Published September 17, 2002
On May 18 of this year, New Hampshire established the first state-level commission on the status of men in the United States. Nearly every state has a commission on women; the New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Men was to be a unique, perhaps precedent-setting panel.
The apparent sabotage of the commission, however, offers a harsh lesson in strategy. It reveals the behind-the-scenes maneuvering at which the Left unfortunately excels.
There are two ways to impose a political agenda.
First, by determining the text of laws or policies. This is a relatively open process. The commission on men was legally established as a result of years of public debate that led to an equally public procedure: a legislative act. Those who spoke for men's rights won the debate fairly. The result: a commission "to address issues of cultural bias and stereotyping."
Rep. David Bickford, R-Strafford, who championed the commission for five years, expressed particular concern over fatherlessness and anti-male bias in education. In an e-mail correspondence, he wrote: "Many fathers are restricted by marital courts as to how much time they can spend with their children. There is a fear that if fathers spend more time with their children it would justify a reduction in support payments to mom."
Thus, the New Hampshire women's commission defends the principle of only one "home" for a child. Bickford continued, "Men account for the minority of the population of college students and continue to slip."
The second way to impose a political agenda is through the application of the law. For example, laws can be applied selectively to favor a category of people, such as women. Or the intention of the law can be killed by bureaucratic impediments. This happens largely behind closed doors.
The commission on men may well die on the vine from being stacked with members who are antagonistic to, or ignorant of, men's issues.
On Sept. 4, I received an e-mail from Scott Garman of the New Hampshire National Congress of Fathers and Children and a prominent advocate for the men's commission. He expressed concerns shared by Bickford and NCFH-NH President Mike Geanoulis. The list of nominees for the seven-member commission, due in mid-July, had finally been released. Scott wrote: "There is only one person on the list who we [NCFC] know to be male-friendly. Most names we had never heard of, and these people certainly weren't there lobbying for the bill when we were working hard to get it passed."
When Garman questioned nominee Stephen Gorin, Gorin reportedly showed little "awareness of the bill's history." He had read the legislative report that lead to the commission's establishment only once and had little sense of the commission's mission. Interviews with two other nominees rendered similar results. "Most of these nominees have impressive resumes," Garman said, "But I'm concerned about the apparent lack of passion they have on these [men's] issues."
The NCFC-NH Web site is blunt in analyzing the situation: "[W]e believe at least some of the nominees were selected for the purpose of sabotaging the commission."
Many men's rights advocates applied for positions on the panel. Some of them included a letter of endorsement from Bickford. Nevertheless, Mike Vlacich, one of New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's aides, has been soliciting specific people who have not applied, such as Gorin. In questioning other nominees, Geanoulis discovered that one had been solicited past the commission's deadline.
Presumably, psychologist Scott Hampton received a similar call from the governor's office. Hampton staunchly argued against the commission's very existence. In a May 24, 2001, New Hampshire Public Radio program that asked "Do We Need a State Men's Commission?" Hampton argued "no."
"We men don't have a status problem," he said. Such a commission, he stated, would be like establishing a panel on discrimination suffered by "wealthy people."
To Hampton, even the study that led to the commission's establishment -- which showed, for example, that men commit suicide five times more often than women -- revealed "more of a status problem for women than for men."
The commission on men receives no state funding (unlike the women's commission, which recently received an appropriations increase of 68 percent, the same amount denied to the men's commission). Thus, most nominees should at least possess the "qualification" of a belief in the panel and a drive to accomplish its mission -- not a belief that the commission should not exist and can serve no valid purpose.
Some people do not want men's issues, issues such as the denial of child custody and visitation rights to fathers; domestic violence committed against men; the slighting of men in insurance coverage for prostate cancer screening, discussed.
Suspicions regarding Shaheen's bias against men have been expressed before. On March 14, 2001, an article by Carey Goldberg in the Statehouse Journal pointed out that women made up 70 percent of Gov. Shaheen's staff and occupied nine of its top 10 positions. When Goldberg asked if there was some point at which Shaheen might worry that men were under-represented, the governor said, "no."
The maneuvering in New Hampshire illustrates how to kill a measure that the public wants, which drains no tax funds and has been approved by the legislature. If so, this is death through the backdoor, death through dirty politics.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.