Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain's Shame

I was watching "Morning Joe" this morning on MSNBC, and they had John McCain on for a brief interview. He was largely treated with kid gloves (Joe Scarborough joked about defining the Truman Doctrine), but Mika Brzezinski did ask about some of the more dishonest campaign commercials that the McCain camp is running and has been widely criticized for in recent days. McCain defended the ads, saying that they were all factually based, even when pressed about the advertisement currently running in which McCain accuses Obama of voting for a bill that would teach kindegarteners about sex. "The bill is on my website" McCain responded, insisting that readers look it up for themselves.

Well, that's what I've done. I'll admit that I wasn't able to find the bill through McCain's campaign website; It's not clear where one should look. There's no link to a "document dump" or "truth page" or anything of the sort that might serve to verify the campaign's claims about Barack Obama. Instead I ran a google search and found a link to the bill itself. I also found an article by Byron York, of the National Review, which attempts a defense of the McCain campaign's claims. They are both worth examining. Let us begin with the bill itself. It can be found here.

I'll cite a few passages from this horrible bill that set about, so inexcusably, to corrupt our youth:

 8 (a) No pupil shall be required to take or participate  in
9 any class or course in comprehensive sex education if the
10 pupil's his parent or guardian submits written objection
11 thereto, and refusal to take or participate in such course or
12 program shall not be reason for suspension or expulsion of
13 such pupil.

19 (b) All public elementary, junior high, and senior high
20 school classes that teach sex education and discuss sexual
21 activity or behavior intercourse shall emphasize that
22 abstinence is an effective method of preventing unintended is
23 the expected norm in that abstinence from sexual intercourse
24 is the only protection that is 100% effective against
25 unwanted teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases,
26 and HIV acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) when
27 transmitted sexually.


33 (11) (8) Course material and instruction shall
34 teach pupils to not make unwanted physical and verbal

-4- LRB093 05269 NHT 05359 b
1 sexual advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual
2 advances and shall include information about verbal,
3 physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without
4 limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual
5 physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The
6 course material and instruction shall contain methods of
7 preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including
8 exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that
9 impairs one's judgment.

7  (2)  All  course material and instruction in classes
8 that teach sex education and discuss sexual activity or
9 behavior shall be age and developmentally appropriate.

So the text is quite clear. We're talking about age appropriate sexual education, that includes instruction on how to avoid being victimized by acquaintances, that is not mandatory, and that emphasizes the effectiveness of abstinence in the prevention of both pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

There is nothing in the bill to justify the McCain camp's smear that the bill "teaches kids about sex before they learn to read," certainly not in the sense that the McCain campaign is suggesting. Rather, the inclusion of the phrase "age appropriate" in describing the sorts of instruction that is to be given, makes it amply clear that just the opposite is the case. If, in fact, the bill were about teaching issues of human sexuality (contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, greatest hits of the Kama Sutra) then why include the term "age appropriate" in the bill at all?

Byron York, writing in the National Review Online attempts to defend the McCain camp's interpretation of the bill, but reading the substance of his article rather than his spin, one comes away with a very different interpretation. Some notable passages:
After the ad controversy erupted, I asked the Obama campaign to suggest who I might interview for more information. I particularly wanted some sort of contemporaneous account showing that Obama voted for the bill because of its inappropriate-touching provision. The campaign suggested I call Ken Swanson, who is head of the Illinois Education Association and a 20-year veteran of teaching sixth-graders.

“The intent of the language and inclusion of kindergarten was simply to make it possible to offer age-appropriate, not comprehensive, information for kindergartners so that those young children could be given basic information so that they would be aware of inappropriate behavior by adults,” Swanson told me. “Certainly, it was never intended to be some sort of inappropriate information that might be appropriate for junior high or high school students.” McCain’s accusation, Swanson told me, was “bogus.”
So Swanson, by York's own account, supports the Obama Camp's contention. York then goes on to interview one of the Bil's sponsors (the only one he managed to get in touch with):
That leaves Sen. Martinez, who was kind enough to speak to me by phone Monday afternoon. Martinez began by saying that the bill was indeed about inappropriate touching. “We know that young children, very, very young, have things happen to them that they don’t speak about,” Martinez told me. “It’s important that we teach our young kids very, very young to speak up.”

When I asked Martinez the rationale for changing grade six to kindergarten, she said that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Cook County Department of Health — both major contributors to the bill — “were finding that there were children younger than the sixth grade that were being inappropriately touched or molested.”
So it's pretty clear that Obama has been honest in his description of the bill, whereas the McCain camp is engaging in just the opposite behavior. Byron York, meanwhile, arrives at his defense of the McCain interpretation by conflating the various goals of the bill:
After we discussed other aspects of the bill, I told Martinez that reading the bill, I just didn’t see it as being exclusively, or even mostly, about inappropriate touching. “I didn’t see it that way, either,” Martinez said. “It’s just more information about a whole variety of things that have to go into a sex education class, the things that are outdated that you want to amend with things that are much more current.”

So, I asked, you didn’t see it specifically as being about inappropriate touching?

“Absolutely not.”
And so, York concludes, clearly this was a bill about teaching kindergarteners how to put on a condom (I exaggerate, of course, but that's the sort of thing York is implying). However, the only way to reach York's conclusion is to specifically ignore the passage calling for "age appropriate" education. This was a bill meant to reform sex aducation at the K-12 ranges so, yes, the bill does address issues of contraception, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However to conclude, as McCain and York do, that the bill sought to teach Kindergarteners anything other than how to protect themselves against sexual predators is quite simply dishonest. In other words, McCain is a liar, and York, in defending him, makes himself a party to that lie.

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