To voters in Grand Rapids’ 2nd Ward

If anyone reading this lives in Grand Rapids’ 2nd electoral ward and wasn’t already planning to vote for Rosalynn Bliss in the upcoming city commission elections, I’d urge you to do so, if for negative reasons (which isn’t to say there aren’t positive ones, it’s just a disclaimer).

This morning we had a phone call from Right To Life West Michigan urging us to vote (I didn’t spare the time to explain that I’m taxed without representation in the US) for Shaula Johnston. Delighted at the opportunity to communicate with somebody from any campaign, I decided to quiz them on Johnston’s other policies that might affect abortion rates, such as poverty reduction. At the City Commission level there is no chance of having a serious impact on abortion policy, so this would seem a sensible area for an anti-abortion candidate to work on.

So I asked “What are her other policies on issues that might affect or lead to abortions?” and received the response “It’s very simple, you can either vote for abortion, or against it.” When I replied that it really isn’t that simple, and asked again what the candidate’s policy views were I was told “I don’t have that information, but I can give you a phone number to call…”. The caller had no response to my followup question about why she would be calling me in support of a candidate she knew so little about, and instead tried to return to it being a very simple decision.

At that point I asked that we be removed from their calling lists unless they’re willing to make more of an effort to learn something about the candidates they’re supporting. Apparently they have very little interest in information, as I was told we’d be removed from said lists. If Johnston isn’t putting in the effort to keep informed those working for what must be a very small campaign, is she really likely to make a good city commissioner?

(Almost as soon as that call ended the phone rang again, this time with someone looking for a James Stewart who wasn’t me. She wasn’t allowed to tell me why she was looking for that James Stewart because I wasn’t that James Stewart.)

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  1. How are poverty rates correlated with abortion? The link seems intuitively obvious, but is poverty and abortion correlated? If I look at the countries with the highest abortion rates I see the richest countries of what’s termed the first world. If I look at countries in the impoverished third world, I see unacceptably high infant mortality, but relatively low abortion rates.

    Far be it from me to gainsay the snarkiness of showing Right To Life endorsing a candidate who encourages abortions, but I think you posed the telemarketer with an unfair question. Frankly, I do not see abortion thru the lens of economic determinism (and given Dr. Marx’s bad run of luck since the Berlin Wall came down, that lens may need polishing). It seems completely unreasonable to expect the Right To Life telemarketer to represent her issue in Marxist terms.

    Perhaps your complaint with Ms. Johnston has more to do with redistributionist economics and tax policies. If so, please say so directly.

  2. Steve – I may well have a complaint with Ms. Johnston’s approach to economics but I have yet to be presented with any information that gives any insight into her economic policies. The only campaign information I have received has been to tell me she is against abortion. Which is utterly irrelevant in this election. I think it makes a pretty strong point against a candidate when they campaign on irrelevant issues.

    We could discuss economic determinism if you’d like. We could talk about how Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were also two of its biggest adherents. I am not, but I don’t think economic issues are irrelevant either. I do find it amusing that you immediately jumped to such a stark conclusion and invoked Karl Marx. Extremism like that does not help you seem sensible. Maybe defensive. I offered “poverty” as an example of a policy area related to abortion, and I do not think it unfair to expect someone who phoned up to promote a candidate to know more about that candidate than their position on an irrelevant issue (in that election).

    For more on economic links to abortion you might like to see this old post — — but it doesn’t seem from your tone like you’re really interested.

  3. after I commented, I reread your original post and found economic determinism more implicit than explicit in your remarks. for that unfairness I apologize.

    I’m a resident of the 2nd ward and I have spoken with Ms. Bliss. She has campaigned on her interest in “child protection” issues. The central premise of the pro-life movement is that opposing abortion is a form of child protection. If you accept this premise, then both candidates have made child protection an issue in this race. If you reject this premise, then Right To Life’s endorsement is indeed out of left field.

    It seems the candidates differ about WHEN & HOW the child is to be protected. Pro-lifers often lose all interest after the child is born (which is wrong). And pro-lifers are often one-dimensional in their thinking.

    I agree that child-protection is probably irrelevant to the Grand Rapids City Commission, but political campaigns often turn on irrelevancies. I won’t be voting for either candidate because of child protection or abortion.

    The problem with politicians is that they run for jobs in government. Thus they are wont to look for solutions to social problems via government activism. My evil dark-side Sith opinion is that there are other institutions beside government and non-governmental institutions may have (in some cases) better solutions. Thus, in Poling’s Dystopia, society’s institutions balance each other. Imbalance caused guys like Mr. Reagan to say that government is the problem.

    Who can run for office promising, “Government does too much. If you elect me, I’ll do everything I can to do nothing.” ???

  4. Steve – Thanks for your clarification, but I think you still miss my key points. I agree that we need to be careful about how we apply economic analysis to situations, but I am convinced there is an economic dimension to the abortion debate that is all too often neglected. Anyway, my points were:

    Firstly: A candidate’s beliefs on the legislation of abortion have little to nothing to do with the role of a city commissioner. Abortion is not something that is within the remit of a city commissioner. To make the campaign about abortion is to demonstrate an inappropriateness for the role.

    Secondly: No candidate is devoid of views on other issues, and no serious candidate should run on a single issue (particularly one which is irrelevant to the post). It is entirely ridiculous, and deeply insulting to the voters, to have people making campaign calls with no knowledge of your other policies. Surely it’s not too much to at least give them a sheet of paper with a brief summary of your policies?

    To be honest, I don’t have time right now to get into a debate about economic determinism (or policy in general) right now, particularly when they’re so very tangential to the issue in question.

  5. I agree that a city commissioner has nothing to do with abortion legislation. (That power resides in the hands of an appointed elite in Washington.) My point is that “child protection” is also similarly tangential to the role of a city commissioner. And thus your argument applies equally to both candidates.

    If memory serves, the call that you got came not from the Johnston campaign, but from Right To Life of Michigan. There is a difference. If the Amalgamated Scrapiron Council endorsed a candidate and placed calls on her behalf, I believe the conversation would be equally one-dimensional with respect to scrapiron. It is unfair to oppose a candidate merely because her endorser is inarticulate.

    Given the fact that we agree about what’s tangential I see no reason to debate that point.

    Central to the city commision job is the city infrastructure. Ferinstance, street lights on my street. Half my neighbors want the city to put up street lights. The other half of my neighbors do not want to pay the expense. This is an issue that I’m unaware of either candidate taking a position. Obviously, both have remained silent or equivocal about this lest they cheese off those on the other side of the issue.

  6. This will be my last post responding to these comments, Steve.

    Yes, the call was from Right To Life, but they said they were calling on behalf of the candidate and I put the onus on the candidate to make efforts to ensure that anyone claiming to call on their behalf is half-way informed. These people aren’t.

  7. Does this mean I get the last word?