From the Left



Occupying the Center

Susan Estrich on

The right-wing takeover of the Republican Party, symbolized by the end of Roe v. Wade, offers the Democrats the rare opportunity so artfully exploited by President Emmanuel Macron in France: that is, the chance to occupy the middle of the political spectrum.

Ideologues may wring their hands, but the general rule in American politics is that the center holds. That is, clearly, how Joe Biden won and how Barack Obama and Bill Clinton each won twice. They did not win by writing off the middle the way the Republican Party is doing right now.

Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the right question: Where is the Democratic Party?

Listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She isn't just talking about abortion. She's talking about the whole host of issues that fall under the rubrics of reproductive freedom, sexual autonomy, personal privacy. That is the middle talking. Deciding to terminate a pregnancy is just a small part of the picture, taking away that right the first tear in the fabric of freedom.

The Republican Party self-consciously defined itself as the party of family values, which they turned into a straitjacket that left most modern families out. But did we take them on, or did we cower, afraid that being pro-woman somehow made us anti-family? I know. I was there. They were fighting about unisex bathrooms, heaven forbid, while we were fighting for our rights.

We have been on the defensive since day one -- engaged in trench warfare, fighting for every inch of protection, organizing and then litigating, decade after decade, fighting for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised who have always been the first to have no choice at all.

The first Supreme Court opinion I worked on as a young law clerk was staying a decision of a lower Court that would have denied Medicaid funding to poor women seeking medically necessary abortions. For the next three months, until the court met in full session, poor women in Illinois actually had the right to choose, thanks to Justice John Paul Stevens and a 25-year-old who had no idea she would spend decades writing abortion briefs and doing political battle with the supposed defenders of family values.

In what kind of family is the victim of incest required to bear a child? What family is that?

In what kind of family is a 14-year-old rape victim expected to become a mother and raise her rapist's child? Is that someone's idea of family creation or family destruction?


In what kind of family should a woman be forced to carry to term a pregnancy inconsistent with life? Imagine receiving that kind of diagnosis and then being told that the state, not you and your doctor and your family, decides what happens next?

In what kind of family does a state legislator know better than a woman and her doctor and her family?

And Donald Trump? This is the man who is the standard-bearer for the paragons of virtue? How can that be?

We tried. We pushed and cajoled. I will never forget working with "the women" to put reproductive freedom in the party platform for the first time, 1980. That's where the Democratic Party has been.

But we lost. We lost the 2016 election, and we lost the Senate, and we lost the court. And now we must put aside what divides us as Democrats, put aside ideological purity in favor of family values, turning the Democratic Party into the big tent that Republicans never could create, so beholden were they to the right. We cannot repeat their mistakes. If the center holds, we Democrats win, and there is no reason that it should not. If we let it.


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