The Political Consequences of Dogmatism and Inflexibility


            Mexico City     When a columnist for any of the big papers like the Times, the Journal, or the Post writes something about what they got wrong, in my book, it’s worth a read, especially since their whole job is supposedly getting it right.  I don’t keep up with Megan McArdle and her work at the Washington Post, but I couldn’t resist the guilty pleasure of seeing whether she was really crying mea culpa or humble-bragging like so many of them do.  Surprisingly, I was rewarded with a spot-on analysis of the failure of the pro-life movement in our contemporary political environment that also is a primer for politicians and even organizers everywhere who drink the Kool-Aid of their own ideology and forget it’s all about the base and the people have the power and the last say.

She nails the conservative politicians who had been sucking up to the pro-life groups in the state legislatures thinking they had a free shot at the goal since Roe v. Wade had been in force for fifty years.   What did they care how extreme they wrote the so-called “trigger laws” that would go into effect quickly if Roe fell, because, hey, what were the odds of that happening?  As McArdle, writes…

            Operating under the shelter of Roe, politicians had also been thinking symbolically, giving pro-life groups ultra-strict laws that couldn’t command support among even a majority of Republicans, with little concern for the practical details of carrying out those laws. The result has been a parade of horrifying stories as doctors refused to provide abortions to a 10-year-old rape victim, and to adult women whose very-much-wanted pregnancies had gone horribly wrong.

In effect, we have watched in real time in red-state after red-state how they have been hoisted by their own petard, and in the process, driving voters in the middle to vote time and again to protect women’s right to choose.

We actually see this happening repeatedly in politics.  Politicians absorb ideological and dogmatic positions that when challenged lead them to kneejerk positions without fully being able to analyze situations in real time and consequence.  A current example is President Biden’s decades of support for Israel’s right to exist, which indeed is unquestionable, that left him confused at their genocidal attacks on the Palestinians in Gaza and the US, even as their enabler we are unable to dissuade them to mitigate their attacks on civilians.

Back to McArdle’s confessions, she also was wrongfooted about “how tactically inflexible the pro-life movement would be,” just as the Biden is no doubt fuming in the West Wing about our ally Israel’s wet work in Gaza, even if Hamas be damned.  In noting their inflexibility, she writes…

            …pro-lifers [were] obsessed with ensuring that no doctor ever performs a single unnecessary abortion. Unfortunately, the law is too blunt an instrument for such surgical precision. If you really want to make sure that no unwarranted abortion is performed, you will be forced to bar a lot of needed medical care.  Pro-life activists used to be good at picking strategic battles, at focusing on popular issues where they could win, such as parental consent or bans on particularly gruesome procedures. If they truly want to reduce the numbers of abortions, they’ll need to return to those strategic roots.

Her point underscores the desperation of losers, when powerless, who are willing to accept symbolic victories without worry for the consequences, but also the arrogance of winners, forgetting that accountability lies with the people, not just their cohort in whatever campaign or movement.  I’m not saying, we should modify our positions on critical issues, but we have to always keep our own base close to us, as well as keep everyone else in mind, if we want to not only win, but maintain our victories through time and trouble.