Joe Klein Solves the ‘Hot-Button Issues’

There’s almost too much to say about this recent column Joe Klein wrote in Time magazine. But let’s start by parsing this:

In the good old days of the last century, the years before the collapse of the economy and the World Trade Center towers, political discourse in the U.S. was, too often, rutted in issues that didn’t affect the lives of most people. They were important moral and symbolic issues, to be sure. And they were difficult issues, although their subtleties were obscured by extremists, who tended to dominate the debate. Still, the people directly affected by the so-called social issues–abortion, gay marriage, racial preferences–pale in comparison with the tens of millions who have lost their jobs and fortunes in the past year and with the global, life-and-death impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Didn’t affect the lives of most people”? The people who are “directly affected” by abortion, gay marriage and “racial preferences” are women (roughly half of whom experience an unintended pregnancy at least once in their life), people of color and gay people–i.e., just about everyone except straight white males like Klein.

(I’m still trying to figure out what an “extremist” pro-gay position on gay marriage would be. Is that the one where gay rights advocates “want to change the way *I* live”?)

Then Klein writes this:

Late-term abortions–no more than a few percent of the total performed in the U.S.–were Tiller’s specialty. These are usually hard cases, sometimes the result of rape or incest or the discovery of severe birth defects. But they are, without question, the taking of a life. At the same time, the pro-life community should concede that sex education and the widespread availability of morning-after pills and condoms are necessary if we’re going to prevent these tragedies.

First of all, abortions performed after 19 weeks actually account for only 1.1 percent of all abortions. Viability usually starts around 24 weeks, so what are usually termed “late-term” abortions surely account for well under 1 percent. More importantly, that they are “without question, the taking of a life” is just kinder, gentler baby-killer language. And how are “sex education and the widespread availability of morning-after pills and condoms” going to prevent “the discovery of severe birth defects”?

Finally, Klein launches into an attack on affirmative action:

The Sotomayor debate has been polluted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, who claim, ridiculously, that the judge is a racist. That sort of rant is so-o-o 20th century. Beneath the pollution, however, is a serious policy question that needs to be resolved: With an African-American president and a polychromatic society moving toward racial (if not economic) equity, why do we still need preferences enshrined in law?

Klein’s assertion that we’re “moving toward racial…equity” is a little hard to figure; the fact that a biracial man was elected president doesn’t change the reality for people of color that racial disparities in the United States are still very much with us.

Klein went on to say that Judge Sonia Sotomayor crossed a line

when she agreed in 2008 to toss the results of a promotion exam for the New Haven, Conn., fire department because an insufficient number of minorities passed it. That seems inherently unfair to those who succeeded–including the dyslexic firefighter Frank Ricci, who hired tutors to help him pass and whose name adorns the case. The lack of minority success does not necessarily signify the presence of racial prejudice. The best way to rectify such a situation is to make sure the next test is truer. An appropriate 21st century standard should be proof of actual discrimination against specific individuals.

What, exactly, does he mean by “make sure the next test is truer”? If the test was flawed, the logical thing to do would be to throw out the results. But then, logic doesn’t seem to be Klein’s strong suit.

About Julie Hollar

Managing Editor of Extra! Magazine
Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.