Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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Shades of Dr. Max

Dr. Max Rafferty

Dr. Max Rafferty

Way back in 1968, California had a real barn-burner of a senate election pitting Democrat Alan Cranston (the former state Comptroller) versus Republican Dr. Max Rafferty (that’s him in the photo), the then state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Max was such a “far right reactionary” that many California Democrats actually changed their voter registration to Republican for the sole purpose of voting for the incumbent, the much-admired and respected liberal Republican Thomas Kuchel. Despite the influx of new Republican primary voters, Dr. Max defeated Senator Kuchel, and then went on to lose the general election to Cranston by more than 340,000 votes. (Of course, a vast majority of the Democrats who had re-registered as Republicans, returned to the fold for the general election.)

Defeated for reelection to his state education post two years later, Dr. Max moved to Alabama, where he took a job as Chancellor of Troy State University. Upon learning of Rafferty’s planned move, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote “In leaving California and moving to Alabama, Dr. Max is raising the IQ of both states simultaneously.” (Dr. Max would continue living in Alabama, and actually became a surrogate for George Wallace. On June 13, 1982, Dr. Max died when his car plunged off an earthen dam into a pond near Troy. He was 65.

This now half-century old memory fought its way back to my frontal lobes while I was in the process of reading various Tweets and Facebook postings from ardent “pro-life” (or rather, “pro-birth”) supporters of the nation’s newest and cruelest total abortion ban - the one just signed into law by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Many of these Tweets and postings were aglow with the joy of knowing that as of this coming November, physicians who conduct abortions in Alabama could be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and women undergoing abortions could be held legally liable for their actions. And, as a result, many of these Tweeters were now half-seriously considering moving to Alabama, where “morality is back in style." I responded to several of them that in leaving their home states and moving to the land of Ivey, they would - like Dr. Max - be raising the IQ of two states simultaneously. Not knowing the historic context behind my tweets, they were, to say the least, perplexed. Now, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and other states are in competition with one another to pass their own pro-birth, anti-woman bans ASAP.

Truth to tell, for many of these state legislatures, rushing to pass regressive anti-abortion ”fetal heartbeat” legislation, the reason for turning back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days hasn’t got all that much to do with religion or morality. Rather, it has lots to do with putting a powerful emotional wedge issue squarely on the 2020 ballot. To their way of thinking, this issue will help 45’s reelection bid. But already, there are signs that Republicans themselves - including the POTUS himself - are becoming political contortionists; pols who, while seeking to convince their base that they are still adamantly pro-birth, are also attempting to distance themselves from the cruelest, most testosterone-driven aspects of the newest pieces of legislation.

One might think Alabama legislators and their base would be more concerned about paying attention to the state of their state than whether or not women and their physicians are going to be enjoined and even imprisoned for making decisions about their bodies and lives. If the Republican politicians and citizens of Alabama were really, truly concerned about life - rather than merely birth - they would be appalled at what is going on in the Yellowhammer State. For in poll after poll, Alabama rates dead last - or close to it - in just about every economic and social category. According to recent state rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is:

  • 50th in education;

  • 46th in health care;

  • 45th in economy;

  • 45th in opportunity and

  • 45th in crime and corrections.

  • Alabama’s overall rating among the 50 states is 49 . . . Louisiana - another state spending the lion’s share of its legislative time on banning abortions - comes in dead last, while on the other end of the scale:

  • Washington is number 1. New Hampshire number 2, and Minnesota number 3.

In passing their worst-in-the-nation anti-abortion bill, Alabama’s Republican legislators and Republican governor are clearly doing everything in their power to ensure continued support from their party’s (read: Trump’s) political base. This is unbelievably myopic. In order to go beyond maintaining their base - let alone expanding it - they are going to need to attract more suburban women and educated urbanites. With passage of this bill - and all the attendant negative press and their increasingly riven party - they are going to lose even more potential voters. If the myopic pols, in turn, say “All we need to do is repeatedly warn our constituents about all the pre-born lives that will be destroyed if we are not reelected, and how we are truly doing God’s will” - they are going to find themselves in even worse shape. For, as bad as education, job growth, farming, infrastructure and healthcare are in Alabama (and Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio) right now, things are going to get even worse. How so? Economic boycotting by individuals and corporations who otherwise might visit, build, hold conventions or invest in these hyper pro-birth states. This will give more rational candidates the ability to engage in issues of even greater day-to-day concern.

In last week’s post (“The Death of Biodiversity”) we mentioned the many conservative politicians who refuse to join the growing legions of folks who see climate change as an issue of paramount importance. Their rationale? The “I’m not a scientist” excuse. Why is it that the vast majority of politicians who use this tactic act like board-certified OB-GYNs when it comes to abortion? Why is it that those who argue adamantly against any and all gun safety measures (“It’s an encroachment on personal liberty!”) have no problem with government involvement in - and regulation of - a woman’s right to choose? Could it be that they are too dense to recognize radical inconsistency? Or are there simply more campaign dollars to be had from the likes of pro-gun and anti-abortion PACS than teachers’ unions, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?  

I bet even a Luddite like Dr. Max would have known the answer.

536 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone