David Brooks offers up another fine bit of sophistry in today’s New York Times. And yes, it’s another example of what I call the Dover Beach column, wherein the lofty-minded pundit sadly surveys the madness of partisan conflict from a spot high above the fray, and then proceeds to offer a lofty-minded solution that happens to coincide with one party’s agenda.In this case, the subject is abortion, and here is the gist of the Brooksian argument: (1) Roe v. Wade whisked abortion policy from the legislative to the judicial arena, making compromise impossible and empowering extremists on both sides of the issue; (2) legitimately frustrated Republicans who can’t pursue legislative remedies on abortion are now poised to Do the Bad Thing and assault both the judiciary and the essentially conservative traditions of Senate debate; and thus (3) the solution is to give Republicans what they want by overturning Roe. Neat, eh?As is generally the case with Brooks these days, his transition from bipartisan-sounding analysis to endorsement of a partisan position is greased by a big fat planted axiom of extremely dubious quality: the idea that making abortion a legislative issue will facilitate “democratic debate,” compromise, sweet reasonableness, and in general, a de-emphasis of the issue in our political system.Give me a break. Without Roe, abortion politics would be a 24-7 preoccupation of both Congress and many state legislatures, with those determined to eventually outlaw abortion altogether offering an infinite variety of incremental, poll-tested restrictions. How do I know this? Because that’s precisely what’s happened in the limited sphere of legislation allowable under Roe. Look at the last “reasonable compromise” offered by Democrats in Congress, the Daschle Amendment of the late 1990s, which would have banned third-trimester abortions with an exception for the health of the mother. It was not only opposed by some abortion rights advocates, but by right-to-lifers and Republicans generally, who weren’t interested in any “solution” other than their own contrived “partial-birth” ban, which recognized no exceptions.Moroever, look at what’s happening in the U.K., one of those wise jurisdictions where abortion policy is set through “democratic debate.” The Tories have made abortion a big issue in the current parliamentary campaign by proposing an incremental restriction of the period where abortion is allowable, in an overt attempt to peel off Labour-leaning Catholic voters.The truth is that abortion politics are toxic not because the courts have intervened, but because the issue involves very fundamental differences of opinion on matters that are more important to some people than politics itself. It’s possible to make the argument that letting “democratic debate” decide abortion policy is the right thing to do, but Brooks’ idea that it will reduce the passions involved in this issue, or keep right-to-lifers from demonizing judges or seeking to override Senate traditions, is absolutely wrong.We just learned in the Schiavo saga that conservatives are willing to demonize judges if they don’t interpret federal and state statutues to suit them. Accepting, as Brooks does, the thread-bare argument that they are only interested in reasserting the right to “democratic debate” is tantamount to total surrender to the GOP position, which is, of course, where Brooks would have us go.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.