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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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This weekend's column: Economy rising? Play the fear card ...

Above: Orrin puts his foot in it.

When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law.

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When neither the facts nor the law is on your side, start picking on low-income women who don’t/didn’t want to get pregnant.

Utah’s way-senior senator, Orrin Hatch, fearing for his political life, let loose with the same lie about Planned Parenthood that Arizona’s Jon Kyl had been called on a year ago. Utah’s uppity junior senator, Mike Lee, building his already precocious reputation, has gone after reproductive rights in the crown colony of Washington, D.C.

On a broader scale, abortion (which many people sincerely abhor), contraception (which nearly everybody supports) and marriage equality (almost as much) have become the political footballs of the moment. This despite the fact that the first two are, unquestionably, constitutionally protected rights, and the third is rapidly moving that way, with the consent of a fast-growing popular majority.

Shoot. For a moment there, it seemed as though the focus of this year’s elections might actually be on how the country should be run looking forward. Serious, wonky stuff like budgets, deficits, entitlements and defense.

But, kind of like the guy with the leaky basement who loses interest when it isn’t raining, the American mood seems to have shifted. The economy seems to be slowly moving out of its funk. Even unemployment, the very personification of the lagging indicator, is showing serious signs of clawing its way down.

The last step to deal with the mortgage mess is a small one, but popular enough that both Democrats like President Obama and Republicans like Utah Gov. Gary Herbert staged (very separate) press conferences to claim the credit.

Republicans in Congress have seen that standing against continuation of the reduced rate of payroll taxes is bad policy, bad politics, or both.

It would be folly indeed to say that America, or the world, is out of the economic woods. But, the shiny baubles that the American media and its manipulative guide dogs are mostly looking at right now are the same old Spiro Agnew/Pat Buchanan culture wars stuff. Like we needed any more of that.

If the contention that Obama is ruining the economy doesn’t have legs — and, given his slow but steady climb in the polls, it apparently doesn’t — then his Republican enemies have to look elsewhere for a scare tactic to frighten the working classes into once again voting against their own economic interests.

The shortest distance between those two points is Fear of Sex: put-downs of abortion, contraception and homosexuality, often by people who swear that the best cure for everything is for the government to leave people alone.

So Hatch piped up with, then quickly backed off of, the bald-faced lie that 95 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion. (Best guess from the unbiased observers at PolitiFact.com: 3 percent.) And Lee whipped out a bill to restrict abortion rights of women who live in D.C., a territory the Congress controls in just the way Utah politicians falsely claim Utah is controlled by Washington.

Ironically, the big loser in all this is the Republican that most pros think has the best — the only — chance of beating Obama: Mitt Romney. As the economy has slid down the list of important issues, the unhappy anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-feminist culture warrior, Rick Santorum, has caught or passed the CEOish Romney in many polls.

So, what scary images will Romney now trot out to try and frighten us back to his tent?

Don’t be surprised if Mitt starts wondering about Obama’s birth certificate real soon.

George Pyle is a Tribune editorial writer. You can follow him on Facebook, facebook.com/stateofthedebate, or Twitter, @debatestate.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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