Why We Can’t See Eye to Eye

Yesterday there was a Washington Post Op-Ed column by George F. Will about the politics of abortion. It’s pretty standard anti-choice fare, but the very premise of the column — that in some areas, the issue of abortion is actually non-issue — struck me.

To sample today’s confusions, consider California.

There the electorate so strongly supports abortion rights that no right-to-life candidate for governor, U.S. senator or president has won in California since 1988. This is so despite the fact that a governor, U.S. senator or president has only slight relevance to the status of Californians’ abortion rights.

Nevertheless, it is said that if the Republican Party wants to be competitive in California in presidential politics, it must nominate a pro-choice candidate, of which there is only one — Rudy Giuliani. This is almost certainly true. It certainly is irrational because pro-choice Californians have next to nothing to fear — just as pro-life Californians have next to nothing to hope for — from a right-to-life president. The practical consequences of such a president concerning abortion would not differ significantly from Giuliani’s consequences. . . .

The next president probably will have an opportunity to significantly shape the court, which has frequently divided 5 to 4 on important questions, including abortion issues. But regarding abortion, the reasonable response to this fact from residents of many, perhaps most, states, and especially from Californians, should be a shrug of a question — “So what?”

You see, here’s what Will is arguing: if Roe vs. Wade was overturned, abortion would not become illegal. The matter would “simply” return to the authority of the states (until they managed to garner enough votes to pass a national law, but shhhh). Therefore, in liberal enclaves like California, abortion is a non-issue, because the state will ensure that abortion is legal regardless of what the Supreme Court does.

We have a couple of things going on here.

The first is that Will thinks abortion-rights supporters are so stupid that we don’t understand how the law works. Surely, not all of us do understand. But with the amount of effort that antis put in to overturning the ruling, I think it’s actually they who least understand. The patronization is only of minor interest, though.

I pulled out this column to discuss because I think that it beautifully exemplifies the way in which the conservative mind works. And in doing so, it makes very apparent the difference between it and the liberal mind, and leads me to the sad conclusion that, all pipe dreams aside, we never are going to see eye to eye.

Men like Will, conservative men who support conservative candidates and conservative policies, work under the belief that if it doesn’t personally affect me, I have no reason to care.

Of course, we already know this. Look at our welfare and health care systems, the inaction over Darfur, the inaction over extreme poverty in the majority world, the opposition to any and all social programs that help the poor, the panic over raising the minimum wage and the obsession over the tax rate. Though they love to use the term “individualistic,” conservatives and all of their libertarian friends are, quite frankly, selfish people. The interesting thing is that they’re usually not so obvious about it.

And though in fact liberals can be personally selfish, our politics are generally not. Though some of our policies would, in fact, benefit us personally, and many poor citizens are liberal, many of them do not. Stopping the AIDS epidemic in Africa does not help me personally. I’m white, so evening out the crack/cocaine laws does not help me personally. I’m straight, so legal same-sex marriage does not help me personally. These are just the right things to do.

I live in NY. Though reproductive rights in the state are not as safe as most think they are (which is why we are working at Planned Parenthood to make sure that the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act is passed), there is probably not an awful lot to worry about here. Yes, I first became interested in the issue of abortion because I was worried about my personal right to have one. But if that was my only, or even main concern, I wouldn’t dedicate anywhere near the amount of time and effort I do to the issue. Once I figured out that I’m probably safe, I would have stopped.

But, you see, I care about other people. I care about the women where abortion will likely remain legal even if Roe were overturned not being able to currently access abortion because, unlike me, they don’t have a savings account to cover the cost and there isn’t any public funding. I care about the women in Aurora, whose clinic the antis tried to protest out of existence. I care about the women in Kansas, were abortion is constantly under attack. I care about the women in Mississippi, who don’t have access because there is only one abortion clinic in their entire state. I care about the women in states where there are “trigger laws” on the books. I’m not worried about myself. I have money in the bank. I have people I could borrow money from. If push came to shove, I could scrape together a plane ticket to a place where abortion is legal (or more practically, drive the one hour it takes to cross the Canadian border).

If Roe is overturned, it is not women like me who will suffer. And yet, I still care. I still volunteer 12 hours a week at my local Planned Parenthood. I still write this blog. I still give money whenever I can and write letters to my representatives.

And what both fascinates and terrifies me is that conservatives do not seem to understand that. This particular column makes that abundantly clear. The title of the column, in fact, points to it directly. “So what?” If I’m okay, so what? If it’s only other people suffering, so what? I would never personally have an abortion, so what? I don’t have a uterus. So what?

We’re not talking about different political opinion. We’re talking about two completely and utterly different set of ethical values. And that’s why I’m often so skeptical of liberal re-branding efforts, and efforts to “mainstream” our politics. Because I think that a hell of a lot of the time, it doesn’t come down to what people think about abortion. It comes down to how people think about life.  And in that area, we’re worlds apart.

0 thoughts on “Why We Can’t See Eye to Eye

  1. Katie

    Well said! I had a discussion with some friends a few years back like this about the Holocaust. On our way back from a Holocaust Museum and were discussing how we would have reacted if we had been alive in the 1930’s – 1940’s. Each of us wanted to believe that we would have done something to stop it but knew we would have been just like the rest of the world who ignored it because it was not happening to them personally. After a while, one of us realized how ironic our conversation was because of all the violence and regicides happening today. The conversation turned to what we should and could be doing now. After this, a few of my friends started an amnesty program at our school and I decided to join the peace corp. My friends and I decided to do something about it but so many more people I know do not care because they are comfortable and safe. So again, well done on this post.

  2. Tatiana

    Articles such as this seem to imply to me that one can’t “truly” be a feminist unless one adheres to a long list of specific political beliefs and also considers herself a liberal. I care about everything you said, but I don’t consider myself a liberal (I’m an independent and hate the whole party concept, but I tend to lean towards a more Objectivist/semi-Libertarian viewpoint). I don’t mean to get into a debate on the merits of any particular political ideology, merely ask if truly the entire feminist movement self-identifies as liberal. This isn’t the first insult towards libertarians I’ve seen on a feminist blog, and every time it happens I kind of cringe and feel like I’m not wanted. I don’t think I’m any more indifferent than anyone else in this country (regardless of their party), yet I feel like part of the “them” that you’re pointing to as people in opposition to feminism.

    I understand attacking conservatives, because many of their beliefs do work directly in opposition to feminism, and for the most part everyone understands that you’re attacking /those/ conservatives. But it just seems kind of like you’re (plural) aggressively cutting yourselves off from, at the least, potential allies. I mean, I am a feminist – no qualifiers – but from the way it’s phrased here and in many blogs, apparently I’m not – I’m part of the “other.” Presumably it’s possible to be both a feminist and a Christian, and I don’t see very many feminists attacking religion on a daily basis (though they’d be completely justified). But Christianity is at /least/ as “uncompatible” as parts of the libertarian philosophy (depending on the beliefs of the individual in question), and I would say it’s far /more/ incompatible as soon as you toss in any belief in the bible. Yet posts about the religious right never seem written in a way offensive to someone who themselves has religion, but isn’t part of that movement.

    I don’t know. I honestly don’t mean to cause waves, I just felt the need to comment and say posts like this make me feel like I’m excluded from the movement simply because I don’t agree 100% with the “party line, or that is I have some opposing viewpoints. (Like that I think the healthcare system here sucks, but I also know firsthand that the system in the UK also sucks and I would be horrified to copy them, having had several relatives DIE due to their policies. Does that mean I don’t care about women’s health? I don’t think so, but comments like saying all libertarians are totally selfish and don’t care about everyone just seems a slap in the face to people who could be helping the movement. It also kind of demonstrates ignorance on what the ideals behind that are all about.. I mean, I’m sure you all get plenty of totally idiotic libertarian trolls who have given you a very negative impression of the philosophy, but at the end of the day it’s about freedom and autonomy over your own life, which is an ideal that I do not view as incompatible with feminism in the slightest. And obviously you can be libertarian and also an extremely philanthropic, politically active and compassionate person.)

    So.. yes. I normally just lurk on all the feminist blogs I read, but this is about the third insult to libertarians I’ve read in the past couple days and I felt the need to speak up. I care, I think anyone who labels themselves as a feminist is working for the same goals, even if we sometimes disagree in the methods, and it hurts to feel like a movement which is so important to me thinks so little of anyone who has any beliefs outside the predefined box.

  3. Cara Post author

    Okay. Thanks for commenting.
    I’m not sure where to start. I don’t think that anyone who is a feminist has to be liberal, though I don’t really understand how you could reconcile any political philosophy with feminism. That’s not my mind to make up.
    There are some libertarian ideas I agree with — for instance, that the government should stay out of our bedrooms and that drugs should be legalized. But for every smart idea that gets categorized under libertarianism, I find 3 that I disagree with.
    You say that you don’t tow the party line. Good for you. But the fact is, libertarians believe in a “hands off” government. That means no welfare, it means no socialized health care (and though I am sincerely sorry about your family members, I imagine that you could find many, many, many more Americans who have died as victims our health care system because they were just flat our refused to be treated). I do not think that you can be opposed to public assistance for the poor and be compassionate. If that’s not you, you really don’t fit comfortably under the libertarian umbrella. If it is you, then I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel and I’m not really sure how you can argue otherwise.
    Libertarianism if flawed. Autonomy and control over your own life are GREAT. The problem is that without an equal society, autonomy and control over your own life cannot exist for anyone but the upper-middle class and wealthy. Libertarianism generally assumes that if you take the government out of the equation, things will work themselves out. And it’s not true. The free marker has only made people poorer and sicker. And it will never stop doing that.
    As for religion, I am personally an atheist. And it is my personal view that religion is incompatible with many feminist views. There are some wingnut Christians who try to change the policies of our government — they’re the ones I criticize. As for the rest, I disagree with them, but they are not trying to negatively impact the lives of others. To be a libertarian and/or conservative, you must consider yourself political and make an effort to impact our government. I lash out at conservative and libertarians because they are working directly against me and my causes. I do not lash out at religious people because, for the most part, their actions are private. How they want to reconcile their views is their business.
    As for towing the liberal party line, I don’t know what that is. I certainly don’t tow the Democratic party line (ha!), and I do think the at the feminist focus with regard to liberal politics is vastly different from the mainstream focus.

  4. sbsanon

    “Men like Will, conservative men who support conservative candidates and conservative policies, work under the belief that if it doesn’t personally affect me, I have no reason to care.”

    This really sums it up so nicely. Thanks for another insightful post! I’m a dedicated reader of your blog and you always break issues down so clearly.

  5. kate.d.

    just wanted to say that, above and beyond your great analysis of this aspect of many conservatives’ mindsets, your parenthetical point post-quote is incredibly important. so many people don’t realize that if congress passes a federal ban on something (like, say, so-called “partial-birth” abortion!) and the court upholds it, it’s the law of the land. there are no doctors today anywhere – not in MA or NY or CA – that can legally perform that procedure.

    so yeah – huge point. we should be screaming about it from the rooftops.


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