Sunday, November 20, 2005

nov 14 issue, pennsylvania party animals

For those of you wondering why I venture into murky political waters where I am so little knowledgable, I am responding to a prompt from Mantooth, who does such a fine job keeping me anti-Santorum-informed. Besides, it was in the New Yorker.

I've felt, since I began my life as a voter in the Philadelphia area, that I was voting in part of a big Democratic Party machine. My vote would be counted, and maybe, if I were lucky, more than once. This after (while) living in parts of the country where politics was crooked the other way, discouraging votes and voters in certain districts identified by race, and that sort of thing.

On a more legitimate note, when I lived in the Philadelphia area I was, given my aquaintances, aware of the fundraising, organising, voter registration, etc that made the Democratic party so strong in the region. It's a lot of work that can't be taken for granted and it isn't, sadly, inevitable that Pennsylvania is and always will vote Democrat. We've got to pay attention, or we'll wind up selling out like Ohio, letting ourselves vote against our interests.

So I enjoyed the kind of party politics as usual analysis offered by Peter Boyer in "The Right to Choose, Why the Democrats are moving toward compromise" in the November 14 issue of The New Yorker. And I liked the way this compromise of abortion rights, which is clearly a national trend for the Democratic party, was examined in the PA context, making Pennsylvania's old school party politics somewhat representative of a national tension.

And I thought the article was well-written. I kind of liked the melodrama moments, like, when abortion-restricting, and thus shunned, "Casey and his family, consigned to seats in the far reaches of Madison Square Garden, declined to join in [singing Circle of Friends at the 1992 Democratic National Convention][and ...] Casey turned to his wife, Ellen, and said, 'Let's remember this moment. One day, it's all going to come back around.'" (53) Echoes of evil laughter.

Or, alternately, when pro-choice Dem candidate, running for senator against batshitcrazydangerous Santorum, Barbara Hafer is squeezed, "When Casey [also running for the seat, and getting better numbers] made it clear that he didn't want a primary fight, against Hafer or anyone else, Rendell asked Hafer to withdraw. 'The Governor called and said, 'Look, Bob wants to do this, and I'm being called by Chuck Schumer,'' Hafer says. 'I guess Bobby Casey just had more gravitas than I did.' Hafer withdrew from the race March 4th, and Casey announced his candidacy." (54) Classic.

And all I can I hope for is that this kind of political manipulation implies pressure on Casey not to vote for anti-choice judges. Boyer suggests the same, when he quotes Schumer's promise, "There's no worry on judges, and judges is the whole ball of wax." (54) Keep repeating that to yourself, if it makes you feel better.

Of course it is cheap to abandon (or "compromise" on) the abortion issue, or "women voters" (if you think abortion is a women's issue) but the New Yorker makes it clear that this is a national dump, and when Boyer recalls that a month after losing the election, Kerry was telling progressive activist groups that it was time to "rethink" abortion (54) my stomach just turns with the thought of the repercussions for men, women and children of this kind of knee-jerk finger pointing.

Boyer also develops an interesting argument, when, in a startling but melodramatically appropriate plot twist, he reveals that pro-choice Hafer was a Republican for 30 years, and a Republican candiate for Gov. So why should she get Democratic party support? What about labor, health care, energy policy, education? Unless the Democratic party is defined solely, or even predominantly, by it's pro-choice constituency. What if she's not "really" a Democrat? What on earth does this question mean or imply?

Well, Boyer, in his rather shallow analysis of Cambria county Democrats, suggest that there are huntin', anti-abortion, labor-union Democrats in the woods of Pennsylvania and that these are a constituency that the Democrats "really" need. I'll buy that. I've lived here, I can vouch for the existence of such a group (well, maybe not exactly as described, but if you live in PA you know what he means) and their historical contributions to the Democratic party in PA have not been slight. And I've been consistantly, and pleasantly, surprised by how consistantly Democratic, despite being essentially conservative, so much of Pennsylvania seems to be, or vote anyway. So if old school party politics, ie, dangerous compromises, are what makes PA vote Democrat, so be it.

At least for now. Now, the compromises are worth it. Why? Because we've got an admin endorsing torture to pursue a self-interested energy scam. And they were so trying to pull a short term health care and drug company scam too, which is a domestic issue related, tangentially at least, to birth control and access to medical care, basic medical information and affordable prescription drugs.

Finally, in one last apology for this "compromise," Boyer tells us that "Casey promised to buck Church teaching on contraceptives and support birth-control programs" (60). On Boyer's apologies, and, I'm afraid, my own:

Now, I've got precious little "respect for fetal life" (58) and I see that as a contradiction in terms, ie, fetal and life. Where did the NYer find this phrase? Boyer's using it, and, indeed his whole argument, is couched in language that feels comfortable with "compromise" on a personal moral level. Good for him. But it isn't a personal choice when we don't have it, now is it? But, to consider Mantooth's prompt further, that is why I for one read the NYer so I can get a feel for what middle of the road liberals are telling themselves. I'm not comfortable with restricting abortion on a personal or moral level.

But I beleive that old school Democratic party concern for national health policy, when paired with support for birth-control programs and education, would better serve poor women and families than holding out for an ideal version of abortion access. God knows, I beleive abortion makes families stronger (My personal pro-choice slogan is "Parents have abortions too") and I don't want to allow abortion restrictions to increase, but again, I guess, in the end, I agree with Boyer that the "compromise" might be worth it right now.

I hope we'll renew the pro-choice fight when we have the freedom to do so. (I know, I know, this is so defeatist, but don't get me started on the possiblity for an opposition party in the two-party system, about which I know even less.)

Finally, folks are always saying things like "most Americans favor legal abortions" and I beleive this. And I think that most American's should be able to feel comfortable admitting this. But, in the end, abortion may just be an issue that is ideologically batted about by right wing extremists, but remains marginally available thanks to left wing vigilance. But it's not accessible now, and it hasn't been and won't be until we address the real discrepencies in how and where and why and when poor Americans are excluded from health care and health care information.

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