The Democrats are not blameless: Some thoughts about how we got here

It looks like we’re fast approaching an end to abortion rights in the United States, as guaranteed by the 1973 Supreme Court case known as Roe v. Wade. From what I can tell, overturning this case won’t just put reproductive rights in jeopardy, but a number of other civil rights as well. I might write more about that in the future, but there’s no shortage of commentary on the subject right now, and for today I wanted to talk about what it looks like when the people in power actually want to deliver on their promises.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Democratic Party’s inability to deliver on their progressive promises isn’t just a matter of bumbling incompetence. There’s probably an element of that, but to me it looks like they don’t actually want to deliver, when it comes to left-wing policies. Some individuals within the party probably do, but the leadership? Not so much. They don’t do any of the things I’d expect them to do, were that the case.

The Republican Party are to blame for all of the vicious and harmful things they do, but not only do they represent a minority of the country, everybody knows they represent a minority, and they’re fairly often in the minority in government as well. When they are in government, the GOP seems to be far more effective at accomplishing their goals than their counterparts. I think we would be wise to look at how they do things, and take pointers about what can be done in pursuit of our goals, and on what it looks like when political leaders actually want to deliver on their promises.

Not everything will work as well for the left as it does for the right. Conservatives basically “win” every time they delay or roll back a change. They don’t care about the people being hurt by the status quo, so there’s no real sense of urgency about anything except stopping change. That means that it’s far, far easier for them to play a long game, and build up their political power through state and local politics. Conservatives also tend to push the interests of those in power, which means financial support, and an expectation of gentle treatment by the authorities. After the insurrection attempt on January 6th 2021, I saw some of the more revolution-hungry folks in the online left saying that that’s what we should be doing. The most common rebuttal was that there’s no way law enforcement would have such a gentle response to an insurrection attempt by a left-wing mob. We face different obstacles, so it stands to reason that we’ll need different tools at least some of the time.

That said, the GOP shows us what it looks like when a party actually has goals. I’ve said before that I feel the Democrats – or at least the party leadership – view politics as a sort of game. What seems to matter most to them is that the rules be followed, and that the two sides be as evenly matched as possible. Even if they might like to see some progressive change, it’s not something they’re willing to fight for. The Republicans, on the other hand, actually want a lot of the stuff they say they want, and so they do everything they can to get it. When they followed through on their promised Muslim ban, the GOP didn’t bother waiting for some committee to tell them what the courts would probably say, they just wrote the ban and tried it, knowing it would probably be shot down.

Knowing that there would be no penalty for trying.

It was shot down, they adjusted it to fit what the ruling said and tried again. That was shot down, and they adjusted and tried again. Rather than caring about “doing it right”, or playing by the rules, they have a goal in mind, and try everything they can think of to achieve it. The Democratic party only seems to be able to do that when it comes to things like funding the Pentagon. There’s a degree to which it’s useless to speculate on their “real” motivations, but they certainly don’t act as if any of the progress they promise is a real priority, and they haven’t acted like that at any point in my life.

I don’t know whether we have any shot at getting people like Biden or Pelosi to actually fight for the things they claim to want, but I think this is at minimum a good thing to consider when deciding whether they’re doing a good job. It’s been 49 years since Roe v Wade, and there has been a relentless effort – including terrorism – to end the right to abortion. Everyone knew this was coming, and yet for all the times the Democrats held power, and for all their endless campaigning about being the True Protectors™ of reproductive rights, they never followed through. They never actually made the right to abortion law.

And it sure as hell looks like they never actually tried.

Nobody in the party leadership is going to be directly hurt by this. They’re all rich. They’ll all be able to get abortions and any other reproductive care they need, and getting it isn’t going to cause them any financial or legal hardship. The same was true during the “Obamacare” fight – the people who took single-payer and the public option off of the table before negotiations started were never at risk of losing their access to healthcare. It’s not hard to see what it looks like when politicians actually want to achieve their stated goals, and I see no real evidence that anyone in the leadership of the Democratic party ever wanted anything more than endless fundraising off of the precarity of rights they never really intended to secure. It sure seems like they knew they were the only option for people who care about reproductive rights, and rather than deal with the problem, they chose to hold it over people’s heads for votes and contributions.

Everything about this situation makes me angry.

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  1. K says

    I prefer to focus on where the actual fault lies; with the Republicans themselves, and the useful idiots like Murkowski and Collins who pretended to believe the perjurors like sexual assaulter and beer-loving Bart O’Kavanaugh.

    Side note, in Maryland, the Republican governor threw a public whinge-fest because the Democratic General Assembly overruled his edict on abortion.

  2. Allison says

    My own take on this: the people who run the Democratic party (and most of those elected as Democrats) have been simply “kinder, gentler” versions of the Republicans at least since President Carter’s day. I have yet to see the national (or even the NY State) Democratic party seriously propose any policy that wouldn’t have been right at home in Eisenhower’s Republican party.

    What’s more, I feel like for the past few decades, the two ruling parties have been playing “good cop [Democrat], bad cop [Republican]” in elections. The Democrats will nominate a crappy candidate, and then the Republicans will nominate someone who is much, much worse. Trump vs. Biden is just the latest example.

    My district was Nita Lowey’s district, and it seemed like the local Republican party bosses were doing what they could to keep her in office; my theory was that since she was rather consistently voting for the stuff the Republicans (or their owners) wanted, they were happy to leave her there. Most of the people they ran against her were nobodies and neither they nor the party bothered to campaign. The few that weren’t were so blatantly awful that in one case (a guy who openly advocated white supremacist policies) the party disavowed him. As time went on, she acted like the office was hers by right. She stopped bothering to seriously campaign — or even meet with constituents (the last “town hall” was in the 1980’s.) We thought she’d die in office, but finally someone (Mondaire Jones) openly proposed to run a serious primary challenge, and she threw in the towel.

    It’s taking forever, but I’m seeing some faint hope that the current bosses of the Democratic Party might get replaced by (somewhat) better people. Though probably not in my lifetime.

    And of course if global climate change continues on the current course, humanity may have bigger things to worry about than whether the wrong lizard (cf.: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish) gets elected.

  3. says


    I absolutely agree on where the primary blame lies.

    But if the Democrats refuse to actually fight for the issue on the federal level, then it seems extremely cynical to keep running on the issue, and fundraising off of people’s fear, while never actually doing anything about it.

    A lot of Democrats at the local level are wonderful, dedicated, and work their asses off for the things they believe in. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the leadership of the party, who do things like endorsing anti-choice Democrats (or making one of them Clinton’s running mate), and talk about how important it is to have a “big strong Republican party”.

  4. StevoR says

    No. The democratic party aren’t blameless.


    What will they do now to redeem and fix things?

    Will they do anything – or nearly enough or better yet more than nearly enough – to redeem themsleves and fix things?

    If they don’t? Then what and who will?

  5. says

    My guess is that they’ll end up having protections for people traveling to get abortions in other states, and promise to amend the constitution at some point in the future.

    So Texas won’t be able to directly punish anyone for leaving the state for reproductive healthcare, but neither will the federal government be able to directly help anyone who’s stuck in a forced-birth state.

  6. says

    As to who will, all we have is us.

    I’m putting together a piece on work that’s being done to prepare for providing safe “underground” reproductive healthcare, and I think that ties into the whole “form networks” thing. Unsurprisingly, the subject is a little difficult to research right now.

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