Thursday, May 5, 2011

Press releases: Doing Harmon

Published in the Portland Phoenix

He won't thank me for pointing this out, but Portland Press Herald columnist MD Harmon is a liberal's best friend. The infamously reality-detached arch-conservative textbook-cranky-old-white-man has established a reputation for himself of explaining in great detail the exact nature of conservative viewpoints on controversial issues.

This goes back at least as far as a 1991 column I recently learned of, in which Harmon opposed allowing gays to serve in the military because, he claimed, they would become sex predators in uniform. And in 2009, in a column opposing same-sex marriage he demonstrated, as I wrote then, "that the strongest objections to same-sex marriage are thin, weak, and, where related to flaws in legislation, already fixed in the bill Maine lawmakers have before them." (See "Press Herald Does An Amazing Public Service,", April 17, 2009.)

Last Friday, Harmon again published a column that, precisely because it was well documented, clearly argued, and transparently explained, achieved its polar opposite, exposing the weakness of his analysis, revealing the inconsistency of his logic, and ultimately doing more to disprove his argument than most people who actually disagree with him have ever done.

He took on three abortion-related bills now before the Maine Legislature.

First he addressed LD 1457, which requires parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. "The bill empowers responsible parenting, nothing more or less," Harmon writes, without a sense of irony. For Harmon, "responsible parenting" does not appear to include family planning, or parents and children talking openly about sex. His definition does, however, seem to include parents withholding consent for an abortion, thereby forcing their underage daughters to become mothers.

Harmon, a small-government conservative on most issues, here commits logical hara-kiri, arguing that when it comes to abortion, the state knows best, and the citizens are children who need to be told what's good for them.

Next, Harmon takes on LD 116, which would make women wait 24 hours between requesting an abortion and actually getting the procedure performed. He says that "surveys of post-abortive women widely show that many regret their decision," and alleges that "substantial numbers say they were pressured into it."

His logic is incomplete here: Harmon ignores surveys of women who have either chosen to become parents at a very young age or offered their newborns up for adoption. Regret numbers are high there, too, proving the obvious: When a young woman is pregnant, there are no easy answers.

Rather than sympathize with women forced to make grown-up decisions at too early an age, Harmon argues for a state interest in requiring a delay for an abortion, on the grounds that women are easily pressured into doing things they regret.

Lastly, he supports LD 924, which would require doctors to give women seeking an abortion a whole host of information about medical risks of abortion (and of childbirth), offers of economic assistance to carry a fetus to term, and basic legal advice about parents' rights and child support.

He patronizingly claims it is "hard to understand that anyone would object to giving a woman who is contemplating an invasive procedure information about what is occurring," and says the bill requires "simple, informative actions" that do not "keep women in ignorance."

Harmon even claims he supports the bill because "It views women as responsible agents," but the form of his argument belies that claim. He apparently actually believes that many — even most — women would walk into a doctor's office and ask for an abortion without seriousness of purpose, without understanding what is involved, without having talked it over with trusted friends. As a reasoned, thoughtful explicator of conservative values, Harmon is a top-notch portrayer of their shortcomings and flaws.

Gubernatorial Scorecard: Back from Vacation

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Governor Paul LePage recently returned from a Jamaican vacation, which provided fodder for some political controversy, and probably helped him avoid getting into new messes. Here's our fourth Gubernatorial Scorecard, in which we score Governor Paul LePage on political savvy, and on whether what he's trying to do is good policy. Note the running total.

PERMANENT VACATION | LePage has fired Charlie Colgan, the leader and most visible member of the state's Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, the group that guesses how Maine's economy and tax revenue will do in the future, a key part of the budget process. Forecasts are never exactly right, but being overly optimistic, as Colgan was, causes more problems than guessing low.
POLITICS • Colgan was replaced with LePage-base-friendly ultra-conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center economist Scott Moody | 7/10
POLICY • Colgan's rosy predictions led to repeated rounds of excruciating "emergency" cuts to services; his departure is no loss | 10/10

IN NEED OF A VACATION | Top gubernatorial aide Dan Demeritt resigned his state post April 16, in the wake of reports that he and his businesses are behind on mortgage and utilities payments at several buildings, five of which are now in foreclosure.
POLITICS • Firing someone for financial trouble amid a recession? Heartless | 2/10
POLICY • Having a top aide who can't pay his bills is bad GOP form | 9/10

ACCOUNTABILITY VACATION | Shortly after his return, LePage told a group of business leaders that he was free to go on vacation because of how little the Legislature had gotten done so far. That drew fire from State House Dems and Repubs alike, with House Speaker Bob Nutting retorting, "I'm sorry that the governor still doesn't understand the legislative process and apparently nobody on his staff has explained it to him."
POLITICS • Excellent defense if his policy initiatives continue to crash and burn | 6/10
POLICY • Reckless antagonism of people he needs to achieve his goals | 3/10

STRAIGHT-FACE-TEST VACATION | In a three-day period, the governor: admitted his Environmental Protection commissioner was ineligible for the post because of a conflict of interest; moved that man (Darryl Brown) to a state office LePage has slated for closing; declared the state law the nomination violated needs revision; fired his Economic Development commissioner for making offensive remarks; declined to disavow the racist, classist comments in question.
POLITICS • Created enough moving targets that weaseling out of any actual error will be easy | 8/10
POLICY • Cleaning house incompletely leaves a lot of dirt behind | 3/10

VISIBILITY VACATION | As the Maine Turnpike Authority scandal gains mainstream attention years after the initial sounds of alarm (see "E-ZPass on Ethics," by Lance Tapley, August 4, 2006), LePage is nowhere to be found. This is precisely the sort of ridiculous entrenched-bureaucrat, government-waste problem LePage railed against when campaigning. But he is not stepping up to condemn it as loudly as we might have expected from his pre-election rhetoric.
POLITICS • Missing a massive opportunity to get on message | 1/10
POLICY • Raises a question: Does he really dislike cronyism and waste? | 4/10

This month's total | Politics 24/50 | Policy 29/50 | Last month: 32/50 | Policy 15/50 | Overall: Politics 112/200 | Policy 91/200