I rise today to a point of personal privilege: the opportunity to defend my friend and colleague, and fellow blogospheric furry mammal, The Bull Moose (a.k.a., Marshall Wittmann) from a double-barreled attempt over at DailyKos to barbecue his tough old hide.What did the Moose do to earn this extensive abuse? He provided a short quote to the Washington Post commenting on the likely Republican treatment of Nancy Pelosi’s Iraq statement the other day, the point being that the timing of the statement reinforced the White House’s effort to frame the Iraq debate as offering a Manichean choice between victory or immediate withdrawal. The Post reporter, sensing an opportunity to make some trouble, tracked down David Sirota and read him the quote, and Sirota dutifully called Marshall an “insulated elitist” who was stabbing the Democratic Party in the back. (Side-note to David: you might want to discard the stab-in-the-back metaphor, given its unsavory origins in post-World-War-I German politics. Sorry for the “elitist” pedantry, but it’s good advice).In response to this exchange, Markos went on for a number of graphs accusing The Moose of calling Pelosi a coward, of calling Jack Murtha a coward, of supporting Bush on the war, of being a neocon chickenhawk, etc., etc. Armando went further, accusing Wittmann of McCarthyism, and of being a “Rovian pawn,” and concluding with a demand that the DLC fire his ass.Lordy, lordy. So many words of abuse in response to so few words of provocation. Where to begin?When I read the quote, I thought it was pretty clear Marshall was describing the Rovian spin on Pelosi’s statement, not agreeing with it, and I know for a fact that’s what he meant, in a longer conversation with the reporter from which the quote was lifted. But okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that he left the impression he did agree with it. Where did he call Pelosi a “coward?” Where did he call Murtha–whom he has previously defended from Republican attacks–a “coward?”To avoid any misunderstanding on this point, let me be clear: Marshall’s beef with Pelosi isn’t about her position on Iraq, or Murtha’s, or anybody else’s. It’s a free country and a big-tent party. But she’s the party leader in the House, making a statement transparently designed in its timing to become the Democratic response to Bush’s speech. Sure, she claimed she wasn’t speaking for the Caucus, but in the next breath, said a majority of the Caucus agreed with her but wouldn’t come out and say so (which certainly ran a higher risk of being interpreted as an accusation of “cowardice” against Democrats than anything Wittmann’s said, BTW).Now, over at Kos, and all over the blogosphere, people say positive and negative things about the leadership qualities and tactical and strategic decisions of Democrat leaders all the time, and sometimes that causes heartburn, but they’re rarely if ever accused of “McCarthyism.” Marshall’s criticism of Pelosi is something I’ve heard echoed in conversations with many Democrats, some of whom agree with the actual Pelosi-Murtha position. I hardly think it’s the Sin Against the Holy Ghost to tell a reporter what he already knew about this line of internal debate.The next cookie on the plate is the assertion that Wittmann is a stay-the-course shill for Bush’s war policies. Gee, let’s see: just yesterday, The Moose said nobody should believe Bush is really changing his strategy on Iraq until he gets rid of Donald Rumsfeld. I somehow don’t think that was in the daily Pentagon talking points on Iraq. And in fact, Wittmann has been regularly critical, often angrily so, about Bush’s handling of Iraq and national security generally. Yes, he’s more hawkish than many Democrats (after all, he’s an independent), and he’s more hawkish than I am, but he’s no shill for Bush on any subject.And that brings me to the real howler in the attempted Moosicide, the “Rovian pawn” bit.I don’t expect Armando to know that much about Marshall Wittmann’s history, but I certainly do. He was a conservative intellectual and activist in the 90s who got to see people like Rove, DeLay, Reed, Abramoff, Norquist, Gingrich, Bush I and Bush II, up real close, and got very sick of what his party was becoming, and started saying so publicly. He was a key figure in John McCain’s 2000 effort to take the GOP away from the K Street/theocon crowd, and became if not Public Enemy Number One, then certainly on everybody’s enemies list. He was shown the door at two conservative think tanks for his heresies, and finally, when his hero McCain decided to make at least partial peace with the Power Crowd, he walked.I don’t see anybody holding David Brock’s past associations against him, but The Moose, probably because he hasn’t totally jumped over to Our Team, doesn’t seem to benefit from any Prodigal Son generosity, at least outside the DLC. And anybody who reads his blog regularly knows that nobody, not Markos, not Armando, not me, not you, does a more savage and effective job of exposing the rottenness of the whole GOP machine in lurid and extremely well-informed detail.And that’s why the DLC employs him; why we don’t demand that he tow anybody’s party line; and why he’s a valuable ally to Democrats, even if you disagree with him, which I do pretty often. We need to listen and even sponsor independent voices; maybe we’ll learn something from them, if only how to appeal to the millions of voters who have left Their Team but haven’t joined ours.On a more personal note, it pains me to see Wittmann demonized by anybody, especially as some sort of hatchet man, because he’s actually one of the nicest and certainly funniest people I’ve ever met. He and I have a water-fountain routine where we lapse into Marxist factional jargon in describing the day’s political events (“Lieberman has clearly exposed himself as a Social Fascist Right Opportunist;” “Our red state strategy must separate the small peasants from the kulaks.”) And far from Sirota’s description of him as a Washington Elitist, Wittmann’s greatest thrill in politics was his recent opportunity to hang out with Kinky Friedman (and his sidekick, “Jewford,” one of the original Texas Jewboys) in Dallas. I hope when he’s grazing in retirement, he can publish the full account of this encounter in its screamingly hilarious detail.So please, Moose-o-phobics, lighten up and recognize a rare talent whose regular refusal to serve up turgid partisan fare, and occasional outrages, are more than offset by his knowledgeable skewering of the right-wing machine, and his independent willingness to tell us things we don’t like but probably ought to consider.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Amidst all the talk about the impact of a likely reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, I thought a history lesson was in order, so I wrote one at New York:
Last week, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have codified abortion rights, died in in the Senate by a vote of 51 to 49. All 210 House Republicans and all 50 Senate Republicans voted against the legislation. This surprised no one, but it’s actually odd in several ways. While Republican elected officials are almost monolithically opposed to abortion rights, pro-choice Republican voters didn’t entirely cease to exist, and this could become a problem for the party if, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the right to abortion at the end of this term.
Though polling on the issue is notoriously slippery, our best guess is that a little over a third of Republicans disagree with their party on whether to outlaw abortion (while about one-quarter of Democrats disagree with their party on the topic). These Americans have virtually no representation in Congress with the limited exceptions of Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (both GOP senators support some abortion rights, but they are still opposed the WHPA and are against dropping the filibuster to preserve abortion rights).Ironically, abortion rights as we know them are, to a considerable extent, the product of Republican lawmaking at every level of government. The most obvious examples are the two Supreme Court decisions that established and reaffirmed a constitutional right to abortion. Of the seven justices who supported Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that struck down pre-viability-abortion bans, five were appointed by Republican presidents, including the author of the majority opinion, Harry Blackmun, and then–Chief Justice Warren Burger. All five justices who voted to confirm the constitutional right to pre-viability abortions in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey were appointed by Republican presidents as well.
These pro-choice Republicans weren’t just rogue jurists (though their alleged perfidy has become a deep grievance in the anti-abortion movement). Today’s lock-step opposition to abortion rights among GOP elected officials took a long time to develop. Indeed, before Roe, Republicans were more likely to favor legal abortion than Democrats. In New York and Washington, two of the four states that fully legalized pre-viability abortions in 1970, Republican governors Nelson Rockefeller and Daniel Evans were at the forefront of abortion-rights efforts. They weren’t fringe figures; Rockefeller went on to become vice-president of the United States under Gerald Ford. Pre-Roe, various other Republican officials supported more modest efforts to ease abortion bans; among them was then–California governor Ronald Reagan, who signed a bill significantly liberalizing exceptions to an abortion ban in 1967.
The anti-abortion movement’s strength in the Republican Party grew steadily after Roe in part because of a more general ideological sorting out of the two major parties as liberals drifted into the Democratic Party and conservatives were drawn into the GOP. To put it another way, there has always been ideological polarization in American politics, but only in recent decades has it been reflected in parallel party polarization. But that doesn’t fully explain the GOP’s shift on abortion policy.
Beginning in 1972 with Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, Republicans began actively trying to recruit historically Democratic Roman Catholic voters. Soon thereafter, they started working to mobilize conservative Evangelical voters. This effort coincided with the Evangelicals’ conversion into strident abortion opponents, though they were generally in favor of the modest liberalization of abortion laws until the late 1970s. All these trends culminated in the adoption of a militantly anti-abortion platform plank in the 1980 Republican National Convention that nominated Reagan for president. The Gipper said he regretted his earlier openness to relaxed abortion laws. Reagan’s strongest intraparty rival was George H.W. Bush, the scion of a family with a powerful multigenerational connection to Planned Parenthood. He found it expedient to renounce any support for abortion rights before launching his campaign.
Still, there remained a significant pro-choice faction among Republican elected officials until quite recently. In 1992, the year Republican Supreme Court appointees saved abortion rights in Casey, there was a healthy number of pro-choice Republicans serving in the Senate: Ted Stevens of Alaska, John Seymour of California, Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, William Cohen of Maine, Bob Packwood of Oregon, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John Chafee of Rhode Island, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, John Warner of Virginia, and Alan Simpson and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming. Another, John Heinz of Pennsylvania, had recently died.
Partisan polarization on abortion (which, of course, was taking place among Democrats as well) has been slow but steady, as Aaron Blake of the Washington Post recently observed:
“In a 1997 study, Carnegie Mellon University professor Greg D. Adams sought to track abortion votes in Congress over time. His finding: In the Senate, there was almost no daylight between the two parties in 1973, with both parties voting for ‘pro-choice’ positions about 40 percent of the time.
“But that quickly changed.
“There was more of a difference in the House in 1973, with Republicans significantly more opposed to abortion rights than both House Democrats and senators of both parties. But there, too, the gap soon widened.
“Including votes in both chambers, Adams found that a 22 percentage- point gap between the two parties’ votes in 1973 expanded to nearly 65 points two decades later, after Casey was decided.”
By 2018, every pro-choice House Republican had been defeated or had retired. The rigidity of the party line on abortion was perhaps best reflected in late 2019, when a House Democrat with a record of strong support for abortion rights, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, switched parties. Almost instantly, Van Drew switched sides on reproductive rights and was hailed by the hard-core anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List for voting “consistently to defend the lives of the unborn and infants.”
With the 2020 primary loss by Illinois Democratic representative Dan Lipinski, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, there’s now just one House member whose abortion stance is out of step with his party: Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, who is very vulnerable to defeat in a May 24 runoff.
If the Supreme Court does fully reverse Roe in the coming weeks, making abortion a more highly salient 2022 campaign issue, the one-third of pro-choice Republican voters may take issue with their lack of congressional representation. Will the first big threat to abortion rights in nearly a half-century make them change their priorities? Or will they still care more about party loyalty and issues like inflation? Perhaps nothing will change for most of these voters. But in close races, the abandoned tradition of pro-choice Republicanism could make a comeback to the detriment of the GOP’s ambitious plans for major midterm gains.