Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Sandra Fluke is bad for Democrats

Is the highly-educated, elite liberal activist Sandra Fluke really the woman Obamacare was made for?

This might sound illiberal and sexist, but I oppose Sandra Fluke's headlining for the Democratic Party at this year's convention, or anywhere else.  

Her main political credential: publicly complaining, and then testifying before Congress, that her student health insurance at Georgetown law school did not cover her $1,000 annual tab for birth control.  (And, to be fair, her friends' birth control.) Then Rush Limbaugh wrongly called her a "slut," saying she wanted to be paid to have sex, making her a media martyr for her cause célèbre. 

Yet I look at her from a different perspective: that of your everyday, full-time working woman, whose median gross income was $37 K in 2010. 

Tuition alone at Georgetown Law is over $50 K a year.  Before Georgetown, Ms. Fluke graduated from Ivy League school Cornell University, where annual tuition is currently $41 K for non-residents and $25 K for residents. Altogether, the cost of Fluke's top-flight education was upwards of $250,000, or at least $36 K per year. Ms. Fluke's annual birth control expense was under 3 percent of that -- even less, if you add in books, fees, etc. Furthermore, Ms. Fluke's opportunity cost of choosing not to work was about double (probably much more) the median female earner's annual income.

I understand that every little expense matters and it all adds up... especially when one makes the voluntary choice to pursue graduate school instead of working full time, and at a very expensive school in an expensive city, at that.  Maybe she won scholarships, grants or other financial aid, I don't know; but the true cost of her education remains the same, regardless of whether she paid for it.

Added to that basic cost, Ms. Fluke said she deserved birth control, paid for by the university's health plan, or the government.  (I suppose she was indifferent from whom, as long as she got it.)  Although she cited her friend's ovarian cyst as justification for female students' needing affordable birth control, Ms. Fluke did not claim any such medical condition for herself.  

Currently, a 36-pack of Trojan-ENZ ARMOR Spermicidal Lubricated Condoms costs about $22, or 61 cents a condom.  Even if Ms. Fluke chose to have sex three times a day, 365 days a year, her annual birth control cost would total $670... if she made condoms her method of birth control.  Male condoms are 82-98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control, (they're more effective when used properly, just like any contraceptive method).  In addition, latex condoms are "highly effective" at preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. Whereas The Pill and many other forms of birth control are zero percent effective at preventing STDs.

So on cost, and on science, condoms beat most other methods of sexual protection. But they're inconvenient.  I know.  That's what this is really about for many of the 11 million U.S. women taking oral contraceptives: their, and their male partners', convenience.  

So Rush Limbaugh was wrong: Ms. Fluke did not want to be paid to have sex.  She wanted to be subsidized for her choice of study over work; and she wanted her pleasure and convenience subsidized.

Here's a little-known fact as an aside: Ms. Fluke chose to attend Catholic Georgetown Law knowing full well its medical coverage policy. According to The Washington Post:

She researched the Jesuit college's health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included. "I decided I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care," says Fluke, who has spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue. 

Let's compare Ms. Fluke's plight to that of most other U.S. women.  In 2010, an estimated 18.7 million women had no health insurance -- not even a basic university medical plan like Ms. Fluke's -- and another 16.7 million women did have insurance, but with such large out-of-pocket costs that they were effectively underinsured.  

Look, I understand that access to affordable birth control is essential for many working women to take control of their reproductive lives and remain in the workforce.  Thanks to Obamacare, starting this month, all private insurance plans must cover female contraception.  However, there is a good chance that Obamacare will be repealed, all or in part, after the November elections.  That would be a tragedy for working women.

In this context, I don't agree that privileged women who choose expensive graduate education over work should be trotted out as spokeswomen for reproductive rights, working-class women, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.  

So it's not so much the content of Ms. Fluke's complaint that matters, but the personal context:  hers, versus the millions of uninsured and underinsured women who take any job they can get, whether it provides health insurance or not, and would not even dare to complain to their at-will employer or dream of testifying before Congress that they need contraceptive coverage.  

Was Ms. Fluke brave for standing up for herself and her classmates, knowing that she had little to lose, and certainly lots to gain... like becoming a prominent national activist?  Are most working-class women meek for not following suit?  Certainly not. Ms. Fluke didn't pretend to speak for them.  That's good, because she can't.  She cannot possibly be their articulate spokeswoman on this issue, because she cannot understand the fear and the desperation of working-class Americans chained to bad jobs just to keep their health insurance, or worse, working at any jobs they can find, even without health insurance.  

Once again, Democrats have decided to make a highly-educated, articulate white woman their chosen spokesperson on "women's issues," instead of a real working woman.  The media and other highly-educated white liberal women applaud Ms. Fluke's bravery.  Meanwhile, the plight of real working women, including women of color, is ignored.  

Real women, real everyday people, have to sacrifice things they need all the time. They don't expect to get it all, they pray for enough to get by.

Putting the media spotlight on such real women at the Democratic convention -- and how Obamacare will benefit them -- could actually help Democrats win in November, and thus make sure that law is protected.  Instead, Democrats have chosen to hoist up a polarizing figure who exudes white liberal entitlement and Ivory-Tower detachment.  

Bad strategy.  Hurts the party.  Puts Obamacare at risk.

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