With hours to spare, Republican leaders finally worked with Democrats on Wednesday to avert a government shutdown, but not before their party extremists had wasted everyone’s time and goodwill on an extravaganza of grandstanding and political smears.
Who was served? Not the public, and not the GOP. Though Planned Parenthood has long been a conservative target – its president, Cecile Richards, is a Democrat and the daughter of the famed Texas liberal governor Ann Richards – the right gained nothing by threatening the nation’s business over the group’s modest allotment of federal funding. The “sting” video that kicked off the uproar showed Planned Parenthood executives doing nothing illegal. Its shock value evaporated once Americans realized this was just a ploy to trick the rest of us into looking at grisly pictures.
No one was surprised to learn that abortions are among the many health services Planned Parenthood offers. And almost no one was surprised that some of the women who make that choice donate the fetal tissue for scientific research. A handful of Planned Parenthood clinics facilitate those kinds of donations, mostly in California; the local pro-lifer who made the video claimed that they illegally profited from that.
The question remains as we anticipate the next threat of a shutdown: What was the point here?
But they don’t. And even the thrilling climax of the stunt, a ritual browbeating of Richards by the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday, yielded little new information. At most, we learned, upon questioning, that Richards is paid well. She should be, since she is chief executive of a large national health organization, although many heads of nonprofits make far more. Like the abortions Planned Parenthood provides, her $520,000 salary is paid for with donations, not federal funds.
As the off-putting episode wound down, trivializing sincere pro-life views, the public was left to wonder how this was a win for the conservatives behind it. The lasting impressions were of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina insisting stubbornly that the videos showed things that they demonstrably didn’t and of House Speaker John Boehner resigning from Congress rather than continuing to beg the far right wing of his delegation to behave like adults.
The question remains as we anticipate the next threat of a shutdown: What was the point here beyond damaging Richards’ valuable organization? The attempt failed. Sixty-one percent of Americans oppose eliminating Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, and a pro-Planned Parenthood social media rally turned Tuesday into “National Pink Out Day.”