It's Time for Democrats to Move to the Bargaining Stage of Grief About Roe
Roe is gone; the question is what rights you can secure in federal and state legislation. Democrats don't seem ready to answer it. Plus: a monkeypox update.
Happy Friday! We have two issues of the newsletter coming today: Later this afternoon, there will be one just for paying subscribers, about my recent trip to Maine and why New England is the most American of American regions.
But first, some updates on issues I’ve been focused on recently: abortion rights, and monkeypox.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different result: or, an update on Democrats and abortion strategy.
Rachel Cohen has a useful piece at Vox about congressional Democrats’ strategy on abortion, or lack thereof, in which she investigates a question I’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks: Why don’t Democrats bring widely supported abortion rights legislation to a vote — one piece, one issue, one provision at a time — forcing Republicans to either pass it or place themselves sharply on the wrong side of public opinion? The catch-all, one-shot legislation Democrats have brought so far doesn’t achieve this. It’s so expansive beyond the protections once enshrined by Roe and Casey that even the most pro-choice Republicans have felt comfortable voting against it.
Why don’t they try something else? A theme that runs through Cohen’s piece is a substantial degree of denial: Democrats and abortion-rights advocates are still living in a world where their objective is to “defend Roe” and therefore any policy that is less expansive than what had been covered by Roe is a “setback” for abortion rights. But there is no Roe to defend anymore, so this perspective makes no sense. And yet, it is the institutional position of the putatively pro-abortion-rights apparatus attached to the party.
What Democrats need to do now is promote and enact what protections they can at the federal level, and even more crucially, fight state-by-state to protect abortion rights. Democrats will often be on favorable ground in those fights, since the public is more pro-choice than pro-life, on balance. But to fight that fight, you have to admit that there is no longer a federal right to abortion in the first two trimesters — and that therefore, legislation falling short of that standard is an advance for abortion rights, not a concession. Too many Democrats haven’t gotten past the denial stage of grief. But some of their constituents have, and Democrats need to follow them, moving past grief to anger and bargaining. Specifically bargaining. Remember: this is about setting a federal floor, not a ceiling, for abortion access.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, I think the situation of Democrats not fighting on these margins is untenable and will have to end. Abortion rights are actually important to Democratic officeholders, operatives and voters. Eventually, they will have to prioritize the protection of those rights over the protection of the feelings of professional abortion-rights advocates who don’t want to admit that Roe isn’t coming back. But we’re still waiting on that to happen.
I also agree with Nate Silver that one of the objections to narrower legislation raised in the piece doesn’t make a lot of sense: That offering narrower proposals will offer political cover to moderate Republicans, who can vote with Democrats, secure in the knowledge that the filibuster means the thing they’re voting for won’t become law.
Especially in the Senate, it’s hard to see who this concern could refer to. The only Republican incumbent up in a top-tier race this cycle is Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who isn’t likely to take any moderate positions on abortion.
But I would also note this strategy isn’t just about 2022. I think a lot of Democrats have a sense that we’re dealing with a glitch in the system — that we’ll do some political thing that will restore the state of nature, where abortion in the first two trimesters is protected by a Supreme Court decision. But that’s wrong. We’ll be fighting for years over a new question: How much legislative protection, if any, should there be for abortion rights at the federal level?
Creating a situation where certain Republicans representing certain constituencies yield to political pressure to vote for at least some federal protection for abortion rights isn’t a problem with the strategy — it is the strategy to eventually secure a coalition to enact such a policy. This is an extra reason to also take the fight to the state level — not just to secure protections in state law or state constitutions (a fight that can be fruitful!) but also to build political pressure for a federal law that takes at least some pressure back off of state-level abortion politics that will be unfavorable, on balance, to Republicans in most states.
A lesson in government accountability and transparency: don’t blame the vendor (the one you hired). Or, an update on Monkeypox:
One thing I mentioned on Tuesday was that New York City’s rollout of monkeypox vaccination was a logistical mess — vaccination appointments made available and then almost immediately exhausted; appointments not recorded and not honored; additional appointment availability promised and then not in evidence; records of vaccination not forthcoming; etc. As I described, I was lucky enough to get an appointment and a dose of vaccine, but most people who want them haven’t been, and they are reasonably quite upset.
Well, on Wednesday, the city announced it was finally ready to resume offering the vaccine, having received more doses from the CDC. Appointments would become available “this afternoon,” said the city! Then they were made available — and then the health department announced this had been a mistake! The appointments were released too early, but would be available soon! Then they became available again (after 6pm, not exactly the afternoon)! And then they were all gone. Try again next week!
Here’s how our version of a PTA phone tree looked yesterday:
Obviously this has been a mess, and the health commissioner apologized, sort of — blaming the department’s vendor, Medrite, for the messy rollout.
What kind of gall does it take to say “equity has been our north star” in this situation?
For government to be equitable, it has to be competent. This sort of DEI babble is a way to deflect from failure at the task at hand — let’s not talk about how we’re incompetently rolling out a vaccine, let’s talk about the “historical context” in which we are incompetently rolling out a vaccine. You may have seen this at your workplace: executives during crises being weirdly eager to talk about DEI angles, because they offer a way to shift from talking about how management has failed in a specific way to talking about how all of society is so fallen and flawed — it’s so cynical, and you shouldn’t fall for it.
(Also, never blame the vendor. You hired the vendor! Nobody is interested in a monologue from their general contractor about what a pain in the ass a subcontractor whom the general contractor hired has been to manage.)
Tomorrow, I’ll have a report from my July 4 trip to America’s most American region, which also happens to be the region I am from: New England. Only paid subscribers will receive it, so if you’d like to get that, please click here.
I read a Politico article last week that discussed the idea of smaller pro-choice bills being introduced that said the idea wasn't gaining traction because "most Senate Republicans favor exceptions for abortion when it comes to rape, incest or life of the mother — potentially complicating any Democratic attempt to use that issue as a wedge." And I'm sitting there gesticulating wildly at the computer screen thinking, if most Senate Republicans support the bill, the bill passes! You'd have actual federal protections that don't currently exist and will or will soon expand abortion rights in states that pass complete bans. Something better than a symbolic vote and it's dismissed.
If you really don’t want to hold votes for highly popular abortion legislative bills (like, say, requiring a rape and incest exception in any state abortion rule) because it angers The Groups, well, okay, even though I disagree with that I suppose I can understand it.
What I don’t understand is why you would hold a vote for a bill that you know isn’t going to clear 50 in the senate (and if you didn’t know, that’s just rank incompetence). That’s worse than doing nothing. A lot of progressives talk about how they want to kill the filibuster so we can get things done, and a vote that only hits 48 undermines that while broadcasting weakness to the pro-life side. WTF.