May 23, 2005

"Abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are."

Kos is tired of the way single-issue groups -- well, basically NARAL -- run the Democratic Party. The Republicans -- he worries -- have a political advantage because they -- it seems -- work off fundamental principles, while Democrats work off a checklist.
[S]ingle issue groups have hijacked [the Democratic Party] for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend [sic] owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off....

Problem is, abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are. And from a Right to Privacy certain things flow -- abortion rights, access to contraceptives, opposition to the Patriot Act, and freedom to worship the gods of our own choosing, or none at all.

Another example of a core Democratic principle -- equality under the law. And from that principle stem civil rights, gender equity, and gay rights. It's not that those individual issues aren't important, of course they are. It's just that they are just that -- individual issues. A party has to stand for something bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.
It seems to me that both parties make too much of the abortion issue. Both parties hold lots of attraction for voters who disagree with their position on abortion.

Personally, I like the idea of seeing privacy and equality as fundamental. Actually, I think both parties should accept these things as so fundamental that there is nothing to fight over. They ought to need to look elsewhere for issues.

ADDED: What strikes me about Kos's statement and made me want to quote it at length is that it would put libertarian values at the center of the Democratic Party. There are plenty of people with libertarian values who don't feel at home in either party. But if the Democratic Party really were committed to this more abstract ideology, it would have an entirely different feel. The reason I broke out the quote I chose for the title was because I don't believe it. I think the party begins with its politically useful defense of the right to abortion and that Kos's effort to derive a "core principle" is motivated more by the desire to make the abortion right more appealing than by an interest in understanding what motivates the party to try to distinguish itself with abortion-centered political activity.

UPDATE: I note that part of what Kos is saying here is nearly the same thing Howard Dean said on "Meet the Press" yesterday:
Here's the problem--and we were outmanipulated by the Republicans; there's no question about it. We have been forced into the idea of "We're going to defend abortion." I don't know anybody who thinks abortion is a good thing. I don't know anybody in either party who is pro-abortion. The issue is not whether we think abortion is a good thing. The issue is whether a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care, or a family has a right to make up their own mind about how their loved ones leave this world. I think the Republicans are intrusive and they invade people's personal privacy, and they don't have a right to do that....

But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is "Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets," then that pro-life woman says "Well, now, you know, I've had people try to make up my mind for me and I don't think that's right." This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn't win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion.

39 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

I just read the piece by Kos and I think that there are at least two problems with it:

(1) He overestimates the extent to which the Republican Party is free of single-interest politics. Whether it's the gun lobby or more radical pro-life groups, the Republican Party is as captive to interests as the Democrats. Winning just makes it appear that the Republicans have more for which they stand and that they stand above the interest group-catering the Democrats do.

Watching Newt Gingrich's appearance before an Iowa group last week, broadcast on CSpan last evening, drove home the point that neither party is talking much about ideas that vault past interest groups' virtual veto power over public debate. Gingrich is talking about ideas and it's refreshing. Yes, I know that there are problems with Gingrich, that he too caters to groups, and that he just wants to ride ideas as vehicles to power. But to advance ideas and not be a political cliche is very rare among politicos of either party. Somehow, Gingrich seems to be content with practicing his politics in this way. (McCain and Hagel stand out examples of such exceptional pols as well.)

(2) Political parties always have knitted together majorities through what I call "coalitions of selfishness." Often, people who end up in a partisan coalition are akin to the lovers in Bob Seger's "Night Moves": "I used her and she used me." There's no love of party principle, just of advncing one's own agenda.

The game is simple: Tote up enough positions appealing to various interest groups and you get a majority. That's discouraging sometimes and often disgusting. But it's the way things work in a democracy. There have been few exceptions to this usual modus operandi in our history, it seems.

Good post!

leeontheroad said...

"Kos's effort to derive a 'core principle' is motivated more by the desire to make the abortion right more appealing than by an interest in understanding what motivates the party to try to distinguish itself with abortion-centered political activity."

You may be correct, but it's good to see parties try to define their principles. After decades as a ruling party whose platform and whose politics were widely disparate (true of other large parties, too), I think discussion about what Dems do or ought to stand for is refreshing.

Kos is not at the forefrotn of this, by any means, perhaps for much of the same reason that variosu factions in established parties are not. That is, when one is part of a large group (and Kos is rather *the* place many liberals get their blogs), the coalitions to which Mark refers become part of what is essentially a corruptible but nonetheless democratic process.

Dave said...

I agree with the previous commenter. Both parties have become single-issue parties.

Both parties have been hijacked by ideologues. Or, more accurately, both parties' politicians know they have to appeal to their respective parties' ideologues in order to have any chance of winning general election.

A shame.

No wonder electoral participation in this country is so low.

Joe said...

When Kos describes a Demo love for "Right to Privacy" it seems he has a blind spot (as does the Democratic Party) on Economic Privacy, which is something we all engage everyday, as opposed to say the occasional late-term abortion.

If this were such an important value to Democrats, they would be less willing to tax, subsidize, or penalize individual daily decisions.

And this fits right in with his other mistake, claiming that Democrats are the party of equality, for while they may seek it in theory, they support (enforce, actually) unequal practice in many areas of society, whether it be university admissions, ELL (English Language Learning) funding, or theories on justice systems.

In short, he's wishful, not thinking.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Your reference to libertarian values is the crux of the biscuit, I think. If it were just a question of saying "Yay, privacy!" then conservatives could shout just as lustily as liberals; the happy unanimity only vanishes when you get down to the hard work of deciding which actions count as private and which do not. To claim privacy as a specifically Democratic value you'd need, for starters, an account of why opening an abortion clinic is a private action but opening a Wal-Mart is not. My point is not that Democrats can't provide such an account-- only that it's going to have a certain amount of liberal ideology built into it, and will therefore be a more controversial thing than the bare "privacy" description would lead you to believe.

I'll admit that the libertarian cry "Yay, liberty!" suffers from the same problem-- though not, I think, to the same extent.

Freeman Hunt said...

I could not agree with Joe more.

Not only that, but Dean's comments especially indicate a misunderstanding of the pro-life position. Most pro-lifers I know aren't pro-life because they think that they should be able to tell women what to do; they're pro-life because they don't think that women should be able to make the choice of life or death for fetuses. It's an issue of which right is greater or more fundamental: a woman's right to control her body or a fetus's right to live/not be killed. (And yes, I realize that fetuses generally don't have rights, but I'm postulating that pro-lifers think that they should.)

Jonathan said...

I agree with Joe and with Paul Zrimsek. My impression is that the Democrats emphasize the term "privacy" because doing so allows them to avoid confronting the tension between their approval of privacy in the abstract and their disrespect for property rights in the real world. I don't think you can have real privacy without robust property rights, any more than you can have real free speech if no one is allowed to own a computer or printing press. I won't take the Democrats seriously on privacy until they support property rights.

Note that I generally vote Republican but would consider voting for Democrats if they really did present a more-libertarian alternative to Republicans. There's big political opportunity there, IMO. But the Democrats, by paying lip service to a weak notion of "privacy," while refusing to compromise their statist agenda by recognizing the importance of property rights, are making clear what their real priorities are.

LizrdGizrd said...

I was struck by the quote of Howard Dean saying that the Dems support "personal responsibility". I have yet to see Democrats promote any sort of responsibility other than that of the government to support everyone.

Murky Thoughts said...

"I think the party begins with its politically useful defense of the right to abortion and that Kos's effort to derive a "core principle" is motivated more by the desire to make the abortion right more appealing...."

Eh. Prima facie it strikes me as just as likely that Kos is moving to leverage the enthusiasm for abortion rights toward other natural interests of the Democratic party and so to highlight what is now an only cryptic coherence among platform goals--because I suppose like Dean Kos sees the appearance of ideological coherence as a strength of the Republican party. It's easy to mistake coherence for righteousness, as noted by Okkam and Kuhn.

Joan said...

LizrdGizrd, I nearly spit out my coffee when Dean came out with that "personal responsibility" remark.

I love to hear Democrats get on the "big idea" bandwagon. They skim the surface until they find something that "sounds good," and then they'll go with that, rarely thinking their big idea through to it's logical conclusion. This discussion thread, relatively brief as it is, has raised a few "right to privacy" issues that would have the Democrats running away as quickly as possible. Fun, fun.

Sloanasaurus said...

It is quite easy to get to the argument on whether Tom Delay should decide or you should decide after everyone agrees that the unborn child is not a person. The problem with the abortion argument and the right to privacy is that not eveyone believes that the unborn has no rights. We don't debate whether a mother has the right to privacy to kill her one- year old because "most" would believe that the one-year old's right to live outwieghs the right of the mother to do whatever she wants.

The real abortion debate should be where one stands on the rights of the unborn. The "right to privacy" argument is just a cover-up to the real issue becasue most people feel "uncomfortable" arguing that a 20 week fetus has no natural rights.

When I was 20 years old, I did not understand this distinction, mostly because no one ever asked me the question....

Kathleen B. said...

Allegiance to "property rights" falls victim to these same criticisms. Many Democratic positions favor strong property rights - the right to autonomy in your own home (e.g. no morality regulation; strong standards for search warrants). The Republican positions favor weak property rights here.

Daedalus said...

It is great that we are finally hearing this debate on what the dems stand for. In the early 90s, the gops underwent a similar debate, which ended up becoming Newt's "Contract for America."

I think the libertarian comments are interesting, but I am not sure the libs would be interested in voting dem. Most of today's libs are more interested in the market rather than the person, and the dems will never submit to worship of the Market to satisfy a lib's religious zealotry.

Moreover, the individualism that is seeping out of these discussions will never hold up. Dems have always been a party that recognizes the need for everyone to cooperate in society, because we all have to share limited space on this planet. Libs would rather hole themselves up in their property rather than sacrifice something for the common good. Dems won't forget their commitment to society as a whole. This doesn't mean instituting socialism; it simply means taking into consideration how everyone will be affected by policymaking rather than certain groups like business, for example.

Despite all of this, Dems have always held dear the principle of right to privacy, especially when it comes to monitoring bedroom behavior. Kos is not trying to make its stance on abortion more appealling; rather, Kos is trying to steer abortion away from the center of dem discussions. Remember, the gops are the ones who made the issue the focus of American political discourse in an effort to get votes. This has effectively ended all rational debate on other topics.

All I am saying is that both sides need to control their special interests, and we need to get back to rational debate rather than bickering and name calling. Frankly, politics these days is stressing me out.

Ross said...

My activist Evangelical friend (hardly a statistically valid sample) specifically loathes the right to privacy, as the Supreme Court has constructed it over the past 50 years. In fact, that is pretty much at the heart of what he sees as liberal activist judges. If both parties indeed embrace the principle, then it's still fair to say that members of one party's base would like to put the issue back in play.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Sorry, I'm too busy worshipping the Market with religious zealotry to to give up bickering and name-calling.

If individualism is such a non-starter, hadn't the Democrats better give it up when talking about abortion, bedroom behavior, and search warrants? Perhaps the good of the whole society imposes some duties on pregnant women!

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Further thought: I wonder how much of the Left's recent obsession with framing comes from their own fondness for arguments, such as Dean's, in which all the work of persuasion is done by the framing.

Sloanasaurus said...

".....Kos is trying to steer abortion away from the center of dem discussions. Remember, the gops are the ones who made the issue the focus of American political discourse in an effort to get votes. This has effectively ended all rational debate on other topics....."

I agree. The abortion debate will end as an activist issue as soon as the Court gives it up and lets the legislatures decide by majority vote. As long as abortion is decided by elites, it will be a polarizing issue.

Shane Coffey said...

I am just curious, what is the government supposed to do with all the taxes they take from us, if not spend it on us in the form of health care, childcare for single working parents, etc.

If people want to save money, and lower taxes, we need to stop giving money away to other countries, stop paying the United Nations, supporting the WTO, and the IMF. We need to cut off corporate subsidies, and stop persucuting the middle class with a myriad of taxes that the rich do not have to pay.

Kathleen B. said...

Sloanasaurus - what rights (if any) do you think we have that a majority of people cannot vote to take away?

Sloanasaurus said...

We have all kinds of "natural rights" that should not be taken away by the majority. But, that is besides the point. The privacy right is just the legal tool the Court used so that it could strike down the law. However, to strike it down it had to say that the unborn (at a certain point) had no rights. Once it is decided that the unborn has rights, those rights should trump any rights to privacy.

My point about the legislatures and abortion is that the legislature is really the only appropriate institution that can decide when the unborn has rights. Because we cannot know the absolute truth on the matter (we are not God), the next best alternative is to debate the question and decide through the most democratic instituion we have (the state legislatures).

The worst alternative is to let a few individuals decide. Unfortuantely, this is the current state of things as the Court has made this decision (only 5 Justices).

In my opinion, most (if not all) of the state legislatures would keep abortion legal, with various differences in the restrictions and definitions of when life begins.

The democratic results, however, would satisfy many that the laws were made and decided fairly.

Sigivald said...

In addition, I don't think the Democrats are going to capture much of the libertarian vote as long as they're still the party of gun control.

Either Kos is suggesting they dump that in favour of a right to privacy (and, well, that pesky second amendment) based acceptance of a right to keep and bear arms, which I just can't see happening, or he's suggesting both that a right to privacy doesn't let one own arms and he thinks that libertarians don't care about that.

I don't think the latter is plausible. (The former of the two is plausible even if I disagree with it.)

Kathleen B. said...

Sloanasaurus - luckily, we don't have a system where only a few decide. Instead, each woman gets to make that decision for herself. A true democracy.

Roger Sweeny said...

When I see Democrats complain about the "nanny state," I will begin to consider that a Right to Privacy might be one of their core principals of the Democratic Party.

Nothing is completely private. Everything affects other people. To too many Democrats, this means that everything is public, and hence people's desires must take second place to the public interest.

Support for "abortion rights" seems to be less a respect for a right to privacy than a judgment that the decision doesn't really have any bad effects. Unlike, say, the decision to smoke or get breast implants (which strengthens false values and supports the patriarchy).

Sloanasaurus said...

From above "...luckily, we don't have a system where only a few decide. Instead, each woman gets to make that decision for herself. A true democracy..."

Yikes. Alas, you are not shy about your moral relativism.

War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.

Knemon said...

"Dems have always held dear the principle of right to privacy"

Always? I'd say this has been super-important to them for 20 years at most.

Carter was further "right" on abortion than Ford. Nearly every single powerful Democrat of today (rather, of about 4 years ago) was at one point pro-life, or ambiguous in their stance. Gore, Clinton, Gephardt, Daschle, Jackson, Kennedy ...

Then of course I could ask who set up, and defended, miscegenation laws and the like. But maybe "always" has a 40-year statute of limitations.

Kathleen B. said...

"Moral relitivism" - and would having a majority of people vote abortion not murder make it not murder to those in the minority? Of course not. You recognize that we can never know when life starts, but yet then seem to think that is something we can decide in a vote. Perhaps we can vote on whether God exists as well. That sounds like a perfect place for our government to go. I'll say it again - each woman can decide what her faith says. Voting on something unknowable doesn't make it knowable.

Kathleen B. said...

Support for "abortion rights" seems to be less a respect for a right to privacy than a judgment that the decision doesn't really have any bad effects.

please. give us a small break. Abortion rights have nothing to do with a determination that an abortion has no bad effects, and everything to do with allowing each woman to make her own decisions. How sad that the conservatives have come to this. Who mentioned "nanny state" again?

Kathleen B. said...

while no one is probably reading these comments anymore, I want to flesh out what I was saying above anyway.

Sloanasaurus you are conflating morality and law. Laws reflect our judgment on morality. But making a law on something that is morally ambiguous does not answer the morality question. It just makes a law.
By coming at this issue from a perspective on morality, you are either begging the question (i.e. already assuming that abortion is immoral) or saying that laws can determine what is moral and immoral. Either way, your argument does not hold up. First, because by presupposing the answer to your question, you poison the debate and make it a fruitless exercise. Or, second, as I stated above, making a law about an ambiguous moral issue does not decide that issue. People whose moral judgements disagree will not be swayed by a law purporting to legislate their morality.

The only way to have a truly "moral" system is to recognize each woman's right to make her own decisions.

For someone who took great umbrage at another's post that people are stupid for electing George Bush, you don't seem to have much faith in people's decisions yourself.

Sloanasaurus said...

"...The only way to have a truly "moral" system is to recognize each woman's right to make her own decisions..."

How can you have a "moral system" where people are allowed to define their own morality. The contridictions to such a "system" are endless.

Your comment about abortion being "morally ambigious" may be true for you but not for many others. Laws are constantly legislating morality. Many believe that taxation is immoral, or gun control, or capitalism, the war in Iraq, blah, blah. If we had Courts levying taxes or legislating gun control, or declaring war (or preventing war) there would be an uproar. For some reason, however, Courts have taken it upon themselves to decide when an unborn child has the right to live.

Kathleen B. said...

I can see now that my eariler supposition was true, you do not actually believe that when life begins is unknown. Therefore, your argument is - and has been - a red herring.

That fact that "some people" do not see this question as morally ambiguous only supports my whole point. If the question is morality, and is answer is ambiguous, then each person has the right to decide.

Your "tax" example does not help you. Tax laws do not exist to enforce morality. The basis for tax laws is not morality. That is the distinction. And I remind you that you are the one who raised the issue of morality in this abortion question, which is why we are discussing it through the lens of morality.

I recognize and appreciate your beliefs. and I would never support a law that would force you to have an abortion against your wishes. sadly, it seems for you the converse does not apply.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

It would seem that the morality of abortion is ambiguous, but the burning bush has spoken loud and clear on the morality of limiting abortion.

Sloanasaurus said...

".. Therefore, your argument is - and has been - a red ..."

We will never agree becuase you see the abortion issue as an argument of civil rights for the mother. I see the argument as civil rights for the unborn child.

I have been arguing a legal position. Your wrong about my personal views on abortion. "knowing . I would probably vote to allow abortion at somepoint between conception and 20 weeks because I can rationalize that beyond that it is possible for a baby to live outside the womb. Further, people need to be realistic about abortion. Completely outlawing it is not a practical answer. Again, I think a majority of Americans would vote to keep it legal with more restrictions. Further, I cannot be sure that I am "right" (in an absolute sense) about my opinion. And I am very sure that 5 justices are no more right than I am. These judges have used judicial activism to circumvent the right of the people to decide.

I disagree with you about tax laws and morality. The taking of property is a part of all morality systems.

jult52 said...

Kathleen B writes: "If the question is morality, and is answer is ambiguous, then each person has the right to decide."

I don't find your response convincing:

1) Most moral questions are ambiguous but the law mandates legal behavior in many cases, anyway.

2) Government taxation certainly does rest on a moral basis, that moral basis being that taxes can collectively improve the welfare of a society.

Sloanasaurus said...

Or taxes can collectively degrade society.

Even more so is who should pay and how much..... and what should the taxes be used for. Busn is currently making this argument with Stem Cells. He is saying he thinks it appears wrong to support embryonic stem cell research, so at the very least the government should not use taxes from all the people to support it....

Kathleen B. said...

"Most moral questions are ambiguous but the law mandates legal behavior in many cases, anyway."

yes, but the basis of those laws is not "morality". We don't regulate who can drive a car because of morality. We don't regulate securities because of morality. We don't permit oil refineries based on morality. Rather, the basis for almost every law that I can think of is a social/politiacl basis - the need for an ordered society. And compare an "immoral" act like adultery. Adultery is not illegal.

My point is that the basis proferred above for outlawing abortion is "morality", but yet it is also acknowledged that the "morality" of an abortion is unknowable (when does life begin). Thus, if the basis for your law is unknowable, then it can't be the case that the legislature gets to vote on what is moral. Does god exist? we can't know. But the legislature voting one way or the other won't answer the question. That is my problem with Sloanasaurus' comments.

Now if you have another reason for your anti-abrotion law besides morality, then it is a different story. Please share.

Sloanasaurus said...

The problem is that a very substantial amount of people believe that aborting an embryo is immoral. A majorty of people people believe that aborting a 20+ week fetus is immoral (even if they think it shouldn't be illegal).

If I had to vote on the matter and by the 20 week margin it bacame a more difficult moral dilemma, maybe its prudent to err in favor of life rather than the liberty to abortion.

Kathleen B. said...

The problem is that a very substantial amount of people believe that aborting an embryo is immoral.
then they do not have to have an abortion. "problem" solved.

Sloanasaurus said...

How about this as ananalogy:

The problem is that a lot of people think slavery is immoral.

...If they do then they shouldn't own slaves. Problem solved.

Kathleen B. said...

I can certainly see why you think that is a fair analogy.

The difference to me is that the basis for the immorality of slavery is not "unknowable". (there is of course also an argument that a difference is the relative independence of a fetus/unborn child and a person, and of course an argument about the relative harm/integrity of a woman compared to a slave owner, but since our discussion has been based on "morality" that is what I am sticking with).

Anyway, I would also like to say that I have really enjoyed this discussion. Not sure if that has come through or not. I realize my last comment sounded abrupt and snarky.