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.
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 â€™08. They convinced me that the conventional wisdom was wrong about the last presidential contest, that Democrats did not lose support among women because â€œsecurity momsâ€ 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.
The standard response from Democratic leaders has been that anyone lost to them over this issue is not coming back â€” 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 â€œRepublican.â€ Some could fairly be described as desperate to find a way home. And if the party theyâ€™d prefer doesnâ€™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 â€” 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 â€” though I can feel some of you tensing as you read this â€” 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.