A good while back I made a resolution not to blog about blogging more than once in a blue moon, and I’ve kept the resolution well enough that I literally can’t find my last post on the subject, after googling and scanning the site for about an hour. I do recall that this long-lost post explained why I don’t provide comment threads–which some folks consider essential for any legitimate progressive blog–mainly because I literally don’t have the time to read, much less manage, a significant number of comments. But at present, there’s quite a bit of buzz about comment threads in the blogosphere. Much of it is devoted to the recent incident over at The New Republic, which shut down a “culture blog” written by Lee Siegel after he got caught pseudonymously doing self-hagiographical posts in his own comment threads. And there’s continuing discussion (most recently by my colleague The Moose) about anti-semitic comments on progressive blog sites and whether their managers are sufficiently policing them. Siegel’s stunt struck me as reflecting more of a psychological disorder than some sort of massive violation of blogospheric ethics; you have to wonder how many other bloggers have succumbed to the temptation to stuff their own ballot box with self-praise. But it does raise obvious questions about the function of comment threads. Their ostensible purpose is to allow readers to “comment” on primary posts. But as anyone knows who slogs through comment threads, particularly at high-traffic sites, threads typically drift into collateral and then non-collateral topics. And there is clearly a hardy band of frequent commenters who drift from site to site; who know each other’s views; and who often conduct long-running debates that have little or nothing to do with the posts on which they are “commenting.” I have no inherent objection to this practice, but would observe that comment threads in many cases simply offer a way for non-bloggers to blog without the muss and fuss of running a site or creating diaries on the sites that offer them. The topic of objectionable content on comment threads is more important and troublesome. I agree with Kevin Drum that it’s fundamentally unfair to tar whole sites, much less whole categories of bloggers, with occasional disgusting views as expressed in comment threads. The Moose is making the somewhat different claim that blog proprietors aren’t doing enough to rid their sites of anti-semitic comments. I dunno about that. Most of the big progressive sites have an elaborate (and to me largely incomprehensible) machinery of policies and technological tools to police comments threads, and do regularly “ban” posters who violate the policies chronically. But they don’t, and probably can’t, instantly expunge comments that express objectionable prejudices, in part because it’s not always easy to draw the line between, say, objections to the U.S. alliance with Israel, and genuine anti-semitic utterances, even though they may often overlap.As it happens, I once (successfully) urged Josh Marshall to ban a guy from comments at TPMCafe who was constantly popping up (not just there, but all over the blogosphere) to claim that anyone he disagreed with on virtually any topic was, in fact, acting as an agent of AIPAC, a.k.a. “the Israel Lobby.” I contacted Josh after about the fifth time this jerk breezily announced that the DLC existed purely and simply as an AIPAC front. My objection was not exactly that he was expressing anti-semitic opinions, though he likely holds them; it was that his comments weren’t expressions of opinion at all, but completely unsupported statements of “fact” that were actually lies, and had to be either conscious lies or products of a deep delusion, since he had no idea what he was talking about. Seems to me this might not be a bad rule of thumb for the general treatment of possibly anti-semitic content on blog sites. After all, the diseased heart of all classic anti-semitism is the stubborn claim that Jews exercise shadowy and disproportionate influence by way of a conspiracy that has ensnared or corrupted the gentiles who ostensibly are in charge of governments and opinion-leading media. If, God forbid, I were in charge of a comment thread, I wouldn’t have a beef with people who wanted to argue that America’s alliance with Israel is not in our national interest. But there are dozens of reasons for the strong pro-Israeli tradition in U.S. foreign policy–reasons that range from coldly rational analysis to all sorts of ideological and cultural affinities. It would exist if there were no AIPAC, and no high-profile Jews writing about the Middle East. So I’d bounce anybody from a comment thread that resorted to the “Jewish cabal” kind of argument. It’s a short distance from there to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And quite frankly, that point of view has been aired more than enough over the centuries, with horrific consequences.
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.