Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Choice and choices

Interesting discussion over at Ezra's about whether NARAL's old endorsement of Chafee was the right choice. I'm with Ezra on this one in thinking that NARAL made a mistake.

Imagine a judicial nominee who's into the whole "Constitution in Exile" thing and wants to roll back the federal regulatory system until all the mountains are strip-mined away, but also is strongly pro-choice. Now look around and try to find such a nominee. Can you? Oh, I know there are libertarians out there in the world, but they tend not to get nominated to federal judgeships. Presidential candidates try to satisfy the whole set of interest groups that brought them to power, and the nature of the political coalitions in today's America doesn't allow for nominees like this. So even pro-choice Republicans will vote for anti-abortion nominees, since there are a bunch of other Republican positions bundled in with the opposition to abortion. There's also the institutional machine of the Republican Party enforcing discipline here -- James Dobson and Corporate America have paid the piper, and Grover Norquist is going to make anyone who wants party support march to their tune. This explains the data that Kos cites -- Harry Reid votes against Janice Rogers Brown, while Lincoln Chafee votes for her.

I think dadahead is getting a little too caught up in Kos-bashing to clearheadedly assess the strategic issues involved here. Look, if Kos runs for Pope of the Democratic Party, I hope the Cardinals vote against him. (If there were such a position, I'd probably want Mark Schmitt to get it.) When Kos talks about the abortion, he doesn't seem to understand why it matters, and this is a problem with him. But he's right about how anti-abortion Democrats and pro-choice Republicans tend to vote on judicial nominees, and about the strategic import of this.

I think some of Kos' earlier anti-NARAL invective came out of a sense of frustration with NARAL regarding the RI senate race. The thinking was, "We canned our most promising candidate for you, and you're still endorsing our enemy?" Now, I happen to think that something is wrong if the Democrats can't get a pro-choice candidate elected in Rhode Island. Hopefully the whole situation will turn out for the best, with NARAL nudging the Democrats into nominating a pro-choice Democrat who eventually wins. I have no idea how likely this is.


Anonymous said...

I'm pro-choice, but I don't hold abortion to be beyond the give-and-take of the political system. To me, "pregnant women should have the right to an abortion" is much more a statement like "large inheritances should be taxed" than "adults have the right to vote."

That said, I think NARAL made the right call in endorsing Chaffee, for three reasons:

1) NARAL needs to preserve its own credibility. A NARAL that supports Democrats 75% of the time and Republicans 25% of the time and determines how 500,000 people vote does more good than a NARAL that subsumes itself to the Democratic party, supports Democrats 100% of the time and Republicans 0% of the time, and determines how 200,000 people vote.

2) While judicial nominees may be very, very important for abortion, and judicial nominees are lumps of right-wingness, lumps of centrism, or lumps of leftiness in general, rather than being, say, people who are big Republicans except being pro-choice, there are other issues where abortion is addressed exclusively. For instance, Chaffee would probably vote against a federal law banning the transfer of minors across state lines so that they can get abortions while Langevin would probably vote for it. This kind of incremental, whittling attack on abortion access matters, if not as much as overturning Roe v. Wade.

3) NARAL's aim is to preserve choice. That means that it should fight against pro-life Republicans, but it also should ensure that the Democrats stay pro-choice. To do that, they have to let Democrats know that they aren't entitled to NARAL's support by virtue of their party. Giving Democrats unconditional support could well erode suppport for choice AMONG Democratic candidates.

Anonymous said...

I also agree that "something is wrong if we can't get a pro-choice candidate elected in RI".