"Progress” Triumphs in Kansas


Regional/ Kansas City:


By Jack Cashill

January 4 , 2007
© Jack Cashill

The chief editorial honcho at the Kansas City Star had been in the mood to gloat. Along with her colleagues at the Star and her corporate kin at the Wichita Eagle, she had helped Republican turned Democrat Paul Morrison upset conservative Phill Kline in Kline’s bid to be reelected Kansas Attorney General. Yippee!

But then—da noive!-- conservative Republican precinct reps chose Kline to finish Morrison’s unexpired term as District Attorney of Johnson County, Kansas’s most affluent and populous. Kline wasn’t going away.

Worse was the lead in the Star’s very own article on the job swap by veteran political reporter, Steve Kraske. The selection of Kline to be DA, wrote Kraske, “was another example of principle trumping politics.”

“Principle trumping politics?” mumbled the honcho. “Kraske’s supposed to our go-to guy, and we’ve still got to fix his stories.”

To the uninitiated, however, Kraske’s observation made sense. Even Kline backers knew that picking Kline was bad political juju. The lifelong Republican Morrison had turned Democrat to deny the outspoken Kline reelection as Kansas Attorney General. With only 35 percent voter support from Johnson County in the AG race, Kline was damaged goods. He would have little chance of winning voter hearts two years hence and even less chance of winning those of party “moderates” in the interim.

And so, wrote Kraske naively, “the principle-versus-politics dilemma” continues to bedevil the county GOP.

“Dang that Kraske,” griped the honcho to the assembled editors. “Doesn’t he know that in the movies it’s the principle-over-politics guys get their courage profiled and the politics-over-principle guys who get packed off to San Clemente?” All agreed. Kraske’s principle-over-politics thesis could not stand.

“Let’s just change the headline,” piped up one junior editor. “No one reads beyond it anymore anyhow.”

“If they even read the headline,” sighed the honcho, but she liked the idea. She shrewdly swapped out the Kraske lead for a headline that more closely hewed to the Star party line, to wit, “GOP picks principle over progress.”

“Progress” is a funny word. Unlike, say, love or loyalty or charity, which remain largely unchanged over time, “progress” can change dramatically in meaning from one generation to the next, indeed from one election to the next.

I emailed Kraske to find out a little more about the “progress” injection but got no response. Anything he said would have only gotten him into more trouble so forgive me for imagining the scenario above.

Rest assured, though, this sleight-of-headline was no accident. Over the years, the Star has shown considerable skill in shoehorning reality into its own flexible idea of progress. This year in fact, in recognition of the editors’ adroitness, Planned Parenthood honored the Star with the “Maggie,” its top prize for editorial writing, named for Planned Parenthood founding mother Margaret Sanger.

The real life Maggie was no slouch herself when it came to progress. “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective,” opined Sanger in her 1922 class, Pivot of Civilization. If that discouraging required “drastic and Spartan methods,” then line those mommas up!

As to who should be allowed to procreate, Sanger set a pretty dang high bar. She cited a study of WW I draftees in which nearly half—47.3 percent to be precise—“had the mentality of twelve-year-old children or less.” In other words, said Sanger with progressive flair, “They are morons.”

Traditional remedies for dealing with a half-retarded nation Maggie found a bit wanting. “Organized charity itself,” she mused, “is the symptom of a malignant social disease.” By keeping alive so many “defectives, delinquents, and dependents,” charity served as a “positive injury to the future of the race.”

Given the change in the concept of “progress” over time, Planned Parenthood concedes that some of the “popular ideas” Sanger adopted are “out of keeping with our thinking today.” But progress can be funny like that.

If Kline represents the antithesis of progress for today’s Star readers, Dr. George Tiller of Wichita would seem its very incarnation. In the ongoing morality play for which the newspaper won its “Maggie,” the white-hatted Tiller embodies what Planned Parenthood calls “reproductive justice.” The black-hatted Kline meanwhile is assigned the unflattering role of “anti-choice extremist.”

For the record, Tiller specializes in late term abortions on what he calls “post-viable fetuses,” or what many Kansans stubbornly insist on calling “babies.” Boasts Tiller on his website, “We have more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else practicing in the Western hemisphere.“

Indeed, in a stunning display of will, a veritable triumph thereof, the good doctor has somehow managed to make Kansas the world’s de facto late term abortion capital. This is no mean feat for a state that looms, rightly or wrongly, as the nation’s conservative archetype.

At almost every step on the good doctor’s path to progress, however, the reactionary Kline has stood in the way. In 1997, as a state rep, he helped draft a law allowing late term abortions only to “preserve the life of the pregnant women” or to prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Interpreted as written, this law would have put an end to Kansas’ prosperous late term business, given that few late term abortions—well, actually, none--meet these criteria.

Although the statute passed into law, the good doctor cleverly finessed his way around it. With the help of his attorneys and some friendly politicians, he managed to get “major bodily function” interpreted to mean mental as well as physical health. Those politicians included two prominent moderate Republicans then in office, Governor Bill Graves and AG Carla Stovall, the latter a recipient of Tiller’s largesse.

When Kline ran for Attorney General in 2002, he publicly claimed that Tiller was making a “mockery” of the law and vowed to investigate. What Kline failed to understand is that problems like “adjustment disorder” and “anxiety disorder,” even single episodes, could cause “irreversible impairment.” Heck, if you were 13, and you suspected your baby would look a whole lot like your mom’s boyfriend, you’d be pretty darn anxious too. Time to dispose of that evidence!

To keep progress alive in Kansas, Tiller pumped some $210,000 through a series of anonymous cut-outs to attack Kline and advance the nearly successful 2002 campaign of little known Democrat candidate, Chris Biggs. As a champion of progress, the Star cheered Biggs on and wisely chose not to call attention to Tiller’s ingenious ploy.

Once elected—barely--Kline proved as good as his word and launched a two-year court battle to review Tiller’s records. Figuring that the best way to stop Kline was to block his re-election, Tiller invested still uncounted thousands of dollars to unseat him, much of it through operations like “Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection,” an anonymous cut-out which just happened to have the same Wichita address as Tiller’s ProKanDo PAC. (For specifics on the money trail, refer to www.Kansasmeadowlark.com)

This “consumer group” sent out six slick “Snoop Dog Kline” mailers in the weeks before the 2006 election. The mailers accused Kline of abandoning the fight on crime in favor of “snooping into women’s private medical records.” Through its Maggie Award-winning reporting and editorials, the Star amplified the Snoop Dog message.

The multi-front attack on Kline worked. Not only did the Snoop Dog campaign unseat him, but it also destroyed his reputation. So damaged was Kline by the assault that the Star felt comfortable calling his election as D.A. “an insult to county voters.”

With the incoming Morrison promising to shut down Kline’s investigation, it may be time for Star editors to take the wraps off the multi-talented Dr. Tiller and celebrate publicly and proudly his many avenues of “progress.” Why not, say, a good, long graphic look at his innovations in surgical execution or his inventive contributions to democracy or his advances in adolescent mental health.

And to cap it all, how about a license plate slogan-- “The world’s late term abortion capital”-- that showcases this progress. Yes, indeed, let’s tell the rest of America that there is nothing the matter with Kansas anymore, certainly nothing that a little money and a lot of media can’t fix.




Webmaster's Note: As a result of the above article, Jack Cashill appeared on FOX Network's O'Reilly Factor on Friday, January 5, 2007.

Transcript and video (3:36 mins)

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