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August 09, 2005

NARAL'S Request

Gotta say, Kos is all sorts of right on this. NARAL's exhortations to tell bloggers that choice is a real issue that affects women's lives is somewhat invalidated by the fact that bloggers seem to have a better understanding of what the political landscape affecting choice looks like. Helping to drive out Langevin, attacking Casey...A Democratic Congress, no matter the beliefs of a few pro-choice members, would not create an anti-choice judiciary. A Republican Congress has. And, sorry, but NARAL doesn't do the Democratic party much, indeed, any good (as this poll proves). If the party wanted to make a political calculation for more votes, it'd Sister Souljah NARAL and focus on economics.

But we won't. Because we want what NARAL wants. Because we believe in choice. The Republican party doesn't. And so long as pro-choice Republicans vote for anti-choice speakers, that's all that matters. Kos gets that, NARAL, at least publicly, doesn't.

Update: Oliver gets it.

Update 2: Is this discussion really going to be misrepresented as defenders of choice vs. enemies, as in if you don't leap into line behind NARAL's moves you're somehow anti-choice? I think Kos, and certainly me, believe that NARAL is doing the wrong thing if they actually want a pro-choice America. This isn't about party loyalty and advancement. If it were, my argument would be to publicly and loudly disown NARAL because doing so would be just the sort of defining moment that could erase the widely-held but wrong perception that Democrats brook no dissent no choice. I don't advocate that, not because it would be bad politics or bad for the party (It'd be kickass politics and great for the party), but because it'd be bad for NARAL and bad for choice. Which is exactly the reason I oppose NARAL's endorsement of Chafee.

I'm 21. If my girlfriend gets accidentally pregnant, you better fucking believe I want options. Choice is real to me. Not as real as it may be to her, or many women, but real. And I'm angry because, in this case, NARAL is failing me.

August 9, 2005 in Politics of Choice | Permalink


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» Choice and choices from The Ethical Werewolf
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. [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2005 10:13:37 PM

» "Frat Boy" Lefties? from Now That's Progress
A group like NARAL gets a greater benefit if Democrats are in power across the board than if they have a wishy-washy Republican who is pro-choice but votes with Republicans every step of the way. Ezra Klein weighed in on this today, too, agreeing ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 10, 2005 10:31:53 AM

» Poor NARAL from Democracy Vs. The Constitution
I entirely understand why NARAL endorsed Chaffee (R-RI) so early in the cycle. But guys, you got screwed by circumstance. A SCOTUS nomination came up, and you know Chaffee is going to vote for Roberts, a guy who you’re putting at least some eff... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 10, 2005 11:33:30 AM

» Poor NARAL from Democracy Vs. The Constitution
I entirely understand why NARAL endorsed Chaffee (R-RI) so early in the cycle. But guys, you got screwed by circumstance. A SCOTUS nomination came up, and you know Chaffee is going to vote for Roberts, a guy who you’re putting at least some eff... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 10, 2005 11:39:08 AM

» The 'Bloggy Call To Action' That Backfired from Beltway Blogroll
You know blogs have power when advocacy outfits like the National Abortion Right Action League start urging the grassroots to take their appeals to the top bloggers. That's exactly what NARAL did at its Bush v. Choice blog several days... [Read More]

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What I don't like about this whole issue is that it's being set up as an either-or: either you support NARAL or you support "the blogs". Can't we support both?

Posted by: fiat lux | Aug 9, 2005 5:22:43 PM

Ezra -- you should read your post right below this one. With so many "liberal" thinkers like Michael Lind ready to sacrifice choice on the altar to ensure sweet, sweet electoral victory, is it any wonder that NARAL doesn't want to give the Democrats unconditional support? Look how many groups have been screwed over by devoting themselves to a party come hell or highwater. Unions, for instance. The religious right, for another. NARAL's strategy isn't entirely irrational, I think.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 5:39:21 PM


I can easily understand NARAL's move based on the party's recent talk and action regarding pro-life candidates. But every relationship has its ups and downs and for NARAL to endorse Chafee in a fit of pique is about as short-sighted as it gets. I think the blogs have gone overboard in pointing this out, nonetheless it remains true. I still have yet to see anyone explain how this strategy advances NARALs interests. Kos and Ezra are looking at it from a political angle, as in, how dare they stab Democrats in the back when we need them to back us and NARAL is essentially saying the same thing. Neither side wins by pursuing this agenda. My question was why couldn't NARAL endorse a pro-choice Democrat instead of Chafee. It's the most logical thing to do. Chafee gives them nothing - in fact his very affiliation harms them. Stupid move.

Posted by: ATC | Aug 9, 2005 6:30:01 PM

Brad's got a good point. Your tone is also pretty condescending. NARAL is asking for people to remember that choice isn't just a political issue.

The issues confronting organized labor right now have a bigger impact than whether or not Democrats get elected. Women's uteri are similarly more than political tools for Democrats.

I don't think NARAL is asking too much.

Posted by: Matt Singer | Aug 9, 2005 6:32:29 PM

I still have yet to see anyone explain how this strategy advances NARALs interests.

Hmmmm... well, let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that it's Chaffee (pro-choice R) vs. Langevin (pro-life D) in the Senate race in Rhode Island, and that NARAL's endorsement makes a difference. Here are the scenarios they face:

1) Republicans keep the Senate in 2006 and Chaffee gets elected. Well, that's bad news. But notice, whenever the Republicans slap down some bit of legislation restricting abortion rights, Chaffee will be voting against it (remember, he votes pro-choice 100 percent of the time. 100 percent!).

2) Republicans keep the Senate in 2006 and Langevin gets elected. Worse news. Republicans are still in charge, but now whenever they slap down abortion restrictions, Langevin will likely vote for them, giving pro-life legislation one extra vote and making it more likely to pass. Clearly outcome #2 is worse for NARAL than #1. But then we have...

3) Democrats retake the Senate and Chaffee gets elected. Hooray! Now whenever Democrats want to push through some legislation expanding abortion rights, Chaffee votes for it, making it more likely to pass. Which is still better, from NARAL's perspective, than...

4) Democrats retake the Senate and Langevin gets elected. This scenario is worse than 3, since that legislation expanding abortion rights suddenly becomes harder to pass—at the very least, you'll have to do Langevin some favor elsewhere to get him to vote for it. But odds are, he won't vote for it!

So NARAL's preferences here are, I think, ranked: 3, 4, 1, 2. Endorsing Chaffee, then, is a pretty optimal choice—it makes either 3 or 1 more likely, rather than 4 or 2. The wild card here, of course, is the scenario in which control of the Senate actually hinges on who wins here, Chaffee or Langevin—in which case, the choice would be between outcome #1 and #4. I don't really know what the probabilities are here, or how to model this, but presumably NARAL doesn't think this scenario is very likely (in other words, the probability is low that Senate control either way will depend on the RI race). I'm sure there's a rigorous way to calculate out what NARAL's optimal strategy is here, but I'm not smart enough to do that, so I'll just eyeball and say, yes, it might make sense to endorse the pro-choice Republican over the pro-life Democrat.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 7:06:12 PM

Excellent, Brad. The only thing I can add i that question of party principle and discipline comes to mind. If we accept a pro-life Democrat, what won't we accept? And what value or purpose or message does the party have in that case?

And no, I am not a fan of Harry Reid.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2005 7:23:38 PM

And in any case, it is no longer about the judiciary at all. We have lost that war for a generation. We now must think about legislatures. We should have been looking there all along anyway.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2005 7:26:17 PM

The game theory is nice and all, but it doesn't hold up, I think. For NARAL, for Choice, the overriding imperative is that Democrats retake the Senate. Anything that slightens their chance to do that is a blow against choice. That's because, Chafee or no Chafee, there's no possible situation in which the Republican leadership is going to do anything good for abortion rights in this country.

Moreover, Chafee and Langevin don't vote as you say. The primary battle over abortion is happening in the court, among judges. And their, Chafee votes party line, while Langevin would likely do the same, justifying it on non-choice grounds. And where choice is concerned on particular votes, that's what matters. Chafee voted for Janice Rogers Brown. My guess is Langevin didn't. In a Democratic Senate, she would've been voted down.

In NARAL gets to oppose the Democratic party, despite knowing we're the ones who stand up for choice, I get to oppose NARAL, despite knowing we believe in similar things. It's not that I think NARAL should have to support Democrats as a moral issue, it's that I think it's blazingly counterproductive to support Republicans as a political strategy. Folks like Lind are whining because Democrats are in the minority. You don't shut them up by keeping us there.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 9, 2005 8:18:50 PM

NARAL shouldn't have endorsed Chafee, but they had every right to balk at Langevin. I live and vote in RI and I don't think Langevin was or is a smart choice for the race; all the Langevin-hype was based on a couple early polls with tiny sample sizes. When the actual race kicked in and it became a pro-choice Republican against an anti-choice Democrat in a heavily pro-choice state, you can bet Chafee would've beaten the crap out of Langevin - and from the left. Don't believe me? Look at the rest of Langevin's votes on social issues, like I tell people every damn time his name comes up. He voted for the flag-burning amendment, he voted for the Schiavo bill, he voted to keep spending money to bust medical marijuana users in states where medical marijuana is legal (states that might include Rhode Island soon). None of that plays well statewide in Rhode Island, and all of it would blow up in his face the moment he went up against a Republican who could claim to be a social liberal.

Democrats have lost enough by selling out their values to pull the no-brainer of running a social conservative in a socially liberal state. So please, no more uninformed talk about how big bad NARAL tanked poor little Langevin.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Aug 9, 2005 8:23:35 PM

And Ezra, since when have nomination votes gone along strict party lines? It's true that it's unbelievably rare to find a member of a president's party voting against that president's nomination, but tons of opposition party votes go along with them. There are always Democratic defectors going along with Republican nominees, and generally the reverse is also true. Six Dems voted happily for Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General, and that one was supposed to be a great party-wide stand of principle. And who were the defectors? Those wonderful, awe-inspiring moderates.

Chafee voted for Janice Rogers Brown. My guess is Langevin didn't.

Very cute. That would be because he's in the House.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Aug 9, 2005 8:30:49 PM

Didn't should say wouldn't, obviously. Otherwise it wouldn't be my guess ;)

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 9, 2005 8:55:11 PM

Maybe Langevin would've voted against her, maybe he would've voted to confirm. With regards to Priscilla Owen, a judge just as crazy, however, two Democrats - Robert Byrd and Mary Landrieu - voted for, and Chafee voted against. It is not unheard of in the least for socially conservative Democrats to vote to confirm extremist nominees - nor is it unthinkable for socially liberal Republicans to oppose them.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Aug 9, 2005 9:43:31 PM

Run the odds, Iron. Langevin got 12 of PFAW's votes right, Chafee got 8. That's the Senate's most liberal Republican. The American COnservative Union gives Langevin an 18, Chafee a 41. And Chafee still votes for Frist, Langevin for Pelosi.

The question, in the end, comes down to how much you think choice benefits from majority leader Harry Reid. I think it's crucial. Moreover, I think everything else rides on that too. NARAL's got their aims, I have mine. And as sure as they can break with the party, I can break with them.

Our interest groups are killing us. They shouldn't be sacrosanct. So far as I can tell, Singer thinks I shouldn't criticize them because I'm a man, and doing so isn't progressive, or it's patronizing, or something. NARAL's a strong group, telling them they're wrong doesn't condescend, telling them they don't get it isn't out of bounds.

And you know what? On this, they're bulldozing a forest to save a tree. They're wrong. And, if nothing else, the Democratic Party should show it's got as much courage as its interest groups do. Interest groups, like every other political organization, rely on goodwill and esteem from likeminded constituencies. So when Singer says, "You have a problem with what NARAL does? Fine, don’t donate." He's right. What confuses me is why he, and others, think it wrong to criticize.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 9, 2005 10:12:45 PM

Count me with Ezra & Kos. The plain fact, despite the different scenarios we can come up with, is that Chafee is a vote for Frist (or whatever GOP hack), and Langevin is a vote for Reid (or whatever Democratic savior). And despite Reid's personal convictions and even voting record, on a day-to-day basis he is fighting for choice against GOP attacks. If the Dems retake the Senate, it will be Reid setting an agenda that protects choice.

It's not about the forest, it's not about the trees. It's about the forest and the trees, and we can't afford to lose sight of either. If NARAL doesn't like Langevin, fine. They don't have to endorse anybody. That way they can keep the high road without trying to sabotage their own goals.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 9, 2005 10:36:45 PM

First off, there's more at stake when it comes to abortion rights than Supreme Court nominations, although that plays a big part. The Senate has been rolling back choice for years with legislation, often on close votes. Want to know why most poor and rural women can't get abortions? Anti-choice senators are to blame, in part. (Obviously what the statehouses do matters too, but this discussion is getting far too Supreme Court-centric.) Chaffee's 100 percent pro-choice rating matters, and is valuable.

Second, there's this:

Folks like Lind are whining because Democrats are in the minority. You don't shut them up by keeping us there.

No, and no one's proposing that. On the other hand, there are a million ways for the Democrats to recapture the majority, and NARAL can help shut up people like Lind by saying, "Look, you sell us out, we'll do everything we can to fuck you over." That's smart. I think the main difference between many of the pro-NARAL voices here and, say, Kos is that Kos is a Democrat first and a liberal second. Or, to put in a different way, he trusts Democratic politicians in a way that, for instance, I certainly don't and never will.

Frankly, I believe that the Democrats as an institution have never met an interest group they wouldn't happily sell out for electoral gain. The moment NARAL gives this party reason to take them for granted, they're fucked, just like African-Americans have been for the past decade and a half, and just like unions have been. Now maybe endorsing Chaffee wasn't the best way to carry out a "don't tread on us" strategy, but to say "They're wrong" and leave it at that seems a bit too simplistic.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 10:41:21 PM

Admittedly, though, this discussion is probably more heated and bitter than it needs to be. Of course Ezra has the right to criticize NARAL. I think he's slightly incorrect on this point, from an analytic standpoint, but not because he wants to sell out abortion rights. It's pretty obvious he doesn't want to do anything of the sort.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 10:43:42 PM

Pennywit's post on this is really worthwhile.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 10:48:42 PM

"Frankly, I believe that the Democrats as an institution have never met an interest group they wouldn't happily sell out for electoral gain."

One of the reasons why the Democrats are in this current state is because all the way back in the 1960s they went against perhaps their most critical interest group (white Southerners) by passing Civil Rights Legislation. The Solid South used to be solid Democratic; now it's not.

And how many pro-choice bills has Lincoln Chafee passed?

Posted by: Total | Aug 9, 2005 10:52:54 PM

One of the reasons why the Democrats are in this current state is because all the way back in the 1960s they went against perhaps their most critical interest group (white Southerners) by passing Civil Rights Legislation. The Solid South used to be solid Democratic; now it's not.

Fair enough; I was thinking along the lines of more recently.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 9, 2005 10:54:54 PM

I agree with you: a Democratic majority protects choice while a Republican majority weakens it. Dems have to focus on taking Congress back, and sometimes that means making concessions on conservative Dems like Landrieu.

Making that concession in Louisiana or Virginia or Pennsylvania I can understand. That's just politics. But in Rhode Island? That's not just gratuitous, Ezra. It's just plain stupid. Why run a social conservative in an overwhelmingly liberal state? Why give that advantage to a Republican incumbent particularly liked for his liberal stances?

Langevin was picked because he was tight with Jack Reed and because he had more name recognition than Sheldon Whitehouse or Matt Brown. That didn't make him a stronger candidate, it made him a more widely-known candidate. Rhode Islanders like Chafee precisely because he's liberal on social issues; he gets extra brownie points for going up against his party to do it. How much better would he look once the campaign started against a socially conservative Democrat?

Yes, Chafee's 100% pro-choice voting record doesn't mean a thing if he votes to confirm anti-abortion judges. But how the hell is an anti-abortion candidate going to get up there and credibly make that argument? "Ladies and gentlement, my opponent is going to vote to confirm judges who would outlaw abortion... a practice I believe is murder."

Politics and principles were not at odds here. Langevin was a weak pick.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Aug 9, 2005 10:56:44 PM

" was thinking along the lines of more recently."

So much of what's playing out now is a follow-on from that era. The electoral realignment of the 1960s and 70s has had the effect of making it even more crucial for the Democrats to protect their 'home turf.' That's why having Republican elected officials in blue states (Chafee in Rhode Island; Pataki in NY) is a Bad Thing.

"Langevin was a weak pick"

And is Langevin going to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in Rhode Island?

Posted by: Total | Aug 10, 2005 12:12:52 AM

"Frankly, I believe that the Democrats as an institution have never met an interest group they wouldn't happily sell out for electoral gain."

A young liberal's view of the Democratic Party, and my own. Exactly what kind of majority are you going to have when the Democrats gain control? Well let us see Reid as majority leader, and Landrieux and Langevin...and it ain't gonna matter.

And I keep telling the votes on judges is over. Roe will be overturned, and you will need that Chafee pro-choice vote to keep abortion from becoming a federal crime. Part of the reason Roe is dead is because the DLC thought winning was more important than principles or constituencies. Or seeing today the high-level Democrats who have gone to work for Rupert Murdoch, maybe it is all just about money. Chelsea will be just fine, I am sure.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 10, 2005 12:58:23 AM

One more thing, and then I'll stop flogging this here horse, because oddly, I don't hear it neighing anymore. A major point often levied by the bitter-with-NARAL side of the debate is this: "Look, the pro-life Harry Reid's the leader of the Democrats and yet he still fights for choice. So what's the big deal?"

That sort of obscures things. Yes, Reid's good on the major issue of the moment -- namely, fighting Bush on judges -- but what about elsewhere? I worry. Hark back to 1976, when both houses of Congress, controlled by Democrats, passed the Hyde Amendment, which restricted federal funding for abortion. Gerald Ford signed it into law, but Jimmy Carter had full-heartedly endorsed the bill, and was ready to make it a campaign issue. A major, major victory for pro-lifers all around, perhaps one of their biggest ever. Point is, NARAL can trust anti-choice Democrats as far as it can throw them. They may vote against Bush's judges -- and not always; six Democrats voted to confirm the ultra-paleolithic Leon Holmes, whereas Chaffee didn't in a 51-46 vote, remember -- but they're unreliable and even harmful elsewhere. The notion that Democrats will always protect choice if they can retake the majority is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Bob McManus is right, the major battles are going to be fought in the legislature from now on; every vote will count, and letting the Democrats believe that they can get away with stocking their benches with pro-lifers is a grave, grave mistake from NARAL's point of view.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 10, 2005 1:18:35 AM

Oh yeah, forgot to mention. 98 Democrats crossed the aisle in 1993 (again, Democratic control of both Houses and the presidency) to pass yet another version of the Hyde Amendment and shoot down Bill Clinton's Freedom of Choice Act. All in the name of "safe, legal, and rare."

Yes, of course, Republicans are worse, but realize what NARAL is dealing with here.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 10, 2005 1:25:18 AM

OK - one point. That poll you linked to:


Not a poll, but a focus group. The distinction is important. Because a focus group is generally NOT a statistically significant sample. It is a small group , picked to reflect poll results so that you can focus and get some insight as to what is happening in depth. The distinction is key when using them to make points like you did - because a interperting a focus group is an art not a science. There is no strict scientific validity to a focus group; this does not make them worthless; there is no strict scientific validity in that sense to the clinical experience doctors often use to make decision about areas of practice where sufficient studies have not been done. But, like clinical experience, you have to very cautious in drawing broad conclusions.

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Aug 10, 2005 3:46:11 AM

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