Postmortem here. I have to confess that I just don’t get any of this:

Some large members of the AFL-CIO have been noticeably silent, while some abortion rights groups have publicly declared their opposition to changing filibuster rules. That, some Democratic aides said, is because in the 1990s and in the early days of the George W. Bush White House – when Republicans controlled both ends of the Capitol – these groups relied on their Senate Democratic allies and the 60-vote threshold to protect key rights such as Davis-Bacon wages for federal works projects and the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

It occurs to me that the pro-choice movement is one of the least effective political movements in America, while the pro-life movement is one of the most effective. Obviously, in terms of implementing their goals, that might not be true. Sure, pro-lifers get a parental consent law in some state now and again, but they haven’t come close to recriminalizing abortion. Then again, when polls show support for Roe at 70% and the pro-choice affiliation is stuck around the 45-50%, there’s about 25% of the country that basically shares our goals but is basically convinced that being pro-choice means supporting abortion on demand or some such. Meanwhile, reversing Roe is terribly unpopular but the pro-life movement is not all that unpopular, even though virtually every pro-life group states that reversing Roe is their key goal. Ross Douthat’s writing on the subject (here‘s a typical example) argues that we can’t even really have a debate on abortion until Roe is reversed. I get that abortion politics is more than just Roe, but really, someone who wants to keep Roe around is someone who is at the very least uncomfortable with abortion being banned, and a pro-choice movement that can’t suck up support from those folks is simply not playing the game right.

Of course, a reversal of Roe wouldn’t matter so much were the Congress to pass a bill establishing a legal framework for abortion rights. The Freedom of Choice Act has been discussed but wasn’t proposed in the 111th Congress and doesn’t stand much of a chance with a Republican House in the 112th. But in the 113th, 114th Congresses, who knows? The thing is, it certainly won’t happen with a 60-vote supermajority requirement in the Senate. There are a handful of Republican pro-choicers in the Senate, but there are also a few Democratic pro-lifers too. It would be tight just getting 51 votes to pass, though the only other alternative is hoping that Anthony Kennedy retires while Obama is making judicial appointments instead of when the next Republican president is making them. I wouldn’t call that much of a strategy.

To me, this just seems like typical interest group behavior. If prevalent public opinion on abortion were to prevail–over 2/3 of the public are in favor of Roe, with parental notification for minors and a ban on partial birth abortions–the end result would be largely the same as our current policy (though it is critical to secure judicial bypasses for those restrictions). And it would be a bit more liberal than, say, most European countries’ regimes. (The exception is spousal consent, which the public supports but that I find sexist.) It wouldn’t be a perfect endpoint, but it would be pretty good in my opinion. But if that came to pass, if it just became default public opinion and only the wildest fringes dared to touch it, then the pro-choice movement would no longer have a reason to exist. The survival instinct of these institutions is as strong as any human’s. Welcome to Washington, I guess.

(P.S. Also, by the way, the amount of energy spent on defending Davis-Bacon in Democratic circles just astounds me. It was practically the only fight the Democrats picked during the ’01-’03 era of Bush 43, ignoring such tempting targets as the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War, and so far as I can tell it only helps government employees make more money. This frankly doesn’t say much good about Democratic priorities of the time, or now, apparently. I’d trade Davis-Bacon for the Employee Free Choice Act, even the compromised non-card check version, in a heartbeat.)

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  1. Metavirus says:

    this is sad, but not at all unexpected. dems are just as craven as republicans in their love for gumming up the works when they aren’t in power. i never expected much improvement “for the good of country”.

    mind you, i don’t really support a complete shit-canning of the filibuster but i do support a lot of really important common sense stuff like no more secret holds, no more ability to filibuster opening debate AND the bill itself, etc.

    • Lev says:

      Evidently we’ll get an end to secret holds, and a few less Senate-confirmable jobs.

      I felt a little better after reading Bernstein: But why not just do it? As Republicans have shown, when a party is united on something, that can move public opinion. Oh well.

      • Metavirus says:

        that’s at least something. in the final analysis, dems want to hold on to the same craven anti-majoritarian power that can be used by either party to gum up the works.

        by the way, Democrats have become HORRIBLE at moving public opinion. mostly because it is so much easier to move public opinion when YOU ARE AIMING TO SCARE THE HOLY FUCK OUT OF PEOPLE 24/7 (!!!!!11!!!!). republicans are so good at moving public opinion on issues like, say closing guantanamo that they even convinced the lilly-livered, pants-wetting Democratic fraidy cats in Congress to pass a law to prevent closing Guantanamo!

        • Lev says:

          I entirely agree. Too many wonks and officeholder types, not enough skilled debaters and media people. They’re not good at working with peoples’ fears (health care should have been framed in exactly those terms--you’re going to lose everything unless we change the system), and not too good at inspiring hope and idealism, Obama sometimes excepted.

          There’s a fundamental asymmetry there already since Republicans don’t care what the New York Times prints but Democrats have to, since liberals read the Times. Which is just the way it is. But is it possible to hear arguments pitched at people who DON’T read the Times and HuffPo and spend hours on the web every day on this stuff?

          • Metavirus says:

            i wonder. i’m always perplexed by what a generally honest, above-board politician is supposed to do when they’re playing in a playground full of bullies, molesters and drug dealers and none of the authority figures (i.e., the media, voters, etc.) really give a shit what they do.

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