Have You Never Been Mello? On Bernie and Abortion in Omaha

I think Sanders’ defense on NPR of supporting candidates who are anti-abortion is completely wrongheaded. The bottom line commitment of the left is to freedom, to emancipation from all manner of domination, and reproductive freedom is a critical part of that program of emancipation. I simply don’t see how the state or a parent or a husband or a boyfriend or anyone can force a woman to carry a fetus to term and bear a child against her will. I don’t think the left should compromise on that. At all.

(Though the left makes all manner of ugly compromises all the time, so it would be a big mistake to cast this entire discussion as strictly about political morality. Like many leftists, I supported Sanders despite his backing, in word and deed, of the State of Israel, which is a comprehensive regime of systemic human domination and degradation. Liberals who think abortion is non-negotiable don’t think support for illegal or immoral wars is non-negotiable, and wars can also be the instruments of domination and degradation, particularly of women. This business of lines in the sand gets tricky.)

I also think Sanders’ statement may have been completely unnecessary, since according to this article, Mello’s position on abortion seems to have “changed” in a more progressive direction. The potential gratuitousness of Sanders’ statement calls to mind that cliché about it being worse than a crime, it was a blunder.

What I find a little hard to swallow is the liberal freakout on Twitter over Sanders’ decision to endorse Mello. Mello’s position, as described here, is virtually identical to Tim Kaine’s position. Like Kaine, Mello has taken bad positions on abortion in the past. (Before he went to the Senate, Kaine voted for parental notification laws and bans on late-term abortions and funding for centers that tried to dissuade women from having abortions. And don’t forget: immediately after Clinton chose Kaine as her VP candidate, he came out—explicitly in defiance of Clinton’s position—in favor of the Hyde Amendment.) Like Kaine, Mello has “evolved,” claiming that his position now is that while he personally opposes abortion, he would never translate that view into policy. And according to a seemingly credible Twitter thread I read (I know, I’m laughing at that oxymoron myself), Mello had an abortion rights advocate speaking powerfully in favor of reproductive rights on stage with him during his campaign.

A lot of liberals were either silent on Kaine’s positions on abortion or drafted extended apologetics about his “evolution” on abortion or claimed that basically his position didn’t matter because even if he eventually became President, the Democratic Party as a whole was pro-choice. Regardless of how they got there, these folks wound up enthusiastically supporting Kaine for VP. (Just go back and read NARAL’s or Cecile Richards’ statements on the selection of Kaine or the reports in Vox and the Center for American Progress on Kaine.) Yet now liberals are going after Sanders because he endorses a candidate for mayor of Omaha—mayor of Omaha; as opposed to that trifling position of Vice President of the United States—whose “evolution” is similar, if not identical? It’s hard not to think that this is about something other than abortion.


  1. Rich Puchalsky April 22, 2017 at 9:47 am | #

    This is a consistency argument: that Sanders’ apologia was bad, but no worse than the general apologia for Kaine. If you’re interested in consistency, though, there’s another way to treat this: stop supporting any variety of center-left apologia and become an anarchist.

  2. Barbara Winslow April 22, 2017 at 10:25 am | #

    What bothers me, is that women’s issues are always asked to be put aside for the so-called ‘greater good.’ I do not consider someone who opposes and enacts legislation, i.e. calling upon the patriarchal and racist state, to control women’s sexuality and fertility ‘progressive.’ Joe Biden opposes abortion, personally. But he doesn’t call upon the state to punish women, and he never has to make the decision about termination of a personal pregnancy. I particularly like Rebeccah Traister’s recent piece; and Katha Pollitt has been critical of those people, including YES! Hillary Clinton, for publicly talking about how sad abortion is, even tho’s she had a 100% pro choice voting record. Now I know this is a long piece apologies. I would not say/write being mayor is trifling. A gazillion years ago I asked my mother why she always said “I wouldn’t vote for her/him for dogcatcher. When I asked her about this, she replied, you start running for dog catcher, then mayor, then state senate then US Congress. Does anyone think, um perhaps in order to win in red districts Democrats should, let’s see, acquiesce on our opposition to voter suppression? racial discrimination? support for the environment?

    • jonnybutter April 22, 2017 at 4:34 pm | #

      Joe Biden opposes abortion, personally. But he doesn’t call upon the state to punish women, and he never has to make the decision about termination of a personal

      Isn’t that exactly Mello’s (and Kaine’s) position?

      I agree with Corey that this was a mistake for Sanders. But I have been just so dispirited by some of the HRC dead ender’s responses. Not necessarily you BW, but others, who imply that all issues are somehow equivalent – basically, “if there’s flexibility on abortion, why not on Sander’s pet issues, like Wall Street?’.

      Political corruption, like climate change, is a systemic issue, one from which the rest flow. Abortion anti-choice is a part of systemic subjugation of women, but isn’t itself exactly systemic, certainly not in the same way. That Sanders supported a candidate with acceptable mainstream Democrat views on abortion shouldn’t particularly outrage mainstream Dem women. *I* don’t like it, but…

    • Pat April 25, 2017 at 5:09 am | #

      More significant than Hillary “publicly talking about how sad abortion is, even tho’s she had a 100% pro choice voting record” is her decision to chose a pro-live VP.

      I appreciate what Corey says about lines in the sand. He is right that for some people abortion rights are a “line in the sand” but they are totally okay with warmongering. But there are very, very few in this category. 99% of the corporate Dems now saying Bernie “crossed a line” for endorsing Melo for mayor of Omaha were totally okay with Hillary choosing a pro-life VP for the entire country. Which is just to say that Corey’s example of “lines in the sand” is largely imaginary.

      As for me, I consider both women’s right to chose and being anti-war to be lines in the sand. I get that there may actually be a few people out there who actually treat the former as a line in the sand, but not the latter. But there aren’t many of them. What we see more of is NARAL and other faux-feminist organizations caring about women’s issues very selectively and instrumentally, in order to advance the aims of corporate Democrats (and not women).

      • Pat April 25, 2017 at 5:11 am | #

        p.s. As for those few who are consistently pro-choice, and not just instrumentally so, I salute them for their consistency. But if it comes at the price of a deeper inconsistency—war is also a feminist issue, after all, even if first-world privilege makes some feminists prioritize the right to chose over the right not to have one’s children bombed to smithereens—I do not. A feminism that is okay with war is not worthy of the name.

  3. xenon2 April 22, 2017 at 11:02 am | #

    NPR? what?
    I was very disappointed in the way Sanders turned out.

    Here’s a recent article in CounterPunch about Sanders

  4. Mel Gardner April 22, 2017 at 11:13 am | #

    As a man and as a father i resist the notion that when a couple mutually and willingly engage in coitus without adequate protection that a pregnancy is then solely the responsibility or choice of the woman. When my daughter was conceived she was my child as much as she was her mother’s, even before her birth. an abortion should be decided between the couple. If there is a disagreement, with the male wanting his child and the female not wanting to have her child, then let the father raise the child. When a woman doesn’t take adequate precautions to prevent conception in a mutual choice to have coitus she need recognize that a conception will be brought to term in her body unless they both agree to have an abortion. Of course if that was agreed to before coitus then she has every right to have her abortion. Coitus and its consequences are a mutual decision not just the woman’s, once she agrees to share her body and being with her partner.

    • RD April 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm | #

      Nice scenario.
      How about some other real world ones:
      1.One night stand(s). Daddy gone or unknown.
      2.Birth defects.
      3.Pregnancy discovered after relationship over.
      4.Gaming the system- Throw the bum out to get welfare, child support ,WIC,EBT,etc.Has 6 ,wants no more.
      6.Can’t support self,let alone a baby.
      7.Birth control fails.
      These are cases I’ve seem personally.
      I’m sure others can rattle off just as many or more.

    • Pacific Loon April 23, 2017 at 10:00 pm | #

      1. It is just as much the man’s responsibility to prevent pregnancy
      2. Forced pregnancy is a fundamental violation of bodily integrity, something that you seem to think is just fine to impose on women. Please give examples of where you might accept a similar violation of a man’s body.
      3. Pregnancy and childbirth can have serious health consequences, including death. Is there any other health question where the answer is to put the patient at higher risk against her/his will?
      4. Should men who fail to use contraception be subject to forced sterilization?

  5. troy grant April 22, 2017 at 11:30 am | #

    Abortion and gun control can be negotiated. End third trimester abortion, make birth control accessible to all and allow gun sales along with a mandatory gun safety course. No sense beating our heads against a wall. People will eventually get it.

    • Joeff April 23, 2017 at 12:31 am | #

      People won’t get it because they are invested in not getting it. The solutions you propose are sensible, yet somehow abortion gets reduced to abortion-on-demand and gun control gets reduced to confiscation. Why do you suppose that is?

      • Troy Grant April 23, 2017 at 12:42 am | #

        At the pace of change, it won’t take long.

        • Chris Morlock April 23, 2017 at 11:17 pm | #

          Exactly. I completely agree. The political football’s dejour designed to “shore up the wall” and get people really really angry about not much at all. Robin again toes the line in terms of left wing establishment politics at a time when he should be writing about the establishment Left’s wholesale approval of Trump’s insane military actions. Or how about writing about how Tom Perez, the DNC chairman, on his “unity tour” with Sanders is being booed while Sanders is still polling as the most popular politician in American politics. No, the minutiae of Sanders abortion stance is much more contemporary?

          I’d add Israel to the list of Left/Right footballs along with abortion and guns.

  6. Anthony Greco April 22, 2017 at 12:15 pm | #

    I generally agree with this post, but I do think you’re a bit too harsh on Sanders on the subject of Israel. In his speech to AIPAC last year (which he pointedly didn’t deliver in person, sending a transcript) Sanders went further in his criticism of Israel than any mainstream US politician has ever gone. No, not nearly as far as I would have liked, but I do give him some credit for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy.

  7. xenon2 April 22, 2017 at 1:08 pm | #

    @Anthony Greco I agree with you that Sanders’ not going to the AIPAC conference was the highlight of his campaign. But, don’t you think it also signaled his forfeiture of his candidacy to #hillary?

    • Anthony Greco April 25, 2017 at 12:11 am | #

      Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner–I hadn’t seen your reply. I really don’t know the answer to your question. My impression was/is that Sanders’AIPAC non-appearance and speech didn’t get much publicity, so I wouldn’t have thought it had much impact, but that’s just a guess.

  8. zenner41 April 22, 2017 at 3:09 pm | #

    “This is about something other than abortion.” You can say, or write, that again a few times. In fact, in politics, nearly everything is about something else as well as itself. Politics in the real world is immensely more complicated than most people seem to think.

    As for Bernie and his supporters as a political force, we would be very badly off without them. There are two groups who oppose this force: corporate Democrats and hair-on-fire radical lefties (or at least people who think they are hair-on-fire radicals). The former are really just what the Republicans used to be, and shouldn’t be given any more credence than those pernicious capitalists deserved. The latter are basically off in the corner screaming at themselves.

  9. Claire April 23, 2017 at 12:28 am | #

    Can you please specify what the “statement” is by Sanders that you find troubling. The NPR article you linked to does not contain an actual statement by Sanders saying he backs any “anti-abortion” candidate. (I doubt he views Mello as anti-abortion–because, as you point out, he’s actually not.)

  10. Joeff April 23, 2017 at 12:35 am | #

    Surprised you didn’t refer to your core insight in The Reactionary Mind–that social relations reflect domestic relations. Those who are ho-hum about deprecating women’s autonomy in society at large are comfortable doing the same at home.

  11. Chris Lowe April 24, 2017 at 9:16 pm | #

    I’m less interested in the liberal inconsistency and freakout than why Sanders would take a leaf from the Clinton-Kaine and Gore-Lieberman playbook.

    That’s not why I voted for him, not the role I want him to play in the DP or the country at large, and not consistent with the necessity for democratic socialism to be socialist feminism.

    It also sets up another round of the stupid and false opposition between class politics and civil rights struggles related to gender, sexuality and racial oppressions.

    • troy grant April 24, 2017 at 9:35 pm | #

      Abortion has been a non-starter. Instead, Bernie could adopt more popular issues like Universal Basic Income. Better yet, if Trump wants to run the country as a corporation, Bernie could seek to incorporate We the People, privatize OUR government and have equal, non-transferable shares of trillions in government assets issued to all citizens. This must be done before other corporations take over ownership of our government and its assets.

  12. b. January 31, 2018 at 6:52 pm | #

    Given the Pelosi/Perez backpedaling, it is also possible that Sanders simply anticipated their predicament and was attempting to not make the party’s job any more difficult by touting their – corrupt – party line.

    Premature loyalist moves ending in blowback – that would be consistent with some of his other choices.

Leave a Reply