Australian left-winger opposed to gun ownership and creationism, and focus on the issue of contraception. John McCain, that cuddly ol’ cadaver, has recently expressed confusion as to whether condomns can stop the spread of HIV. His exact words on the subject, in fact, were: “You’ve stumped me.”
From this, it’s easy to see why McCain is opposed to sex education – he has none himself. The man is, after all, a conservative in his seventies. Back when he was in school, the liberated sixties were but a twinkle in their daddy’s eye, and there were certain things about which one simply did not speak in schools, let alone anywhere else. When AIDS became a big issue in the eighties, McCain was already in his fifties. Nowadays (in Australia, anyway) every child is, sooner or later, sat down and taught about the value of contraception: not just as a means of preventing pregnancy, but as the only reliable method of preventing STDs. I’ve known this since I was eleven. It didn’t make me want to have sex, and it sure as hell didn’t glamourise the concept, but it did ensure my everlasting belief in condoms.
Which leads us to McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, whose seventeen-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant to a self-professed redneck with a poor disposition towards fatherhood. Now: I’m not attacking Bristol. If she chose her current circumstance, well, that’s her prerogative; and if she didn’t, she deserves sympathy. If her mother lived a more anonymous life, she wouldn’t have to endure being scrutinised, judged, shamed, defended, picked-over and used as an example by millions of strangers at a time when, more than anything, she probably wants privacy. But even if she were Miss Jenny Everyteen from Hicksville, Iowa, she would still exemplify the problem of sex education – or rather, the lack thereof – in American schools.
The only cure for ignorance is knowledge. Not so long ago, respected European doctors believed that menstruation had nothing to do with pregnancy, but was, rather, an aberrant condition that would soon die out. Not long before that, most of the world believed that royalty were innately special, and that being born rich was a sign of God’s approval, while peasanthood implied that you’d done something to deserve it. Go back further still, and humankind poured libations of blood even for the Judeo-Christian God, while menstruating women (again) were isolated from the world at large, believed to be unclean.
Put simply: biological knowledge is not obvious. It has taken our species thousands of years to understand how our bodies work, how women conceive and how disease is transmitted, which understanding has culminated in surgeons, medicine, hospitals, obstetricians and contraception. Once, such information was kept hiden among an elite few, or else spoken of only in whispers. Now, we are able to talk frankly. Western representatives travel to stricken nations in Africa, teaching local communities how to guard against HIV/AIDS, while at home, women and men know to check themselves for stray lumps, the genesis of cancer. All such knowledge is derived from identical scientific principles, and from this data, we deduce ways of solving health problems before they become serious.
John McCain and Sarah Palin are against this.
We are not discussing abortion, which is a rightfully complex issue. Nor are we discussing morality, which touches on when to have sex, or with whom. Rather, we are entertaining the wacky notion of hygiene and disease prevention: the idea of intelligent measures, comparable to a flu shot, which enable men and women not to contract illness, and sensible learned behaviours, which allow couples to decide the circumstances under which they conceive a child. How such an idea might be construed as subversive or wrong remains a mystery to me, and yet, this is what the Republicans are arguing vociferously against: the idea that telling teenagers how to use condoms is good.
Time and again, statistics have shown that abstinence-only education has a much higher fail-rate than its sexual counterpart, elicting greater rates of teen pregnancy than any other approach (as Sarah Palin’s daughter can attest). It almost makes one wonder whether the decision is deliberate: that, like Anne Coulter, the whole party supports a return to traditional young marriage and pregnant housewifery, viewing sexual education as anathema to this agenda. The irony of women politicians advocating such a position is not lost, but neither is it unpredented; nor, oddly, does it gell with the Republican stance that young mothers stay in school or lose their welfare benefits. The only logical conclusion is that John McCain and his ilk believe sexual and biologcal consequences – disease and/or pregnancy – to be self-evident; and yet, as McCain himself is clearly ignorant when it comes to HIV, and as Sarah Palin’s methods of education have failed to serve her daughter, their party leaders epitomise the falsehood of this belief.
In short: the Republicans, in my estimation, are deeply, profoundly confused. Their policy is rooted in an era of sexual silence, the days of John McCain’s childhood and source of Sarah Palin’s morality, when there was no need to know why or how women fall pregnant, because this was all women were for: they married, they bred, they nurtured, and all else was the will of God. That sentiment no longer holds politically, and yet, its consequence lingers, breeding unforgiveable ignorance in a time when all other aspects of culture represent – if not vaunt – sexuality, without stopping to explain it. Whether the media should be curbed in this respect is a different debate entirely: in the interim, however, I cannot conscience such willful ignorance in adults, nor their desire for learned ignorance in the next generation. The fact that McCain and Palin desire to lead a whole entire country only makes their stance more shameful.
As much as I traditionally loathe the Australian Liberal Party, they’re at least a far cry from the Republicans. The closest we have is Family First, a minority party incapable of gaining federal governance in an effective two-party system, and except when Steven Fielding has to get his tie-break on in the Senate or says something spectacularly unsettling, very few people pay them any heed.
And as much as I’d love to be a U.S. citizen-for-the-day in order to vote for Obama, McCain and Palin make me glad I live in the planetary south, and not the deep.