Komen and Its Mama Grizzly

In the growing backlash against the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening, critics have speculated that Komen’s action might be related to its hiring last year of former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel as its Vice President for Public Policy. Actually, they are not alone in this suspicion; a major RTL web site also gave Handel even more direct “credit” for Komen’s cave-in.

I have no particular way of knowing what role Handel plays at Komen, or how it reached its unfortunate decision, other than to mock the “investigations” pretext. After all, Planned Parenthood is “under investigation” by congressional Republicans in precisely the same way that the descendents of Jews and Muslims were perpetually “under investigation” by the Spanish Inquisition: as a condition of their existence.

But I do find it interesting that Handel is in this role, which tells you a lot about how weird the Republican politics of abortion have gotten. During her unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign (she narrowly lost a Republican runoff to now-governor Nathan Deal after running first in the primary), Handel did just about everything possible to nail down right-wing support. Her signature issue was to boast of her efforts as Secretary of State to push through a highly restrictive voter ID law and otherwise fight non-existent “voter fraud.” She also called for the actual repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One of her earliest and most avid supporters was the savagely ideological Erick Erickson, proprietor of RedState, who lives in Georgia (and who is currently asking readers to contribute to Komen to say “thanks.”) Like her doppelganger, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley (another big Erickson project), she posed as the right-wing reformer who would clean up the mess created by crypto-Democratic good-old-boys. Like Haley, she benefited from an endorsement by and a personal appearance with Sarah Palin, who blessed her as a fellow Mama Grizzly.

Despite all those credentials, her most vocal intramural opponent, particularly during the runoff, was the Georgia Right To Life Organization, which attacked her for supporting rape-and-incest exceptions to a total ban on abortions, and also for disagreeing with the group’s efforts to restrict IV fertilization. Interestingly, given the current issue with Komen, part of Handel’s response was to attack Nathan Deal for a congressional vote (back when he was a Democrat) against a funding cutoff for–you guessed it–Planned Parenthood (h/t John Aravosis of AmericaBlog).

Only in the funhouse mirror of anti-choice politics can somebody like Handel suffer criticism for failing to be militant enough. But whatever it tells you, if anything, about Karen Handel’s views or her alleged effect on Komen, it tells you these are people who will go to extraordinary, unimaginable lengths to achieve their goals. And they are achieving them more often than most of us would like to admit.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.