Still on vacation and aggressively not writing, I'm reprising a piece from last September — before the 2022 midterms — in which I pound on one of my favorite themes: the utter madness of the Dobbs decision.
Today of all days, this is particularly appropriate. Ohio voters are even now participating in a special election that was cynically thrown together by the extremely gerrymandered Republican legislature, on the assumption that nobody wants to vote in August. Based on early voting, this was a massive miscalculation.
The vote isn't officially about abortion, but rather about the ability of Ohio citizens to continue modifying their state constitution through petitions and referendums. But nobody has been fooled into thinking it's about anything but abortion.
I recently had occasion to engage in a brief political discussion with a bright and well-spoken woman in her mid-twenties. She was clearly perturbed at what she considered the failure of Democrats to push through the progressive agenda she and her generation have long been promised.
I felt her pain, knowing how hard the next twenty or thirty years will be for her age group, not just in this country, but planetwide. She will surely be a witness to spontaneous atrocities, environmental calamities, and a competition for dwindling resources that will reduce many of her fellow humans to savagery.
At the same time, I was embarrassed — as I often am — that I’m passing along to her a nation in far worse shape than it was when I found it.
Even so, I felt she was being a bit hard on the Democrats in power, most of whom have, more or less, behaved admirably in pursuing basically the same agenda as hers, even as they remain shackled to a constitutional system on the very cusp of failure.
I was tempted to cite for her all the ways that her agenda has been sabotaged by bad faith and worse gaslighting. I might’ve reminded her of how two undoubtedly corrupt Democratic senators blocked passage of crucial pieces of legislation. I could’ve pointed to the accomplishments of this administration, which have been, in spite of the obstacles, quite remarkable.
But instead I found myself keeping it simple. What I said to her was:
The only thing you need to know about Democrats is that they’re not Republicans.
At the time, it sounded glib, even to me. But thinking about it since, I realized this is exactly what Democratic messaging needs to be going forward. Not just for this cycle, but for 2024 as well.
Because regardless of the office being contested, there is now only one issue on the ballot: the Republican threat to democracy.
Your vote couldn’t be more binary: Are you for democracy or against it? Are you voting Democrat or not? You can't hide behind ‘undecided’ or ‘independent,’ two synonyms for ‘not paying attention.’
There is no longer any point in talking issues, policies, or ideas with Republicans. They are not interested, and they refuse to acknowledge anyone who might be. There’s no way to engage them in the real world. All we can do is vote them away.
Local races will surely have local realities that local candidates will need to address. But there is no race so local that Democrats can’t exploit their biggest opportunity — the sheer stupidity and wanton cruelty of the Dobbs decision.
The Supreme Court has bestowed upon us a huge gift, a self-inflicted wound we can now weaponize. I’ve been writing for some time that killingRoe would be a disaster for the GOP, and I’m cautiously considering that I might be right.
Dobbs just might be the worst political blunder of the last century. It’s the perfect encapsulation of everything Republicans stand for. It defines them in ways anyone — at any age or education level — can understand. It brings the threat to democracy to everyone’s doorstep, especially women’s. And it frames the threat as a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
In other words, they’ve given us a bludgeon, and we must pummel them with it. We have to force them to defend their so-called “pro life” position, and not allow them to sidestep it. Even they know how stupid the whole issue makes them look, which is why they’re furiously scrubbing any mention of abortion from their websites.
I’m by no means the only one who sees this. Rachel Bitecofer — the “election whisperer,” whose unconventional wisdom is both rigorously data-driven and strikingly insightful — preaches it to anyone who’ll listen.
I haven’t cited Bitecofer since the 2020 election, mostly because she’s been Debbie Downer about this year’s prospects. She had, until recently, been fully expecting Democrats to lose both the House and the Senate, and she herself was preparing for a rapid plunge into institutional fascism.
So now, when she says the tide is turning, I listen. And when she insists that this election is about Dobbs, Dobbs, and more Dobbs, I get the message.
Here’s what she said on the BobCesca Show — an excellent podcast — last week:
We could do everything the same and we’d still get whacked in November, if it wasn’t for the assist of having the Supreme Court strip away women’s fundamental liberty.
So if you hear my voice, and you’re in charge of messaging or strategy, there is not a part of the voter file that is not reacting to this change of abortion politics … We should be hammering them, and make sure people are terrified of voting for Republicans.
Democrats have always been reluctant to resort to mud-slinging. But Republicans are now gifting them with so much mud, it would be unethical not to sling it.
So I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting a few ways a Democratic candidate for any office, anywhere in the U.S. — whether running in a red or a blue area — can sling along.
I’m firmly pro-choice.
My opponent wants your daughter to give birth to her rapist’s baby.
My opponent thinks a fetus should have more rights than its mother.
My opponent doesn't care if your wife dies in childbirth, as long as her doctor doesn't try to save her.
Republicans think the doctor who saves your wife's life should go to prison for it.
Republicans think your sex life is their business.
Republicans want to inspect your child’s sex organs.
Better yet, say all of these things, and mix in a few “local” variations for good measure. Name names wherever possible.
Democrats need to be less kind and less gentle. They need to call out the lies, the grifting, the gaslighting, the mindless bullying, the cruel posturing.
While this all seems glaringly obvious to most of us, the attitude of my young friend was slightly disquieting. It’s not that I expect that she’ll vote Republican this year, or ever. But I do expect that she’ll vote. Others in her cohort, I’m not so sure.
Statistically, her generation — those with arguably the most at stake in the fate of this country — is prone to turning disappointment with Democrats into an excuse not to vote.
Hopefully, as Dobbs sinks in, this will change. Hopefully, Dobbs will give her peer group a sense of the danger that’s ahead, and how hard it will be to avert. Hopefully, the loss of basic rights will convince them that this is an emergency.
They need to know that their apathy could quite literally kill them. They need to vote like their lives depend on it.