Thursday, December 8, 2011

Power Concedes Nothing

On days like today, I think that I need to start a campaign to have this quote stamped on the foreheads of progressive activists in reverse, so they can read it each morning when they look in the mirror:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

It's certainly not a concept they're familiar with.

The latest example of this occurred today. It started out predictably enough, with this announcement:

The emergency contraceptive Plan B will not be made available over-the-counter to younger teens, the Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday, exposing a rift between the agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Teva, the manufacturer of the oral contraceptive that can be taken up to 72 hours after sex to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, requested approval from the FDA in February to make the drug available without a prescription to individuals age 16 and younger. Currently, the drug, commonly known as the "morning-after pill," is available without a prescription to women 17 and older, and is kept behind the pharmacy counter.

Here's a fairly typical reaction from progressives, by Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check:

In what can only be called an astounding move by an Administration that pledged on inauguration day that medical and health decisions would be based on fact not ideology and for which women are a major constituency, today Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled a much-awaited decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraception (EC) available over-the-counter (OTC) to women of all ages.

This is only astounding if you completely ignore this President's habit of lying through his teeth to progressives, and those progressives taking those lies as something other than convenient nonsense.
Of course, that's not to say there aren't reasons to be upset. As The American Prospect's Scott Lemieux notes:

[L]et's not forget that the cossacks work for the czar; the responsibility for this decision rests with President Obama. This isn't an issue where compromise was compelled by the need to appease conservatives in Congress; Obama and Sebelius could have done the right thing and didn't.

Which is true. This was a decision process that is entirely contained within the Executive Branch. Congress has no say in this matter, at least until it passes legislation to change it. The Obama Administration did this one on their own.

To understand why that's not shocking, let's start with why we in the metaphorical arsonist racist poopyhead community call him "Mr. Present":

In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from African-Americans, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted “present,” effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator.

Nowhere was Illinois Senator Obama more inclined to take a stand by standing to the side than he was on the issue of abortion rights. As Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs wrote back during the 2008 primary:

Obama has had difficulty explaining some of his 129 "present" votes in the Illinois legislature on issues such as promoting school discipline and prohibiting sex shops near places of worship. In the case of his votes on the anti-abortion legislation, however, he has had a solid alibi. The Illinois branch of the Planned Parenthood organization has given him a "100 percent" pro-choice voting rating and depicted the present votes as part of a previously agreed strategy to provide political cover for other legislators.

No doubt the Illinois branch of Planned Parenthood (IPP) likes to remember things that way. I have a different theory about what happened - they thought that Obama was going to vote against their interests, and they worked out a deal for him to vote "present", instead. The stated explanation is nothing but a lie that both parties to the agreement found politically palatable; Obama didn't have to explain away votes against abortion rights to a fairly liberal constituency, and IPP didn't have to deal with the embarrassment of one of the rising stars of the Illinois Democratic Party voting against them. For Obama this deal was clearly a win, because "Mr. Present" probably would have voted that way anyhow. What IPP got was screwed, at least in the long run. Look at the vote totals cited in Dobbs' article. There was no way they were going to win those votes, with or without Obama and all those other prospective fence sitters.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, in the end what IPP earned was a string of legislative losses, and they ended up covering for a guy who would thank them by screwing them again later.

In contrast, Illinois NOW called Obama out. Unfortunately, IPP covering for him helped obscure the issue, since abortion is something a voter would expect PP to be more protective of than NOW. NOW has lots of concerns besides abortion rights, and it could have more credibly claimed that it covered for Obama here so it would get better support on other issues. To their credit, they chose not to.

Michael Dobbs' concluding paragraph is a perfect example of the kind of rationalization that has led so many progressives to be shocked at Obama doing exactly what he's always done:

It seems that Illinois NOW and Planned Parenthood had different voting strategies on the abortion issue in the Illinois State Legislature in 2001. It was impossible for Obama to satisfy both groups at once.

Yes, they certainly had different strategies, but there was a way that Obama could have satisfied both. He could have stood up and said loud and clear that he supported abortion rights. Instead, he was allowed to do exactly what he demonstrated an ample number of times was what he would have done anyway. Dobbs, and numerous progressives, apparently chose to believe that somehow Obama was doing something different here, when he clearly was only doing the same thing he was doing in all those other "difficult to explain" "present" votes.

In the end, though, women got screwed, thanks at least in part to progressive organizations that didn't tell progressives the truth about the politicians they work with. Rather than pointing out where they fail to support an issue as they should, they "work with" those politicians again and again. They give Democratic politicians glowing reports on their voting records, when in many cases those politicians didn't do what they could have to make good legislation pass and bad legislation fail. That's one of the reasons I don't belong to organizations like this anymore. Why pay people to lie to me? Plenty are willing to provide that service for free. Besides NOW and a few organizations working for LGBT rights, the rest are doing very well not to be a complete waste of effort and money.

And in the end, what we all get is "progressive" politicians like Barack Obama, who lie to us without reservation, knowing that the organizations we voters depend on to keep us informed will go along. If IPP had demanded that Obama stand up and be counted back in the Illinois Senate, it's possible that Hillary Clinton would be President today. Whatever her faults, I can't imagine that she would have made this decision. Whatever his virtues, I don't see how anyone could have expected anything else of President Obama.

But making Democrats stand up and be counted, let alone demanding that they do the right thing, isn't what these professional progressive organizations are about. If I were a conservative bent on destroying the progressive cause from within, I couldn't have thought up a better strategy.

So say it with me now: Power concedes nothing without a demand.

Remember that now, so I don't have to engrave it on your forehead.

UPDATE: Over at FireDogLake Jon Walker makes a similar point:

During the health care reform fight the women’s reproductive rights groups and legislators were basically sold out. President Obama decided to cut a deal with Bart Stupak’s Gang. He assumed that the pro-choice and women legislators in the House and pro-choice groups would just fall in line, and they did with very little fighting.

Passing the ACA required virtually every vote. Only a handful of pro-choice women rebelling could have stopped the new law, likely forcing a new deal, but none did. The pro-choice groups didn’t even seem prepared for the showdown that everyone paying attention saw coming.

That incident proved to the Obama administration that the President could treat women’s reproductive rights as a bargaining chip, without facing a rebellion from the pro-choice caucus or real retribution from pro-choice political groups. So that is exactly what Obama has been doing.

Earlier this year to get the budget deal done to avoid a government shutdown Obama again used choice as a bargaining chip by allowing the Republicans to include a policy rider to prevent the District of Columbia from using city money to pay for abortion. Obama got away with this and faced little repercussion or heat from pro-choice groups or elected officials.

Again and again during the process that eventually became the ACA, the progressives in Congress had a chance to improve the bill by demanding that it contain real reforms, real enforcement, and no further restrictions on abortion rights. They had the biggest bloc of votes in the Democratic Caucus. Yet they ended up with nothing.

Remember, Power concedes nothing...


Or as I would say, "never ask for change, always demand."
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