September is a month of change, but you’d hardly know it this year. The weather is warm, the Fed still hasn’t raised rates, and the Republican debate still focused heavily on one person (who will remain unnamed).
But that last one is where the more things change the more they stay the same.
My famously conservative friend Mitch Berg complained on facebook about a diatribe regarding parenting responsibilities by a childless 20-something associate, which sounded like an ugly situation. Turns out it was very ugly – it started as a discussion on defunding Planned Parenthood. The young woman in question, described as normally very level-headed, had a serious fire under her that needed venting. It’s a passionate issue, for sure. Mitch and his more conservative friends rolled their eyes as well as anyone can in English prose.
But they shouldn’t have – this is important stuff. Why? Because I think we’ll see a lot more of this in coming months as the Republicans do what they have to do, thus doing a lot of the work that Democrats need to do. It deserves examination.
The last effort to defund Planned Parenthood ended in early August the way nearly everything does, with a filibuster in the Senate. It’s how they do things – or, more accurately, how they don’t do things. Despite this defeat, it’s very likely to come up again as we approach the potential for another government shutdown. As an issue, Planned Parenthood won’t die – which gives a very twisted meaning to “pro life”.
But that’s only the start of grandstanding season which we can expect to have an early start and lengthy reach leading into the 2016 election. This is an issue the Republicans know they can’t win, which is to say it’s a very safe issue to pontificate on at length without worrying about consequences. Like nearly everything given to pro-life Republicans over the last few decades, it’s a purely symbolic non-issue that serves only to excite and motivate the faithful.
Republicans desperately need votes like this to bring their fragmented party together, so we can expect to see many more of them. This has long been a favorite tactic used to highlight many hot buttons without actually doing anything – including the budget deficit, immigration policy, and so on. They revisit this tactic over and over the way terrorists seem to have a thing for operations based in airports – because everyone is basically lazy and sticks only to the things they know.
I realize that comment was unnecessarily inflammatory, but I do have to keep my ‘net cred as a Democrat.
This takes us back to the young woman and the flaming passion ignited over the Planned Parenthood fight. She is far from alone on this topic as an organization that honestly does primarily provide support for women’s health is under attack. It is just one more battle in an apparent “War on Women” that no amount of rhetoric can dismiss – it sure feels like a war to many women, particularly young ones who cannot believe that their generation has to keep fighting these old battles.
You may well ask why her opinion on this matters, but by asking you are already ahead of the Republicans who are clearly focused on their own problems and not how stupid this tactic really is.
That young woman is probably going to vote for a lot of Democrats anyways, we can all reason. Her opinion doesn’t really count, it seems, given that she is probably not a “swing voter” needed to carry the election. That analysis is utterly wrong when it comes to putting this kind of fire under people because this much heat is the forge of radicalization. What this issue does on the left is turn ordinary voters into tireless campaign workers who give hours of their time turning votes one by one and donating every spare nickel they have to the cause.
Keep this stuff up over a period of months and you do nothing but radicalize more and more women (and men) like her. And it’s turnout that wins elections for Democrats.
This is exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now as it slouches through the nominating cycle. For those who don’t already “Feel the Bern” it’s hard to get excited about yet another Clinton and a rather boring centrist (lack of) agenda. Reminding everyone how critical it is to first and foremost win this election not only brings a much needed passion to the Democrats as it makes the case for solid unity, which is to say a good case for Sec. Clinton.
When we have a showdown over the deficit ceiling and the potential for a government shutdown we’ll have a different issue that can also highlight the Democrats’ position – that the deficit is down dramatically largely because while Obama has been President there has indeed been decent, if not stellar growth. A shutdown will look especially childish this year and cause even more harm to the Republican Party than in the past.
Through it all, it’s the Republicans who are doing the best job of taking the advice of Saul Alinsky – “Pick the target, freeze it, personify it, polarize it.” This time around it’s Planned Parenthood and that name does indeed excite their base while polarizing the electorate. It also charges up the opposition who are set for a long, nasty fight. Is the next issue immigration? That’s a sure loser for Republicans, too. Marriage equity? Another loser. How about Christian expression in public life? Wrong!
But we can expect a lot more of this as Republicans do what they think they need to for party unity. It will probably define this long election season even more than it has in the past. In the process, however, it’s probably only we Democrats who will benefit as the case for our own party unity is made much more clear and our focus sharpened. The stakes will be very, very obvious and a lot of people will be utterly on fire.
It’s not the kind of heat you expect this season and it’s certainly going to be hard to maintain a real fire for more than a year. But that fire will probably be consistently and carefully stoked, getting hotter all the time. It’s a good year to be a Democrat, even when the establishment of the party is as much the Not-Republicans as anything else.