The GOP’s Legacy of Lost Causes

A USA Today poll shows that support for legal abortion has gone up since the Dobbs decision. This is not surprising. The disturbing stories of what nonsense women have had to endure to get medical care have probably surprised a lot of people. The hard-core forced birth crowd is very certain there is never any medically justifiable reason to terminate a pregnancy, of course. But there are a lot of people out there who probably never gave it much thought before.

One of the things I’ve been working on this weekend is a post about the Temperance movement. There’s very little living memory of it left, of course. If we think of it at all, we think of shrewish old ladies breaking up saloons with axes. But for more than a century, from the 1820s to the 1930s, the Temperance movement was a big deal, and it had a big impact on U.S. politics. And, boy howdy, did it succeed! They set out to abolish liquor, and they got a Constitutional amendment passed that did exactly that.

The more I looked up stuff about the Temperance movement, the more parallels I found with abortion criminalization. There was no scientific polling in those days, unfortunately. But particularly from about the 1890s on, a lot of politicians were afraid to speak out in favor of saloons and legal drinking. It’s a bit like where Democrats were for a long time on abortion; it was considered suicidal to come out and say you wanted to keep abortion legal. It was more politically expedient to be “dry” than “wet.” All deference was given to the “anti” side, because their voters were more likely to be single-issue and driven to the point of fanaticism.

And what killed the Temperance movement, of course, was Prohibition. They got what they wanted, and people realized they didn’t like it. It wasn’t just that people missed being able to enjoy a drink now and then. The organized crime wave that came after was pretty nasty. And state tax revenues dropped like a rock. There was not much of an upside, in fact. Maybe people drank a lot less, but the unintended consequences weren’t worth it.

I thought this was interesting: Prohibition began in 1920. In their 1928 party platforms, both the Democrats and the Republicans pledged to support and enforce the Eighteenth Amendment but did not elaborate. Bur in 1932, the Republicans committed considerable verbiage to Prohibition in the platform. In all this verbiage they didn’t clearly come out and say that maybe it was a bad idea and should be repealed, but they did, very gingerly, suggest that maybe the states could be given more say on the matter of liquor sales.

But the Democrats in 1932 just plainly said “We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.” They hadn’t had the nerve to say that in 1928. Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide election very effectively killed Prohibition.

As with banning liquor, the Dobbs decision is showing people why criminalizing abortion is a really bad idea with a lot of harmful, unintended consequences. And, once again, the Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion and history and don’t know what to do about it. You can find all kinds of advice on the Right, such as this article in the Federalist that calls for “positive pro-life messaging.” Yeah, they just need better messaging. That’s the ticket. All this horror about women nearly bleeding to death because their doctors don’t want to go to jail just needs to be framed in a better light, right?

What we’re going through now is nasty, but maybe it will kill the forced birth movement once and for all. Let’s hope.

Also, too: Remember when the Taliban dynamited those ancient standing Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan? Now the Taliban is selling ticket to the rubble. They need the money.

14 thoughts on “The GOP’s Legacy of Lost Causes

  1. It's a really interesting comparison: abortion and the temperance movement. "And state revenues fell". I was chatting with a supermarket check-out clerk, and he said that there was a store in their big chain (Ralphs) that was caught selling alcohol to minors. As part of their punishment, they were forbidden to sell alcohol at that particular outlet ever again. Management responded by closing the store. Alcohol is evidently more profitable than food, so they decided to cut their losses. The same chain – and I think they all do this – jazzes up the aisles where liquor is sold – special lighting and flooring – they know where their sweet spot is.

    I wonder if anybody in the Taliban figured out that they really should've left those statues alone. Truly a shame, the Buddhas destroyed by barbarians from the future.

    • Pure posturing.  The reason why grocery is such a profitable business is daily compounding.  They will scream in your face that they have no margin, that they only make a penny on a gallon of milk, but they sell and restock that gallon every day, 365 days a year.  To a first approximation, that's doubling their money.  The state government doubtless guarantees them a margin on the hard liquor — the kind that isn't sold at c-stores — and it is probably in the low double digits of percent, but that doesn't mean it is a make-or-break component of their revenue.  They closed the store as a gesture of defiance.  All business decisionmaking is purely emotional.

    • I don't know about groceries. In  some states groceries can't stock liquor. But I've talked to enough people in the restaurant business to know that a lot of restaurants depend on liquor sales for their profits more than on their food.  In the case of Prohibition, taxes on liquor sales were a BIG part of state revenues. Prohibition dried that up, and on top of that states had an additional burden of enforcing the law. It was a mess. Abolitionists had predicted that when men stopped spending money in saloons it would mean increased profits in other businesses, but that didn't happen. And a lot of people lost jobs that were connected in some way to the manufacture, distribution, and sale of liquor. So it had a depressing effect on the economy.

  2. I strongly support the temperance movement, which is why I limit my average daily vodka intake to about 300 ml which helps my being creative and funny, but doesn’t incapacitate me.

  3. I think Trump will win the GOP primary. (Polls have Trump with 53% of GOP support.) He's on record taking credit for reversing Roe. Trump has always relied on the Evangelicals for support –  don't see Trump modifying that much, except mealy-mouthed suggestions about including exceptions to save the life of the mother. 

    Rhonda Santos is polling at 26% in the primary – FL passed a six-week abortion ban. 

    Three-fourths of Republicans are in support of candidates with rabid views on abortion and women's rights.  A recent poll cited by The Hill puts first-trimester abortion support at a record 69%. 

    When Trump won in 2016, he pandered to evangelicals on abortion BUT no one actually thought Roe was not settled law. I thought it was a pose Trump struck for votes – the dog that barked at cars for decades and occasionally chased them caught one. The GOP does not want to piss off the evangelical voting block but catering to them will push the GOP further into the minority. 

    Maha's historical allegory re FDR and prohibition is spot on.

    Democrats need to pivot to more than women's rights.

    They need to push immigration reform, dreamers (big support there) and a comprehensive solution, not a taller wall.

    They need to address gun reform (82% support stronger background checks) and talk about assault rifles and hi-capacity mags. 

    Democrats need to put book bans out there, with a list of popular books featured that the nuts have pulled off school shelves and are going after in public libraries. 

    Gay people are not abnormal – just a minority. Drag shows are not immoral. Promoting intolerance – hate – for who and how people decide to love is Neanderthal. (And that's an affront to Neanderthals.) 

    Sex education is better than sex ignorance. Sex education includes tolerance of people different than you. Other people hear the beat of a different drummer. This is not wrong. (Except in Florida.)

    Democratic candidates should steer clear of Trump's trials, lest we create the impression they are political. Pivot to the issues that matter to citizens.

    • Your model might have been right at one time, but it is not right today.  The necessary model today is special-ed, and the very toughest kind. 

      The American people are self-harming oppositional-defiant.  The fact that the few who are not have sorted themselves into the Democratic Party does not mean that the great bulk of Democratic voters are not — along with all Republican voters, apart from the dwindling handful who still think that there may be opportunities to steal something. 

      How would you run that if it were a school?  Ask that question, and look the answers unflichingly in the face, and maybe you will begin to understand a path forward.


      • Can anybody interpret what Frank said for me? In English.  Probably in small words because I'm not sure if he said something brilliant or if I'd like to refute it.

  4. You certainly tied that circle up with a nice little bow on it

    I've been watching since a hint at it a couple years ago and yesterday started seeing it a bit more in earnest: they're blaming Freemasons. The same bunch that using the same language, the same terror tactics, killed off the Freemasons two hundred years ago

    We don't have the time nor is this the space to open up that can of worms, I've been watching for it as a measure of their desperation ~ they're pulling stuff out of their hindquarters that's two hundred years old. They're running out of excuses, justifications

    I think you nailed it …

  5. I want Trump's trial(s) to be televised, so the whole country can see him break down and rage. Watched a video of a reporter who was at his arraignment. She said she had never seen him look the way he did. He was constantly closing his eyes, keeping them shut for a few seconds, his jaw clenched. My guess is this is how he counts to 10, to avoid blowing his top.

    Jennifer Rubin in the WaPo today argued for televised hearings, but she didn't mention anything about witnessing a psychological break down. Joyce Vance, also today.


    But the Democrats in 1932 just plainly said “We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.” They hadn’t had the nerve to say that in 1928.


    Just to emphasize: the Democrats had not, of course, won the election yet when this platform plank was written. They knew they had a good shot, but they were trying to oust an incumbent Republican, never an easy thing. There had at this point been only one Democratic President in the twentieth century: Woodrow Wilson.

    What changed between 1928 and 1932? It was surely the cumulative effect of many small problems, including organized crime and widespread cheating on the Prohibition rules (the wealthy and powerful drank pretty openly, while ordinary people sometimes got busted for brewing beer in their basements for personal use.)

    But one big thing happened that surely affected the public attitude toward Prohibition: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre of February 14, 1929, which was part of a turf war between rival criminal bootlegging gangs in Chicago. Those killings shocked the country and laid to rest once and for all the claim that Prohibition reduced crime.

    One wonders how many women (and girls) will have to die before the public conscience is similarly aroused over abortion bans. I hate to say this, but I suspect someday one really awful story of something terrible happening to a pregnant woman (or girl) will become nationally discussed and produce a similar shock and backlash.

    • Well, there was also that stock market crash and Great Depression thing, too. But in truth big chunks of the country had been in recession for at least a couple of years before the Depression started. The "roaring twenties" didn't roar for everybody, 

  7. Barbara – Thx for the link to your Patheos article about the Temperance Movement (which also got me to your article on the Bamiyan Buddhas, which got me to your article on "The Edicts of Ashoka", etc!).  

  8. "…the Dobbs decision is showing people why criminalizing abortion is a really bad idea with a lot of harmful, unintended consequences."


    I am not convinced that the consequences are unintended.   perhaps having the consequences emphasized to the public is unintended, but the right revels in the horror of the damage to women.   it can be seen as part of a campaign to control them by showing what can happen to those who make the mistake of contracting an unwanted pregnancy.   the ensuing publicity may not be welcome, given the adverse affect in will have on public opinion, but the cruelty itself?  not at all unwelcome.   these are vicious, violent, vindictive people who will happily break a thousand eggs and never give a thought to even making an omelet.


Comments are closed.