Seems like my last post, “Obama Caint Choose Kaine”, riled some folks up.
Erin Kotecki Vest, who blogs at BlogHer and Queen of Spain, got on my case with several arguments worthy of response. I have great respect for Erin, and am pleased for this excuse to congratulate her in public on becoming BlogHer’s Producer of Special Projects (high five here!).
However, I learned from hard knocks on the political frontlines that her argument on behalf of Gov. Kaine is self-defeating. Sadly, it also demonstrates how we can make it so incredibly hard to hold politicians’ feet to the fire about reproductive rights, health, and justice, and how women are often entirely too well behaved to make history turn out the way we want it.
True, the issues of birth control, sex education, reproductive rights, and abortion have been so polarized by the media’s false balance (someone else used that phrase on HuffPo last week, but I made it up when I wrote The War on Choice) that both the facts and the framing get skewed in public discourse. That’s frustrating to be sure. But, the deal is, whoever defines the terms of the debate is probably going to win it. And you can’t ever win at all if you don’t stay in the game.
If you haven’t already, please read “Obama Caint Chose Kaine” for my key points about Obama’s veep pick, which I won’t reiterate here. Here’s an excerpt of Erin’s reaction:
Let’s deal with the realities of this country. The reality of government. The reality of America in 2008.
The abortion issue is never going to be resolved. The abortion issue is never going to go away. The abortion issue is one of the many, many issues that splits this country right down the middle.
I think we can all agree extreme viewpoints in politics, religion, and American life have led to stalemates, ugly campaigning, inaction of government, special interest, and even death, destruction, and wars.
So why is it bad to have a VP who WILL NOT vote to overturn Roe v Wade, yet does express concern with abortion?
That makes him like many of my neighbors. Like many in my family. Like many of my friends and like half of this country. I certainly will not be agreeing with them anytime soon, but I would like Thanksgiving to be more civil.
Senator Obama keeps talking about change. The biggest, single change our country could see is unity. Ending the divisive, nasty way of life we currently lead.
Are you really willing to hear all sides of an argument and bring everyone to the table? Are you really willing to respect all voices in this country? Even the ones you TOTALLY disagree with? Will you at least listen?
Or will you stay set in your extreme ways, and sit and wait for your knight to rescue you?
Bear with me please as I address three points that I believe are most egregiously misguided: 1) The relevance of Roe today, 2) The negotiability of reproductive justice, and 3) The political strategy most likely to succeed.
1. Roe v Wade was an important decision in its time, but it has been chipped away so dramatically by subsequent legislation and court decisions that it is today a fragile shell of what it represented in 1973. Protecting it/not opposing it has become increasingly irrelevant as a consequence. If you haven’t read Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the Supreme Court, The Nine, I commend it to you. I spoke with Toobin; he explained that in 1965 when Griswold v Connecticut gave married couples the right to birth control based on the constitutional “penumbra” (meaning an assumed right not written explicitly in the Constitution) of a right to privacy, there were no gender-based civil rights precedents. Privacy was the best precedent the Court had. And when the question of abortion came before Court, the whole idea of gender equality as women’s civil right was still unformed, so the Court again used the privacy precedent. Asserting privacy rights, however, does not carry the moral or legal heft of acknowledging women’s equality as citizens whose civil rights extend to making their own childbearing decisions.
This might seem like TMI, but it’s necessary in order to understand the insecure backdrop against which the debate about reproductive justice has been carried out, and why today we must proactively create a new legal and ethical basis if we want policies that protect the right to choose about birth control and childbearing–to have or not to have. Merely having a candidate who says he “won’t vote to overturn Roe v Wade but does express concern with abortion” is totally insufficient in 2008.
2. Women’s human and civil right to make their own childbearing decisions is not a negotiable matter, any more than right to attend school without discrimination, or the right to be a Christian to a Jew or a Muslim or no religion at all is negotiable. That doesn’t mean that I or anyone else is unwilling to hear all sides of an argument or that we don’t respect worldviews other than our own. In fact, I’m pretty sure pro-choice folks are a lot more willing, and even interested, to listen to opposing views than those who are anti-choice. It is a fascinating conversation, and we progressives love to play with ideas.
But in the end, just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant; you either have reproductive rights or you don’t. You simply cannot have your right to decide whether and when to be pregnant determined by a shouting match, a committee, or a legislature and still be a full and equal citizen. To live in that kind of environment means your body is metaphorically and sometimes literally being torn apart for the sake of someone else’s ideological comfort.
Erin is 100% right that the debate isn’t going to go way; but that’s all the more reason to create a space for the woman to exercise her personal moral beliefs and the legal right to her own body. If she opposes abortion, she shouldn’t have one. But she has no right to judge her sister is whose shoes she hasn’t walked, or to saddle her with a vice president whose personal beliefs do not respect her moral capacity.
3) Now we come to political strategy. The first principle is never start from a position of compromise. Because in the course of the political process–the art of the possible, as it has been called–there will inevitably be some give and take. And there will be many areas ripe for crafting compromises where eveybody can come away feeling like they have won something. Far from waiting for “your knight to rescue you”, staking out the principled position at the beginning will bring the conversation and the resolution closer to where you want it to be in the end. It’s the position of strength, the position of integrity, and the position of an empowered citizen who actually can make history.
And the time to tell Barack Obama what we want from him is now, before he is nominated and before, goddess willing, he is elected, while he still feels the heat of our passion for reproductive justice on his feet.