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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

The Appalling Elitism behind the Pharmacists’ “Right of Conscience” Campaign

The current debate regarding whether individual pharmacists should have a “right of conscience” to refuse to sell birth control medications has been almost entirely composed of either straightforward arguments in support or opposition to the proposed “right” or the discussion of some compromise position that attempts to bridge the gap between customers’ rights to buy legally prescribed medication and pharmacists’ personal ethical views.
Yet, when one steps back for a moment to look beyond these limited terms of debate, an extraordinary fact quickly becomes apparent — the proposed extensions of earlier “conscience” laws to cover pharmacists are profoundly and, in fact, grotesquely elitist. They actually propose nothing less then endowing a small group of Americans with a special class of new legal rights and privileges regarding moral/religious issues — based essentially on their education — while denying those same rights to everyone else. As a result, the proposed laws are not only basically unconstitutional in intent but also un-American in spirit and contrary to the egalitarian tenets of sincere Christian faith.
To see why this is so, it is only necessary to compare the proposed extension of the “right of conscience” to pharmacists with the purpose of the original “conscience” laws which were designed with doctors and operating room nurses in mind. It was not because doctors or nurses had advanced medical education or knowledge that special provisions were enacted for them, but because the nature of their work might obligate them to personally perform medical procedures they considered immoral, such as abortions or sterilizations, or to personally prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs. Granting a doctor or nurse with moral objections to these procedures the legal right to refuse to personally perform them was, as Ellen Goodman noted in a Boston Globe column, both “common decency” and “common sense”.
Pharmacists in contrast, do not personally select medications, prescribe them or administer them. They dispense them in accordance with a doctor’s instructions. Drug store pharmacists may have more specialized education and greater responsibilities then other retail salespeople, but when they package and sell a customer a product they personally consider ethically objectionable their individual moral involvement and responsibility – which is what we are talking about here — is in absolutely no way greater or more direct then that of a ordinary convenience store cashier who sells condoms of which he or she morally disapproves or a supermarket, gas station or 7-11 cashier who sells cigarettes that he or she personally considers addictive and poisonous and therefore deeply immoral on ethical and religious grounds.
This is not an abstract issue. There are tens of thousands of retail sales workers who have lost husbands, wives and parents to lung cancer and who are deeply and sincerely disturbed and saddened every single day of their working lives by the moral implications of selling a product whose destructive long-term effects they know all too well. They feel serious moral guilt about selling cigarettes, but do it simply because it is part of their job.
Thus, any proposed individual “right of conscience” for retail sales employees cannot fairly or reasonably be limited to only the men and women behind the pharmacy counter. The people operating the cash register in the drug store may have less formal education then pharmacists and asking for age ID may be less complex then reviewing dosages and double-checking for allergies or incompatible drugs, but as human beings with personal moral and ethical standards, the cashier and the pharmacist are exactly and precisely equal and any new legal rights of conscience extended to one cannot properly be denied the other without violating the fundamental principle of every Americans’ right to equality before the law.
In order to disguise this uncomfortable fact — one which clearly makes the proposed laws constitutionally flawed — the conservative activists managing the current campaign have resorted to elitist arguments that express a snobbery and contempt for ordinary Americans that can only be described as appalling.
Here, for example, is a statement published in USA Today by the legal council to the Health Care Right of Conscience Project of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom:

Forcing pharmacists to function like supermarket cashiers .will result only in fewer pharmacists for everyone as bright and talented young people decide against entering a profession that treats them like automated medicine dispensers.

And here is the conclusion of a letter published in the New York Times from a pastor of a church who is also the chief executive of a Pharmacy chain:
The last time I checked my license, the Commonwealth of Virginia stated that I am a professional. That means I have choices.

And a spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association, (which is trying to find a compromise solution to this issue), admits that
Some people seem to say that a pharmacist is nothing more then a garbage man, and that’s not what the average pharmacist wants to hear.

It is difficult to imagine more blatant and arrogant expressions of snobbish class elitism. “Bright” and “talented” pharmacists – “professionals”, after all, not just “garbage men” — have highly developed moral and ethical consciences regarding the products they sell and therefore deserve special legal rights of conscience. The illiterate morons who work at the cash register, on the other hand, aren’t smart enough or good enough to deserve such special consideration.
This is so unfair, so un-American and indeed so contrary to the ethics of most sincere Christians as to be literally repulsive – and its time for the honest participants in this debate to start saying so. Either every single American retail employee who sells products to the public deserves to have a newly created “Right of Conscience” guaranteed by law or else we need to agree that existing laws covering the rights of retail employees, including retail pharmacists as well as cashiers, are appropriate as they are.
This is America. In this country we don’t pass laws that say that pharmacists are more valuable and worthy as moral human beings then cashiers.

Harold Meyerson on The Dems and Working Class Voters

Harold Meyerson has an interesting piece in Wednesday’s Washington Post that examines the Dems problems with a key sector of the electorate. Noting an analysis that first appeared here on Donkey Rising, Meyerson asks the key question: “how do the Democrats win back the allegiance of the white working class?” Here are a few excerpts:

The redoubtable and unpronounceable Ruy Teixeira, Democratic poll analyst par excellence, has been rooting around in the raw data newly released from the 2004 exit poll and has come up with one morsel that should cause Democrats everywhere to gag. It’s not just that John Kerry got clobbered by working-class whites. It’s that 55 percent of white working-class voters trusted Bush to handle the economy, while only 39 percent trusted Kerry.
… I think the Democrats kid themselves if they think this problem is Kerry-specific. To begin, de-unionization has taken a huge chunk out of Democratic vote totals. Unionized working-class whites tend to vote Democratic at least 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, but with private-sector unionization now fallen to less than 8 percent of the workforce, there aren’t enough unionized whites to put a state such as Ohio into the Democratic column.
… on a broad range of economic matters, Democrats have alarmingly little to say to working-class Americans. For the past 35 years, as short-range share value has come to dominate our form of capitalism and the burden of risk has been shifted to the individual employee, far more manufacturing jobs have been sent abroad from the United States than from any other advanced industrialized nation. As the middle fell out of the economy, the Democrats advocated job retraining and, eventually, some form of managed trade, but these policies were too little and too late.
Today’s working class isn’t found largely in factories; it’s in nursing homes, on construction sites, in Wal-Marts. Republicans talk to its members about guns, gays and God. Democrats often just stammer. And given the imbalance of power in today’s de-unionized workplace, Democrats couldn’t do much better than Bush when it comes to boosting wages in this raise-less recovery.
Democrats win when they deliver prosperity and security for working Americans, and in today’s capitalism, those have become increasingly unattainable goals. Which is why, as they only now gear up their think tanks, Democrats need to promote alternatives to the kind of shareholder-driven capitalism into which our system has descended, to the detriment of millions of underpaid, insecure workers. They need to side with Main Street over Wall Street. Like the conservatives 40 years ago, the Democrats need to offend their own elites to build an America that reflects their best values, and in which working people can and do count on them for support.

Ruy Teixeira and Ken Mehlman Offer Opposing Views in Washington Post Analysis

A Sunday Washington Post article titled “Was Nov. 2 a Realignment” contrasted Bush’s campaign manager Ken Mehlman’s upbeat interpretation of the election’s significance for the Republicans with Ruy Teixeira’s more balanced appraisal.

“Something fundamental and significant happened in this election that creates an opportunity for” the Republicans to remake national politics over the long term, said Ken Mehlman, who managed Bush’s reelection campaign and was tapped by the president after the election to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The Republican Party is in a stronger position today than at any time since the Great Depression.”
Liberal political analyst Ruy Teixeira is among many analysts not buying it. Two years ago, he co-wrote a book predicting an emerging Democratic dominance of national politics. That certainly has not happened yet — but neither has the opposite, he believes. The electorate this year “tilted, but it didn’t tilt very much,” Teixeira said.
“If the war on terror is such a realigning issue, how come Bush only got 51 percent of the vote?” he asked. By Teixeira’s lights, the president took advantage of the natural power of incumbency, which is accentuated in wartime, and gave scant emphasis to his second-term policy agenda on such issues as overhauling Social Security, which polls show leaves many voters uneasy. “It’s hard to read [the results] in a serious way as a mandate for much of anything,” Teixeira said.

Rolling Stone Features Ruy Teixeira in Election Analysis

A Nov. 17th Rolling Stone magazine roundtable on the election included Ruy Teixeira along with Peter Hart and David Gergen in a roundtable discussion with Rolling Stone editor Jan Weiner. Here are a few excerpts from Ruy’s comments during the discussion.

We should keep a bit of perspective on this. The last three elections, the Democrats got, respectively, forty-nine, forty-eight and forty-eight percent of the vote. That’s not that far off a majority. I mean, you shift a point and a half of the vote and you’re just about there. They just need to figure out a way to put their natural constituencies, and growing constituencies, together with a more respectable performance among whites of moderate income. Democrats are not in the position that the Republicans were in after Goldwater was defeated in 1964…
One of the misperceptions about the election is that young people didn’t turn out. In fact, the number of voters under the age of thirty increased substantially. And they went for Kerry by nine points in an election in which the country as a whole went for the other side by three points. That’s the biggest difference between youth and the country as a whole that we’ve seen in the last four elections — even greater than in 1996, when Bill Clinton carried the youth by nineteen points and carried the country as a whole by eight points. I think there’s real potential there for the future.

National Journal Article Debunks “Mandate” Myth

A November 12th National Journal article by Jonathan Rauch takes apart a series of myths about what the 2004 election signified. The first three paragraphs nicely sum it up.

The election of 2004 was one of the greatest of our era, but the post-election of 2004 was as bad as they come. Rarely have election returns been so widely but wrongly — in fact, dangerously — misconstrued.
A quick post-post-election exit poll: Which of the following two statements more accurately describes what happened on November 2?
A) The election was a stunning triumph for the president, the Republicans, and (especially) social conservatives. Because the country turned to the right, President Bush received a mandate, the Republicans consolidated their dominance, and the Democrats lost touch with the country.
B) Bush and the Republicans are on thin ice. Bush barely eked out a majority, the country is still divided 50-50, and the electoral landscape has hardly changed, except in one respect: The Republican Party has shifted precariously to the right of the country, and the world, that it leads.
Usual answer: A. Correct answer: B.

It gets better. Read it as a “pick-me-up” for Election Day blues.

FDR and Values

Andrei Cherny, writing in the New Republic, examines how Democrats talked about values during the New Deal era and how Democrats can revive that tradition today.

Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

How Big A Role Did Fraud, Ballot Theft and Suppression of the Vote Play in The Election?

In the last few day’s accusations of massive vote fraud, ballot theft and suppression of the Democratic vote during the 2004 elections have mushroomed to such a level that both the New York Times and the Washington Post have given the charges front page coverage.
Unfortunately, almost all the discussion of this issue has become focused on the specific question of whether a sufficient number of votes might have been stolen or suppressed to have changed the outcome of the election. In many cases, the unstated assumption seems to be that if such violations did not rise to the level where they changed the result then they can safely be ignored.
That’s the wrong way to look at this issue. What the vast majority of Democrats find most disturbing about 2004 is that Bush’s victory was based on a pervasive strategy of dishonesty–a dishonesty that included major distortions of Kerry’s record by the Bush campaign’s own television commercials, outright lies told by the Swift Boat Veterans, grotesque distortions circulated among rural or minority voters (such as the claim that Democrats would take away religious people’s bibles or that Martin Luther King was a Republican), flyers listing false reasons why voters should believe themselves disqualified, leaflets and phone calls falsely announcing changes in polling places and phony voter registration groups that collected and then destroyed voter registration forms.
Layered on top of this were techniques for suppressing the vote in Democratic areas that included last minute changes in polling places, use of felon lists known to be inaccurate and the provision of inadequate numbers of voting machines and ballots.
It is this entire pattern of appallingly anti-democratic behavior that should be at the center of the national discussion today, and not just the specific question of whether these kinds of activities–along with any direct theft or alteration of votes by electronic or punch card voting machines–could have risen to a level sufficient to reverse Bush’s victory.
Regarding the precise amount of voter fraud and suppression that actually occurred during the election, data are still trickling in. A widely quoted article by Harpers magazine writer Greg Palast pulled together a variety of issues to draw the conclusion that Kerry might actually have won the election. Follow-up articles in Salon and The Nation by Farhad Manjoo and David Corn, however, while entirely sympathetic to Democrats basic suspicions and complaints, reviewed Palast’s evidence and reached the opposite conclusion.
The debate is not over. Two web sites that continue to collect and evaluate reports from around the country are the Election Incident Reporting System and the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.
But the most important thing for Democrats to remember about this debate is that they should not allow it to be reduced simply to the question of whether or not the election was “stolen”. What vast numbers of Democrats as well as many moderates and independent voters already believe and believe very strongly is that Bush’s victory was based on a campaign that was deeply, deeply dishonest and profoundly unfair.

Harold Meyerson Notes Continuing Democratic Unity

An excellent piece by Harold Meyerson in Wednesday’s Washington Post emphasizes the vitally important fact that Democrats are not falling back into division and back-biting in the aftermath of the elections. Here are a few highlights:

Listen closely. That silence you hear is the sound of Democrats not recriminating.
We are, to be sure, post-morteming like nobody’s business. It could scarcely be otherwise after the most heartbreaking defeat just about any Democrat can recall. But this year, I sense, there is a little more consensus than conflict — and a lot more confusion than either — Democratic ranks about what went wrong and where we go from here.
To begin, there’s a genuine respect for John Kerry that will spare him from the kind of morning-after rage that many Democrats directed at Al Gore four years ago. Kerry, and Kerry alone (well, with some help from George Bush), put himself back into contention with his three debate performances. They did not win him the White House, but they won him a respite from the kind of backbiting for which we Dems are justly famous.
That’s not to say we don’t all have criticisms of Kerry’s campaign. It was too slow to respond to the summer’s character assassinations. Kerry’s plan for Iraq never sounded very plausible, but that’s chiefly because the administration has made such a hash of the war that there are no good alternative policies..Above all, Kerry was unable to sufficiently press the Democrats’ advantage on issues such as health care, education and jobs.

In large ways and small, campaign 2004 was marked by unprecedented Democratic unity. That’s one reason why the defeat feels so shattering: The whole team was on the field, working together as well as if not better than ever before.
For this reason among others, the Democrats’ postgame analysis has not yet assumed its accustomed form of a circular firing squad. Among Democrats I speak to from all corners of the party, the same points come up over and over again. The mobilization of the Democratic base that the party and the “527” groups threw themselves into this year remains essential, but it is plainly not a ticket to victory in itself. Democrats cannot go into the next presidential election with just a handful of states truly in play; they need to be competitive in more red states to keep the Republicans from concentrating their resources in Florida and Ohio and some borderline blue states.Above all, the fact that the only two successful Democratic presidential nominees since Lyndon Johnson were both governors of Southern states now looms hugely in Democratic calculations.

Read the whole article, it’s worth it.