Tuesday, September 16, 2008
On this day:

Obama, sex education, and a McCain ad

McCain "Education" ad has prompted a furious reaction from the Obama campaign and its supporters in the media. They argue that it is misleading in its assertion that "Obama's one accomplishment" on education was "legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners."

First, let's take up the question of whether Illinois's comprehensive sex-ed bill (Senate Bill 99) is "Obama's one accomplishment" related to education. The answer is - not exactly. During Obama's stint as a state legislator, he did vote for other education reform bills that actually did become law, unlike the sex-ed bill, which did not. According to FactCheck.org:
He was a cosponsor of what became the Chicago Education Reform Act of 2003, which allowed for an increase in the number of Chicago charter schools and required the Chicago Board of Education to enter into a formal partnership with the Chicago Teachers Union to "advance the Chicago Public Schools to the next level of education reform." [According to the Heritage Foundation: the Act "provides for the creation of 15 new charter schools in the city, but it also gives teachers more bargaining rights--making charter school advocates wary of the measure."] He was also a cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to help Illinois high school graduates be eligible for in-state college tuition rates even if they weren't U.S. citizens.
So. Did Obama "accomplish" something good by voting to grant taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition to non-citizens, including those who are in the country illegally? Was it an "accomplishment" to provide for more charter schools in the City of Chicago, while simultaneously undermining that objective by handing even more power to that city's teachers' unions? You be the judge.

In politics, putting forth subjective judgments about an opponent's record is nothing new. What is new is that so many people have apparently lost the common sense or the good will necessary to distinguish statements of fact from statements of opinion.

But what about the McCain ad's most controversial allegation: that Obama supported "legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners"? That's the Obama camp's most substantive complaint about the ad, but it's also the least defensible. Because Obama did in fact support legislation to expand the state's comprehensive sex education program to include kindergartners.

The old (and still existing) law in Illinois states:
Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades 6 through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention, transmission and spread of AIDS.
The text of the bill Obama supported would have amended that to say:
Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV.
See the difference? The McCain ad's only misrepresentation on this point is that the Obama-supported legislation would have expanded the state's sex-ed curriculum to include all elementary school students in grades K-5, not just kindergartners, as the ad implies.

Obama contends that kindergartners would only have been instructed as to how to avoid sexual predators and recognize inappropriate touching. That's possible, but doubtful. Granted, the legislation provided that all course material and instruction should be "age and developmentally appropriate," but the big concern among Illinois parents was that radical groups like Planned Parenthood - who were influential in crafting the legislation - would be equally influential in determining the "appropriateness" of what to teach their children about sex and when to teach it.

NRO's Byron York got in touch with one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Iris Martinez, who shed some light on the extent of Planned Parenthood's involvement. In an article published today, he wrote:
When I asked Martinez the rationale for changing grade six to kindergarten, she said that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Cook County Department of Health — both major contributors to the bill — “were finding that there were children younger than the sixth grade that were being inappropriately touched or molested.” When I asked about the elimination of references to marriage and the contraception passages, Martinez said that the changes were “based on some of the information we got from Planned Parenthood.”

After we discussed other aspects of the bill, I told Martinez that reading the bill, I just didn’t see it as being exclusively, or even mostly, about inappropriate touching. “I didn’t see it that way, either,” Martinez said. “It’s just more information about a whole variety of things that have to go into a sex education class, the things that are outdated that you want to amend with things that are much more current.”

So, I asked, you didn’t see it specifically as being about inappropriate touching?

“Absolutely not.”
That blows Obama's defense of his vote out of the water. Planned Parenthood and its allies simply do not agree with most parents about what is "age appropriate" when it comes to instruction about sex and sexuality. Still, as the nation's largest abortion provider and a $100 million recipient of federal funding, Planned Parenthood is enormously influential in Democratic Party politics and thus in the crafting of public policy. There is little doubt that the sex-ed legislation Obama supported would have extended that influence even further, to the detriment of Illinois families.

As Byron York said in the conclusion to his article:
Obama’s explanation for his vote [that the bill's implications for kindergartners would be "age appropriate" and would only involve instruction about how to avoid sexual predators and how to recognize inappropriate touching] has been accepted by nearly all commentators. And perhaps that is indeed why he voted for Senate Bill 99, although we dont know for sure. But we do know that the bill itself was much more than that. The fact is, the bills intention was to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten. Obamas defenders may howl, but the bill is what it is.