Friday, June 24, 2022


I agree with those who see today's Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization as the culmination of a "long game" to nullify abortion rights. In the past I've seen it argued that Republicans were chumps -- they were voting to outlaw abortion, but they never got what they wanted. But they were persistent, and today they got their the payoff.

Meanwhile, Democrats made crucial misjudgments -- in particular, failing to turn out in sufficient numbers to elect a Democratic president and Senate in 2016, with many potential Democratic voters angrily insisting that control of the federal bench wasn't a good enough reason to vote for Hillary Clinton.

But I don't think Republicans won today because GOP rank-and-file voters are necessarily more strategic or more patient than Democrats. In general, Republicans simply get more small victories along the way, so they've been patient while waiting for Roe to be overturned.

Republicans are good at identifying and targeting enemies, especiallly enemies against whom they could score quick victories. Sometimes they're foreign enemies -- Grenada for Ronald Reagan, Panama and Iraq for George H.W. Bush, Mexico for Donald Trump. Republicans also target domestic foes -- Dan Rather, ACORN, and Shirley Sherrod, a decade or so ago, Critical Race Theory now. And every tax cut is defined as a victory against "tax-and-spend liberals." So they've played the long game on abortion, but along the way they've given their voters a lot of wins in other areas. (And on reproductive rights as well -- every piecemeal abortion restriction was a new win. So is every piecemeal expansion of gun rights.)

Democrats have failed to give their voters as many emotionally satisfying wins, small or large. Obamacare didn't seem like a win when it was passed after a great struggle; Democrats allowed Republicans to control the narrative around the law for years. The legalization of same-sex marriage was a win for liberalism, but a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice, Anthony Kennedy, seemed to get most of the credit.

And, of course, Democrats never mustered the votes to codify Roe in federal law.

One problem is that many of the wins Democratic voters want are economic -- more affordable healthcare, a higher minimum wage, a fairer tax code. Those are hard to achieve in a political system in which the rich have inordinate power. Stripping Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments just isn't satisfying to most Democratic voters.

We have a country in which neither party gives ordinary Americans what they want -- Republicans because they don't want to, Democrats because they're prevented from doing so by Republicans, and by plutocrat enablers in their own ranks.

But Republicans can give their voters victories over trumped-up enemies, and they do so regularly. That's why their voters had the patience to play the long game on abortion.

No comments: