Given as how I’m sporadically writing about my recent trip to Australia here on this blog, I guess it is incumbent upon me to report that blogs don’t seem to be terribly central to progressive politics in Australia or New Zealand. It’s not that they don’t exist; one site I’ve run across that provides a database of blogs around the world (though it’s not clear how many are political) lists 3,701 in Australia and 569 in New Zealand (as compared with 69,167 in the U.S.). And it’s certainly not the case that Aussies and Kiwis are not “wired;” their internet penetration levels are actually higher than ours; New Zealand ranks second only to Iceland in that respect, and Australia ranks fifth.Still, no one I talked to in Sydney thought of political blogs–much less any sort of broader web-based “netroots” movement, as something to think seriously about. And despite a very high awareness level of U.S. politics, they seemed surprised and skeptical when I mentioned the significance and self-consciousness of the “netroots” as a major faction in the Democratic Party.It’s possible that there’s just a lag-time factor here, but I doubt it. In no small part because money is not so ever-present in their politics, political organizing Down Under is very old-school and labor-intensive. “People-powered politics” is pretty much a given, even though, or perhaps even because, there’s less dependence on technology. New Zealand’s Labour Party recently conducted a very successful voter mobilization effort at a cost that would represent a rounding error in the monthly billing of any U.S. political consultant. Australia’s compulsory voting system obviously makes voter mobilization a less pressing concern altogether.But perhaps an even more important factor is the strong and grassroots-oriented party system. For all the talk among progressive bloggers about the oppressive D.C. Democratic Establishment, the truth is that our parties are far weaker and more decentralized than those in the rest of the English-speaking world. The “netroots” are scratching an itch for organization and bottom-up influence that isn’t that strong in places like Australia and New Zealand, where parties devote a lot of time to grassroots and interest-group constituencies, and where party discipline is high once decisions are made.I heard nothing in Sydney that would indicate that blogging and other internet-based political organizing and communications vehicles are about to sweep the world Down Under. Given how rapidly the “netroots” blossomed here, it could still happen there, but I wouldn’t bet my modem on it.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Always on the lookout for a new wrinkle on ancient battles, I drew attention to a recent legal development at New York:
Though the constitutional law of “religious liberty” is a murky field, we are all accustomed to hearing anguished claims from conservative Christians that laws requiring them to provide or pay for reproductive-health services or treat LGBTQ employees and customers equally are an unacceptable violation of their beliefs. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the federal right to an abortion, it’s clearer than ever that the Christian right and its Republican allies are aiming to construct a system where they are free to live their values as they wish, regardless of the impact on others.
But as a new lawsuit in Florida shows, what’s good for the conservative goose may also be good for the progressive gander. A group of religious officials are arguing in state court that the new anti-abortion law enacted this year by Florida Republicans violates their right to religious expression. The Washington Post reports:
“Seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist … argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. The law, which is one of the strictest in the country, making no exceptions for rape or incest, was signed in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a Pentecostal church alongside antiabortion lawmakers such as the House speaker, who called life ‘a gift from God.’”
The plaintiffs in these suits most definitely want to rebut the idea that forced birth is the only authentically “religious” perspective on abortion services. After all, as United Church of Christ minister Laurie Hafner explains, the anti-abortion cause has little biblical sanction:
“Jesus says nothing about abortion. He talks about loving your neighbor and living abundantly and fully. He says: ‘I come that you might have full life.’ Does that mean for a 10-year-old to bear the child of her molester? That you cut your life short because you aren’t able to rid your body of a fetus?”
The legal theory in the lawsuits focuses specifically on the counseling of pregnant people and their families that clergy engage in routinely, and that under the new Florida law may be treated as the illegal aiding and abetting of criminal acts. Hafner’s suit alleges that this violates both federal and state constitutional rights, along with Florida’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a 1993 federal “religious liberty” law):
“The dramatic change in abortion rights in Florida has caused confusion and fear among clergy and pregnant girls and women particularly in light of the criminal penalties attached. Given her general duties and work as a Pastor, Plaintiff intends to engage in counseling regarding abortion beyond the narrow limits of HB 5 and, therefore, risks incarceration and financial penalties.”
It’s unclear how this argument will fare in the courts. Conservative judges may stipulate that anti-abortion laws impinge on religious-liberty rights that are nonetheless outweighed by the state’s “compelling interest” in fetal life. But at least, for once, the judiciary and the public will have to come to grips with the fact that many millions of pro-choice religious Americans passionately oppose what is happening to our country in the name of “life.” During the run-up to this week’s resounding “no” vote on a constitutional amendment removing any hint of abortion rights in the state’s constitution, a Presbyterian Church in Kansas displayed a sign that read, “Jesus trusted women. So do we.” This was likely an allusion to the “Trust Women” motto of the famous Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who in 2009 was assassinated in the foyer of the church in which he was serving as an usher. His legacy lives on in houses of worship and now in the courts.