Political InQueery: The Week in Absurdifensiveness

Glenn Beck backstageThis week pushed the upper limits of absurd and offensive: two incorrect stories hit the wire, although they can’t both be called “news” per se; Glenn Beck went off the air, only to reappear thirty minutes later; and a fake candidate for President got real Federal Elections Commission approval to form a Super PAC. Earlier this week I wondered if I shouldn’t juxtapose Beck and the Oxford comma’s departure, but it now looks like neither of them have left. Instead let’s look at the weird week that was.

First, let’s go to Kansas. On Thursday, mixed reports came out regarding the state’s new requirements for clinics that provide pregnancy termination, and whether any of them would be able to remain open once the new rules went into effect on July 1. NPR and other mainstream news outlets said Kansas was about to become the first state in the US with no abortion clinics, as a Planned Parenthood clinic failed to receive a license to continue operating. Other markets were reporting that it had in fact had its license approved. People went back and forth trying to suss out what had actually happened: the Planned Parenthood clinic was operating Thursday, but without court intervention today, it looks like Kansas will have successfully prevented any abortion providers from working in the state. Kansas anti-choice conservatives aren’t afraid of regulation when they think they can red-tape opponents out of existence.

The other news reporting glitch this week didn’t even include people, but punctuation. Multiple accounts that the University of Oxford was dropping its use of the “Oxford,” or serial, comma, took word nerds like me by surprise. Would Harvard drop its use next? Would this become like the debates about whether to use one or two spaces after a period? Turns out, it’s only Oxford’s PR department, not the university’s style guide, who are comma minimalists, and even they promise to continue using the serial comma when it prevents ambiguity, as in “I had dinner with my parents, Miss Piggy and Rumplestiltskin.” And hey, we even got to revisit a serial comma-friendly song out of the conundrum.


So why the false-start reporting? In the Kansas abortion story, it appears that at the very least, there are so many complicated legal and political angles to the situation that some reporters and news staff got their wires crossed. Planned Parenthood filed suit last Monday, having received the new regulations only ten days before the new law went into effect, and many people gave sound bites regarding their expectations—did they think they’d get a license, grant a license, see the courts step in, etc. Exacerbating the legal maneuvering is the need for both clinics and individual physicians to receive licensure, so the answer to, “Does Kansas have an open abortion clinic?” isn’t solely reliant on an entity receiving one license. But the end result is the same: For female residents of Kansas, the state where Dr. Tiller was assassinated, there are few to no resources available if they choose not to carry their pregnancy to term.

On the heels of these will-they-end-or-won’t-they stories came barreling Glenn Beck. His last show for Fox News was by most accounts rambling, didactic, and strange. And then his announcement that just half an hour later, he’d be a few blocks away to give his first broadcast on his own GBTV website. That’s right, folks! Of his critics, he said, “You will pray for the time when I was only on the air for one hour every day.” This is a pay-for-access site, however, so it remains to be seen how many people will pony up their disposable income to hear Mr. Beck continue his tirades.

One person who will get to continue his current mix of news, politics, and humor is Stephen Colbert, who received a very real Super PAC approval from the FEC for his conservative pundit alter ego. Election finance reformers were concerned about the Super PAC, which until Thursday generally allowed for unlimited donations from corporations to fund a candidate. However, in a separate ruling from Colbert’s approval on Thursday, the FEC also restricted the amount of money a Super PAC can raise, a firm slap on the wrist to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that makes these Super PACs possible. Colbert, for his part, made campaign finance as funny as possible, telling a related knock-knock joke outside the FEC’s offices and opening up a donation drive on the marble-lined sidewalk (all of the curbs in DC are marble—they’re the only thing in town that doesn’t need replacing on a regular basis).

So, to recap on the “gone” front: Oxford comma is only gone among the people who promote the university that created it, Glenn Beck is kind of gone kind of not, Stephen Colbert is definitely not gone, and abortion in Kansas is pretty much gone.

Also, in order of regulation requirements, we have:

Glenn Beck, definitely not regulated on the web–>Oxford comma, subject to inconsistent regulation–>Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, largely regulated, kind of–>Kansas health clinics for women, regulated out of existence

I’m sure this makes sense somehow.

Previously: The Good Husband, The Trick of Measuring Up

by Everett Maroon
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Everett Maroon is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer originally from New Jersey and now living in Walla Walla, Washington. His blog is transplantportation.com and he tweets at @EverettMaroon.

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