Big Tents Are For Circuses
Last week was the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling in the Supreme Court: a ruling which affirmed and protected a woman’s autonomy over her own body. I’ve already outlined many of the reasons that I’m pro-choice, so I won’t reiterate those arguments here. But even though accessible, safe abortion has been a legally-protected right and foundational to reproductive healthcare for nearly half a century, Democratic strategists seem to think that the abortion rights debate is nonessential. Neglecting to run on “social issues” such as a woman’s right to terminate a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy is a sacrifice they’re compelled and willing to make in order to win elections.
I simply cannot understand this theory of campaigning, and I do not accept it, and I’ve grown weary of hearing it echoed on powerful, wide-reaching, well-respected platforms. David Brooks, for instance, is a joke to me. His columns are often tone-deaf, pretentious and even factually inaccurate. But they are published in the New York Times. On February 1 he graced millions of Americans with his “Abortion Memo,” wherein he recounted the Democratic coalition successfully voting down a 20-week abortion ban. Then he posed this question: “How much is our position on late-term abortion hurting us? How many progressive priorities are we giving up just so we can have our way on this one?”
Never mind that an abortion at 20 weeks is hardly “late-term.” Never mind that many women don’t confirm a pregnancy until week six. Never mind that the vast majority of abortions that occur after 20 weeks are the termination of wanted, cherished pregnancies that either threaten the life of the mother or child. Never mind any of that. I resent the implication that Democrats’ pro-choice stance is the singular and specific issue that is alienating moderates and independents. I think it’s lazy to frame “social issues” and economic issues as fundamentally at odds; as an either-or conundrum. Primarily because social issues so often have an economic component (e.g. abortion is often a last resort for young or poor women who could not access birth control and cannot afford to support a child.)
I think it’s lazy, insulting campaigning to insist on an economic focus, and to sacrifice discussing the fundamental freedom of women – who break for the Democratic Party 57-31– in pursuit of that focus is misguided and cruel. Women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and beyond that, they are 50 percent of this country’s population. To say that their most precious rights are expendable, especially when those rights are politically popular (7 in 10 people support the upholding of Roe), is a slap in the face.
This American Life interviewed Democratic strategist Cheri Bustos for their January 19 episode. She lays out the following compromise for Democrats running for office in “Middle America”:
“I don’t think we as Democrats will fail if we start talking about jobs and the economy non-stop. That’s, in my opinion, what we need to do. Lots of issues that are out there, I don’t know why we would walk into a room and start with a divisive issue. I don’t go into a room and start the conversation by talking about the fact that I’m pro-choice...But I do go into a room and I talk about my fight for good jobs, better wages, better skills and better jobs. That is what we are fighting for every day as Democrats. Now, if somebody asks me my views on more divisive issues, ’ll answer it honestly, and then I’ll get back to talking about jobs and the economy.”
This is no compromise at all. Bustos (and many others) seem to think that swing voters in rural areas will vote for us if we just stay quiet about “divisive” issues like abortion. I don’t think that’s true. I think voters are smarter than that. But even if it is true, the party is soon going to find itself with another problem: losing us liberal coastal elites who refuse to watch their rights be thrown by the wayside. I don’t want a “big tent.” I want a candidate who will stand up and say, loudly and with pride, “I trust women. I think they are smart, and careful and thoughtful and I don’t think anyone should be empowered to make choices about women’s bodies beyond those women themselves.” I want a candidate who knows the women’s rights are paramount– who will start with protecting women, not beg the question until forced to address it. Otherwise, they won’t be getting my vote.