Saturday, August 8, 2015

Does America Need a "Badass" Liberal?

Perhaps you saw the speech Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave prior to the vote in the Senate on defunding Planned Parenthood.

Liberals LOVED it! Heather Digby Parton was inspired to write that Elizabeth Warren is the Badass America needs. Here's the tag line for that article:
Long after she took herself out of the running for president, Warren keeps making a bigger difference than anyone.
My question is: how did that speech make a difference?

I doubt anyone thinks that a speech on the floor of the Senate changes the mind of any of her colleagues who serve in that body. So I don't think that is what Parton was talking about. But how about the American public?

For over fifty years now we've been having a debate in this country over a woman's right to chose. And let's be very clear - that's EXACTLY what this current bru-ha-ha over Planned Parenthood is all about. By now, most of us have figured out where we stand on that one. What role does a "badass" speech about it play?

The one thing we can say in response to that question is that it makes pro-choicers feel good to hear someone give vent to their own frustrations. It's also important for people to know that their own views are being represented in our country's most powerful deliberative body. That's a good thing. But does it make a difference?

I saw that article by Parton not long after I read this from the timeline of one of my Facebook friends:
For whatever it's worth, there was a time when abortion was considered the best option for my first pregnancy. It wasn't because I made bad choices, or was unmarried, or poor or sleeping around.

Perhaps abortion is a black and white issue for you, I respect this. We should stand behind what we believe. But don't assume just because a woman has an abortion she's a slut or irresponsible or incapable of unselfish behavior, just because an ISSUE is black and white, PEOPLE never are.

It's not just about poor choices.

And yes, I am very definitely pro-life. But I'm also pro-compassion.
What ensued was a very long comment section where a whole lot of people opened up about the questions they harbor about what it means to be pro-life/pro-choice. In other words, it created something we rarely see, an opening for an honest conversation.

I would submit to you that, when we want to shore up our colleagues (i.e., take care of the business Bernice Johnson Reagon calls "home"), a speech like the one from Sen. Warren is just what the doctor ordered. But when we want to make a difference, we've got to engage our empathy with friends, neighbors, family, co-workers by listening to how they view an issue and then talk from our own hearts and lives. It's how we participate at a micro-level to create an opening.

Badass liberals have a role to play. But I still think that when it comes to the question of how change happens in a democracy, Barack Obama got it right way back in 2005.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.


  1. Oh, this times 1,000! I don't believe people's minds are changed when you yell at and insult them. It only strengthens them in their position.And yes, it always seems to me that Warren is playing to the progressive crowd rather than actually trying to get things done.

  2. As a very long-time pro-choice activist, I found, even in the heat of the fray around clinics, that careful engagement with those who were not there to kill doctors (and some were) was powerful in making clear that pro-choice people were moral actors. It was equally important to be open to the moral actions of the other side when they really did care about life in all stages including born. Does it always work? Of course not. Zealots cannot be transformed. But the majority of protesters were not evil, and when they saw we were not evil, they went away with calm. That, of course, left us with the zealots, but it deprived them of allies who soon began questioning their motives and turned away from support. That is huge and needs to be encouraged. Civility and respect for the other side is NOT giving up your views or standing back - it is simply acknowledging each other's humanity and de-escalating the violence. In this society, that is incredibly important.

    1. You are so impressive, Churchlady. Thanks for continuing to share your wisdom with us.
      Loud doesn't equal moral. Loud doesn't equal badass either. The President is BADASS, through and through. Loud liberals rarely do anything but contribute to the noise and foster the polarization. We could all learn from the President and Churchlady about how it's done. Showing up is a big deal. Showing courage is a bigger deal.

      Even still, I'm glad when anyone in a position of power stands up the fetus-worshipers.

    2. Thank you, Tien Le. I think Nancy's point is that you must stand up to the fetus worshipers; it's a matter of HOW based on who they are. One thing the pro-choice side forgets is that anti-abortion women are women with the exact same reproductive issues we have but fewer options. We ought to be figuring ways to make sure they have help, too. That's not on all of us but on some of us. I watched doctors who provided abortions offer that help - the overlooked story - so that women who were in a jam but for whom abortion was not an option could figure out what to do with an unwanted pregnancy. I'm NOT talking about the hypocritical protesters (lots of whom availed themselves of abortion as they saw themselves as 'exceptional') but the ordinary woman. That kindness and help to anti-choice women was given in full measure of humanity and did matter. Most clinics are full service meaning counseling on other options. When that became known, it also reduced the opposition. Not demonizing women and being decent to even protesters who were not evil is huge. Anti-abortion people are NOT all zealots, and to pretend we have the only option leaves all of them in the cold. If we believe in choice, real choice, we need to remember them. Fight like hell against the extremists but offer humanity to the worried. It matters.

  3. Respectful tones have their place, but a big part of the problem is that these folks have, what, 35 years of viewing themselves as the unquestioned moral custodians of America. When the rest of America stands up and tells them they're wrong, that can put enough cracks in their certainty for some to actually start listening.

    A little bit like gay marriage and LGBT respect in general: some of the Religious Right are starting to question whether they've been on the right side of this issue. That's not because of a Supreme Court decision, it's because of a huge number of Americans telling them that they're wrong and they are being a-holes.

    Where the other kind of holes are available, use them to open lines of communication. But otherwise, don't let politeness keep you from saying the simple truth: the pro-life stance is very often cruel, and seems to be more interested in punishing harlots than, say, making sure women don't get pregnant in the first place.

    1. This is not about "politeness." That word reeks of inauthenticity. It's about empathy and honesty...sometimes, even vulnerability.

    2. Totally not accusing you of recommending any degree of superficiality. But, I feel there are times it needs to be said point-blank that the pro-life position hurts women and helps nobody -- free birth control would cut abortion rates more dramatically than the standard pro-life stance -- and sometimes we're reluctant to go there simply because it is harsh. One should always try to find a kinder truth to tell, but sometimes the truth can be made only so kind.

  4. We should learn from President Obama who through all the meaness and hate of the past years has never strayed from the words quoted above. We must engage and communicate. It may be painful, it may be time consuming, but we must.