Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
So the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is getting real, as was apparent in Sunday’s night’s Democratic Presidential debate on NBC (which got a respectable 10 million viewers, by the way), in which the two front-runners argued vociferously over their different approaches to health care, banks, gun control, and foreign policy. The disparity between Clinton and Sanders is generally characterized as one of her pragmatism vs his idealism and there are about a thousand think pieces you can find that analyze it. Here it is, as succinctly stated by Jeet Heer:
Sanders is promoting an “ethics of moral conviction” by calling for a “political revolution” seeking to overthrow the deeply corrupting influence of big money on politics by bringing into the system a counterforce of those previously alienated, including the poor and the young. Clinton embodies the “ethics of responsibility” by arguing that her presidency won’t be about remaking the world but trying to preserve and build on the achievements of previous Democrats, including Obama.
That’s what it boils down to and I have good friends and people I respect and admire on both sides of it. I’m personally going with Hillary, but more on that later, as I throw the following bucket of ice water on the high hopes of supporters both camps: Essentially, any Democrat who is elected President in 2016 (and I hope one is) will probably not be passing any type of major health care legislation, or breaking up the big banks, or making college free or significantly more affordable, not with Paul Ryan’s Congress. There is a glimmer of a possibility of retaking the Senate but I wouldn’t count on it, barring some colossal GOP fuck-up in the coming year. Dems may pick up a few House seats, due simply to increased voter turnout in the Presidential year, but don’t count on coattails from the top of the ticket, regardless of whose name is on it. Democratic voters are notoriously terrible about voting all the way down the ballot and states not named things like “Ohio”, “Florida”, or “Virginia” won’t even rate a Presidential candidate visit.
So the Democratic President most of us hope will be elected will be charged mainly with vetoing bad Republican bills, keeping the country from engaging in blatantly stupid military conflagrations, and nominating as many as four Supreme Court Justices. That’s pretty much it, and I think it’s momentous enough to get that Democratic nominee, whomever it is, elected in November.
That said, I am thrilled about a stand that Hillary Clinton has taken recently on reproductive rights. As many of y’all know, low income women have been barred from using Medicaid or other federal programs (such as military health care) to cover abortion services since 1976 under the Hyde Amendment. Hyde was the first of many successful anti-choice measures that restricted abortion without technically banning it. It was named for a Republican Congressman from Illinois who openly admitted that he loathed abortion being available to any woman:
“I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.”
In other words, poor women had to take one for the forced-birth team. And they’ve been taking it every year since 1976 because Hyde is a rider attached to regular annual budget appropriations and to whatever else Republicans (or in some cases anti-choice Democrats) want. This shitty amendment has wreaked havoc on the lives of some of our most vulnerable people and their families. Over the years, pro-choice groups and sympathetic members of Congress have attempted to repeal Hyde but, for the most part, it has enjoyed easy passage year after year because even most Democrats have been persuaded that there is something wrong with public insurance covering abortion. (Reinstating Hyde was made a condition of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, with pro-choice activists scolded to stop being such whiny purists. I remember it well!)
But in the past year or so, mainly out of you-have-really-worked-my-last-nerve outrage at right wing attacks on reproductive health, and in particular at the disgusting smear campaign against Planned Parenthood provoked by charlatans with video cameras, the pro-choice movement is increasingly unabashed in its calls to end Hyde. And it has gained a very prominent and important ally in that cause, as Rebecca Traister explains:
The lack of interest in the topic of reproductive justice is particularly galling, since this primary season — which has included talk of political revolution coming mostly from Sanders — has lately also featured some revolutionary language coming from Clinton, not a candidate usually known for being on the radical edge of debate.
But as too few people seemed to have noticed, Hillary Clinton has spent the past ten days campaigning vocally and without apology against the Hyde Amendment. Hyde, a legislative rider first passed in 1976 and added to appropriations bills every year since, prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, which means that the low-income women, many of them women of color, who rely on Medicaid for health insurance cannot use their insurance to terminate their pregnancies except in cases of rape, incest, or their life being in danger.
It is a discriminatory law that perpetuates both economic and racial inequality. And the notion of repealing it has remained a third rail in American politics until about five minutes ago … or, more precisely, until this summer, when California representative Barbara Lee introduced the EACH Woman Act, which would effectively repeal Hyde. So far, the bill has 109 co-sponsors but a vanishingly small chance of going anywhere.
Which is what makes it so notable that Hillary Clinton — who, despite a strong record of supporting reproductive rights, has not always spoken about them with righteous vigor (her 2005 discussion of abortion as a “sad, tragic choice for many” enraged many activists) — has decided to publicly do battle against Hyde. Even more important, she is explaining her stance in terms that offer a crucial and long-awaited corrective to the course of the abortion debate in America.
This is huge and Traister is right to be irked that reproductive rights were not raised at the recent Democratic debate (while moderator Andrea Mitchell did feel it was appropriate to ask Bernie Sanders how he felt about Bill Clinton’s penis wanderings twenty five years ago while Hillary was standing right fucking next to him). When I and others brought up the absence of a single question on reproductive rights, we were brushed off with standard rebuttals we’ve grown to expect in these situations – All the Democratic candidates are pro-choice so why ask about it? It was settled by Roe v Wade in 1973! – along with some new ones – Campaign finance reform will solve this problem! Passing single payer is the answer!
For a pro-choicer such as myself, the insistence of many on my side to treat abortion and contraception access as a secondary ladies auxiliary issue, and even worse as a bargaining chip to achieve other progressive priorities (such as the ACA) or something to be jettisoned in favor of the “big tent” (dear God, what about the pro-life Democrats??), is a matter of endless frustration. It also stuns me how blasé many of my liberal counterparts are about it when it is so obviously such a top-tier issue for the GOP, not only in the sense of motivating their voters but also always at the top of their legislative agenda. A Republican President will make antipathy toward abortion rights and contraception a litmus test for judges, including those appointed to the Supreme Court. And those judges will also be against labor rights, voting rights, environmental protections, public education, and banking and campaign finance regulations. Just so you know.
And if you like Bernie Sanders because of his single payer health care plan, then consider the irony how years of conservative attacks on reproductive rights and accommodations to their tender sensibilities on abortion and contraception have actually undermined the cause of single payer, by making it difficult to extract health care from the whims of religious health care providers, other parties claiming “religious conscience objections”, and government agents acting as protectors of taxpayers (Hyde Amendment). Having pro-choice interests take a backseat to others wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Naturally, I don’t expect a President Clinton to be able to get a repeal of the Hyde Amendment passed, for reasons I’ve already stated about the extent of what her powers would be. But I’m deeply grateful to Hillary for making this statement and I submit it’s every bit as important as the conversation Bernie Sanders has re-opened about single payer health care. I’m with her.