Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Ambivalence of the Democratic Party

Jeffrey Toobin gets to the heart of the Democratic Party when it comes to fighting the Stupak Amendment.

The President is pro-choice, and he has signalled some misgivings about the Stupak amendment. But, like many modern pro-choice Democrats, he has worked so hard to be respectful of his opponents on this issue that he sometimes seems to cede them the moral high ground. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he describes the “undeniably difficult issue of abortion” and ponders “the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion.” Elsewhere, he announces, “Abortion vexes.” The opponents of abortion aren’t vexed—they are mobilized, focussed, and driven to succeed. The Catholic bishops took the lead in pushing for the Stupak amendment, and they squeezed legislators in a way that would do any K Street lobbyist proud. (One never sees that kind of effort on behalf of other aspects of Catholic teaching, like opposition to the death penalty.) Meanwhile, the pro-choice forces temporized. But, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights “center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. With stakes of such magnitude, it is wise to weigh carefully the difference between compromise and surrender.

I completely agree here, but I'd go a bit further. I think these apologetic and therefore weak arguments of Democrats apply to all of liberalism. Republicans have held the rhetorical high ground since the late 1970s. They continue to do so today despite the upsurge of progressive rhetoric between 2006 and early 2009 because leading Democratic politicians came of age in a Republican dominated period. They constantly fear conservative backlash, think (perhaps correctly though I don't think so) that they need corporate funding to survive, and therefore fear defending their beliefs. Obama is unique in that he recognized the progressive uprising and used it to his advantage, but his governing style very much reflects typical Democratic unwillingness to yell as loud and organize as intensely as Republicans for his values.

The antidote to this is actively defending abortion, health care, the environment, the welfare state, and every other lynchpin of modern liberalism. We should never apologize for abortion. We shouldn't say that we want to make it rare. Instead, we should stand on the rooftops and shout to the world that abortion needs to be legal, accessible, and without moral approbation. We are losing the abortion battle. There's no question that Obama will sign a health care bill that contains the Stupak Amendment. I'm not sure whether he should or not if it comes to it, but what's disturbing is that such language would be in the bill in the first place.