A Pox on All Pundits


Melinda Henneberger is the political editor of the Huffington Post. I say this sadly, because I like the Huffington Post. HP could do a lot better.

Henneberger has an op ed in today’s New York Times titled “Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats.” This op ed is bad. It is profoundly bad. It is a near-perfect example of all that is bad, and stupid, and brain dead, and absurd, about those creatures we call “pundits.” And clearly the lady has a big future in punditry. This op ed reveals she fits nicely into the David Brooks – David Broder – Joe Klein mold, a mold with all the intelligence of Jello. For her, the sky’s the limit.

Henneger’s essential argument is that the Dems should back off a firm pro-choice position for the sake of winning elections. This opinion is based on her interviews of women “swing” voters who said they’d be more inclined to vote for Democrats were it not for their position on abortion.

I say you can take Henneberger article, redate it to 1963 or so, and change the words women to whites and abortion to desegregation, and it would be the same argument. In the 1960s and 1970s many whites bailed on the Democratic Party because of its stand on civil rights and racial equality issues. Using Henneberger’s logic, the Dems should have been softer on civil rights and more accommodating to the segregationists in their midst.

Henneberger is saying, in effect, that parties are wrong to take firm stands on the great moral issues of the day if it costs them votes. She’s telling the Dems to move to the right to pick up swing voters. Let’s not give the voters a clear choice; let’s be sure both parties support the same stuff in the mushy middle.

Did I mention that this dimwit is is the political editor of the Huffington Post?

Let’s take a look at the op ed.

Even in the real world, a pro-choice Republican nominee would be a gift to the Democrats, because the Republican Party wins over so many swing voters on abortion alone. Which is why Fred Thompson, who is against abortion rights, is getting so much grateful attention from his party now. And why, despite wide opposition to the war in Iraq, Democrats must still win back such voters to take the White House next year.

She’s saying the Dems have to turn their backs on abortion rights in order to win back the White House in 2008. Let’s think about this. Yesterday the Christian Post published an article titled Survey: “Abortion Not Top-Tier Issue in White House Race.” A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll of May 4-6, 2007, asked the question “How important will each of the following issues be to your vote for president next year?” Abortion was 14th out of a 17-item list. And the list doesn’t distinguish between pro- and anti-choice voters who say the issue was “very important.”

According to this USA Today article from 2005, analysis of the 2004 election showed that Kerry’s stand on abortion cost him votes among white Catholic voters. This is hardly surprising, given the number of bishops who publicly denounced Kerry and ordered the faithful to vote for Bush. However,

Abortion-rights advocates, concerned that the issue was being blamed for Kerry’s loss, commissioned an analysis by Kerry pollster Mark Mellman. He concluded that abortion “played little role in the election” and, when it was a factor, “appears to have helped Democrats.” He wrote: “Support for a woman’s right to choose has, in many ways, become the scapegoat for Democrats’ losses.”

“Democrats at their own peril will move away from choice,” says Ellen Malcolm, president of Emily’s List, which supports Democratic female candidates who favor abortion rights. She says Kerry would have fared better by doing more, not less, to emphasize the issue.

I agree. I realize that in the most conservative parts of the country a pro-choice candidate would have a hard time getting elected. But in many other parts of the country, an anti-choice candidate would have a hard time getting elected. The issue is a sword that cuts both ways. For years the anti-choice movement has aggressively taken credit for Republican victories and Democratic defeats, to the point that the power of abortion to swing elections for Republicans has become conventional wisdom. But I’m convinced the claims of anti-choice leaders have been, um, inflated. And I say districts that would not elect a pro-choice politician probably are safe Republican strongholds on other issues as well.

Henneberger continues,

Over 18 months, I traveled to 20 states listening to women of all ages, races, tax brackets and points of view speak at length on the issues they care about heading into ’08. They convinced me that the conventional wisdom was wrong about the last presidential contest, that Democrats did not lose support among women because “security moms” saw President Bush as the better protector against terrorism. What first-time defectors mentioned most often was abortion.

Dems have a problem with women voters? According to the Pew Research Center, in last year’s midterms 56 percent of women voted for Democrats, as opposed to 51 percent of men.

Henneberger continues,

The standard response from Democratic leaders has been that anyone lost to them over this issue is not coming back — and that regrettable as that might be, there is nothing to be done. But that is not what I heard from these voters.

Many of them, Catholic women in particular, are liberal, deep-in-their-heart Democrats who support social spending, who opposed the war from the start and who cross their arms over their chests reflexively when they say the word “Republican.” Some could fairly be described as desperate to find a way home. And if the party they’d prefer doesn’t send a car for them, with a really polite driver, it will have only itself to blame.

What would it take to win them back? Respect, for starters — and not only on the night of the candidate forum on faith. As it turns out, you cannot call people extremists and expect them to vote for you. But real respect would require an understanding that what supporters of abortion rights genuinely see as a hard-earned freedom, opponents genuinely see as a self-inflicted wound and — though I can feel some of you tensing as you read this — a human rights issue comparable to slavery.

I see it as a human rights issue, too. A human rights issue for women.

And when did Democratic Party leaders accuse anti-rights voters of being “extremists”? If anything, Dems have rhetorically tip-toed around abortion for years, being careful to speak respectfully of those who oppose abortion. The most common talking points from Dems are those that begin “I am personally opposed to abortion, but …” and those that end with the words “safe, legal and rare.”

I bet if I looked I could find Republicans who have accused pro-choicers of being extremists, as well as baby murderers and a few other things. I’d like some respect too, y’know.

Again and again, these voters said Democrats are too unwilling to tolerate dissent on abortion.

Bean answers this one at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

That might have been true in 2004 — maybe (I concede nothing). But it’s not now. The Democrats have shown that they are willing to tolerate dissent — look at the candidacies of Bob Casey Jr. and Heath Shuler. Henneberger is right that Dems were slow to broaden the tent when it comes to abortion rights, but it seems as if they have been recently. To pin Democrats’ chances in 2008 on this is a false excuse.

This may be the single dumbest sentence in Henneberger’s article:

Democratic Party leaders should also stop pushing the perception that Republicans are natural defenders of the faithful.

Um, haven’t Democratic Party leaders been working overtime to prove how religious they are in recent years?

Henneberger also thinks Dems were wrong to criticize the recent Carhart decision. It may cost them votes, she said. Yes, and speaking out against job discrimination cost Dems votes in the 1960s, too. Were they wrong to do so? Are the lives and health of women to be bartered for votes?

But Henneberger, somehow, is the political editor of the Huffington Post. I suggest HP cut Henneberger loose so she can rise in the ranks of big-time pundits. Surely there is someone else in America qualified for the job who actually (dare I hope?) thinks.

Update: Tristero posts on this same op ed, then updates

In comments, Susan S. makes an important point, but I don’t think her conclusion follows:

    I think you’re missing Melinda’s point. I recently saw her at a Planned Parenthood luncheon in Tampa where she made the same arguments that she makes in her op-ed. She’s merely saying that there are a lot of Democrats who don’t see abortion in the black and white terms most of us do. We ignore that at our peril. We have to find a way of talking to them that shows we recognize their concerns, and not automatically dismiss them…
    She doesn’t disagree with us. She’s saying that there are many Democrats who can be brought back into the fold if we stop automatically dismissing them and equating them with the right-wing crazies. For whatever reason (possibly because they’ve been manipulated) their views on abortion are more complicated than ours. We need to educate them, but we can’t do it by talking down to them.

I completely agree. That is exactly the issue. There are a lot of people who don’t see abortion as black and white.

But the issue is not abortion but government regulation of abortion. The fact that so many of us see the abortion issue differently is precisely at the heart of the fight against the right.

They, not Democrats and liberals, want this country to see the issue in black and white. The effect, if they win, will be catastrophic. And the catastrophe will fall predominantly on poor women.

That’s why Henneberger is not only wrong, but completely wrong.

One more thing: While I think Susan S. is quite mistaken in defending Henneberger, I hope my saying so directly is not perceived as a personal attack. It certainly is not meant to be.

Again, to be clear, this is not about personal opinions about terminating or completing pregnancies. This about demanding the government regulate pregnancy and reproduction in accordance with one specific ideology.

Possibly no one feels the same as another about abortion itself. But that is not the issue. It’s the extreme right forcing people to adhere to their, and only their, morality that is the issue.

Nicely put, and let me add that I disagree with Susan when she says “their views on abortion are more complicated than ours.” Just the opposite is true; theirs is very simple. Abortion is bad. We’re the ones who have to be nuanced.

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  1. Joel  •  Jun 22, 2007 @12:12 pm

    Harry Reid is what, some obscure Dem without any power? And don’t get me started on all the atheist presidential candidates in our current crop, constantly disrespecting faith. They hardly have time to develop positions papers, they’re so busy defacing Bibles.

    What makes me craziest: the presumption that pro-lifers honestly feel this issue is of tremendous moral importance, but pro-choicers don’t. We should abandon our deeply held beliefs in order to attract people who won’t abandon -their- deeply held beliefs. Sure, that tracks.

    Of course Dems would gain some votes if we abandoned choice, but wtf with the idea that we wouldn’t lose any? We’d lose -me-, and I’m Mr. Moderate.

  2. Joel  •  Jun 22, 2007 @12:34 pm

    Oh, and I meant to say: I emailed you a few days ago. Been having some spam-folder problems, so I don’t know if you got it. If you did, and just, erm, didn’t bother responding, that’s fine. Just wanted to be sure you actually saw the thing …

  3. moonbat  •  Jun 22, 2007 @12:45 pm

    I’m inclined to say that Henneberger is a concern troll, but even that doesn’t cover her obtuseness. I often see stupid things posted at HP, fortunately many of their worst writers don’t seem to last. I think the way to make this happen is to voice displeasure through their comments board.

  4. grayslady  •  Jun 22, 2007 @12:49 pm

    Am not a HuffPo reader so didn’t realize Henneberger was the so-called Political Editor. I say “so-called” because it seems that having a political “editor” on a political blog is nonsensical. Whatever.

    Joel’s comment on deeply held beliefs offers an interesting question for the recent religion posts here. Does a deeply held belief gain more credence because that belief has been seized upon by a religious organization? Is a stance more moral because it is espoused by a particular religious group? As you say, Maha, if you substituted “white” and “segregation”, Henneberger’s argument sounds almost identical to the anti-desegregation crowd back in the 1960s.Or how about “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Roughly translated, that phrase says to me, “Let’s hope that if we don’t talk about it the issue will just go away.”

    Personally, I would like to see the pro-choicers tie the issue to the Terry Schiavo incident, in which people of all stripes–regardless of whether or not they deemed themselves religious–felt that certain issues are too intimate for a one-size-fits-all government proclamation on how to handle personal, or family, life and death decisions. If anything, government needs to preserve the right of the individual to make intimate decisions in a climate of reasonableness, without fear of retribution from any person or party not directly involved in the decision.

  5. biggerbox  •  Jun 22, 2007 @1:27 pm

    I’ve been in 20 states over 18 months, and I’m convinced that people would vote for the Democrats if they would only stop talking about their opposition to tax cuts for very rich people. The people that I spoke to would love to vote Democratic, but they are tired of the disrespect they feel because the party won’t make enough room for people who want to make rich people even richer at the expense of the poor.

    Democrats should stop pushing the perception that the Republican party is the defender of the plutocrats. For years they have done that by opposing Republican tax cut bills.

    Today, in a similarly oblivious way, the leading Democratic candidates are talking about populist positions. An overwhelming majority of Americans, polls show, want to get insanely rich. Yet the Democratic candidates keep talking about equity and ‘the middle class’.

    What will it take to win these people back? How about some respect? Some of the people I spoke to are desperate to find their way home to the Democratic party, and if the party doesn’t send a car for them, with a really polite driver, it has only itself to blame. And it ought to have Perrier, and a good single-malt, too.

  6. joanr16  •  Jun 22, 2007 @1:29 pm

    Sounds to me like Ms. Henneberger is justifying a personal obsession. Otherwise, her piece wouldn’t have been so completely fact-free. So when’s she scheduled to appear on Hardball?

  7. moonbat  •  Jun 22, 2007 @1:42 pm
  8. patrick  •  Jun 22, 2007 @1:52 pm

    Democrats must be vigorous defenders on Choice precisely because Republicans are so disingenuous in their opposition to Choice. That is, if they took the open, straightforward position that Roe should be overturned in it’s entirety and the State, rather than individuals, should have a monopoly on reproductive decisions, then the Democrats could afford to be mostly mum simply because the public would not tolerate the Republican position. But the Republican party wants to eat its cake and have it too on the issue: they want the money and votes they can get from the activist minority who long for expanded State power over individual freedom in this instance, but they want to protect just enough of the status quo to avoid alienating the majority who find that position alarming.

    As a result, we get ridiculous and even dangerous policies that are designed to placate the base without appearing to attack Roe at the core. But the effect is to broaden the State’s authority, little by little, over reproductive decisions until, even now, abortion is a choice only in the abstract in many parts of the country.

  9. Ann  •  Jun 22, 2007 @2:10 pm

    Didn’t Glenn Greenwald do a post not too long ago about DC pundits (actually it was about a particular one but I don’t remember his name) who declared himself a “man of the people” based on his occasional forays out into the hinterlands to mingle with so-called “Average Americans.” Polls be damned! Henneberger “travels to 20 states” and then decides she speaks for American Womanhood?

  10. jerri  •  Jun 22, 2007 @3:29 pm

    There is a need here to get personal. Henneberger needs to be asked…Did you have sex be for marriage? How many children do you have? How did you limit the number of children in your family? Was the size of you family determined by you alone or did your spouse, other family members, spiritial advisor, complete strangers have input? If she is willing to open up her personal life to the world then maybe her opinions on abortion for me and mine might have some relivance.

  11. sniflheim  •  Jun 22, 2007 @3:35 pm

    Wasn’t Donna Brazile talking like this too about her acquaintances? Establishment liberals all seem to come down with the same vapors at once. Possibly because they spend so much time talking to professional Republicans, getting their Stockholm syndromes reinforced. The thesis that abortion is suddenly salient for swing voters is counterintuitive in the extreme and would need some serious documentation and explanation.

  12. erinyes  •  Jun 22, 2007 @3:42 pm

    Let’s hope for a fade to black on this issue. If the race for the presidency goes back to abortion rights, who loves God more, and who prays the best, we’ll be in deep doodoo.
    Why can’t the goobers just leave shit alone and solve the real problems?

  13. Madison Guy  •  Jun 22, 2007 @4:15 pm

    I heard Melinda Henneberger on Wisconsin Public Radio the other day. She argued her point well, but she’s wrong. She doesn’t understand the far right. Pandering to some mythical middle is what leads to things like the appearance of an extremist like Bill Donohue on the Today Show this morning, being treated with respect and deference by David Gregory.

    Bill Donohue started the “grassroots” outcry of the “faithful” in the right blogosphere that swiftblogged Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan right out of the John Edwards campaign, for words they wrote on their blogs that weren’t that different from what a comic like Robin Williams might say. I like Edwards, but maybe if he had stood up against Donohue more forcefully, Donohue wouldn’t have been on the Today Show this morning attacking Robin Williams for his alleged anti-Catholic bigotry. Deja vu all over again.

  14. sisyphus  •  Jun 22, 2007 @4:37 pm

    I recently heard Helen Thomas interviewed.
    She predicted that the Supreme Court would loyally back Bush stands on many issues.
    There’s a lot at stake if her prediction hold true.
    And it’s scarier to think of the vulnerability with Ginsburg ill.
    Scalia, Thomas, Allito and Roberts are a scary bunch.

  15. DoubleCinco  •  Jun 22, 2007 @5:53 pm

    Sometimes we have to use Aikido and sometimes Tae Kwan Do. In business negotiations the Japanese will bow gracefully and comment what a thoughtful position you have just before they serve your head up on a platter. When you can’t put you opponent down head-to-head, then use their mass and velocity to your best advantage.

    To-wit: acknowledge the deeply held moral dilemma and angst in all of us (for two different sets of reasons of course–bow gracefully) and then propose service programs that reduce the restraining forces to the reproductive health of all women and girls that produce unwanted pregnancy? We don’t attack and we don’t defend.

    The goal is to offer lots of space and opportunity for them to be the acrimonious a-holes, self-centered, ideological and rigid while we actually put energy into efforts that show compassion and wisdom offering care to folk on both sides that really matter to us ALL (remember interdependence)–instead of being shrill screamers and finger pointers.

    Even if it never amounted to actual service programming wouldn’t such an approach offer superior campaign rpm’s to direct toward this group of fence sitters Henne-whatsit was writing about? Would we be any worse off than the predictament at present?

    If we expend our most potent energy in fight we accomplish nothing but the satisfaction of a not very successful advocacy, the strident waving of flags for our team, plus the unwanted fueling of their paranoid outrage to protect ideals and unconscious fears (see my comment 06.21). I guess I’m just too frelling naive, but I would a lot rather be clever and vectored then indignant and self-righteous.

  16. Joe  •  Jun 23, 2007 @12:51 am

    I found Ms. H’s citation of the “pro-choice” nun–the one who’s OK with abortion for rape victims–to be most telling. Evidently for the good Sister, the embryo conceived through rape is less worthy than the one conceived through consensual sex. I’ve never understood the moral justification for that position, other than the obvious implication this is about forcing people to live with the unintended consequences of their voluntary sexual activity. Second point: OK, Ms, H: I’m your driver. So fasten your seat belt and tell me just what is your problem with abortion, anyway?