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Monday, February 27, 2006

No Retreat, No Surrender

by tristero

In comments to a previous post about South Dakota's imminent approval of coathangers for abortion, reader goodasgold wrote
I couldn't live in South Dakota. It would hurt too much. I wonder where all this will lead. I live in California. I feel safe.
The sentiment is understandable. Why live someplace that seems hellbent on trumpeting its ignorance of reality? Why go somewhere that all but brags of its cruelty to the poor?

Indeed, that's what pro-coathanger legislation is all about. The rich and the middle class will always have access to safe abortion. Making abortion illegal is quite simply class warfare, aimed at the poorest women and families.

That is all it is. It is one thing if your religious beliefs require you to bring a pregnancy to term. No one in the United States will, or should, stop you, It's a very, very different situation to use your religion as a shield to deflect sharp criticism of your political activism and demand that abortion be made dangerous and illegal. That is not religious belief. That is simply heartless, cruel, and immoral politcking. The cynical operatives who demand that the state approve coathanger abortions by banning legal ones in no way can claim the moral high ground, America's laws are very clear: no group has the right to inflict their religious proclivities on the rest of us.*

However, I think goodasgold is wrong, as the troll Par R, inadvertently, reminds us. Par R apparently lives in South Dakota and writes:
God bless and keep you safe in California, since we sure as Hell don't want your type living among us up here! Thanks.
To translate out of Troll-ish, Par R is saying, "Ignorance and tyranny will flourish wherever liberalism is absent." For that reason, it is vital that more liberals move to South Dakota, not less.

Liberals should move to South Dakota not to "impose" their values, of course. For as we all know, coercion is what religious nuts do, not liberals. Liberals have a long, consistent history of strong opposition to laws that force people to conform to a specific "politically correct" or "religiously correct" moral code. Nope, more liberals should move to South Dakota for one reason only: To become proud, loyal, and productive South Dakotans. The state simply needs more liberals if it is to become a better South Dakota and it needs less unprincipled politicians advancing an anti-American theocratic agenda.

Contrary to christianism, with its unhealthy obsession on deadly punishment and diseased sex, liberalism is a world view that is life affirming. It posits that human beings have the ability and the will to construct a moral life, and a happy, prosperous one in a civil community regardless of our differences. That is what is meant, in a political context, by "all men are created equal." And liberalism has succeeded. It is in states where liberalism is in short supply that poverty reigns, and ignorance, and a great deal of crime.

The answer to South Dakota's real problems is not tyranny, either religious or secular (and make no mistake: oppressing the poor, by denying them access to a safe medical procedure, certainly is tyrannical). Both are the desperate solutions of the ignorant and the fearful. No, the answer begins with informed, careful, and reasoned thought. In a word, the answer begins with liberalism. By contrast, nothing could be further removed from reality, nothing could be more irrelevant to the problems South Dakota faces than the thoughtless and clueless theocracy the pro-coathanger crowd desire. And that is why more liberals are needed in South Dakota.

Liberal South Dakotans surely hold different values than California liberals. Speaking for the moment as a New York liberal, I certainly hope so! (grin)

Therefore, more liberals in South Dakota will bring to the state a personal and civil philosophy that will make South Dakotans of all political stripes even prouder of their state than they already are. They will give all South Dakotans more genuine reasons to sneer at how awful and foolish life is in California (and New York), not less. More liberals in South Dakota will focus the state's resources on genuine issues, not well-marketed faith-based cure-alls that cure nothing. Issues, like passing laws to ban abortion, are not only immoral because of their viciousness to the poor. They are immoral because they waste valuable time and resources better spent addressing real problems.

Liberalism - a philosophy of reason, compassion, tolerance, and hard-headed realism unemcumbered by utopianism - is the only civic philosophy that is flexible enough to encompass the wildly different needs of a wildly disparate America. The notion of a "godless" liberal is one more rightwing myth. The vast majority of American liberals agree that, on a personal level, the "good life" is lived with God's help. They are also aware that what is meant by God or God's will is no business of the state to define; one group's position on God's will can in no way be privileged in the business of an American polis. The sooner South Dakota's legislature stops trying to to do so and gets down to the real business of running the state, the better. And that requires more liberals in South Dakota, not more theocrats thumping Bibles and obsessing about other people's sex lives.

And so, goodasgold, start packing.

An apology: I haven't addressed the right to safe and legal medical care very much in the past. The reason is that it is self-evident that all citizens have a right to such care, even if they are poor. Therefore, what's there to argue over? The fury over the use of coat hangers has always puzzled me. Yes, honest people can come to radically different conclusions as to whether their pregnancy should or should not be terminated. But an American government clearly has no right to impose a conclusion. Therefore the politicization of the abortion issue has always struck me as a thinly disguised war against providing safe health care to the poor, especially women, rather than anything that engages a genuine moral issue which, in abortion's case, is a private one.

I still think this is true. But it is becoming clear to me that, not only because the issue of safe medical care for all Americans is an important issue in itself but because the right to such care impacts many other important issues, all of us must once again speak out, loud, clear, and often in favor of Roe v. Wade.

True, I've done so several times before, and just as unequivocally as I've done so here. But I feel a need to speak out even more. I recognize that others have sensed this need long before I have. They were right, I was wrong and I apologize. To say that there were (and are) issues that were just as serious is no excuse, of course. But that was, and is, the case for me.

As I've said before, it has become very hard to be an American. The assault from the extreme right on American values has been relentless and highly organized since (at least) the second Clinton term. Nearly as bad, the Democrats have, as a party, failed miserably to stand behind its finest members - people like Kerry, Murtha, and Dean - or its modern principles, which are based in liberalism. The fact that being an American is very hard work these days also is no excuse. Please accept the apology and I'll try to make up for it with more posts on the right of all Americans to safe, legal medical care. That care is dangerously undermined whenever the access to abortion on demand is challenged. The dangers of illegal abortion primarily fall on poor women (and honest, competent doctors who provide abortions despite the potential for imprisonment), but the dangers of making access to medical procedures contingent on religious correctness are dangers for everyone, including those who, for personal/religious reasons, will carry all viable pregnancies to term.

*Note to rightwing religious nuts: Disagree with me all you want, but don't try to claim I am "prejudiced against religion," yadda yadda because I would truly hate to embarass you. There is abundant public proof of my longstanding admiration and deep respect for religious observance and devout practice.

My contempt and disgust is focused entirely on political activists like bin Laden, Antonin Scalia, Randall Terry, or the late Meir Kahane, who hide behind the skirts of priests to advocate theocracy. (And yes, that is precisely Scalia's agenda which is why he's mentioned here in the company of his peers: his remarks here fall barely one or two commas short of advocating a full overhaul of American jurisprudence and the establishment of a christianist theocracy)

Now if you're an extra crunchy and sleazy rightwing nut you might sneer, "What about Martin Luther King? You object to him speaking out when he saw injustice?" To which there is only one response:

Your comparison is deeply insulting. King's peers are Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, so if you want to discuss him by comparing him to those other great human beings, I am only too happy to join you. But I will not demean KIng's achievements by dignifying, with a response, any mention of him in the rhetorical company of cheap slimeballs like Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum. What next, shall we "discuss" whether FDR is the moral equivalent of Hitler? Or whether the Bible authorizes slavery? It's still a free blogosphere so go somewhere else and spew.