What’s the biggest difference between the Planned Parenthood videos and the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in 1898?
Both hoaxes are being used as pretexts to war, but in the case of laying blame for sinking our battleship off the coast of Cuba, there actually was a sunken ship. On the other hand, Planned Parenthood is not selling dead baby parts on an illegal secondary market. That’s fake.
The truth hardly matters in either case. Whipped into a froth by nativist newspapers, Americans hungrily glommed onto the war slogan, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain.” It didn’t matter, really, who sank our battleship. It seemed logical that Spain did it because tensions with that country were already high over Cuba. We didn’t need to confirm evidence that seemed to suggest what we felt to be true.
Maybe that was the point with the easily debunked and obviously edited videos that proved nothing more than Planned Parenthood executives eat salad and drink wine. What we know now is nothing new: Sometimes Planned Parenthood clients donate fetal tissue for research, and Planned Parenthood gets reimbursed for expenses. But those are just the facts, albeit easily verifiable and widely available ones.
The truth is that this hidden video hoax is the sunken battleship that loosed the Republicans dogs of war.
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson compared Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards to a Nazi, tweeting, “Resolved: Cecile Richards is the closest we have come in America to Josef Mengele.”
Rush Limbaugh also compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis for “advocating pregnant women to go and have their babies’ body parts harvested.”
Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz called Planned Parenthood “a criminal enterprise that is committing felonies, that is selling the body parts of unborn children” and demanded that Congress outlaw Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding for medical services, a call joined by fellow senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to fast-track a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, skipping the committee process entirely so they can get right to the fist pounding and arm waving. The vote will inevitably fail, spurring talk of a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood.
Only Speaker John Boehner suggested that politicians were putting the defunding cart before the congressional investigation horse. This outraged Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who said, “There is no excuse when you have evidence like this, it’s time to move forward.”
Except there is no evidence. Damn the facts, full speed ahead.
Conservatives have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood and to roll back access to abortion and birth control for years now, but only since the 2010 Republican wave have they had any success. Since that watershed election, states have enacted 231 new laws restricting abortion, more than all the laws in the previous three decades combined. Yet abortion opponents have only found success in the states.
They haven’t had as much success at the federal level because Planned Parenthood is popular. A poll conducted after the first hidden camera video was released found that most Americans like Planned Parenthood, and only 38 percent support defunding Planned Parenthood. The only people convinced by the hidden camera hoax are people who already didn’t like Planned Parenthood.
I should disclose here that I used to work for Planned Parenthood and consider Richards a friend. If she’s Josef Mengele, I’m Joe DiMaggio. In my experience, the people who work for Planned Parenthood would sooner volunteer for Cruz’s presidential campaign than run an illegal black market in dead baby parts. They believe deeply in helping women obtain the health care services they need, and yes, that includes abortions. They are honest, well-intentioned people, and they help an extraordinary percentage of Americans.
But those facts don’t matter to the politicians who are too busy trying too put them out of business to wait for investigations to conclude to see if anything illegal actually happened. Anti-abortion politicians are using these hoax videos as flimsy excuses to defund Planned Parenthood, and they don’t care what you think about it.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford