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August 10, 2005


As coda to last night's post on NARAL, a few things:

Brad, who should know he can never outstay his welcome at chez Klein, so long as he promises to call it chez Klein, has a fuller rundown of his argument at his place. Read it. I think the basic disagreement comes over how well you think Democrats stand up for choice. Kos and I think pretty well, Brad and DaDa Head are less impressed. Fair enough. Brad in particular points out that, in 1976, a Democratic Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which restricted federal funding for abortion, and in 1993, 98 Democrats crossed the aisle to help pass a weakened Hyde amendment.

This seems one of those perfect v. good arguments. Democrats aren't perfect, but compared to Republicans they are very, very good. And the playing field in 1976 was different than the playing field now. NARAL, back then a small group, had only been around for seven years, and choice wasn't as important an issue within the Democratic constituencies because it wasn't as loud an issue in the culture generally. In 1993, Clinton was dragging, Democrats were unpopular, and the 1994 realignment hadn't happened, so we still had scores of Southern Democrats who were, particularly on culture, Republicans. They crossed over on other things too.

But 1993, in some ways, proves the point. NARAL isn't in a place to play this kind of hardball. Remember, this isn't a moral argument, but a tactical one. In 1994, Democrats who voted against NRA priorities were eviscerated in the elections. The NRA, through grassroots mobilization and targeted spending, remade the political environment on guns. Whatever the country's opinion may have been, the reality was Democrats were now and forevermore going to be very, very careful around firearms legislation. Who did NARAL beat?

In some senses, actually in many, NARAL has failed. An interest group's mandate is not to get legislators to vote their conscience, it's to create a political environment where legislators have to vote their way. But despite a fairly solid majority for some kind of choice, NARAL's been completely outplayed by the Christian Right. They've let abortion rights become quasi-radioactive for Democrats. Is it all their fault? No, of course not. But they have failed at their mission, which was to do for choice what the NRA has done for guns. For that reason, the NRA can play hardball with the Republican party, the right knows they need the NRA. NARAL doesn't quite have the same leeway. Democrats don't need NARAL.

As I said yesterday, the real political gold is in denouncing them, separating, proving we chart our own path on choice. Now, we won't and shouldn't do that, but the difference is, the Republicans can't do it to the NRA. So when NARAL comes out and begins endorsing Republicans who vote with a majority that takes the destruction of choice as a sacred quest, they deserve to be blamed. They're acting as if they're in a position of strength, as if the Democratic party is sticking with them because it's the politically expedient thing to do, not the right one. But that's not the case, and we all know it. Democrats are taking real hits by standing with NARAL, by not publicly backpedaling dramatically on choice. And it's that very loyalty, that respect for an ideological ally and commitment to their program, that explains why NARAL should be trying to get Reid made majority leader, not hedging bets with Chafee.

You get Reid on top and Langevin in, and much of what Brad's talking about won't come to the floor, votes that'd upset NARAL will get help up in committee, judicial nominees will be rejected. Not all, certainly, but there's no doubt that the Republicans pass much more that's chips at choice than Democrats do. When NARAL and its allies remake the playing field so choice is sacrosanct, no Democrat will cross lines to oppose it. But NARAL is weak right now and they need to make their principal ally strong. Trying to drive out the one challenger who led Chafee in the polls deserves all the criticism it can get, because NARAL's primary mission should be electing a Democratic party that is indebted to them, and that they can then control.

Update: These comments concerning NARAL's position on Roberts and Chafee's likely actions are worth reading.

August 10, 2005 in Democrats, Electoral Politics, Politics of Choice | Permalink


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Ezra seems to understand this, which makes it a wee strange that he gets his conclusion wrong. Not really strange. We're mostly Democratic partisans around these parts [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 10, 2005 10:32:53 PM

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There is quite the discussion about NARAL’s decision to back a pro-choice Republican in RI to forestall an anti-choice Democratic from running to replace him. Brad Plumber, Digby and Echinde of the Snakes come down on NARAL’s side. Ezra ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 11, 2005 10:51:41 PM


The NRA vs. NARAL comparison is interesting.

I think the big difference in the two groups, and why NRA is a winner for Republicans and NARAL is a loser for Democrats is that people generally feel pretty safe that abortion rights aren't going anywhere.

Sure the Christian coalition makes a lot of noise about abortion and is having some success at the margins, but Roe v. Wade isn't going anywhere. Even a fairly conservative court is likely to respect stare decisis enough to keep it in place. Beyond that, at the worst case the majority of states would not outlaw abortion even if Roe v. Wade were to fall.

Parental consent and partial birth are hot issues, but they are important only to a vocal minority of people who favor abortion, and strongly opposed by a lot who don't approve of it.

On the other hand, Second Ammendment protections don't seem to be as strong (ironic since one is directly in the constitution and one is not) and there are frequently highly publicized efforts aimed at restricting gun rights. Those who care about this issue are directly motivated by the fear that it will effect them. That translates rather neatly into political power.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 10, 2005 12:08:47 PM

I think your NRA - NARAL comparison is appropriate. The difference seems to be case of which one was effective in achieving their goals, not which had a morally superior argument.

I truly don't like 'slippery slope' arguments generally, since deploying them tends to harden idealogical boundaries, perhaps inappropriately, on difficult political and moral issues.

I am concerned however about a tendency to think the Dems should do whatever is necessary to win majority control even at the price of some hard but important policies.

Should all Dems be required to believe in the broadest reading of 'choice'? No, obviously not. Should all Dems be required to believe in gun control as a goal? That seems to be headed to becoming a political non-issue because of its negative electoral impacts.

Are we willing to throw the gays/lesbians on the fire to win office?

How about equal rights for minorities - black, latino, asian, whatever?

Should we become the torture party because that is popular?

Is the hillside getting slippery?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 10, 2005 12:13:09 PM

I think that's exactly right. But in many ways, that's why NARAL has failed: they've not made their cause seem urgent to the American people, while the other side has. NARAL, rather than protecting choice, is seen as a group that fights parental notification, while the NRA, rather than being seen as a group that protects assault rifles, is an organization dedicated to the Second Amendment.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 10, 2005 12:13:14 PM

The real political gold is in denouncing NARAL? Wow. But why stop there? There's real political gold in denouncing and separating ourselves from unions, the NAACP, civil libertarians, and all advocates of the social safety net too. Hell, let's just start saying that anyone who criticizes the war effort hates the troops - that'll pick us up some votes in the heartland!

I won't restate the argument I just made responding to your last post on this issue, but of course it's hard for NARAL to remake public conciousness on this issue - our own coalition doesn't take it seriously.

Posted by: maddie | Aug 10, 2005 12:31:17 PM

No, there isn't political gold in any of those things. But for a party struggling with the perceptions that we are, NARAL is a PR drag. As I said, we don't, won't, and shouldn't denounce them, but let's not pretend that NARAL's support is somehow a major boost come election time. It isn't. And we should be able to talk about why that is. Again, no one, least of all me, is saying we should denounce them. The point is that, unlike the NRA, we don't stick with them because they've made it a political plus to have NARAL on your side.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 10, 2005 12:43:23 PM

Maddie, great comment. I actually agree with some of what Kos has to say about single issue voters and the big picture, but this attack on groups that support choice, and voters who hold choice as a top priority, is mind boggling.

The NRA promotes the idea that the second amendment is under attack when that was *never* the case. Anyone can own a gun. NARAL has a tougher row to hoe, because only half of us have uteri, and not all of that group will face an unwanted pregancy. And, of course, there is the very real possibility that we will lose choice - in some parts of the country it's already essentially gone, because of lack of access.

Why do those who are opposed to NARAL use such condescending tones? Why are they setting up those who support choice as opponents, rather than identifying how much we have common goals and trying to bring everyone together in a way that doesn't suggest that half the population should consider giving up their autonomy over their own bodies as a compromise?

I say this as someone who would rather NARAL choose a Democrat to endorse. I don't think it is helpful to support choice by endorsing a candidate who ultimately supports those who are trying to eliminate choice. Right now, I don't really trust the political judgement of anyone who has an R after their name because they probably voted for Bush. But we don't need to make pro-choice people into enemies of the Democratic party, either.

Posted by: maurinsky | Aug 10, 2005 12:54:52 PM

Which party has a problem with perceptions?

Gallup numbers on the '08 Republican nomination:

Giuliani 28
McCain 24
Rice 18
Frist 8
Romney 4
Pataki 3
Allen 3
Brownback 2

The source for the polling is 443 Republicans and 466 Democrats, with a MoE of +/-5%, Aug 5-7th.

Ummmm... a PRO-CHOICE candidate is leading for the REPUBLICANS

Posted by: truebluedem | Aug 10, 2005 1:01:31 PM

A good and important comparison and post. So we have one political party that is dependent on its constituencies, and another party with wholly dependent constituences. The second case is certainly a formula for condecension and corruption and callousness. No the urban poor or the old or the disabled will never have a national powerbase like the NRA. Fuck em.

Now a political party that is independent of its constituent parts is a joke, without point or purpose save patronage and bribery. But the constituencies have a problem, and need to start looking for new ways of organizing and forming coalitions. And the old political structures will quite consciously get in their way.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 1:17:40 PM

No, really, Ezra has cut to the quick. What interest groups may the Democrats not cross, and how does this fear manifest itself?

AARP. Everybody else is on the sacrificial altar. Oh, except for their financial contributors, who are the same as the Republican financial contributors.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 1:28:17 PM



Poor Ezra. On his way to the Emerald City, he is encountering the lions and tigers and bears.

"Sirota's post has stirred quite a bit of anger within the operative class; Bob's behavior has done the same. Caught in the middle are a whole bunch of people who know that the future is with Brigham and Sirota, but the money lies with placating insider culture. Yes, that's where it lies." ...aaronBurrfan,BOPNews

And it is the truth.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 1:40:15 PM

truebluedem, it doesn't really say much that a pro-choice candidate will lead on the GOP side when you poll both Democrats and Republicans.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 10, 2005 2:53:54 PM

I think part of the issue with NARAL lies in the structure of the organization.

The state chapters have free reign, contingent upon their local boards, to make their endorsements of state politicans. Thus, in New York, it has not been a bad strategy to endorse politicans like Bloomberg, or abstain in races like Pataki's 2002 re-election bid. The result is expanded access to reproductive services at the state level (except, in Pataki's case, when they make a move for national office.)

The problem, as I see it, is when these state affiliates get involved in endorsing federal candidates. The organization's endorsement policy dictates that they always go with the pro-choice incumbent. Hence, we get affiliate endorsements of Senators like Chaffee.

If the national organization took federal endorsements under their wing, and thought strategically about allying themselves to party concerns, they might get a much more sensible, and politically powerful, endorsement process. To expect their state affiliates to think and act this way is unrealistic.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss | Aug 10, 2005 2:55:53 PM

Neil, the poll might suggest that both Democrats and Republicans can win by choosing a pro-choice candidate, so it does have a point.

Posted by: maurinsky | Aug 10, 2005 2:59:03 PM

Of course, similar to Matt’s attitude towards populist-Hillary, if we support NARAL in trying to look non-partisan, we should unleash our ferocity on them so people really believe they are non-partisan. Or um, some logic like that.

Which kinda highlights the inconsistency of what NARAL is trying to do. If the right to choice is a “core Democratic value” then why are you endorsing other people? Either Democrats hold abortion as dear as the hold any other political goal, and by opposition the Republicans hold the opposite, or it’s an independent issue that can be nurtured in either party. Can't have it both ways.

Of course NARAL may just be trying to highlight the mirror inconsistency Democrats present (NARAL needs us so be quiet, btw let’s run pro-life candidates), but at the moment they’re the ones crossing their messages. Also NARAL should be expected to speak with a more coherent voice than, well, the entire vague liberal-left.

Posted by: Roussea | Aug 10, 2005 3:32:17 PM

Well, Pataki is leading on terrorism and name rec, ask respondents what his choice position is and see what you find.

Incdientally, what does this mean:

"Poor Ezra. On his way to the Emerald City, he is encountering the lions and tigers and bears."


Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 10, 2005 4:17:28 PM

"Incdientally, what does this mean:"

If you follow the links, the BOP crew are attacking you by name(with compliments)...liberal Washington strikes me as a volatile, angry, and dangerous place right now.

Are you moving to DC, have you moved already, or working from California? I think Washington will be hell for a couple years. Or heaven, I guess, depending on how much you like hardball politics.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 4:35:57 PM

I'm in CA. And that didn't seem like a particularly harsh attack to me. I'm an "awesome writer". Ouch, so rough!

I disagree with Sirota. He disagrees with me. If you think we're enemies, though, you're quite wrong. Oddly enough, I'm able to disagree with folks without thinking them tools of the establishment or traitors to the cause. So are others. It's an approach I wish some in the blogosphere would buy into...

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 10, 2005 4:39:30 PM

Sorry. I have misplaced my comity and magnanimity. Was it in Florida or during the impeachment? Or recently with the bankruptcy bill?

Or maybe it is just a mean summer in Dallas.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 4:44:29 PM

Has it occured to anyone that NARAL might actually help the Democrats by endorsing an occasional Republican? By doing this, they are making contacts with pro-choice Republicans, who are more likely than any other Republicans to change their vote. Offering no outreach whatsoever to pro-choice Republicans is a foolish decision. I'm glad that NARAL is doing an end run around the tut-tutting "loyalty first" Democrats.

Posted by: Amanda | Aug 10, 2005 9:39:02 PM

I think there's a larger issue here that gets lost in the specific NARAL fight.

While I am a Democrat because we stand up for groups (like the urban poor) who are not a consistent source of money or votes - I think it's a huge mistake to lump women into that category. This is not solely about where we stand and how firmly on choice, it's about how we talk about certain issues and to certain groups.

It is profoundly alienating for the Democratic party and the progressive movement to have a public conversation about backing away from support for reproductive rights for electoral gain - because that's a conversation (and a conversation overwhelmingly among men not incidentally) about how meaningless women's equality, freedom, and humanity really are.

Choice may not be the best issue to lead the charge with, at least not until we've figured out how to talk about it more effectively, but the way we talk about choice sends women a message about how the Democratic party and the progressive movement see and value women and gender issues. It's not that single women vote Republican, it's that they don't vote at all - this is a group we can win, and we have a much better shot at them than we do at white male "values voters".

The issue isn't that our values prevent us from winning, it's that appeasing people who are freaked out by the idea that women can control their own lives is a shitty strategy for winning a majority.

Posted by: maddie | Aug 11, 2005 12:18:15 AM

Brad in particular points out that, in 1976, a Democratic Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which restricted federal funding for abortion, and in 1993, 98 Democrats crossed the aisle to help pass a weakened Hyde amendment.

This is always something I've had a hard time wrapping my head around. I'm a firm believer in choice. But I don't see how choice includes taxpayers paying for that choice. I understand there are situations in which the poor, uninsured would need help, similar to healthcare.

I guess I'm trying to make a connection between subsized healthcare and subsidized abortion, but I'm having a hard time. There seems to me to be big distinctions within abortion itself. E.g. just not wanting a baby v.s. a harmful pregnancy. (I know nothing about Hyde, btw.)

Disclaimer: To me, it has nothing to do with federally funding things some people find morally repugnant. It has to do with funding bad social choices, and how much we really are obligated with.

Posted by: Adrock | Aug 11, 2005 11:36:57 AM

the NRA, rather than being seen as a group that protects assault rifles, is an organization dedicated to the Second Amendment.

I guess to some people, but certainly not to me. I remember some statements recently related to background checks and suspected terrorists and the statements from the NRA were construed in my mind as being pro-terrorist, ike they have the same rights as citizens...or something. I guess they are worried about the slippery slope?

Posted by: Adrock | Aug 11, 2005 12:00:10 PM

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