How Dare They!
The left's attitude problem when it comes to democracy.
To say that a leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling prompted an elite meltdown would be a gross understatement. This was a culture war 9/11. “I have typed and deleted a great many comments,” Roxane Gay tweeted. “What do you say when nine people can dictate what happens to your body? It’s ridiculous and hateful.” The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, always the subtle one, announced that the court had abolished the entire 20th century. Yep: no more suffrage for women! Jim Crow now!
Taking the arguments of abortion opponents seriously was never an option: “Stripping women of their humanity and rights isn’t a consequence of the ‘pro-life’ agenda, it’s the entire point,” declared Jessica Valenti. Rebecca Traister confessed: “My teeth have been chattering uncontrollably for an hour. Bodies/minds are so weird. Like, not euphemistically — actually chattering. Audibly. And full shaking body. Though otherwise wholly, rationally, well and truly expecting it.”
Going further, freshly-minted critical gender theorist, Jennifer Rubin, argued that any restriction on abortion rights is a violation of secularism: “The right-wing justices and their supporters appear ready to reject one of the Founders’ core principles: that religion shall not be imposed by government edict.” Kurt Andersen went old school and worried about a papist cabal: “It really is kind of remarkable that only one in five Americans call themselves Catholic, but of the Supreme Court majority apparently about to permit abortion to be outlawed, all but one are Catholic and that one was raised Catholic.” Then there’s Vox’s Ian Millhiser: “Seriously, shout out to whoever the hero was within the Supreme Court who said ‘fuck it! Let’s burn this place down.’” Fuck it! I’ll do it live!
Kamala Harris also found her voice:
Those Republican leaders who are trying to weaponize the use of the law against women. Well we say, ‘How dare they?’ How dare they tell a woman what she can do and cannot do with her own body? How dare they? How dare they try to stop her from determining her own future? How dare they try to deny women their rights and their freedoms?
The premise here is that all women support abortion rights. But there is no serious gender gap on this question. In fact, a majority of “pro-lifers” are women, not men. So Harris is effectively saying: how dare women be allowed a voice in this debate?
Within minutes of the SCOTUS leak, moreover, we were told it means that before long, interracial marriages will be banned … in a country where 94 percent support them! Imagine Clarence Thomas divorcing himself by jurisprudence. Here’s Traister again: “Voting rights were gutted in 2013. Marriage equality. Griswold. Loving. Don’t ever listen to anyone who tells you such fears are silly or overblown.” Actually, listen to them — if you can hear them over Traister’s permanent rage-tantrum.
What strikes me about all of this is not the emotive hyperbole — that’s par for the course in a country where every discourse is now dialed to eleven. What strikes me most in these takes is the underlying contempt for and suspicion of the democratic process — from many of the same people who insist they want to save it. How dare voters have a say on abortion rights! The issue — which divides the country today as much as it has for decades — is one that apparently cannot ever be put up for a vote. On this question, Democrats really do seem to believe that seven men alone should make that decision — once, in 1973. Women today, including one on SCOTUS? Not so much.
Is this the case in any other Western country? No. Even the most progressive countries regulate abortion through the democratic process. In Germany, it’s illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy — more restrictive than the case before the US Supreme Court that bars abortion after 15 weeks. European countries where the legal cutoff is even more restrictive: Austria, Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Abortion enshrined as a constitutional right? Not even in super-progressive Canada.
The United States, in other words, has been an outlier in the past and, if Roe is reversed, will return to a democratic politics of abortion, in line with most of the Western world. And so I wonder: why is this so terrifying for pro-choicers?
If you look at polling, there is very little support in America for a total ban — let alone one that doesn’t make exceptions for rape and incest. Gallup’s polling suggests that a whopping 80 percent of Americans want to keep abortion legal, either entirely (32 percent) or with some restrictions (48 percent). Only 18 percent want it banned entirely — a position many Republicans are now forced to take. That should be a Democratic dream!
Look at Texas. As Aaron Blake notes,
a Quinnipiac University survey from late last year, found that just 16 percent of Texans said abortion should be illegal in the cases of rape and incest. Fully 77 percent said it should be legal — in a socially conservative, red state. And even Republicans opposed making it illegal in those circumstances by a 2-to-1 margin.
In opposition to Roe, many in the GOP want bans on abortion even in cases of rape and incest. That’s in Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida. Talk about a wedge issue! J.D. Vance, the avatar of Republican illiberalism, favors no exceptions.
A healthy political party would thrill at this opportunity — a winning issue where the GOP has gone off the deep end. In the states likely to “trigger” total bans if Roe falls, “43 percent of adults on average say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 52 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases.” That’s a highly winnable fight. In states which might re-enact some kind of abortion restrictions, “an average of 49 percent of adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with 45 percent who say otherwise” — even more promising terrain for Democrats.
So why the preference for terror, fear and rage on an issue where the public remains deeply conflicted? I have two thoughts. The first is that many Democratic elites really do not trust the American people. They have a resilient belief that a huge segment of this country is rotten, bigoted, racist and, yes, deplorable. Here’s the president today: “I’m not prepared to leave [abortion policy] to the whims of the public at the moment in local areas.” Whims of the public! We used to call that democracy.
But the truth is that resiliently divisive and difficult moral issues — and abortion is absolutely one of them — require unsatisfactory political resolution in a healthy democracy. Some rights granted by courts are, or quickly become, uncontroversial — like buying contraception, marrying someone of another race, or of the same sex.
Other rights never gain this kind of legitimacy — like abortion, for the obvious reason that many believe a life is at stake. And the cost of imposing one side’s extreme view on everyone else and taking the question out of politics altogether is huge. It has delegitimized our democracy and the courts, has helped spawn a powerful reactionary movement from Reagan to Trump, and empowered unhinged Christianism. Sometimes I wonder if we’d be a far more liberal (and saner) country today if the left hadn’t overreached so massively in 1973, on such weak constitutional grounds, and refused to budge so doggedly thereafter.
The flip-side to this, however, is the opportunity we now have to repair that damage. Abortion, if we wanted, could actually be an issue that restores health to a polarized polity by forcing us to come to various forms of compromise over an issue we’ve debated entirely in the abstract until now. We can no longer punt it.
States can pursue different legal regimes, from the very permissive to the very restrictive, and the results can be weighed up. This fall, we have elections across the country. Remember federalism? This is a near-perfect reflection of its essential role in keeping this country in one piece. And, in my view, all of this actually calls the cheap, moralizing bluff of the religious right. Now they actually have to enforce and defend draconian bans — and see popular revulsion grow, unless they too can come up with a compromise. There’s a reason the GOP has been somewhat quiet about the substance of the leak. The smart ones are worried.
Leftists, if they could only snap out of their disdain for democracy, can make a powerful case for moderation on this issue against right-extremism. To do that, of course, they will have to back some restrictions on abortion in some states — which some seem very reluctant to do — and even allow some diversity of opinion within their own ranks. There are forces aiming to prevent that — forces that Biden could confront if he hadn’t long been beaten into learned helplessness. But surely someone can take the initiative.
So let’s stop the hyperventilation and get back to democracy. Persuade people, if you can. Get them out to vote. Stop demonizing those you disagree with and compromise with them in office, however difficult that may be. What Roe did was kickstart the extreme cultural polarization that has defined and blighted the last few decades of American politics. Maybe the end of Roe can mark the beginning of a return to living together, and negotiating a way to make that bearable.
The center, in other words, is now wide open. Will anyone — anyone — occupy it?
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my worry over J.D. Vance’s victory in Ohio; readers dissenting over my rant on Marx and the woke; a long conversation with Douglas Murray on the attempts to undermine the West and its profound pluralism; a half-dozen notable quotes from the week in news; ten recommended links to other Substackers, mostly on abortion; a super-creative ski video set to LCD Soundsystem; an industrial view from a window in Idaho, and a touristy view from Alberta; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a new subscriber:
Way back in 1980, as I was learning about libertarianism, I discovered the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). They gave away their journal for free, under Leonard Read’s belief that, if something were worthwhile, readers would respond by donating money. It was an early pay-what-you-want plan. They were idealistic, but perhaps naive, since they ignored the problem of free-riders.
Your conversation with Bari Weiss was enough to get me to pay for my seat on the bus.
I’m fairly new to the Dish. I found out about you and Bari from The Fifth Column, which I’ve been listening to since the first episode. (In fact, the boys recently mentioned your particular affection for the tidal pools.) The reason I’ve been reluctant to subscribe is that the free version of the Dish is already generously long, and I currently have several editions saved to read later. It’s a struggle to keep up with the blogs and podcasts I already consume. Did I really want more content landing in my inbox?
But you and Chris give away so much high-quality content — the conversation with Johann Hari was magnificent! — all without ads. So it’s not fair for me not to pay. And now I get to see the solution to all the VFYW puzzles. Thanks for all you do!
The Rumblings Of Rome
“We are in a late republican period,” J.D. Vance, now the GOP’s candidate for the US Senate in Ohio, told James Pogue recently. “If we’re going to push back against it, we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there, and go in directions that a lot of conservatives right now are uncomfortable with.”
I guess we should be grateful for the heads up.
(Read the rest of that post here — for paying subscribers)
New On The Dishcast: Douglas Murray
He’s a British writer and commentator, primarily for The Spectator, and his latest book is The War on the West. It’s a powerful narrative of the past couple of decades, in which a small minority waged ideological war on the underpinnings of Western civilization: reason, toleration, free speech, color-blind racial politics.
We talked for nearly two hours — one gay British Tory meeting another. It was a blast. For two clips — on the seductive power of ressentiment and the case for gratitude, and on many Americans’ ignorance of history outside the US — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. That link also takes you to a round of reader commentary for our episode with Bari.
My convo with Douglas Murray complements the one I had with Roosevelt Montás, the great defender of the humanities at Columbia University and beyond — his episode is now available as a full transcript. Here’s a clip:
Back to last week’s episode with Bari, an addendum: she used our conversation for her own podcast, “Honestly,” and her version includes at least a half hour of conversation you won’t find in the Dishcast version — namely on the early marriage movement and my role in it. Here’s a snippet from that section:
Check out Bari’s pod for the rest. Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.
Dissents Of The Week: Off The Marx
A reader writes:
You argued that woke liberalism run amok is putting Plato and Aristotle “on the chopping block” while giving a free pass to Marx, citing data that Marx is one of the top-ten authors on elite college syllabi — yet the very same data also lists Plato’s Republic as the #1 overall book assigned, with Plato and Aristotle combining for 3 of the top 10 slots! There are also plenty of appearances at the school-level data by Enlightenment liberalist thinkers like Hobbes, Tocqueville, Rousseau, Locke, and the also supposedly canceled Kant. I don’t doubt there are some voices on Twitter calling for all of these writers to be canceled, but it’s pretty clear from your own data source that the colleges aren’t actually heeding the call.
Read my response to that dissent, along with two others, here. As always, keep the dissents coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection primarily covers the SCOTUS leak. Below is another example, followed by a brand new substack:
Blocked and Reported pwned Libs of TikTok.
Welcome at long last, Fifth Column! The tidal water’s fine.
You can also browse all the Substack writers we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.