Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.The only way out of our nasty politics, he thinks, is to overrule Roe v. Wade:
[T]he entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.But it's not possible to redo the last 30 years. We already are where we are, and those who think abortion should be legal have spent these decades -- or their whole lives -- thinking abortion was not only legal but a constitutional right. To take that right away now would not give us a chance to have the democratic debate we never had. It would be a wholly different experience of taking away a right, after the bitter politics had built to the level where the side opposed to the right has finally gotten its way, after we have already become polarized. What makes you think that won't be insanely bitter?
True, it will be democratic -- though the pro-abortion-rights side won't give up on fighting in the courts -- but it won't be the same democratic debate we might have had back in the early 1970s. Ironically, if, after all these years, social conservatives finally gain a majority on the Supreme Court that is willing to overturn the precedent, it will activate political liberals and libertarians. And one thing they will want is their majority back on the Supreme Court.
I think David Brooks, like most of those who push for radical change, is indulging himself, painting a rosy picture of life post-change.
UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner tries to rehabilitate Brooks after my attack. Ponnuru assumes the debate would return to the states, which is a subject I took up in the comments. I wrote:
[T]he Supreme Court can't ensure that if it overruled Roe v. Wade, the matter would be determined at the state level. With a new political field opened up, Congress would want to do things too. Unless the Court also did something awfully strong to limit the Commerce Power, Congress would have the power to regulate abortion, including making it a federal crime. I can't imagine that it wouldn't try!
ANOTHER UPDATE: Ponnuru does acknowledge the potential for federal action here:
[I]f Roe ended, pro-choice activation would, I think, not likely be matched by pro-life quiescence. There would be too many state (and federal) legislative battles to fight, and nobody on the pro-life side would think their work done.
He goes on to say:
In a lot of places, you'd have state laws that restricted abortion a lot more than it is restricted today, but not as much as pro-lifers (like me) would like. So hard-core partisans on both sides would be unhappy. ... Public policy on abortion would be closer to median-voter sentiment. And the sense of the law's illegitimacy would be much harder for the losing side of any battle to maintain (as Brooks points out).I do think this prediction of moderation, with the hardcore ends of the spectrum unhappy envisions decentralized politics rather than a sudden grab for everything in Congress in a very bitter, unsettling fight. Why wouldn't the groups on both sides converge on Congress and demand everything they want? How could Congress ignore that? If the Terri Schiavo case is any indication, Congress will plunge forward and take over this area.