It’s Not Just the Fate of Abortion or Democrats At Stake: Democracy Hangs In the Balance
Instead of fleeing the Democratic Party, we must reach out & tell our leaders that we have their backs. That they can afford to be brave, and together we can save our freedoms and our republic
We’re in the midst of a war for the future of America; abortion is the most obvious battlefield right now. And when you’re at war, you don’t want Neville Chamberlain running the country: you want Churchill, Zelensky, or FDR.
There was an era when the Democratic Party had that kind of courage; many of us lived through it and remember it well.
The first week of April 1970 was, for example, one of those a true “profile in courage” moments.
As The New York Times wrote at the time:
“To one side, it was an epochal breakthrough for women's rights. To the other, it felt like the end of civilization. A defining political and cultural event, it stunned nearly everyone, and its tiniest details remain etched in the players’ memories.”
It was the week New York became the first state in the nation to fully legalize abortion.
“In the last ten years,” New York Assemblyman Al Blumenthal said during the debate in New York’s capitol, “367 young women in New York City were known to have died as the result of an [illegal] abortion or an attempted one.
“Could we have saved 367 young women from dying if we had not imposed on them our sense of morality and condemned them — and I insist on using the word “condemned” — to the butchery of the side streets of Harlem?”
The New York legislature, by one vote, legalized abortion in that state three years before the Supreme Court struck down anti-abortion laws across the nation with their landmark Roe v Wade decision. Historians say the New York debate set up Roe.
Assemblyman Blumenthal and his allies faced overwhelming odds, fierce opposition, and threats to their lives. But they stood for what was right: saving the lives of women who were dying from back-alley and self-administered abortions.
The Democrats in the New York Assembly in 1970 showed incredible courage. The question confronting America now is whether Democrats in the Senate and White House today will follow Speaker Nancy Pelosi in exercising the same sort of courage.
Roe v Wade could be put into federal law right now: all it takes is for 50 Democratic senators to suspend the filibuster and pass the bill that Pelosi and her Democrats have already successfully pushed through the House of Representatives.
The same, of course, is true of voting rights — passing the For The People Act that would end gerrymandering, radically scale back dark money in politics, and end voter suppression schemes — but when it came to supporting voting rights in the Senate both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin refused to drill a hole in the filibuster like Mitch McConnell and Republicans did to get Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett on the Court.
They also failed us on President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better legislation.
Manchin and Sinema say that setting aside the filibuster is just too big a lift. That it will blow up a senate tradition dating back to the 1830s when it was written into Senate rules to block debate on ending slavery.
And, astonishingly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is backing them up. No punishment. No loss of committee positions or leadership positions. Not even any harsh words.
And it’s all a lie.
As Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, both of those senators supported drilling a hole in the filibuster to make sure that giant corporations with government contracts — who recycle revenue back to senators like Manchin and Sinema — got paid on time.
Yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered program, the host of a segment on the Court and Roe played a clip from a young voter who said, essentially, “Democrats have had 50 years to put Roe into law, but they’ve kept it hanging out there because it’s great for fundraising.”
The Democratic Party — excited as they are about the abortion crisis being, as President Biden said, “on the ballot this fall” — is losing young voters right now by failing to stand up to the bullies on the Supreme Court and two corrupt Democratic senators.
When Lyndon Johnson was president, he would have tolerated such BS from sellout senators like Manchin and Sinema for exactly one minute. And then he would have kicked their asses all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
When he ran the Senate he would have put together a package of sticks and carrots that neither could resist. And if either had, it would have been the end of their political careers.
Chuck Schumer, instead, reads boring speeches longing for the rational “old Republican Party” that hasn’t existed for 40 years, and then emails out unreadable press releases.
This is a critical moment. Today’s GOP doesn’t respect the institutions of this nation.
Instead, they’re committed to tearing our nation down and have been ever since Reagan, in his first inaugural address, proclaimed that poverty, greed, and corporate corruption weren’t “the problem”: instead, he said, our government itself was our problem.
They’ve been ripping our country apart ever since.
Today’s GOP doesn’t respect democracy: they continue to collaborate in Trump’s conspiracy to end our republican form of government, and are rigging elections as you read these words.
Today’s GOP doesn’t even respect the law or American political traditions; they refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee for over 400 days, but rushed Amy Coney Barrett onto the Court before Ruth Bader Ginsberg was even buried.
They do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote.
They lie to their own voters so often it’s a sick joke to take anything they say seriously.
This Republican disrespect of democracy, tradition, and law — this disrespect of their own nation and its founding principles — has become so egregious in the years since Reagan and, later, Gingrich declared war on America that virtually nothing of consequence has gotten through Congress in decades.
It’s not as if we don’t have options to deal with the abortion crisis.
The President could issue an executive order directing the Departments of Defense and Interior to open public abortion clinics on military bases and other federal lands.
Once the filibuster is overcome, the Court can be expanded, justices term-limited, and a code of judicial ethics imposed like in every other developed nation in the world.
The sale of period-tracking data could be outlawed.
The Hyde Amendment could be repealed.
All it takes is setting aside the filibuster, which hands control of the Senate to 50 Republican senators who represent 43 million fewer Americans than do the 50 Democratic senators.
You know what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot: the filibuster would have been toast years ago.
Granted, there are those who suggest this is difficult because Manchin and Sinema are both deeply on the take — Sinema has been flaunting her getting money from rightwing billionaires, and Manchin has his own corrupt fossil fuel business in West Virginia that binds him to the same billionaires — and are thus working, essentially, as agents of the GOP.
That their plan is to so damage the Biden presidency and the Democratic Party that young people won’t bother to vote this fall, and then they’ll join the GOP when it regains control of the Senate next year.
Others suggest that we must continue to handle them with kid gloves because, if they’re pushed hard enough, they’ll jump to the GOP and immediately turn the Senate over to Mitch McConnell.
All are entirely possible, but is a Senate in McConnell’s hands that much worse than a Senate in the hands of its current impotent leader? Wouldn’t McConnell leading the Senate be a stronger motivator for the Democratic base to show up this fall than five more months of pathetic flailing about?
When the final vote in the New York Assembly was called in 1970, the bill was tied, meaning the bill legalizing abortion was dead. Assemblyman George Michael — a Catholic representing a Catholic district — had already voted “no.” He rose to speak:
“I had hoped that this would never come to pass,” he said, his voice breaking. “I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career. But what’s the use of getting elected or re-elected if you don’t stand for something?”
As his colleagues looked on, shocked, Michaels said:
“I therefore request you, Mister Speaker, to change my negative vote to an affirmative vote.”
Courage prevailed and the lives of thousands of women were saved.
This is bigger than abortion, although that’s huge in and of itself. We also must restore voting rights, get money out of politics, and unpack the Supreme Court if our republic is to avoid a collapse into authoritarianism and civil strife.
Whether Manchin and Sinema are acting out of malice or just good-old-fashioned greed and corruption, both Biden and Schumer have no shortage of remedies.
And we have a role to play, too.
We must reach out and tell our Party’s leaders that we have their backs. That they can afford to be brave. That together we can make difficult choices and take momentous chances to save our freedoms and our republic.
It’s not just the fate of abortion or Democrats at stake: the future of our entire nation — and, by extension, democracy around the world — hangs in the balance.
What a great op-ed today (they are always great) but this one is so enlightening. It really helps to hear the history and to also see more steps of what we can do. I'm sharing those steps with friends and contacting my elected representatives and senators. Thank you Thom!!
This article is spot on about Democratic leadership needing to take power back and become aggressive pushing agenda to benefit every American. Just this morning on a local news channel it was announced more Americans are considering changing from Democrat to Republican. I’m angry at this self defeating stupidity. Seriously?. The party that constantly proposes policies that benefit the rich and make the rest of us pay for everything? How can any senior vote for the party that proposes privatization of SSI and Medicare? Or for younger voters that need safe, living wage level jobs and health care, housing,etc. I can’t fathom voting for the party that is anti union, anti women’s rights, anti LGBQT, as well as end the separation of church and state. Perhaps I’m naive but the answer for me is not to “sit out” and not vote, or consider voting for any Republican in protest. The reality to me is that Americans are fairly moderate (or conservative if you will ) in ideology and afraid of the notion of any policy that smells like socialism. Never mind that many of our public works are benefits we all pay taxes to fund. Americans tend to vote name recognition and generally lazy about studying public policy or how government works. Remember 2016. That should be a red flag going forward. So for me it’s important to vote Democrat down the line, and let our representatives know where we stand on fighting back for our democracy.