Why I was wrong and why I don’t judge Stupak yet — updated

Substantially updated below

[Originally posted 3-22]

The video that Scott posted is fascinating, but I think that it’s slightly unfair to judge Bart Stupak solely by that one piece of evidence.  Most of the commentary on his actions from the pro-life camp has been brutal, but I’m going to be contrarian and try to defend him a little.

I don’t know if Stupak would have said the same thing today that he said in that video.  What I do know is that it didn’t matter, because he can count votes.

During the early part of last week, it seemed clear that the Democrats would have to make a deal with Stupak in order to pass the bill.  I had estimated that Nancy Pelosi would be able to flip seven previous no votes to yes, and give the incredible unpopularity of the bill, I believed that a number of Democrats who had previously voted yes would choose re-election over political suicide.  Pelosi was masterful whipping members for this vote.  She officially flipped nine members who voted “no” last time to “yes,” and she clearly had Boucher and Tanner ready to flip if she needed them.  Think about that.  Out of the remaining 37 Democrats who voted “no” last time, she was able to convince eleven of them to switch.  For many of them, like Markey, Kosmas, and Boccieri, this will clearly be the end of their careers in electoral politics.  Additionally, out of the over 50 (non-Stupak) previous yes votes who were undecided at the beginning of the week (many of them in competitive re-election campaigns), she held her defections to three.  (I’m not counting anyone who was undecided going into the vote today, as they were clearly in the position to be persuaded to vote yes and are now voting no for the sake of convenience.)  Shockingly, she even got Brad Ellsworth to essentially dump his U.S. Senate campaign to instead vote for Obamacare.

In the meantime, Stupak was losing his group.  Carney and Ellsworth defected, and the remaining ten of his group were under tremendous pressure.  As Stupak himself said, his life had become a “living hell.”  As yesterday approached, Kaptur was itching to defect, and Rahall, Mollohan, and Dahlkemper were all going to desert him in the end — and possibly others as well.  With only six real votes at best, Stupak himself said yesterday in an unfortunately candid moment, “I’m not sure it’s enough.”  He knew that there was a very good chance that his group would be split and he would lose.  Since one of Stupak’s stated goals was to ensure the viability of pro-life Democrats, he knew that such a result would be disastrous.  He would look impotent and the pro-life movement would have no future place in the Democratic Party.

So, instead of quite possibly losing badly, he decided to settle on what he considered half a loaf.  The executive order, while practically doing little, was symbolically significant.  If you want evidence of that, read the statement of NOW President Terry O’Neill:

The National Organization for Women is incensed that President Barack Obama agreed today to issue an executive order designed to appease a handful of anti-choice Democrats who have held up health care reform in an effort to restrict women’s access to abortion. Through this order, the president has announced he will lend the weight of his office and the entire executive branch to the anti-abortion measures included in the Senate bill, which the House is now prepared to pass.

President Obama campaigned as a pro-choice president, but his actions today suggest that his commitment to reproductive health care is shaky at best. Contrary to language in the draft of the executive order and repeated assertions in the news, the Hyde Amendment is not settled law — it is an illegitimate tack-on to an annual must-pass appropriations bill. NOW has a longstanding objection to Hyde and, in fact, was looking forward to working with this president and Congress to bring an end to these restrictions. We see now that we have our work cut out for us far beyond what we ever anticipated. The message we have received today is that it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women, and we couldn’t disagree more.

Barack Obama explicitly campaigned on the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, promising Planned Parenthood and other pro-choicers that he would fight to allow federal funds to be used for abortions.  He even went so far as to promise several times that his universal health care plan would include funds for elective abortions — free abortions for everyone!  Watch the video.

Today, by reaffirming the Hyde Amendment and extending it, the President has sold them out and broken his promises to them and proclaimed Hyde to be “settled law.”

It’s important to remember that, as angry as many of us on the right are with President Obama, the left is just as angry.  He has broken promise after promise to them, from Iraq, to wiretapping, to Guantanamo, to the Patriot Act, etc.  Look at this poll and read the comments at Firedoglake.  Today’s actions demonstrate that the pro-choice crowd and the broader feminist movement are becoming less and less influential in American politics. 

Thirty-eight years ago, both houses of Congress (and, in the next few years, 35 states) approved the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have been interpreted by the liberal federal courts as requiring our federal government to pay for abortions in all its health care programs (Medicaid, Indian health centers, military health services, etc.)  Our country has come a long way back from that brink.

Make no mistake:  today’s actions serve to demoralize and diminish liberal feminists.  Do I still wish that Bart Stupak had refused to make a deal?  Of course.  But I understand why he did.

UPDATE:  Just to be clear, I’m not asserting that Bart Stupak was acting in good faith.  I’m simply saying that, to me anyway, the evidence isn’t yet conclusive either way.  There is a reasonable explanation for his actions other than simply selling out.

UPDATE #2:  In reference to Scott’s comment below, I should have been more clear that I agree that voting for this new monstrous health care takeover disqualifies Bart Stupak from my support and the support of anyone with half a brain who loves his country.  I will support his opponent, as I plan to support the opponents of everyone who voted for Obamacare today.  I was only attempting to specifically offer a partial defense on the life issue.

 

Update 3-24, 7:00 PM:  Bart Stupak continues to take a beating in the conservative commentariat, but Ross Douthat mentions a very important point first made in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal that is being ignored in the conservative bashfest:  this bill would have been much, much worse on abortion if not for Bart Stupak.  The Democratic Party had their most pro-abortion President in history and large majorities in both houses of Congress, and their health care overhaul requires:

–Coverage for abortion would be specifically excluded from the standard package of benefits that all insurers would be required by law to offer.

–That existing restrictions on the use of federal funds appropriated via the HHS appropriations bill (a.k.a the Hyde Amendment) would be maintained.

–That the federal government, acting in its capacity as both a civilian and military employer, would continue to exclude abortion coverage from the policies it offers to its employees.

–That the new health exchanges would be required to offer at least one policy that did not cover abortion, something not available in the individual policy market in many places.

–That states would have the option of preventing insurers in their state from offering plans through the exchange that cover abortion.

–That federal premium subsidies could not be used to purchase insurance coverage for abortion.

–That while individuals purchasing coverage through the exchange would have the option to use their own funds to purchase abortion coverage, they would have to make a separate premium payment to do so.

–That all of these elements would not only be contained in the legislation, but would be reaffirmed by the President of the United States in a high profile executive order issued hours before the legislation’s passage.

That’s really pretty amazing, if you truly think about it, and Stupak deserves a lot of the credit for it.

Something else that’s noteworthy is that Stupak himself has confirmed my thesis:  he knew didn’t have the votes and the bill was going to pass anyway.

“So I had a choice: to come up empty-handed and a bill passes with language that I totally disagree with, or I do the next best thing.”

Because he’s a loyal guy, Stupak hasn’t pointed the finger at the others in his group who were selling out, but as I mentioned in the comments to Scott’s post, if you’re looking for a scapegoat, Brad Ellsworth is a better candidate than Bart Stupak.

So if Stupak didn’t have the votes to stop Obamacare, why did Pelosi and the President make the deal?  Because Stupak was still trying to make it, Rahall, Mollohan, and Dahlkemper wouldn’t commit to vote for the bill; and Pelosi couldn’t take the risk of rounding them up on the floor.  She and Stupak both knew that their votes would really be hers if it came down to it, but she wanted to be the position of having 216 solid votes in hand when the vote actually started.

What does all this ultimately mean for the pro-life movement?  The complete folding of Ellsworth, Carney, Rahall, Mollohan, Kaptur, and Dahlkemper means, first of all, that most pro-life Democrats will fold under pressure from their party.  In any congressional race where the Republican has any kind of chance, support the Republican.

That said, there are still plenty of districts that are nearly impossible for the GOP to win, and pro-life groups should continue to be very involved in Democratic primaries in those races.  In marginal districts, support a pro-life Democrat in the primary election and then the Republican in the general.  If pro-lifers simply retreat to the comfort of the GOP, they will win and lose as that party does.  Douthat is right that the pro-life movement is on the ascendancy and, to succeed in the long term, must continue to take over “enemy” territory — aka the Democratic Party.  The pro-life movement in the Democratic Party may be weak and extremely frustrating, but the effort must not only be continued, it must be escalated.

Update 3-24, 9:30 PM:  The NRLC gets it.  Dreihaus represents a district that has a Cook PVI of DEM +1, meaning that it is only 1% more Democratic than the country as a whole.  Chabot will win easily this fall.

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