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Originally published Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Wielding the abortion ‘stick’

The abortion issue has become a political racket, writes Seattle Times opinion columnist Bruce Ramsey.

Times editorial columnist

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Retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed was commenting on the Republican Party, which had just lost every statewide office but his own.

“We’ve been hurt in Washington by some of the idiots at the national level,” Reed said. He didn’t name Missouri Rep. Todd Akin or any of the others, and didn’t have to.

He added, “Koster didn’t help.”

Snohomish County Councilman John Koster blew his third run for Congress by trying to explain why he opposed abortion even in cases of rape. Speaking to an operative from the progressive group FUSE Washington, Koster said:

“But on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better? ... How does it make it better by killing the child?”

The infelicitous phrase “the rape thing” was picked up by Slate, GlobalPost, the New York Daily News and the online London Daily Mail. It was a “Hey, Martha” story, as in, “Hey, Martha, get a load of this buffoon from the Sasquatch State.” It also went all over the new 1st Congressional District.

At least Koster should be credited with consistency of thought. If you believe an embryo is a person with a right to life — and it’s a matter of belief, on both sides — you cannot agree to it being killed because of who the father is. Koster was taking his religion seriously — a commendable thing, but dangerous in a political campaign.

In this state if you have Koster’s beliefs, and you put victory ahead of everything else, you don’t talk about your beliefs to nice young men from FUSE Washington or members of the press, who are no less dangerous in disseminating inartful comments. You blow off the question. You say abortion isn’t relevant to the job.

And mostly it isn’t. A member of Congress has no say about whether abortions will be allowed in America, although U.S. senators vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees. The issue is controlled by the Supreme Court, and has been for 50 years. Government isn’t about abortion. It is partly about regulation of other things and mostly about raising and spending money.

The money is what the people buying political ads care about. Mostly they are trade associations, unions and other groups that want the money the government spends on the people they represent. They are targeting the inattentive voter, the citizen bored by politics but reachable by an appeal to fear.

In the red states, this has been a winning strategy for Republicans. In campaigns, they unnerve conservatives about “partial birth abortion” or “the homosexual agenda”; in power, they favor business and, at the national level, the military.

A cynical liberal once wrote a book about this called, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

In blue states like ours, Democrats spook liberals about a “war on women” and an attack on “choice.” What Democrats actually do in power is favor public employees, expand social programs and, if voters let them, raise taxes.

Abortion is a serious question, and surely some of the people opining on it are fools. But in American politics the issue of abortion has become a racket. Both sides use it to extract money and votes from citizens who are not paying attention to what their government really does.

In Western Washington, it is a stick for Democrats to beat Republicans. And it works, which is why they will use it again.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is

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