Monday, October 22, 2012

the "niche issues" and the big picture are the same


It'll come as little surprise to anyone that Doug Henwood is more concise and eloquent than I could be. I just want to expand on this a little bit.

It's interesting, as well as quite sad, that abortion has become the most commonly referenced issue for why we must all vote for Obama. (Someone replied to Henwood, telling him that he only feels this way because he doesn't have a uterus.) Sad, because allowing yourself to divide your commitments-- like the commitment to full and unapologetic abortion rights against the commitment to the ethical treatment of Muslims-- against each other is a politically ruinous way to behave. But also because, from my perspective, those commitments stem from the same place: the moral equality of all people. Women are denied sovereignty over their bodies because our society is willing to consider them lesser people. Muslims are deprived of the most basic right of all, the right to live, because they are considered lesser people, or not people at all. The fight is not between the priorities of either but for the basic priority of any liberal, of any leftist, of any person of conscience: the equal dignity and worth of all people.

But the more important point is that conservatism's successes in the abortion fight is the perfect argument for why liberals should stop being resistant to criticism of Obama on his foreign policy. The success of the pro-life movement-- and make no mistake, it has been extremely successful-- lies in its willingness to pressure Republicans relentlessly towards a more pro-life position. This includes not only quite strident criticism in election season but also primarying more moderate Republicans. And, yes, sometimes the move to primary has resulted in Democrats winning elections. But I think that many within the pro-life movement would take it, on balance. Contrast this stridency and resolve with your typical Democrat, who supports abortion rights but admits all kinds of caveats and limitations, accepts the inherent "tragedy" or whatever about abortion, calls for abortion to be rare, and generally starts the fight by conceding almost everything.

In the abortion fight I see the clearest example possible of the basic dynamic of the last 30 years of American politics: conservatives pull the center towards the right; liberals chase after the new center. Even when they win it, they're occupying a position they don't like. This is why I say that Democrats turn victory into a kind of defeat.

Sooner or later, Republicans will win the presidency again. We're not going to run the table. This is to say nothing of the fact that Supreme Court justices aren't, actually, perfectly predictable depending on the party of the president who nominated them. (The Souter effect.) And, look-- as long as the immediate constitution of the Supreme Court is so important and so divided, and so vital to abortion rights, those rights will be threatened. Defending abortion rights, as Henwood suggests, will take not just putting judges on the Supreme Court, but changing the tenor of our national conversation on abortion, where the pro-life side has been on the offensive for decades. It will mean a reinvigorated and aggressive liberalism, one which will recognize conservatism's significant political achievements that have stemmed from the willingness of conservatives to press their preferred party ever closer to their interests. In this sense, pressure on Obama and Democrats from the left is not a risk to pro-choice commitments; it is an effort to ensure them in a longer term and more robust way. Our goal should be to ask for more than the "rights" that are dictated by the whims of a single Supreme Court justice.

10 comments:

Brendan said...

This is a great post--by far the most persuasive thing you've written about the election.

Anonymous said...

“Contrast this stridency and resolve with your typical Democrat, who supports abortion rights but admits all kinds of caveats and limitations, accepts the inherent ‘tragedy’ or whatever about abortion, calls for abortion to be rare, and generally starts the fight by conceding almost everything.”

Well, if that’s support… It sure isn’t the manner of support bred of conviction and spine, committed in the face of all threats to one’s reelection and gavels. Dems by and large give not two drizzling shits about women’s rights, no more than they care about the poor or the brown, here or there. They just have to posture accordingly every 2-4 years, hoping that their spineless lack of integrity seems marginally less alienating than the godsmackers poised to take the stage.

“In the abortion fight I see the clearest example possible of the basic dynamic of the last 30 years of American politics: conservatives pull the center towards the right; liberals chase after the new center. Even when they win it, they're occupying a position they don't like. This is why I say that Democrats turn victory into a kind of defeat.”

Authentic liberals do no such thing—they recognize the center for what it is: a proto-fascist partnership between government and corporations, a complete abandonment of the Great Society and New Deal. Faux liberals and partisans think the center rocks—after all it’s gotten the last two neoliberal dems into the White House and it’s brought everyone involved literally billions of dollars. No matter that they sold out every core constituency they ever owned.

Josh said...

Contrast this stridency and resolve with your typical Democrat, who supports abortion rights but admits all kinds of caveats and limitations, accepts the inherent "tragedy" or whatever about abortion, calls for abortion to be rare, and generally starts the fight by conceding almost everything.

This could conceivably also have something to do with a lot of Democrats genuinely believing that abortion is a somewhat tragic outcome even in the best of circumstances, and thus one that ought to take place as rarely as possible. I don't really see how it would be any more admirable for them to simply forsake reasonable moral qualms for the sake of political expedience.

That's a nitpick, but I'm not sure it doesn't have some bearing on your larger argument. I generally agree with the post; I'm just not quite convinced modeling oneself after the present-day American right wing is ultimately a healthy strategy.

ballgame said...

"… I'm just not quite convinced modeling oneself after the present-day American right wing is ultimately a healthy strategy."

The left couldn't do this even if it wanted to. It isn't fealty to principle which underlies the success of the modern right, it's the limitless flood of corporate cash which is drowning the opposition.

Dave said...

"allowing yourself to divide your commitments-- like the commitment to full and unapologetic abortion rights against the commitment to the ethical treatment of Muslims-- against each other is a politically ruinous way to behave."

I don't know what you mean by "yourself," but if you're talking about a political party or movement, why yes, it is perfectly plausible and even natural to have divided commitments. Having divided commitments is practically the definition of politics. Moreover, when there are divided commitments within a coalition, no part of that coalition is particularly credible in determining whose commitments matter more or less, which it seems to me you're doing here. You can say there is no "risk" to abortion rights with weakened support for Obama, but you don't have any evidence for that, and there is plenty of countervailing evidence against that claim. And it doesn't rest solely on a single Supreme Court judge by any stretch.

quixote said...

Josh, at least as far as abortion goes the principled stand of anyone who believes people have rights has to be that you have a right -- a RIGHT -- to control your own body. There is nothing tragic about that. It's a principle. If someone personally believes that abortion is tragic, that's their belief and something they examine and deal with in their own lives.

I think the point Freddie is making is that if we took as strong a stand on our principles -- principles, not personal beliefs about abortion -- there'd be a lot less of the drift-to-the-right, appeasement bullshit we're constantly putting up with. The only sense in which that's applying the tactics of the right wing is that you stand on your principles and don't worry about winning or losing a given battle.

I agree with Freddie (if I've understood him right) that that would be a good idea, whether or not the right wing does it. As Eugene Debs said (approx), better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you do not want and get it.

bcg said...

quixote, the idea that a person exercising their rights cannot result in tragedy is wrong. There are two issues at play in the abortion debate: the right of women to control their bodies, and a human being's right to life.

A lot of people reject the idea that an 8-and-a-half month old fetus still in utero is a human being with a right to life. That will result in not finding much tragedy in abortion.

You can support the right of a woman to control her body even if you think the baby is a person with rights. It makes abortion a tragedy. The "tragedy" isn't a woman exercising autonomy over her body.

I find late-term abortion for reasons of convenience morally reprehensible. When I imagine a woman who is in her 8th month of pregnancy terminating for non-medical reasons, but because she doesn't feel like having a baby right now, I think she's an awful, selfish person, and I wouldn't want to associate with her.

I can't determine what's medical and what's not medical, and even if I could, it's wrong for me to assert authority over what happens with her body.

If a child is starving to death in the street and I walk by to buy flashy, unnecessary consumer goods, that's also morally reprehensible. But we're not outlawing either one. Is that a tragedy? That's my right - if you think it's a tragedy, maybe that's something you need to examine and deal with in your own life.

quixote said...

bcg: Actually, whether the fetus is a person or not is not the issue. If any person could require another person to provide them with life support, then I could requisition a kidney from anyone with a matching tissue type if my own were failing. The reason I don't have that right is because yours to control your own body takes precedence over my life. It's only in the case of women that this seems to be unclear to people.

Also: the definition of personhood is a matter of belief. It's a shared belief that everyone becomes a person at birth. Before that point, beliefs vary. In some cultures, personhood is conferred well after birth, for instance in a naming ceremony seven days later. In one culture I remember hearing about, it was at the age of five.

But the point is that those are beliefs. There is no cell surface marker that lights up when an organism with human chromosomes becomes a legal person.

So unless, in the case of women, you're going to say that beliefs and state should not be separate, you cannot tell the woman what she must believe about her fetus. She may believe it's a person whose life takes precedence over hers, and act accordingly. Or she may not, and act according to that. But nothing about an issue of belief gives anyone a right to dictate to somebody else what those beliefs should be. Not outside of a theocracy, in any case.

bcg said...

quixote: "The reason I don't have that right is because yours to control your own body takes precedence over my life."

Exactly so. Yet if we heard a father would not donate a kidney to save his daughter's life, would we prosecute? No. Would we think it a tragedy? Yes. Is he within his legal rights? Yes. Do we find him morally reprehensible anyway? Yes.

Mr. No Account said...

Thank you, Freddie, for articulating the truth of the matter so well!