Muddying the debate


It’s too bad the brash-mouthed babes of John Edwards’ campaign blog resorted to gutter-speak to make their points because, in the resulting fracas, their points got lost in amid the right- and left-wing jabbing and parrying so prominent in today’s nonstop news cycle.

It’s too bad because their points were worth considering.

Last month former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ campaign hired two women, described by as “outspoken, potty-mouthed feminist bloggers, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan” to blog for the campaign Web site. They were hired to lure lefty Democrats into the Edwards camp.

And, as is so often the case with hyperbolic Web writers, they were less than diplomatic in their portrayal of conservative Christians and the inroads they’ve made into federal policy on women’s rights and abortion rights.

The New York Times reported, “Ms. Marcotte wrote in December that the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of contraception forced women ‘to bear more tithing Catholics.’ In another posting last year, she used vulgar language to describe the church doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.”

Vulgar, yes! Too vulgar to reproduce here. And counterproductive, I might add. Like sticking your chin out to your opponent, handing him a boxing glove and asking him to break your jaw. The Catholic League, a conservative advocacy group that, like all advocacy groups, makes a bid to grab media attention whenever the occasion arises, issued a call for the Edwards campaign to fire the bloggers. And the bloggers had given the League every valid reason to do so with their angry, vituperative denunciations of Catholics and faith.

After the Edwards campaign fired and then rehired the bloggers last week, each of the two resigned this week. The whole episode made the campaign look bad. Perhaps worse, it devoured an opportunity to give serious, meaningful consideration to several crucial issues about which the women were writing.

First, let me state for the record the bloggers were woefully out of line to single out Catholics and Christians for attack. Extremists exist in the hierarchy of just about every large scale, organized religious group. Some even claim the right to dictate to followers how to live their lives. It is religious extremists who abuse this power whose behavior should be examined, not the broad swath of all adherents to one particular faith.

But the bloggers allowed themselves to be sidetracked by hurling invectives at all believers which was unfair not only to those who believe and do not impose their beliefs on others, but also to some of the causes the bloggers espoused.

For example, this week the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) held a nationwide “Day of Action” to press for passage of local and federal laws giving poor women access to family planning services. If there’s one thing moderates on both sides of the abortion debate can agree on, it’s that pregnancy prevention is preferable to unwanted pregnancies. But the media gave this issue scant coverage; attracted instead to the fireworks caused by the Edwards campaign bloggers.

Another issue that deserves more attention is federal and state funding for so-called crisis pregnancy centers. The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report last summer showing “federally funded pregnancy resource centers often mislead pregnant teens about the medical risks of abortion, telling investigators who posed as pregnant 17-year-olds that abortion leads to breast cancer, infertility and mental illness. Eight-seven percent of the centers reached by investigators provided false or misleading information about abortion, the report found.

Under the Bush Administration these crisis pregnancy centers have received more than $30 million in federal funding.”

If given more exposure, is this the type of thing taxpayers would want their money going to support? Should religious groups that run these centers have their nonprofit or tax-free status reviewed? Again, these are serious questions that get bumped aside when extremists overwhelm the debate.

Passion in political debate is good. Vulgarity and extremism are not. Let’s hope someone took note.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)