Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Captured Constituencies

In January of 1973, the US Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States. That decision by the Court radicalized conservative religious groups in the United States and served as a focal point for political action by those groups. It is ironic that many of the so-called “fundamentalists” were originally organized in the nineteenth century as a reaction to the “Social Gospel Movement” in American Protestantism.

The Social Gospel Movement sought to translate the teachings of Jesus into public policy. In the nineteenth century, that meant abolishing slavery. Ultimately, the abolitionist movement swept Abraham Lincoln into the White House and ended with the Civil War. In the US, it meant that Protestant churches were divided along social/political lines, for example the Northern Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Church, etc. As a reaction to these acrimonious divisions, there was a sentiment among many American Protestants to return to the basics, essentially, to focus on the Bible and leave politics at the threshold of the church.

Roe v. Wade changed all of that. A political science professor I had as an undergraduate explained in a lecture that whenever the Supreme Court rules significantly “ahead” of the population on a social issue, there is a social backlash. In the case of Roe v. Wade, that backlash came in a galvanization of Protestant Fundamentalists and later, an increasing number of Catholics. Why later? Because in 1973 the Catholic Church was in the middle of its own internal reorganization and redefinition with Vatican II Catholic, leadership was “off balance” and the laity was disoriented. That began to change with the election of John Paul II and his call to a “Culture War.”

Roe v. Wade provided a focal point for religious conservatives in American society. The abolishment of legalized abortion became the crusade that united the religious right across denominational divides and granted them a common cause, a crusade.

At that time, Watergate was ravaging the Republican Party. The Elections of 1976 swept Jimmy Carter into the White House and the Democrats into Congress. In order to abolish abortion, the radical right knew they needed to regain the White House. The economic crisis and Carter’s embarrassment with a failed rescue attempt of embassy personnel in Iran provided that opportunity. Regan was elected in 1980 and he’d help end legalized abortion.

Regan did not do that, but he was a “good guy” in the eyes of the religious right and he did manage to pack the Supreme Court. That is how Roe v. Wade would be reversed, through the Court. That did not happen. If only the Republicans controlled Congress, then Roe v. Wade could be legislated away! Therefore, countless right to lifers staffed phone banks, wrote checks, became volunteers and voted Republican. Even though, for most of them, it was not in their economic self-interest to do so. Newt Gingrich and company were elected into office, the Republican Party controlled Congress. Gingrich published his “Contract with America.”

Consider what would have happened if the Republicans had actually delivered on their promises to the Religious Right. The Crusade against Roe v. Wade would have ended and with it would have ended the motivation for all those folks to volunteer for, donate to and vote for the Republican Party. As an aside, consider what would happen to the income and political influence of all the leadership of the religious right (if Roe v. Wade had been abolished) and some of our own LGBTQ organizations (if we obtained full equality).

Somehow, in all of these decades the Republican Party never managed to deliver and reverse Roe v. Wade. Why should they? After all those, “Right to Lifers” became an engine in the Republican political machine. They volunteered for political campaigns, they donated funds, and they voted Republican (even when Republican policies were contrary to their economic interests). Republican candidates courted the Religious Right with anti-abortion rhetoric and promises of ending abortion, but somehow they never delivered on those promises. There were plenty of enemies to blame, the Democrats, the Media, Hollywood, etc.

What the “Right to Lifers” are to the Republican Party, the LGBTQ folks are to the Democratic Party. Like them, we are a “Captured Constituency.” A line from the movie “Body Snatchers” comes to mind: “This is important, where are you going to run?” Right to Lifers know that the Republican Party is the only game in town, just as LGBTQ folks know that the Democratic Party is the only game in town. The RNC and the DNC also know this and so, they can continue to spout of all sorts of rhetoric that creates the illusion that they really will change things. However, they never quite manage that change, because if they did they would lose all those radicalized supporters.

We need to hold individual incumbents accountable for their actual voting record on our issues. Simply because “(D)” appears behind their name should not automatically translate into donations, volunteering our talents/time, or our vote. If an incumbent votes against equality legislation, or blocks that legislation from being voted on, we should reciprocate. When we do so, we should write a letter to that incumbent and to the DNC explaining what we did and clearly stating our motives. We should carefully monitor other incumbents and the Party’s actions (not merely their rhetoric).

At this point, some will be horrified and say, that will help our enemies! The fact is the greatest enemies are not found in the other side’s camp, they are those in your own camp who betray you. Only after we weed out those who betray us, can we have any real hope of winning. Only then, will those in leadership and strategic positions in the DNC take our issues seriously.


Dan said...

Reminds me of a boss I used to have who put a person in charge of "communication" (newsletters, pamphlets, and such) who could neither punctuate, or spell.

When I asked him privately why he had done this, he indicated that it was because giving the employees someone completely incompetent to focus their attention towards, freed him up to accomplish an agenda that was NOT in the employees best interests!

headbang8 said...

Is a false friend worse than a declared enemy? In many ways, yes.

"Captured" is an apt word. The heartland fundies, and their adulation of conservative heroes who act against their interests, makes for more than a constituency with nowhere else to turn. It's classic Stockholm Syndrome, i.e. identifying with your captors and oppressors.

I suspect that LGBTQs in the USA are captive, but not locked up. With some prominent exceptions, few donate to the Democrats in the belief that they wholeheartedly commit to our cause.

When the Republicans bemoan the realpolitik that frsutrates their goals, it angers and energises the base. When the Democrats do the same, their base gets skeptical.

The worst part about it, is that the Democrat establishment (and no doubt the recent tirade of Robert Gibbs was on your mind as you wrote this post, Geoff) actually likes playing realpolitik. It convinces them that they're big, grown-up, responsible, realistic professional politicians.

Alas, politics has more at stake than career arcs. It involves issues of right and wrong--and to argue that it's impossible, unrealistic to correct wrongs, or childish even to want it, sends shivers up my spine.

Their blite assumption that politics as usual cannot be changed, is the true banality of evil.

Frankly, I would rather be stabbed in the front than in the back. A stab from the front is easier to fight.

FDeF said...

Interesting post and comments. Many of us who were on the front lines during the AIDS epidemic in the 80's saw the same thing on a different stage: When dollars finally became available for AIDS, it became an industry and a career for many who would fight for their slice of the pie to keep their jobs as Executive Directors, Health Department gurus and the like. It became less about the cause and more about personal advancement. And I used to have such a rosy view of politicians who made promises!

Michael Dodd said...

I am one of many people who have let the Democratic Party know that I am no longer donating part of my income to the national or even state Party until we see substantial progress on true equality. I do intend to donate to candidates at the local, state and national level who speak up AND VOTE for full equality for our community.

I am fortunate that my state assembly member, my representative in the House and one of my senators fall into this category. As for my president, he has lost me.

When folks tell me to be patient, to give him a chance, that he has done more for me than any other president, I assure them that I intend to be a "fierce advocate" for him in 2012 -- in exactly the manner in which he has been a fierce advocate for my equality. His administration's response to the opportunity presented them by the recent decision on Proposition 8 was offensive to me. Until I hear a "We have re-examined the issue and realize we were wrong", I will not vote for his re-election.

Ahab said...

Even if Republicans do not repeal Roe v. Wade, they still need to look like they're doing something, lest the anti-abortion voters get figety. Thus, we're seeing Republicans restricting funding and access to abortion, which pacifies the anti-abortion crowd. Even if the right-wingers won't actually attack Roe v. Wade, they'll still find plenty of dangerous ways to restrict reproductive freedom -- and that's why we need to stay on our toes.

topographic39 said...

What a timely article!
The same day you posted this, I received a (mass) email from the President. He would like me to go to a website and commit to voting this fall. It seems, according to the email, that if you make the commitment, you are more likely to follow through with action.
Now, I have voted in every General and Mid-Term election since I reached voting age. I feel that it is my duty, it is how I was raised. But I truly bristled at this email. Didn't we get a commitment to ending the war? Closing Guantanamo? What about DADT and DOMA?
Just sayin'.....

zenegra said...

great blog.Nice post.Thank you for sharing this article.very interesting.