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And then there were none

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... now that [healthcare reform is] the law, they're using it to limit coverage by private insurers.

An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.

... Before the overhaul became law, five states had limits on private insurance coverage of abortion -- Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Abortion rights supporters are concerned that the list is growing as a result of the new federal law.

Associated Press 05/16/10

Great bait-and-switch #1 of the past year was the healthcare reform debacle. Public option, public option, yay! Yes, the Stupak/Nelson abortion restrictions were bad, but a public option bill was so important that it was worth Stupak/Nelson. Oh whoops, no public option? Bummer, but what’s a poor liberal to do?

Great bait and switch #2. Feminists lined up behind the bill anyway. Stupak/Nelson were odious, to be sure, but all they did was inject the Hyde Amendment which was already federal law (and no longer required regular renewal). No real harm here? Oh whoops again.

Enter Connie Saltonstall

She boldly challenged Bart Stupak for his District 1 House seat, running on a strong pro-choice platform. She immediately became the feminist hero, racking up quick support from NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, ActBlue (the online clearinghouse for Democratic action) and groups across the feminist spectrum. She didn’t have much, if anything, to say about jobs, Afghanistan. But it still took guts, and it was widely welcomed. Progressives who had been shamed during the healthcare debacle could now redeem their pro-choice credentials by supporting her against this year’s rotating villain Bart Stupak.

For as Glenn Greenwald wrote:

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation. They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.

And Stupak was perfect, almost down to the evil cackle, black cape and twirling mustache.

Exit Bart Stupak

Then Stupak dropped out of the race. Ding dong, etc. But with the wicked Stupak out of the game, who the hell needed Connie Saltonstall? Certainly not the Democratic Party. What the Democratic Party needed was another Bart Stupak re-packaged.

Enter Gary McDowell ...

... who claimed, “I spoke to my family and many people in the district and I've come to the conclusion that I'd be the best candidate to run for the district and represent the state," As NARAL explained, Right-to-Lifer McDowell had “voted to ban a safe abortion method, without exceptions—even in the cases of rape, incest, or to protect the woman's health.”

Exit Connie Saltonstall

The Democratic Party decreed that McDowell was the more electable candidate, although NARAL stated, “That premise is false. Just ask President Obama, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin—all of whom have defeated anti-choice opponents in this district.”

I regretfully announce that I am withdrawing from the Democratic primary for U.S. Representative in Michigan’s First Congressional District.

I am forced to do this because it has become apparent to my campaign that the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party has preemptively anointed Gary McDowell as their Democratic candidate. They are replacing Bart Stupak with another Upper Peninsula, Anti-Choice, Anti- Women’s healthcare rights candidate. From past experience I realize that with the Michigan Democratic Party actively opposing me, I will not be able to raise the money necessary to conduct a winning campaign.

With Saltonstall dropping out on May 10, and the Michigan primary deadline being May 11, there was no chance for another pro-choice candidate to step into the race.

Debacle follows debacle. We could frame this as the tragic story of one unfortunate feminist. But the essence of tragedy before it was redefined as a “real bummer, man” is that the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw or moral weakness. In Saltonstall’s case, as she puts it, “I will not be able to raise the money necessary to conduct a winning campaign.” From that, all else flows. For her own demise. For feminism’s impotence. For the paralysis and degradation of American progressivism.

In other words, once the premise of electability is accepted -- along with the accompanying need to raise money, have party credentials and collect organizational endorsements -- the boundaries of progressivism become totally constrained.

Story retold

In terms of the system, here’s how it worked. The Democrats were in some hot water with feminists over the healthcare bill. They blamed Stupak and Nelson, the individuals. Saltonstall went after Stupak to great applause, showing that the Democratic Party really did care about women and abortion rights. Stupak dropped out. Now Saltonstall was no longer needed, and Saltonstall was kicked aside for a party regular who would guarantee that Michigan 1 would continue to be anti-choice. Feminist groups vent their displeasure. But the party’s accountant has now decided that feminist displeasure is just another cost of doing business, the feminists know this, and we all eagerly await the next debacle.

Exeunt

At the risk of being unkind, I have to ask two questions. Since Saltonstall said, “I cannot support a party that endorses candidates who vote to restrict women’s legal rights and access to healthcare,” and “I will continue my leadership role concerning these issues,” why did she let money be the deciding factor in dropping out? Why did she accept the rules of a party she “cannot support.”

Secondly, what happened with the pro-choice feminist movement, which issued not a word of criticism of her for quitting? NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW are supposedly strong national organizations. Were they truly unable to raise enough cash for a credible campaign? Or were they content to express words of regret while masking a reluctance to challenge the party that Saltonstall cannot support?

The fact is that Saltonstall was USED first to make phony amends for the healthcare bill’s anti-choice restrictions and then to PREVENT there being a serious pro-choice challenge in the district, regardless of the fact that they are “all honorable men.” I certainly don’t think this was Saltonstall’s intention, nor the intention of her supporters. But I firmly believe the party leadership capable of such cynicism. Was it just the Michigan party that did her in? McDowell and Pelosi both have telephones last I looked.

Full Court Press revisited

Let me be clear. The Full Court Press is more of an idea, a potential rallying point, than an organization with muscle or money. It will be tested come 2011, when progressives have time to digest their losses of 2010, and 2012 looms on the far horizon. I have no idea whether or to what extent it will succeed or fail. The pull of running to win is incredibly strong, the lack of a coherent progressive vision is horrendous. But lets give the idea another look.

FCP has two main premises. First, the problem is the Democratic Party as a whole, not individual Democrats. We have again seen the Democratic Party in action, as a collective entity, and however much we like folks like Sanders and Grayson and Kucinich, as a party it is a cesspool of corruption, from the Blue Dogs who directly assaulted abortion rights to the Surrender Monkeys who allowed that assault to succeed.

Secondly, we think running to win is a trap AT THIS MOMENT. We saw this play out in Michigan 1 and further elaboration should not be necessary.

So if the Full Court Press had an organized force in Michigan 1 (which it doesn’t, if inquiring minds want to know), the approach would have been to advance a candidate who supported the 5 points, including WPA-style jobs program, pro-choice, and U.S. out of Afghanistan. Due to the particularity of the district, abortion rights would have been the front-and-center issue, but the others would not have been stuffed in the closet.

This would have likely have led to disagreements with the Saltonstall camp. Why aren’t we supporting someone with a chance to win? We’d have countered that we don’t trust her to oppose the U.S. escalation in Afghanistan or repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and pressured her to take stands on those issues as well.

When she quit, there would still have been a strongly pro-choice candidate in the race. She would have then been in a position to pressure NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, etc. to throw their support to her, since she was the only primary candidate who was pro-choice. That could have been taken national, either gaining feminist support or exposing their hypocrisy.

Progressivism would be in better shape in Michigan 1 if a handful of Dems had taken the Full Court Press tactic as their guide.

The Great Grand Duke of York ...

... he had 10,000 men.
First he marched them up the hill, then marched them down again.

Both the healthcare debacle and the Saltonstall debacle can be analyzed in terms of money and connections and political maneuvering. But there is also a psychological component that can’t be ignored. Progressives like to mock military drill, in part because it is boring, looks stupid, and tends to attract people who are boring and stupid. But it is actually extremely valuable -- in fact, necessary.

Why do some armies hold their ground and others break and run? The army that holds its ground does so because each soldier in the line has a reasonable expectation that the comrade next to him or her will hold his or her ground. An army breaks and runs when soldiers begin to fear that their comrades to the right and left of them are going to bolt, at which point to stay in line is suicide. And when a few actually do run, an army can dissolve in minutes. The collective body is transformed into a collection of individuals. Ironically, no matter how badly a unit is pounded, the most casualties are inflicted AFTER they break and run, not before.

The purpose of mind-numbing drill is to imbue the troops with that collective mind-frame.

This collective mind-frame is what progressives are seriously lacking. We saw it in the House during the healthcare debacle, with Kucinich finally standing alone on the burning deck until he too folded, abandoned by all others. Even the best progressives cut their deals because they have no expectation that anyone else will hold their ground.

Commitment to principle is considered a matter of personal idealism. Personal. People with principle are labeled fanatics. True believers. But in fact, principle is the bond that makes political collectivity possible. Principle is a cold, hard tool that makes it possible to fight and win. Principle is for winners, not losers. But it takes being willing to lose to work, and without that progressivism is in sad, sad shape.

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