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GOP Sneaks Porn into Platform Calls It ‘Public Health Crisis’

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shutterstock_301936703This week, the GOP is working on its official platform. As expected, it’s packed with a ton of garbage (support for gay “conversion therapy,” and refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, just to name some of it), and it’s missing some stuff that should be in there (hello? gun violence anyone?).  But it did have one agenda item that snuck in under the radar without much debate: porn.   According to the RNC, internet porn is the latest health crisis requiring prompt government attention. Oh right. I must have been momentarily distracted by AIDS statistics and mass shootings to remember how web porn should be our top priority.

A little background on “party platforms”:

Political “party platforms” are lengthy documents outlining the key principles and ideologies of one particular party. Every four years, shortly before each convention, the DNC and the RNC choose committee members who debate and draft their official party platforms. Party delegates then vote to support or amend platform drafts until a final version is adopted. In a fun little carpentry metaphor, the individual topics included in each “platform” (on which the party will stand), are called “planks.”

Throughout history, there have been famous party platforms, such as FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s War on Poverty, and Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America – each of which rested on a comprehensive plan for the nation’s future. In recent years, specific party planks have been highly controversial, such as the 2012 Democratic plank to support same-sex marriage and the corresponding Republican plank supporting a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Other hot plank topics were comprehensive immigration reform and American support for Israel. In that context, it’s a little weird for internet porn to rank up there with Israel’s sovereignty and the national economy. Not to make light of the problem of guys using their work computers to surf PornHub, but it sure does seem like one of these things is not like the other.

Mary Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, was the voice behind the 2016 pornography amendment during the RNC subcommittee meeting on healthcare, education and crime. In interviews, Forrester said she worked on the amendment with the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America in response to her fear that young people became addicted to porn. “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children,” Forrester said.

I don’t disagree with Forrester’s concern for young people, but the amendment misses the mark, big time.

Compare the old language from the GOP’s former platform: We urge active prosecution against child pornography, which is closely linked to the horrors of human trafficking. Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.

With the newly-amended language:

“Pornography, with his harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well being,” the amendment stated.

Putting aside the disturbing issue that the GOP found time to strengthen its position on porn while giving no attention to gun violence, racism, or police-citizen relations, this new language is problematic all on its own. Internet porn is a problem, I guess. I certainly don’t want my children Googling “Pokemon Go” and ending up with video clips of naked threesomes. But there are two things about this amendment plank that bug me.

First, the conflation of “pornography” with “child pornography.” Children who are used in pornography and sex-trade are obviously victims deserving the fullest protection our government can offer. No question there. In fact, I’d like to see a pledge to vigorously enforce all crimes against children – not just sex crimes. But equating “internet pornography” with “child pornography,” is the kind of stretch that only makes sense to those who swore same-sex marriage would pave the way for people to start marrying their pets. Declaring that all pornography is “child pornography” has the convenient effect of hitting several hot-button birds with the same political stone; stay tuned, because we’re pretty close to all things sexual becoming child-protective issues.

The amended language is a mess. Were we talking about the dangers of online pornography being viewed by kids, or were we talking about using kids in the porn itself? These are both bad things, but they are two very different issues. If either (or both) of them are important enough to parallel with the New Deal, I’d at least like to be a little clearer about which one is the GOP’s target.

Second, and more sinister, is the use of the term “public health crisis.” Conservative politicians simply cannot resist using “public health” to justify everything from homophobia to censorship to abortion laws. And this anti-porn plank is a foreshadowing of the inane legal arguments that are bound to follow. Republicans (and anyone else paying attention to Constitutional history) know that when individual states justify controversial legislation as “necessary to ensure public health and safety,” courts are hesitant to trample on state autonomy. Calling something a “public health crisis” places it on sacred ground; here, it’s not even clear what exactly constitutes this crisis, but I suspect it we’ll soon see some sweeping censoring laws designed to help. Worse yet, I expect everything from Match.com to Pinterest will be characterized as “internet pornography” when Republicans find it convenient to do so.

I’m no champion of the pornography industry. It’s multi-billion dollar business that indefensibly victimizes the powerless. The internet makes obscene material accessible to children at a level that is deeply troubling to all reasonable people, especially parents. Responsible regulation of this industry is unequivocally important. And if the GOP platform said that, I’d be writing a very different article.

 

 

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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