One Bernie With One Stone

There really is something rotten about the discussion of abortion and the Democratic Party.

In a Washington Post oped, the leader of a reproductive rights coalition calls out Democrats who would sideline abortion rights in the effort to build a big tent.

Oddly, the author doesn’t cite or link to statements by Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking elected official in the Democratic Party, who, within the last several weeks, came out against making abortion a litmus test not once, but twice. Not does the author cite or link to the statement by Tom Perez, the official head of the Democratic Party, chosen by the members of the Democratic National Committee, who supported Mello for the sake of electing Democrats, even if they were not pro-choice. (Perez was later forced to retract that statement.)

The sole example of Democratic backtracking that the author does focus on is…Bernie Sanders, accusing him of “throwing abortion rights under the bus.” Sanders, as his social media critics never tire of reminding us, is not in fact a registered Democrat. But he’s the author’s main—no, sole—target.

For the rest of the oped, the author focuses on the need to overturn the Hyde Amendment—never once mentioning, not once, that the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2016—Hillary Clinton’s chosen candidate—came out against overturning the Hyde Amendment after Hillary Clinton had selected him as her running mate.

For the record, I have been staunchly critical of Sanders’s position on the role of abortion rights in the left’s campaign to become the electoral majority. Particularly since I believe reproductive freedom and access to abortion is critical to the issues of economic inequality that Sanders has been so passionate about. Overturning the Hyde Amendment, an effort that Sanders does support, is an important campaign, fusing issues of gender and class in ways the left needs to do. But it seems strange that Sanders would be the only politician identified by name in this piece as an example of Democratic Party waffling on abortion rights and reproductive justice.

The charitable interpretation is that the author would like to make abortion—and more important, the Hyde Amendment—a litmus test within the Democratic Party, that the author is simply trying to urge the party to remain firm on the issue, but is too timid or strategic to attack those official and elected party leaders who pose a threat to that position. It’s safer to displace that concern onto Sanders and behind Sanders, the Bernie Bros, because the neoliberal party establishment hates them anyway. So push for abortion rights by attacking critics of the party’s neoliberalism. Kill two birds with one stone.

That’s the charitable interpretation.

The uncharitable interpretation is that she’s just killing one bird.



  1. Rachael Sotos May 11, 2017 at 9:41 am | #

    Neoliberals using gender or race arguments to beat up progressives? I’m shocked. Almost makes you think they prefer fascists.

  2. mark May 11, 2017 at 10:15 am | #

    Given that the British Conservative Party by and large finds this issue uncontroversial, you would think American liberals could do likewise.

  3. I am not a charitable person so I will go with the “Stay away from that commie Sanders!” explanation. The neo-libs are trying to make a comeback.

    A simple question: If the these pro-abortion rights Dems are trying to keep ranks in line with a reproductive rights litmus test (and thank you for the reminder about Tim Kaine) then why do they sit by while states dismantle reproductive rights in ways overt and less so? So called “gun rights” see no such restrictions. Even the slightest effort at gun control sees an overwhelming response from the gun nut crowd (including death threats); women have no such powerful and terrifying friends when repro rights are under assault, for obvious reasons.

    If these Dems cared so much about repro rights they’d be as scary (yes, scary) and as vociferous as any gun nut. There is your litmus test.

  4. Robert Helfand May 11, 2017 at 11:49 am | #

    Again, this is misleading. Pelosi and Perez declared their opposition to litmus tests in general, not only to abortion as a litmus tests. That’s why they support both Mello and Ossoff. Bernie’s position on Ossoff shows he does not oppose litmus tests, but he thinks reproductive rights aren’t important enough to qualify as a deal breaker.

    The shot at Hillary is particularly unfair; she was the first Democratic candidate for the Presidency to call for repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Bernie joined the bandwagon only after Hillary raised the issue. It’s frankly ridiculous to suggest that Hillary isn’t committed to reproductive rights, just because Tim Kaine had a different position. The same argument would have made Kennedy a sell-out on civil rights, because he named a long-time segregationist as his running mate. In other words, it would have cost us the Voting Rights Act.

    • efcdons May 11, 2017 at 12:11 pm | #

      Have you followed Ossoff’s campaign? He is stridently and decidedly running as a “centrist”. His campaign ads are all about “both parties wasting your tax dollars” and taking “good suggestions from anyone”. How would Sanders calling him a “progressive” help his campaign? The latest gop ad they are showing here in Atlanta is of people in “San Fransisco” thanking the people of the 6th district for electing “their” congressman. Other ads have flashed Sanders’ and Pelosi’s face in the background while calling Ossoff a “liberal” and other “slurs”. Did you consider maybe Sanders is making a purposeful decision to help Ossoff burnish his “not a left wing liberal” credentials?

      But I understand Sanders is both too into “purity” and also not pure enough. I guess for some people he can never do anything right. I wonder why?

      • Robert Helfand May 12, 2017 at 10:40 am | #

        The point is not whether Ossoff gets to call himself a “progressive,” or even whether that label would fit. The point is that he can be a useful part of a coalition that advances progressive goals.

        If you don’t believe the Democratic Congress that enacted the ACA, the ARRA and Dodd-Frank (not to mention the carbon tax passed by Nancy Pelosi’s House) better served progressive values than the gang that just passed the AHCA, repealed limits on mining emissions and is straining to abolish the CFPB, then my argument will carry no weight with you.

        But if you find the difference to be meaningful, then you should also have a problem with Bernie’s unwillingness to give financial (if not rhetorical) support to a “centrist” candidate who’s trying to flip the district that elected Newt Gingrich, and whose mere presence in the House could help Nancy Pelosi put a minimum wage increase to a vote.

    • Hillary committed to reproductive rights?!


      From 2001 to 2009 as New York senator Ms. Clinton had ample opportunity to make life miserable for the anti-choicers by vociferously pushing back against the anti-woman agenda of the right being implemented in the states. She could have pushed for SOME kind of legislation that could have slowed (if not stopped) these misogynist creeps.

      The conservatives were unabashed in pushing their elective officials’ willingness to make war on women’s rights on all fronts while she represented N.Y. in the nation’s capital. Why the (apparent) timidity? Was it this, or was it that women’s constitutional rights were not as pressing to her as supporting Bush’s wars in the Middle East?

      Trivia: Ms. Clinton was challenged for her second senatorial term by anti-war and progressive labor writer and activist Jonathan Tasini, who later became a Bernie supporter and wrote a pamphlet for him (I could not find anything on his views on repro rights).

      Oh, and he is a lot nicer to Hillary than the mainstream Dems are to folks like him:

      • Robert Helfand May 12, 2017 at 10:46 am | #

        Really? Isn’t this the same as Donald Trump’s argument that Hillary doesn’t care about tax justice, because she didn’t use her Senate seat to reform the tax code single-handedly?

        I don’t doubt that many of Hillary’s positions (such as her support for the AUMF) were based on political calculations. What I dispute is the claim that this makes her different from any other successful politician, including, especially, Sen. Sanders, who voted to insulate the gun industry from liability and then lied about his vote during last year’s campaign. This doesn’t make me doubt that Bernie is sincerely committed to economic justice. Can you really believe Hillary is not sincerely committed to women’s rights? Really?

  5. jonnybutter May 11, 2017 at 1:22 pm | #

    I guess for some people [Sanders] can never do anything right. I wonder why?

    +1 for this and for what Donald said.

    It makes me sad that such a young writer feels she has to be this cynical to be ‘going somewhere’ professionally – a result of the infectious moral emptiness off-gassing from the Clinton camp (and reg Dem party, including Obama): after somehow losing to Donald Trump, a pointless, and pointlessly corrosive, cynicism is their biggest sin against humanity.

    Robert H: what is a ‘litmus test in general’? The answer is, it’s not anything. It’s easy to be against something meaningless. Moreover, if you can’t draw any lines at all, then your political program is also nothing. In fact, ‘litmus test in general’ kind of sums up the haplessness of big tent liberalism.

  6. And by the way, this from the WaPo column:

    “Public support for ending Hyde has been echoed by Clinton, by members of Congress and by Sanders himself as a presidential candidate.”

    “…and by Sanders himself as a presidential candidate.” What does that tell you?

    If the author of that column wants to put down Bernie — is it worth observing even the author of that piece knows that Bernie has too much support on the progressive side of the Dem party to demand that he be pushed aside.

    As for litmus testing, I must say that I do agree with one point the author seems to suggest (if I read her right, and I could be mistaken): anti-abortion rights “progressives” are suspect. Frankly, any restrictions on women’s repro rights is — to my own thinking, anyway — a short skip to restrictions on women’s autonomy, full stop.

  7. Chris Morlock May 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm | #

    Bernie knows how ridiculously partisan and polarizing “abortion rights” are and wisely ignores this pitfall. That Robin and Liberals in general use this against him and create false equivalences with much larger economic issues shows their desire to ostracize anyone who does not agree with their extremist views.

    Abortion is unpopular, especially among those that swung the election, so many laying off for five minutes and concentrating on purging corporate dems out of the party is a better agenda.

  8. Roquentin May 11, 2017 at 9:39 pm | #

    The basic creed of centrist liberals is “It’s different when we do it.” That’s why their primary concern is “qualifications” and appearing presidential. As long as those boxes are checked, you can do whatever you like, especially if late night TV is on your side. Regime change in Syria? They’re all on board.

    The stance on abortion dovetails perfectly with this. Sanders isn’t a part of their club si they have an entirely different set of standards for him. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can never be cynical enough when it comes to that crowd.

    I think your stance on this is dead on, for the record.

  9. Frank Wilhoit May 13, 2017 at 9:38 am | #

    There is only one issue: accountability.

    When business victimizes an individual or a class, the problem is not that that victim needs more protection. The problem is that business is unaccountable.

    When police victimize an individual or a class, the problem is not that police need to be [re]trained to respect the rights of that victim. The problem is that police are unaccountable.

    …and so on ad infinitum.

    Make business/police/churches/etc. accountable and all victims are [as] safe [as they will ever be]. Protect one victim and all the other victims become incrementally less safe.

    If there is to be a debate about “identity politics” or minoritarianism, these are the terms in which it must be framed, because this is where it went off the rails and became ineffectual, ridiculous, and odious.

  10. Edward May 15, 2017 at 2:08 pm | #

    I think another telling sign about the actual allegiances of the Democrats is that their preferred attack on Trump is the accusation that he is a Russian agent. This is the one criticism of Trump that does not threaten the oligarchy or the imperialists.

  11. b. July 26, 2017 at 12:14 pm | #

    My own recollection of the national Democratic Party anti-Sanders-Mello campaign was that people who actually worked with him or at least talked to him found a rather personal, rather subtle, and pretty much coherent position and change of positions. In fact, my personal judgement was that while the veracity of his claims is about as difficult to assess as e.g. Clintons “evolution” on gay marriage, the initial reporting on his alleged legislative “ultrasound” transgression was malpractice bordering on bad faith smears.

    • b. July 26, 2017 at 12:15 pm | #

      Perez’ idiotic statement was a political blunder that should have brought a resignation, and the usual suspects in the national apparat immediately jumped on it to exploit the opportunity to slander Sanders, with possibly decisive damage to the race Mello was trying to win.

      The Democratinology in your post is interesting, but by omission it perpetuates the original smear against Mello. I find that disappointing.

      • b. July 26, 2017 at 12:15 pm | #

        It is certainly possible that Mello could not be supported for somebody taking a principled stance on abortion, but then, no single Democrat – and not even Sanders – could be supported by anybody taking a principled stance on foreign policy and aggressive war in violation of the constitution, the UN charter and the law of the land. If l’affaire Mello was merely an indication of double standards, it would still be reason enough to not support the incumbents involved, inside and outside the party.

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