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.....There is a tendency among pundits to focus on political harm from the abortion issue only insofar as it affects Republicans. It’s generally believed that the issue is more of a minefield for the right than the left. And there’s some truth to that. However, a series of studies by a prominent academic suggests that the abortion issue adversely impacts the left in a way that’s actually deeper and more profound than the manner in which it affects the right.
Martin Gilens is a political-science professor at Princeton. Over the course of the past decade, he has authored and coauthored several books and papers in which he argues that the U.S. is essentially an oligarchy. We are controlled by the moneymen, the “1%,” and any claim that our “democracy” is participatory or inclusive is illusory. “Affluence and influence”—that’s what makes the U.S. economic system go ’round. The deck is stacked, and the “liddle peeple” are powerless.
Every major left-leaning site on the Internet has covered Gilens’ work. Even Jimmy Carter weighed in with support for Gilens’ central thesis. And indeed it’s an assertion that’s near and dear to many on the left. Frankly, it’s a claim that’s appealing to segments of the right as well. The oligarchs, the moneyed elites, the banksters, keeping the blue-collar poor from ever getting ahead. The belief that affluent elites are “unfairly” running roughshod over lower-class working folks is what has fueled the primary successes of not just Sanders, but Trump as well. That said, Democrats and leftists have traditionally owned the issue. The fight against “income inequality” and class disenfranchisement has been an essential element of the left’s rhetoric for a very long time. Which is precisely why Professor Gilens’ work is so interesting.
Buried deep inside Gilens’ books and position papers is an interesting critique of the left…buried so deep that apparently none of Gilens’ leftist fawners ever found it (in covering Gilens’ work, liberal journos not only buried the lede, they sealed it in a sarcophagus). According to Gilens’ research, those dastardly oligarchs, those enemies of the 99%, are overwhelmingly liberal on issues such as abortion, gay rights, race, and immigration. In fact, the affluent are far more “progressive” than the great unwashed whose voices they’ve muted and whose influence they’ve suppressed. Gilens found that the superrich in general oppose any policies based upon “traditional morality” (Gilens uses school prayer as an example of an issue in which the oligarchs find themselves severely at odds with the poor).
Gilens’ conclusion is that if the poor were actually allowed a voice in national politics, it would very likely spell defeat for liberals on their favorite social issues:
The disproportionate influence of the affluent does not always move policy in a conservative direction. On moral and religious issues, the well off tend to be more liberal than the poor. More equal representation (of the poor) would consequently lead to greater restrictions on abortion, such as banning RU-486. There would also be tighter limits on stem cell research and more support for school prayer.
Gilens’ research reflects the conclusions of Boston University political scientist John Gerring, who found that, because of the desires of the super-wealthy, “the Democratic agenda has shifted away from general social welfare to policies that target ascriptive identities of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.” The takeaway? The “oligarchs” have pushed to make noneconomic “social justice” issues (especially abortion, race, and gender) the party’s primary focus, at the expense of economic policies that are unpopular among the affluent. Whether they know it or not, leftists are actually on the same side as the 1% on the social issues that have come to dominate the Democrat agenda.
I put a question directly to Professor Gilens:
Do you think progressives have done their cause a disservice by making abortion a litmus-test issue? Do you think the heavy and uncompromising focus on abortion rights has in a way helped the affluent and made it more difficult for low- and middle-income Americans to have equality of influence? Is it possible that by remaining uncompromising on abortion rights, the Democratic leaders have made it easier to shift to a less radical position economically without getting in too much trouble with their base?
“David, that’s a sensible notion,” he replied.
So there we have it: Abortion hurts Democrats just as it hurts Republicans, but in a different way. Whereas Republicans get in trouble for saying idiotic things about abortion, women, and rape, Democrats have essentially sacrificed the economic portion of their agenda—something that used to be very important to them—on the altar of abortion rights and other SJW issues. Donald Trump (who is almost certainly not an actual enemy of the oligarchs and “banksters”) can talk about economic reforms to benefit the working class all he wants, but the left will never be on board because of his statements on Muslims, immigration, and (now) abortion. Bernie Sanders can talk about economic justice all he wants, but he’ll never attract the all-important black Democrat demographic because he’s not seen as sufficiently obsessed with racial issues.
The simple truth is, Democrats can drone on and on all they want about giving “the poor” a voice in national politics, but, as Gilens points out, “more equal representation” of the poor will inevitably lead to more support for restrictions on abortion rights, a rollback in accommodations for gay and trans people, calls to restrict illegal immigration, and the return of “traditional morality” as a thing that actually matters in public policy. And leftists will never stand for that. They’d much rather have their aborted fetuses and unisex bathrooms and smug, contemptuous atheism than “economic equality.” Living in L.A., I know quite a few leftists who are poor. Dirt-poor. As in, no-money-for-weed-or-ramen poor. Yet they’d never make common cause with a pro-lifer or a “homophobe” or a “racist,” even if it would benefit them economically. They’d rather starve. They’d rather their kids starve. If Gilens is right regarding how the affluent have played this one, all I can say is, good show. Well done. The left is now squarely on the side of the 1%. The demands for “economic reform” (juvenile and inchoate as they were) expressed during the Occupy demonstrations have given way to the inflexible, angry racial myopia of Black Lives Matter.
Unexpectedly, I saw Professor Gilens’ thesis play out as I was doing background for this piece. In 2014, the Huffington Post welcomed left-wing economic “expert” Eric Zuesse as a regular contributor. Zuesse, author of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910–2010, styles himself as an unashamedly progressive fighter for the poor and disenfranchised. HuffPo brought him on board and gave him carte blanche to stick it to the man. Indeed, Zuesse was one of the people tasked with writing lengthy, breathless odes to the work of Professor Gilens. Unfortunately, on a different blog, Zuesse said a few things about President Obama that the HuffPo editors considered racist, so he was unceremoniously canned; no hearing, no probation, just fired.
According to Zuesse, with whom I corresponded before and after he was dumped by the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos has similarly banned him. A left-wing fighter for economic justice, a progressive author trying to give a voice to the poor, a committed foe of the oligarchs, sacked and banned because he said something mean about a black guy. Behold the left’s priorities, in a nutshell.
Leftists, National Review-style “respectable” conservatives, establishment Republicans and Democrats, and the superrich are all on the same page now regarding the working-class poor. Those lowborn homophobic racist anti-choice Jesus freaks deserve to be disenfranchised.
Trump may or may not be an actual threat to the “oligarchs,” but many of his supporters certainly believe he is, and they’ve rallied around him with enthusiasm. If Trump is taken out, whether by the abortion issue or something else down the line, there is no replacement. Sanders’ followers might give good lip service to the concept of empowering the working poor, but in the end, as Professor Gilens so astutely points out, to do so would work against the priorities of today’s Democrats.
As long as there is even one abortion going unperformed, one man in a wig barred from the women’s bathroom, and one white guy who dares to think he can wear dreadlocks, the fight against the 1% can wait.
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