Tuesday’s Gone

Inauguration day has come and gone, but the euphoria of a historic election will likely remain for some time.  For President Obama and the 110th Congress, the work is just beginning.  The economy continues to show signs of weakening, even amidst hope that the downturn will be neither as severe nor as prolonged as some have prognosticated.  Although Israel draws down its forces in Gaza, tension in the Middle East remains high.  The status of the American presence in Iraq and the oft-criticized detention facility at Guantanamo Bay remain uncertain.  Pricey health care and a failing education system also appear at the top of the President’s to do list.

Given these conditions, it is curious that some have anticipated one of the most prominent pieces of reform that will come on the heels of the inauguration to be the Freedom of Choice Act.  First introduced in 2004, its substantive provisions prohibit the government (defined as a “branch, department, agency, instrumentality, or official (or other individual acting under color of law) of the United States, a State, or a subdivision of a State”) from:

(1) deny[ing] or interfere[ing] with a woman’s right to choose–

(A) to bear a child;

(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or

(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or

(2) discriminate[ing] against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.

What I wish to note here is that this legislation is inconsistent with calls for bipartisanship and unity issuing from President Obama himself during his campaign.  Religious leaders, conservatives, and Republicans are already up in arms over this legislation.  Democrats (and President Obama) know that these groups vehemently oppose the bill.  To make this legislation a priority and equate it in importance with the much-heralded (but in my opinion extraordinarily ill-advised) economic stimulus plan is to destroy any goodwill among conservatives and Republicans that might exist for our new President — and there is quite a bit thanks to his extraordinary foreign policy team.  This is not to suggest that the measure of opposition to a bill should be any gauge of its value.  But for a candidate who spoke much about rising above partisanship, many conservatives would view the President’s signature on this particular legislation as a poke in the eye. 

We understand that in the wake of what are nationally unifying events — the peaceful transition of power and the election of the first African-American to be President — a great undercurrent of worry and fear and uncertainty remains.  President Obama can seize on the energy generated by his historic achievement to further unify the country and work to resolve the most pressing crises impacting our nation.  But that course is not certain, and the path of the next four years might be foreshadowed by the events of the next few months.

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