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.