A woman’s right to choose a losing candidate?

Daily Kos calls NARAL's endorsement of a pro-choice candidate with weak chances "a waste of donor money"

Topics: Abortion, Broadsheet, 2009 Elections,

Here are two things I’ve never done, and almost certainly never will do: Have an abortion and vote for a third-party candidate. In the first case, it’s mostly because I’ve been lucky enough to avoid getting pregnant; in the second, it’s actually about a personal principle. I’m not the type of person to vote for the candidate who best represents my beliefs but stands little to no chance of winning, when there’s a candidate who sorta represents my beliefs and does stand a chance. On that point, I think it’s safe to say that liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and I see eye to eye.

However, here are two things I believe in fervently and will defend strenuously: Reproductive freedom and the right of all citizens to vote however they damn well please without being bullied and shamed by those who disagree. (Yes, even the ones who voted for Nader in 2000.) Kos does not appear to be quite as passionate about either of those things. He’s currently going after NARAL Pro-Choice New York for supporting a moderate Republican with a 100 percent pro-choice track record in New York’s 23rd congressional district special election next week, instead of a moderate Democrat who’s weaker on choice. Why would anyone be surprised or angry about a pro-choice organization (it’s right there in the name!) supporting the more pro-choice candidate? Well, there’s another candidate, “conservative party teabagger Doug Hoffman,” in the mix, and the race is now thought to be strictly between him and Democrat Bill Owens, with Republican Dede Scozzafava poised only to siphon off in-between votes from both sides. The fear is that she’ll get too many votes that might otherwise have gone to Owen, and the scary wingnut will win. Hence the probably deeply felt, yet completely disingenuous headline, “NY-23: NARAL Working for Right-Wing Victory.”

“I don’t want Hoffman in office! Good lord, no!” Mary Alice Carr, NARAL New York’s vice president of communications, told me on the phone this afternoon. She says she finds it “hilarious” (in a lolsobby kind of way) that bloggers on Daily Kos, including the man himself, are going after them for supporting a candidate who actually holds some progressive values (Scozzafava has also voted twice in favor of gay marriage), as opposed to a Democrat who’s more conservative. How conservative? Well, here’s how one liberal blogger described Bill Owens in a recent post:

The “Democrat” isn’t even a Democrat — he was a registered independent when selected by the district’s Democratic county chairs for the special election. On social issues, he’s pro-choice, but opposes gay marriage. On health care, he opposes a public option but doesn’t have the balls to say so, so he talks all squishy like claiming he has no “litmus test” on the issue. He’s a Lieberdem Blue Dog, and would strengthen the part of the Democratic caucus that is actually the problem, rather than the solution.

After further considering the differences between the candidates, that blogger concluded, “So it’s official, I’m rooting for the Republican to win.”

And that blogger was Markos Moulitsas.

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After being called out on that, Kos said in a follow-up post, “I clearly have no love for Scozzafava in that post, so only an idiot would construe that as an ‘endorsement.’ An endorsement implies love for the candidate being endorsed.” Oh, OK. So that means you must not now be endorsing Bill Owens, per se, seeing as you also have no love for him, right? You’re not endorsing anybody. You just believe NARAL is obligated to abandon their candidate (now that she’s no longer leading) and officially endorse one who is not as pro-choice, because otherwise it’s a “nice waste of donor money”?

Actually, as it turns out, NARAL donors are generally interested in supporting the most pro-choice candidates, not just getting behind anyone with a D after his name who might win. (Go figure!) Says Carr, “This is when our donors give us more, because we stand for something, we have a principle. If they want to give to the Democrats, they can give to the Democrats.” And many of them do as well, of course. “We’re not idiots,” she adds. “We get it. The vast majority of our candidates are Democrats. But there comes a time when the Republican is better.” Furthermore, voters she talks to are grateful to be informed that, party platforms aside, voting for the Democrat in this case is not voting for the best candidate on choice. “What we do is so important, because the assumption is that the Democrat is the default pro-choice candidate, and when that’s not the case, it’s our duty to call it out. That’s why we exist. We’re a watchdog. That’s our job.”

The bottom line, she says, is that NARAL is “not an arm of the Democratic party.” Scozzafava “has a record of standing up for these issues, so she’s going to get our support.” And one reason the Republican has earned that support is because she’s never bowed to pressure to abandon the progressive causes she believes in, even when it would have been politically expedient. Similarly, NARAL New York has no intention of switching its endorsement. “Now more then ever, when she’s being attacked for this position, yeah, we’re going to be there to stand up for her,” says Carr. “Kudos to her for not flipping on an issue just because it got tough — for saying this is who I am, this is who I’ve always been.”

“We have a Democratic majority in congress, but we do not have a pro-choice majority,” Carr points out. “The party platform doesn’t matter, because they’ll still give us anti-choice Democrats. We’ve got to get back to standing for something, or what are we doing here?”

That’s what’s really at the heart of this dust-up: Whether it’s more important to stand for something and lose or compromise and win — when “winning” means installing someone who “would strengthen the part of the Democratic caucus that is actually the problem, rather than the solution.” Kos casts the former choice as political naivete and self-sabotage. But you know who was really successful with that strategy, albeit gradually? The Christian right who, by refusing to vote for Republicans who didn’t take the hardest possible anti-choice line, moved this country so fucking far to the right on reproductive freedom, pro-choice groups are now wasting half their time fighting off every-sperm-is-sacred definitions of “personhood,” instead of actually being able to improve women’s access to reproductive health services. 

The commentariat at Kos is offering up a bunch of predictable disdain for single-issue voting, but single-issue voting on moral values is a big part of why things are the way they are now, why so many of our Democrats are barely recognizable as liberals, let alone progressives, and so many of the conservatives holding office are downright batshit — conservatives kept voting their values while we kept compromising ours.

Besides which, reproductive freedom is much more than a single, limited issue. Remember how I said I’ve never had an abortion and have no reason to expect I’ll ever need one (barring a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy)? My point there was not to separate myself from those who have or will, but to establish that whether abortion is available to me is only a very small concern. Many people in the same position conclude that based on that alone, it’s an issue that can be back-burnered with no important consequences. But whether abortion is available to women in general is a major concern for me, precisely because it’s about the definition of personhood — i.e., whether a woman, not a fetus or zygote or ovum or sperm, counts as a full human being in this country. Whether a woman has a right to control her own body and her own future. How the hell is that not a core progressive issue — especially when many “pro-lifers” are not just opposed to abortion but contraception, the very thing that’s saved me and millions of couples from ever having to consider an abortion? When we elect Democrats who are wishy-washy on choice, we end up with few left in congress who will stand up for the personhood of women, no matter the political cost. And meanwhile, the right continues to chip away at women’s access to legal medical services that can preserve a host of other personal freedoms, ever more successfully.

Like I said, I’ve never voted for a potential spoiler candidate myself. I can respect a pragmatic decision to vote against a candidate you abhor rather than for the one who best represents your own values (even if that’s not saying much); I’ve made that choice more than once. But I cannot respect bullying people who make the choice to vote their principles, regardless of the outcome. Hell, maybe if progressives had banded together a while back and sent a message to Democrats that we won’t support candidates who are anti-choice or weak on choice, period, even if it means we get a government we can’t stand for a while (especially when we were going to get that anyway), we would now have a congress that has both a Democratic and a pro-choice majority. Who knows? What I do know is, I am sure not going to condemn anyone who fights for progressive beliefs and progressive candidates, even when those candidates are freakin’ Republicans. And even when they’re probably going to lose. As Carr put it, “If Scozzafava goes down, at least she goes down standing for something. And we stand with people who stand with us.”

 

Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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